SA to Namibia and back during Covid

Having just returned from a month-long trip to Namibia, Tracks4Africa’s Lizette Swart shares the latest on Covid-19 regulations and presenting a test at the Namibian border.

Yes, crossing the border into Namibia with a valid Covid-19 test is quite doable. What’s more, there are lots of good-value offers for travellers at the moment. Now may be just the right time to do an overlanding trip to Namibia. Here’s what you need to know.

Although procedures may sound confusing, it is more “new” than chaotic. In short:

  • Make sure the border you want to travel through is operational, and check their hours.
  • Confirm the requirements for your Covid-19 test for all the countries you are travelling to and the hours that the test is valid for.
  • Check the requirements for return to your home country.
  • Ensure you know the regulations with regards to curfew, gatherings, wearing masks, etc.

Choose your crossing

For overland crossings, check which borders are open for leisure travel. Note that border operating times are affected by the curfew in each country – if a border used to operate 24 hours, it will now close for the curfew. Currently the curfew is in place 10pm to 4am in Namibia and midnight to 4am in SA, but this DOES NOT mean the border post is open from 4am to 10pm. Best would be to stay within approximate office hours (8am to 5pm, 7 days per week) or confirm hours with the border post:

Between Namibia and SA

Between Namibia and Botswana

Between Namibia and Zambia

Airports and harbours open for leisure travel

Covid-19 test requirements

  • According to the latest information, Namibia accepts either a PCR or a rapid antigen test. Note that the test must be done by a certified lab. The test result MUST be printed, they do not accept results on the phone.
  • Children under the age of 5 are exempt from Covid tests both in SA and in Namibia. If your child turns 5 on the day of the border crossing, they will require a negative test.
  • If you are travelling by land into Namibia, the test may not be older than 7 days from the date the swab was taken. If the swab is taken at 9am on Wednesday, you have until 8.59am the following Wednesday to cross the border.
  • However, if you are flying in, most airlines adhere to WHO regulations and only accept a PCR test no older than 72 hours from the RESULT.

Where to test in SA

  • It is vital to use a recognised testing facility so that the results are accepted by the country you are travelling to. Pathcare proved to be the easiest logistically for us, but you can also test at Lancet or Ampath.
  • Pathcare request electronic completion of forms to speed up matters (download the pdf and complete on your computer) as they spend a lot of time figuring out people’s handwriting!
  • No appointment was required but call your respective lab and confirm first – I turned up at 7am with a completed form and was done by 7.05am.

Cost of tests

  • We paid R850 per person for a PCR test at Pathcare.
  • In Upington the Dr Harry Surtie Hospital gives fast results at R400 per test – as far as I am aware the test from this hospital is accepted by Namibia.
  • Note that medical aids do not cover the cost of PCR testing for travel purposes, but you may be able to pay from your medical savings fund.

Also read: Where to get your Covid-19 test before crossing the border

Crossing the border into Namibia by land

Departing from SA

Your first stop is Port Health. At Vioolsdrift this is a bit confusing, as the Port Health Office is actually situated on the arrivals side of the border post. Look for the mobile clinic that conducts the rapid antigen tests – it is parked in front of the Port Health office. They will complete the register, take your temperature and contact details, and check your Covid test. In theory you don’t need the test to leave SA, but they asked to see ours and put it into our passports after checking that we had it.

Your next step is immigration, where your passport will get stamped to exit SA.

The mobile laboratory for rapid testing at Vioolsdrift Border Post. Pictures by Lizette Swart

Arriving in Namibia

Your first stop is again Port Health, where you have to present your negative PCR test, as well as complete the Ministry of Health Surveillance Form. Your temperature is taken, your Covid-19 test checked, and you are given a stamped piece of paper to proceed to immigration.

At Noordoewer, Port Health is on your immediate left as soon as you arrive at the border post. For me the building was obscured by a queue of trucks, and I drove past, then saw a fellow traveller wave me down and I turned around. A policeman told me I was going to get fined for driving past him but I begged for mercy and soon we were both smiling behind our masks.

Immigration will again check your Covid-19 test, and stamp your passport, then off to the third office to pay your road tax – for my little Terios it came to ZAR/N$320. Have cash ready as there are no card facilities.

At the fourth office you get a TIP for the vehicle upon presentation of your receipt from the previous office.

Note that there is currently (April 2021) a ban on the import of red meat, poultry, eggs, pork and fresh dairy from SA into Namibia due to outbreaks of swine flu, avian flu and foot-and-mouth disease. The import of fruit and veg is also limited for tourists, but there are many well-stocked shops in Namibia. We shopped at the Spar in Aussenkehr, Mariental and Rehoboth, and most small towns will present you with a Spar and/or Woermann Brock Supermarket, while bigger towns usually have a Checkers/Shoprite and Pick n Pay. Try some Namibian beef or wine, and support local!

