What you need to get through the border

Getting through border posts are notoriously the worst part of travelling in Southern Africa. One of the most vital aspects of preparing for your trip is to ensure that you have the right documentation for getting yourself and your vehicle through the border without wasting too many hours and getting yourself worked up too much.

If you want to travel Africa, you need a LOT of patience to get through most border posts. It is of no use to be in a hurry or to get uptight. Remember, if you take off your hat and your sunglasses and put on a smile, chances are good that you will get a much warmer reception.

Some people have had unfortunate experiences with having to pay bribes to officials at border posts and at some border posts you will feel harassed by opportunistic volunteers who offer to guide you through the official proceedings (of course at a small fee) or want to trade money for the local currency.

Having to pay bribes is most definitely not at the order of the day. In fact, if you have the right documents you don’t ever need to pay a bribe.

You can choose to ignore the harassing entrepreneurs but in some cases it really is worth the money to let them guide you through the whole process. When you arrive at a border post you are often greeted by long queues without any indications whatsoever of what forms you need to fill in, what is expected of you and which windows you should visit in which order. The only way of knowing is to ask and quite often you end up at the back of the queue again because you didn’t fill in the right form.

 

There are long queues at most border posts.
There are long queues at most border posts like this one at Vioolsdrift between South Africa and Namibia. (Photo: Hannelie Bester)

If you do decide to make use of these fixers be ready to stand your ground on what you are prepared to pay them for their services and check the exchange rates before you get to the border otherwise you might end up getting cheated badly.

The Namibian borders are most probably the easiest to cross from South Africa and from reports it seems like Zimbabwe (especially Beitbridge and Chirundu) are the most difficult. You need to be well prepared with all the necessary documents.

First things first

  • Make sure your passport is valid for six months after you are due to leave the country.
  • South Africans don’t need visas for neighbouring countries but if you are a foreigner you need to check whether you need a visa.
  • You need a valid driver’s licence in English. If your licence is not English, you will have to get an international driver’s licence. (It is in any case advisable to get one.)
  • Get the inoculations you need like Yellow Fever.
  • Check which goods are prohibited to take across the border.
  • Check what you are allowed to take through customs and what not. Countries differ as to what they allow duty free (like cigarettes, tobacco, wine, spirits and perfume) and there also might be restrictions on fresh produce like meat, meat products, fruit and vegetables.
  • It is compulsory for any vehicle, caravan or trailer registered in South Africa to have a ZA sign displayed when it crosses any border.

Documents needed for your vehicle

 If you are the legal owner of the vehicle that you are driving, you need the following:

  • Original vehicle registration paper or a certified copy thereof.
  • A  Police Clearance Certificate stating that you are the legal owner of the vehicle. (Note that this has changed since 2014: the SAPS no longer issue vehicle clearance certificates for tourist cross border travel and will only do so if the vehicle is being exported from the country. -Ed) 

If you are not the legal owner of the vehicle (e.g. it is still being financed by the bank, rented or a borrowed vehicle), you need the following:

  • Copy of the vehicle license papers (where the renewal disk is cut out annually) or a certified copy of the vehicle registration papers.
  • A letter from the financial institution/owner that authorizes you to take the vehicle across the border. This letter must stipulate dates that you are allowed to take the vehicle out of the country and be signed by a Commissioner of Oaths. Note if you rent a vehicle or borrow one you will need letters of consent from both the financial institution and the owner.  The financial institution usually won’t give you a letter unless you provide them with proof that it is insured across the border.
  • An affidavit from the police, giving you authorization from the owner/financial institution to take the vehicle abroad.

If your vehicle is registered outside SACU (Southern African Common Customs Area which consists of Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland and Namibia) you will also need to get a Carnet de Passage en Douane (CPD). This is the international customs document which covers the temporary admission of a motor vehicle.

Procedure at the border

Each individual in your group needs to fill in an arrival/departure form.

