West African Visas
Most people assume West African countries would be happy to give out a visa to a Westerner like me. That would be nice, but unfortunately not the case at all. The embassies of virtually all West African countries institute a strict “No Third Party Nationals” rule.
What on earth does that mean? I’ll give you an example.
Let’s say a Nigerian citizen walks into the Nigerian embassy in Bamako (Mali). They are considered a “First Party National” because they are a citizen of Nigeria, so the embassy’s services are available to that person. This makes perfect sense, in a way, the embassy exists to help their own citizens.
Now, let’s say a Malian citizen walks into that same embassy in Bamako. They are considered a “Second Party National” – because they are a citizen of the country the embassy is in, so the embassy will offer their services to that person. i.e. the Nigerian embassy exists in Mali to help Nigerians AND Malians. (NOTE: This also works with people who are not citizens of Mali, but have been there long enough to have Residency – they are considered Malian at that point – i.e. they have a permanent home there.)
Now let’s say an Australian citizen walks into that same embassy, who is merely a tourist in Mali for one month. Because the person has not ties to Nigeria OR Mali, they are a “Third Party National”, and the embassy does not want to talk to them. Most likely the embassy will simply tell them to go to the Nigerian embassy in their own country, so that person is out of luck trying to get a Nigerian visa without going back to Australia.
While it’s extremely frustrating, I can see why they do it. The embassy in Mali is staffed by people who understand the needs and language of Malians. They understand what paperwork they’ll have, and can get.
They really don’t know anything about Australians – and why should they – there is a perfectly good Nigerian embassy in Australia that’s just busting to help Australians.
I have already been turned down at two embassies – as soon as I said I was not a resident of the country I was in, they would not even talk to me. “We can not help you”. Ouch.
As you can imagine this causes quite the dilemma when I need to get about 13 visas before I can reach South Africa.
There’s a dream where I go back to Australia and get them all in one feel swoop – though there are two major issues with this.
1. Many of the visas issued have strict time limits as to how long after the visa is issued until you can enter the country – often a maximum of 60 days. So even if I magically got all the visas at once, I’d have only 60 days to get into every country. Hmmmm.
2. Quite a few of the countries don’t actually have embassies in Australia, so they nominate the closest one as the one that serves Australians – so for example I’d have to go to Singapore to get the visa for Angola. Who even knows if I need to get a visa for Singapore before I can go there. Hmmm.
So how am I going to solve this dilemma?
In turns out some embassies are not so strict about enforcing these rules. So even if the Nigerian embassy in virtually every country tells me to take a hike, it’s well known the Nigerian embassy in Bamako will likely issue me a visa.
Why? It’s hard to say. Maybe the Ambassador is just a nice person. Maybe they never got the memo from HQ about Third Party Nationals, or maybe they’re just pocketing the money. I don’t care.
The why doesn’t matter to me, I just need it to work
The other possible work around is to get Residency in whatever country I need Residency in. It might require paying off the right people, but I’m told it should work. It’s been done before.
Now I’m playing the game trying to get each visa as I move South. I don’t want to get them too early because then I won’t have much time before I must arrive in that given country, but I also don’t want to leave it to late, and risk being denied. For example it’s well known the Nigerian embassy in both Togo and Benin will absolutely not issue a visa to someone like me – so I better make sure I have it in my passport before I arrive there, otherwise I will have no path forward and literally be stuck, forced to re-apply for visas for the countries I’ve just been through and go backwards – if those embassies will even issue me a visa!
On top of that, these visas are not cheap. I’m paying anywhere from $50USD to $150USD for a one month visa to each of these roughly 13 countries.
For anyone looking to do this for themselves, I’m putting all the visa information I learn into http://wikioverland.org as I move along.
Under each country there is a visa section, and I’m listing the likely places to apply for it, and how much it costs. My information is for people moving North to South, hopefully I can also gleam enough from others to include South to North (commonly regarded as more difficult for visas)