Travel in Namibia

General regulations

  • Wear a mask in public places – children under 5 are exempted. We certainly wore ours and I was amazed to see people walking kilometres between villages, on their own but fully masked!
  • Masks may be removed when dining in restaurants.
  • Alcohol sales from liquor stores only allowed from 9am to 5pm on weekdays, and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. No sales after 1pm on Saturday, Sundays or public holidays (a bit of a shocker when you arrive on Easter weekend!).
  • According to the latest regulations, licensed venues (restaurants and lodges) can sell alcohol until 10pm.
Covid-19 masks come in handy in a variety of ways, even keeping sunlight from obscuring the Garmin.

Roadblocks

  • We ran into the ‘usual’ permanent road block just outside Windhoek en route to Hosea Kutako Airport, as well as en route to Etosha just north of Windhoek. All officers wore masks and some even sported animal designs such as cheetah and leopard faces. We were never asked to show our Covid-19 tests once we crossed the border.
  • When opening the windows to speak to police officers, we always donned our masks first.
  • Remember that by law you have to switch on your headlights even during day time when driving in Namibia.

Tourism

In 2019, Namibia had 2.5million visitors – not bad for a country with 2.7 million citizens. The downturn in tourism as a result of Covid was very noticeable. Arriving at Halali in Etosha at 5pm, the rest camp was deserted and for a minute I thought it was closed for renovation. Compared to the usual packed dining room, we were only three tables. They no longer do a buffet for either breakfast or dinner but rather a small a la carte menu.

NWR is running specials that makes it cheaper to stay in the chalet than camp under normal fees! Many lodges will have SADC special rates. If you wanted to have affordable lodging in Namibia, now is the time to travel.

Returning to SA

To enter into SA, returning citizens again need to provide a negative Covid-19 test. This can be done in two ways:

o   Do a PCR test at a recognised lab, and cross the border back into SA within 72 hours of the result.

§  Advantage: You have the result in your hand when you arrive at the border, avoiding the queue and time to test at the border.

§  Disadvantage: Cost of R850 per person, you have only 72 hours from the result to cross back into SA else you have to test again.

o   Travel to the border and conduct a rapid antigen test at the mobile clinic stationed at the border, cost is R300 (April 2021).

§  Advantage: It is much cheaper

§  Disadvantage: On a busy day, you may have to wait a long time for your turn to get the test.

The testing site at Vioolsdrift Border Post.

I chose to do the PCR test at Pathcare as my travel companions were both in their 70s and I wanted to avoid the queue, and be sure that I had a negative result in my hand. If one of us had tested positive, I would have had to apply via the Ministry of Health to self-isolate at home before crossing the border. This proved to be a good decision, as on our arrival at Vioolsdrift, there were approximately 20 people waiting to do the rapid test.

Where to test in Namibia

We tested at Pathcare in Swakopmund. Eros Pathcare in Windhoek, Namib Laboratories at Wanderers Sports Club (drive through) and Namdeb Hospital PCR testing in Alexander Bay get positive mentions on forums. View a list of Covid-19 testing facilities in Namibia.

  • To test at Pathcare, take the completed forms that you can download. You must complete it electronically and then take a printed copy with you, they will not print it for you. IMPORTANT to also take a copy of your passport with you – it is not clear on the website that you need to take this, and the lab will not make a copy for you.
  • You MUST make an appointment with Pathcare in Namibia. You may need a Namibian cell number for the notification. I added my Nam cell number, with my email address as backup and both worked fine.
  • On the door of the lab it clearly stated results only in 48 hours, but we received ours after 25 hours.
  • Finding a place to make copies and print in Swakopmund was a challenge. Everybody I asked sent me to the internet café inside Beryls Take Away but they were closed when I arrived at 5.50pm. Our lodge came to the rescue, thank you Pension A la Mer!

Cost of tests

N$850 (equivalent of R850) at Pathcare but prices vary. Consult the list from the Namibia Travel & Tourism Forum.

Crossing the border from Namibia

Departing from Namibia

No need to present your Covid-19 test to Port Health, or to get your temperature taken, proceed straight to immigration where your passports are stamped for exit.

Arriving in SA

If you don’t already have rest results in hand, get your rapid antigen test done at the mobile clinic. We already had our negative PCR tests, so skipped the queue at the mobile clinic and reported straight to Port Health. Our passport numbers were checked against the test results, our temperatures taken and we were sent to immigration. Soon we had cleared the border.

Let us know about your experience