How to Navigate Border Posts: Your Stress-Free Guide for Self-Drive

You’ve planned your exciting self-drive holiday, but is your excitement dampened by the thought of navigating African border posts? Dealing with unfamiliar paperwork, unexpected fees, and lengthy queues can stress an otherwise adventurous trip.

Border posts in Africa can be a real challenge, especially for the unprepared traveller and are often more complicated when crossing with a vehicle. Convoluted bureaucratic procedures, the requirement to produce proper documents, and random checkpoints can disrupt your carefully planned itinerary. Add to that occasional inconsistent opening hours and requests for unofficial ‘facilitation’ fees; we know this can be daunting.

So what if we told you there’s a straightforward solution? A way to keep your excitement levels high as you cruise from Namibia’s sandy dunes to Botswana’s lush wildlife reserves and the breathtaking landscapes of Zimbabwe without hassles at the border posts?

Here’s our advice, distilled from years of experience and countless trips across these unique countries:

1. Do Your Research: research each country’s requirements before your journey. This includes paperwork, vehicle permits, and compulsory equipment like safety triangles and reflective vests. Most countries require all of the documents listed below, and we’ve highlighted in the table those countries that need a few extra bits and pieces.

2. Get Organised: Have all your documents in order, and make multiple copies. This typically includes your passport, vehicle registration papers, driving licence, and international driving permit. Remember to carry cash for any unexpected road or border fees. If there is an online system (for example, the e-TIP in Zimbabwe), get that done beforehand wherever you have a good internet connection.

Being organised will give you the confidence that the crossing will be smooth. Still, it also helps the border officials process the paperwork efficiently – if you help them, they are much more likely to assist you happily.

3. Time Your Journey: Try to reach the border early in the day. Mornings tend to be less busy; you should still have plenty of time to rectify any issues if there are delays.

4. Be Polite and Patient: Always greet the border officials with a smile, engage in conversation and have the attitude that you want to improve their day. It might seem small, but removing your hat and sunglasses goes a long way – you will come across as respectful and engaging. If things get a little frustrating or time-consuming, keep your cool.

5. Engage a Reliable Agency or Customs Agent: All border posts will have professional agents to assist you through the processes. Some crossings, such as Beitbridge, can be overwhelming with unscrupulous “clearing agents” trying to convince you that you* have* to work with them. However, there are always offices of established companies whose runners can guide you through each process step, providing updated information and on-call support. It is unnecessary, but if you want to sit back in your car while someone does the work, it is sometimes well worth the twenty dollars it will cost.


Documents:

Valid passport of the driver and passengers. Ensure that your passport is valid for at least three months and has sufficient blank pages available – most countries require at least three blank pages.
Original (where possible) or certified copies of vehicle registration papers in the driver’s name.
If the owner does not drive the vehicle, then a Certified Letter of Authority from the registered owner.
If the vehicle is financed, a Certified Letter of Authority from the bank permits the car to be taken out of the country, including the travel dates.
Valid driver’s license.
Police Clearance Certificate – not generally required for temporary imports. But they are necessary for Zimbabwean vehicles leaving Zimbabwe.
Stickers: It is advisable to have a sticker showing the country where the vehicle is registered. In Zimbabwe, red and white reflective stickers are required for the front and rear of the car, and reflective strips on bakkies and trailers.
Motor Insurance Certificate: Obtainable at the Border Free of Charge. Valid for 30 days

Transform your journey from stressful to serene by preparing well. If you follow these steps, you can focus on the most important thing – enjoying Southern Africa’s adventure. Happy driving!