The slowest border crossing so far in Africa was when we crossed from Mandimba in Mozambique to Chiponde in Malawi a couple of days ago. No difficulties, really, but it reminded me a little more about some of the borders we crossed in Central America. It was also the first border crossing in Africa where we have had money changers trying to find business, and there were many!
The money changers started chasing after us already in the town of Mandimba a few kilomters before the border. We told them we weren’t interested, and filled up with fuel for our last Meticals.
From paved streets in town, we turned onto a narrow, potholed road going to the border. At first sight it looked a little chaotic with a line of trucks, but we did as we always do, drive on until we see the Immigration office or a proper gate. A little bit further past the trucks we found both and parked directly outside the Immigration and Customs office (left hand side).
Getting our exit stamps from Mozambique was quick and easy. We filled in a tourist form (name and details of the trip), and the immigration officer checked our visas and stamped us out. Next counter was customs, and he took care of the Carnet for the vehicle after I had showed him where to write what and which part of the Carnet customs would normally keep. It took us about 15 minutes.
When we got back in the car, we drove over to the gate leading into no-mans-land, and the guard opened the gate and let us in without even talking to us. Two kilometers further on, you’ll get to the Malawian border post.
This wasn’t as obvious as the one in Mozambique, but not really too complicated. There was no sign on the buildings visible from the car when we drove in, so we parked on the side of the road and went out to take a look. The immigration and customs turned out to be in the building on the right hand side, just next to the gate (to the right (with the flag) in the pic above). As usual we start with Immigration. The officer asked us a couple of questions about where we came from and where we were going, and then gave us a tourist form to fill in. After completing the form he granted us 30 days visa (maximum for a standard tourist visa) and stamped our passports. For Norwegian citizens there is no cost for this kind of visa, and I think this should be the same for most Europeans, North Americans, and Common Wealth nationalities.
With the passports ready we moved across the room to Customs. The first thing we noticed was a printed paper taped to the inside of the window over the counter saying “documentation fee 5000 Kwacha – no exceptions” (15 USD), and I thought, here we go… To my surprise the officer knew exactly what the Carnet was and how to fill it in, and there was no charge. I even asked if this was it, or if there were other fees or taxes I would need to pay in order to drive legally in Malawi, but he told me that with a Carnet there was nothing more except a third party insurance that was required. Excellent! We had read different things, and a 20 USD road tax was mentioned. We left the office, and went in search for the insurance company.
There is supposedly only one insurance company present at the border. 30 days liability insurance for a normal car (our Patrol was described as a “sedan” and not a “pick-up/truck”?) is 7500 Kwacha (27 USD). An alternative would have been to find the COMESA insurance which is valid for Eastern African (and even some Northern, Central, and Southern) countries, but so far we have not been able to find a place where they sell it. It should be possible to find in Malawi, but they could not help us at the insurance company at the border. We also ended up having to exchange a few USD in order to pay for the insurance as the insurance company could only give us a really lousy rate (like 30% under actual). Try to pick one that seems to be polite and who is a likable guy.
The insurance office is the one under the sign ”Prime Insurance”, and is on the left hand side of the road, just before the gate.
Malawi is also the first country since Belize where we needed to put a sticker on the windshield. One of the guys from the insurance company came with us to the car and took care of that.
With the papers processed and the new insurance in place, we got back in the car and drove up to the gate. The guard came over to my window and asked if he could see the TIP (temporary import permit), and when I told him I had no TIP but a Carnet, he answered, “ah”. “And you have stamped your passports?” – Yes, of course. “And you have remembered insurance?”. Absolutely. “Then welcome to Malawi, and have a good day!”. And he opened the gate.
Total time, including the money exchange and insurance process was about one hour and 15 minutes. Not bad compared to some of the borders in Central America, but still the slowest in Africa so far. Also worth mentioning is that all the border officials were very nice and polite.