Requirements differ from country to country but at most border posts in Southern Africa the driver of the vehicle will need to:

  • Get a TIP (Temporary Import Permit) for your vehicle.
  • Get police clearance on your vehicle.
  • Pay cross border charges to the local Roads Agency/Fund.
  • Buy vehicle insurance.
  • Buy a road permit for your vehicle.
  • Complete the vehicle register and obtain a gate pass for the vehicle. The gate pass must be signed by both the customs department and the immigration department; otherwise they will send you back to the office for the additional stamp!

Tips

  • Always check that your passport has been stamped according to the correct dates of your stay and have it amended immediately if necessary.
  • It is best to declare all your valuable equipment like laptops and cameras at each border crossing otherwise you might end up having to pay import duty on your own equipment. Have a list of all your cameras and electronic equipment with serial numbers and values ready at the border. It will then be much easier to complete the forms.
  • Check that your TIP has been stamped by the official when you entered the country as you will have to hand this stamped official document in when you leave the country again.
  • Nowadays you will be checked for Ebola by a simple procedure of checking your temperature.
  • You are allowed to stay for a maximum of 90 days and therefore you will only get vehicle insurance for three months. Make sure you don’t overstay your welcome.
  • Make sure the registration number on your vehicle registration paper is the same as the registration number of the vehicle otherwise you are going to run into some trouble.
  • Also ensure that the VIN (vehicle identification number) and the Engine Number on your vehicle registration paper correspond with those on your vehicle and that you know where the engine number is printed on your vehicle in case the border official wants to check that.
  • Keep all your official documents together in a plastic envelope. Print your vehicle details (like license number and make) in large letter type and put that, together with your registration paper, back to front in the envelope so that it is readable through the envelope. If you have a trailer, put its detail to be visible if you turn the envelope around. Whenever you are asked for your vehicle or trailer details, you just hold your handy envelope against the window for the official to read.
  • When you return to South Africa, you are not allowed to take fuel in containers through the border without paying import duty. Empty the fuel containers into your vehicle before crossing the border.

 

58 thoughts on “What you need to get through the border”

  1. Hi
    My wife and I have been driving from Japan since 2015.

    Can I ask something?
    Do I need Carnet in Tanzania?
    Can I get TIP at border posts?

    Thank you!
    from Cameroon

  2. Hi, I am moving to Namibia, for a year or longer, I own a car that’s registered in SA (but am of Dutch nationality),what do I need to do to import the vehicle, what are rules/regulations and costs? It hasn’t been in my name for very long (2 months) and the vehicle is from 2011 is that a problem ? I read somewhere the vehicle can’t be older than 5 years?

  3. Thunking of going back to namibia,have been here since 2008, so how do transport my furniture through the border,and what pspers do I need,moving within a weeks time

    1. Did you transport your own furniture. Removal companies charge a fortune so I am looking into a DIY move.

    1. To travel to any country in the world you need a passport, however you may have been confused with a thing called a visa, which South African passport holders require for many countries. however in this case going to Zambia a visa is not required and if driving through Botswana, Namibia or Zimbabwe to Zambia just a passport is required. The maximum stay in Zambia per year is 90 days- you are given 30 days on arrival and if you want more you must go to Zambian immigration for a extension before the 30 days expire, at the moment no extra fee.

  4. Hi…how many and what are the border posts one has to go through from Johannesburg to Uganda if driving

  5. Hi i am going to Malawi for retirement, i got a bakkie that i will be traveling with and willing to kee it there, what document should i obtained.

    1. Hi Mike,
      You will need to permanently import your vehicle into Malawi and pay import duties. You will need the original vehicle registration and a Police Clearance Certificate.

  6. Hi Karen. I wonder if you can assist me. We have a team of Fibre installers going to Angola in the next week, we are doing some work on a mine. We have to take certain equipment with us in order to do the job. It is generally hand held machines which we will carry as hand luggage on the plane. We know we need certain SARS clearance docs to take it out of the country but cant seem to find out if there is specific criteria/documentation to get it back into South Africa. I have spoken to SARS, the Angolan embassy and the Angolan Trade office. But am not coming up roses. Thanking you in advance

    1. You need a CARNET from the SA chamber of Commerce, this will solve not only your proof to get the goods back to SA but not pay a deposit or full duty in Angola when you arrive.

    2. Kim,
      I am not an expert on Angola. However, for most countries you would need a work permit to start off with. You should not have any problem with bringing back equipment that you have declared to SARS when you exited the country. When I recently crossed into Swaziland I was very impressed with how efficient and computerised SARS’s system has become.

      1. Karin Thank you so much. I looked into the CARNET and it isn’t accepted in Angola. So think we will just go with the SARS docs and see what transpires.

  7. PLEASE HELP. THERE IS A GUY THAT STAY IN ZAMBIA THAT RECEIVE A CAR AS A GIFT FROM HIS MOTHER. HE GOT RPC, REGISTRATION PAPER SARPCO CERTIFICATE BUT THEY DO NOT WANT HIM TO GO THROUGH
    THE CAR WAS ON HIS FATHER NAME HE PASSED AWAY AND THE MOTHER DID PUT IT ON HER NAME. WE ARE DESPERATELY LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO HELP

    1. Steven, South African registered vehicles do not need a Carnet or TIP to enter Namibia. You will only pay a small Cross Border Charge (approx R240), which includes Third Party insurance.

  8. hi everybody,
    next february i will travel from southafrica to kgalagadi.i will rent a car in soutfrica and i will stay 4 nights in kgalagadi park.theni will travel to namibia.do you know if is it possible to exit from mata mata ?i will return the car at windhoek airport.

    1. Irene, you will definitely be able to exit at Mata Mata. You only need to spend two nights in the park in order to make use of that border post.

  9. Good afternoon, We are travelling to Lesotho in September. I hear we are not allowed to take wine with us? Any other restricitions we should be aware of?

    1. Karien, we just passed through Lesotho (we entered at Sani Pass and exited at Caledonspoort. Although regulations do stipulate that South Africans are not allowed to take any alcohol into Lesotho, we were not asked about it or searched for alcohol.

  10. Hi Karin We are travelling from Namibia through Botswana to Zimbabwe (Hwange). Do we need to be vaccinated against yellow fever?

  11. Hi Karin, My man gaan begin Augustus jag in Mariental, ons is nie seker of ons mag lamsvleis, spek (bacon) mag in neem nie, hoeveel drank (wyn) is toelaatbaar. Moet die karkasse eers deur ‘n veearts geinspekteer word? Baie dankie vir jou hulp.

    1. Hester, Mariental val ver buite die bek-en-klou geïnfekteerde area. Slegs die noorde van die land is risiko area. Mens mag vleis noord neem maar nie suid vanuit die rooilyn area nie. Sover ek weet is daar nie tans ‘n verbod op vleis inneem in Namibië nie, maar om seker te maak kan jy dr Cleopas Bamhare kontak by +264 61 2087505 of e-pos: bamharec@mawf.gov.na. Jy mag 2 liter wyn en 1 liter sterker drank inneem.

  12. Hi I m ikram ullah I m from Pakistan but I m stay in South Africa I got reletive permite I m stay over 5 year and I got South African driveing liccence cod 14 and I get a job in transport company in mafikeng so I want to know can I go to Botswana becoze sometime I have some load for Botswana plz

  13. Good day Sir
    Firstly I would congratulate you for the wonderful job you are doing in providing correct and up-to-date information ,as I was wondering around the web and I couldn’t fine such well illustrated information on how to move through Souther African Coutries (SADC).
    My situation is as follow:
    I’m planning to travel From my home Country Angola,to Tete,Mozambique,I own an Toyota Prado 2008 model,it belonged to my father and I’m using not normal Car Licence,it’s a Military Licence which belongs to Angolan Presidency House,it means I can move anywhere inside Angola anytime and anywhere ,but I want to travel with the same car as it is in really good condition with up to 165000 km on the log,it is 4WD ,4×4,I’m using UK driving licence and I can drive in the EU and Commonwealth Countries ,my question is,what I really need to get clear from the Border in Namibia,Botswana ,Zimbabwe and Mozambique ?

    1. Joao, your UK driving licence will be accepted in all the countries you mention. I don’t have any idea what the regulations are for military vehicles passing through borders. I suspect it won’t be that easy for you to get hold of the original registration paper? If I was you I’d contact the different embassies; maybe you can get diplomatic clearance. I am sorry, but I really can’t help you on this one.

      1. Thanks Karin for advice,I will try to contact the embassies of these countries when I will be back to Africa “Angola” In coming months,Cheers

  14. George, you don’t need a Yellow Fever Certificate for Botswana. Zambia is a low risk area; some sources say you need a certificate and others say you don’t. We were checked when we came through Zambia last year. For the little cost and effort of getting the lifelong vaccination, I would advice you to rather get it.

      1. George, best is to inquire from the Botswana Authorities (Department of Crop Protection on (+267) 392 8745/6 and Department of Veterinary Services on (+267) 368 9000/9505) about the latest info on Botswana. As far as I know there are no restrictions on food that travellers can take into Zambia for their own consumption.

  15. Hi
    Can you take coffee over the boarder from South Africa. Is it true that eg. Hairproducts bottle should not in 250ml bottles.

  16. We are a South African Production Company and we are planning on filming a cooking show in Zimbabwe. We are aware however, that we would need a film permit if we choose to film in a nationl park. I am however, not sure about all the permits needed either at the boarder, or for filming anywhere else in the country. Could anyone assist?

    1. Melyssa, I am not sure if you will have to apply for a work permit if you want to film in Zimbabwe. You will definitely have to declare all your camera equipment at the border. I advice you to contact your closest Zimbabwean embassy and give them a list of places where you want to film.

    1. No, you need a import permit if its used and unless you have been living outside SA for over 2 yrs and can prove it, like stamps in your passport and work or resident visa you won’t get the permit, however you can register it in Lesotho or Bots but not Namibia.

  17. Hi my vrou moet in Namibia sing en ons wil sommer bietjie daar toer maar wil graag my eie klank toerusting saamvatmaar weet nie hoe ek te werk moet gaan nie so enige hulp sal great wees thanks
    jaco van rensburg

    1. If you declare all your equipment (with serial numbers) when you exit South Africa and also when you enter Namibia you should not have any problems. If you don’t declare it when you exit, customs might want you to pay import duty when you come back.

  18. What options are available to you if you need to go to South Africa from Namibia but you don’t have your passport and you need to leave urgently? It’s not lost, it’s being processed for a visa

  19. Karin
    Ons gaan Angola toe saam met toergroep. Wil graag weet wat mag ons saamneem soos vleis, drank ensovoorts. Wil ook weet van vislisensie ons gaan via probeer vang.

  20. Hi Karin
    Great info. Thanks so much. Do you have any information on the requirements for unabridged birth certificates when travelling with minors. I heard there is a new law or something. I’m not sure if it’s in effect yet. Any info on this will much appreciated.

    1. Clayton, because of international child trafficking, abduction and kidnapping officials are very strict. As from 1 October 2014 you MUST have an unabridged birth certificate as well as a valid passport for each child who is accompanying you. Both parents have to be present and show proof of their identification when you apply for this certificate. Furthermore there are very strict regulations if BOTH parents do not travel with the child. For full details, see http://www.southafrica.info/travel/documents/travel-children-110614.htm#.VJgrOl4AA

  21. We travelled from Hermanus to the KNP via Swaziland with an overnight stop in Swazi. On entering at the Golel border post we cleared the SA side very easily and also the Swazi side except for the last point where the Customs official searched the vehicle. We where not allowed to take any meat in but even worse, we where not allowed to take any wood in !! The wood was for a braai that night. The official said no way and we need a permit which we had to get on the RSA side. This made no sense. So we leave with no meat and no wood !!

  22. BEWARE: Malawi border post are known for excessive insurance fees charged by the so-called agents. The charge for a vehicle and trailer should be around Kw7,500 for vehicle and Kw5,000 for trailer (payable in Malawian Kwatsha) but is quoted at Kw40,000.(Prime Insurance) This was my experience in 2013 and 2014.

      1. I am going to Malawi via Botswana and Zambia because of the troubles in Mozambique. I heard that yellow fever is now a problem in Botswana and Zambia. Do I need to have the injection for yellow fever as this was not the case in 2012 ??

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