Saturday 1 June 2013

Viven : How we crossed from Morocco to Mauritania

Dear Viven,

The following information is accurate at the time we traveled.  We applied for the Mauritanian visa on 13 May, and crossed the border from the Western Sahara on 30 May.  Though legally we are not married, in order to avoid hassles, confusion or dirty looks we say we are, and wear wedding rings (purchased in Agadir for the equivalent of €1 each).  We are one British and one Canadian, driving a 1996 right-hand drive Toyota Hilux Surf from Paris to Tanzania.

Our previous crossing was from Spain to Morocco.  Our next crossing will be from Mauritania to Senegal.

Visas were required in advance.  We applied and received them from the Mauritanian Embassy in the Moroccan capital of Rabat.  We followed advice posted online by various travelers and found it accurate.

We arrived at 7am on Monday the 13th at the embassy on Rue Thami, No. 6, and joined the queue.  At around 7:30am two men arrived with chairs, and began filling forms out for those applying.  Hearing that this was necessary, we got the forms and had them completed by the semi-official helpers, and somehow avoided paying the DH 10 some of the others paid.  Some applicants were sent away by the helpers to the nearby supermarket to make photocopies or photos.

We asked on the form for 30 days in Mauritania, starting the date of issue.  We understand it is possible to post-date the start of the visa, but this was not necessary in our case.

The Visa Office opened just after 9am, and because of our early arrival we were near the front of the queue – thankfully, as by this time about 40 people were now in line.  Inside was one kiosk and one embassy official.  Ahead of us, this official sent away one Moroccan applicant who had filled out the form by himself.  He needed the helpers and DH 10, or his application would not be received.  The form, in French and Arabic, is not at all long or complicated, but we suppose this is the embassy’s way of employing a few more friends and squeezing out a few more dirhams.

We paid DH 340 each, gave our passports, forms and documents, and received a sheet of paper with reference numbers, and were told to return at 3pm.  We returned at 3pm and, because one of us is female, were able to go to our own queue and get the passports with the Mauritanian visa right away.

Easy, straightforward, fast.

Insurance and Carnet
Though we searched and asked around, we could not find a way to obtain vehicle insurance prior to entering Mauritania.  Our carnet de passages, meanwhile, was not necessary to enter Mauritania or Morocco.

Even more than insurance, we asked at dozens of currency exchanges across Morocco, and could not obtain Mauritanian ouguiyas prior to arrival.

The Route
We drove through the Sahara on Morocco’s N1 highway, down from Agadir through Tan-Tan, Laayoune and Dakhla, and then crossed the border into Mauritania north of Nouadhibou.

The Border        
According to the map, the Moroccan and Mauritanian borders are 3.5 km apart, with No Man’s Land in between, but they only seemed about 1 km apart.  Regardless, the abandoned cars, terrible roads, desolation of trash, and the fact we were being pursued by a hustler made it a long drive.

The Moroccan side had several stopping points for the gendarmes, police, and Douane (Customs).  We had to show our passports at the first, show our passports with visas at the second, go through Douane at the third, handing in the second of our three sheets filled out upon entry into Morocco, and then stop for a final look at the last.  We stopped a foot too far past the ‘Halt’ sign at this final stop, and so the gendarme asked for money (€10, our first request for a bribe).  We pretended we didn’t speak French and couldn’t understand what he was saying, and so eventually he gave up and let us through.

A hustler, previously mentioned, met as at the start of the Moroccan crossing and promised to get us through the whole process for €10.  We refused but he stuck to it.  He followed us through to the Mauritanian side, despite us waving him on, saying no and non, and even in No Man’s Land cutting past him to get away.

At the Mauritanian side Hustler No. 1 spoke to the guard at the front gate, probably offering him a cut from what we paid him if he held us back and sweated us out.  Sure enough, the guard told us to wait.  So we waited, about five minutes, until he gave up, and we went through.  We finally and firmly told Hustler No. 1 to go away, and as we went into the gendarmes hut, he disappeared.  In the hut we gave our passports, were processed into a computer, stamped, and let out.  A gendarme came to inspect our things and asked to see if we had any alcohol.  We showed him the remnants of a bottle of rum, he said it was prohibited but no big deal, and then asked for a cadeau (gift).  We said we had no money, he made a sad face (he was new at this), and let us through.

Hustler No. 2 found us at the next stop: Mauritanian Douane.  He promised to get us through the border, to get us insurance, that he was a tourist official and even that he was a gendarme employee.  The Douane officials made us wait for the same reason as at the Moroccan side, probably to get a cut.  He was very difficult to shake, but nonetheless, we avoided him, had a brief exchange with a Hustler No. 3 and several men who wanted to change money, flashing wads of ouguiyas, and after about ten minutes we were summoned back inside.  The official requested €100 but not very convincingly.  We again feigned stupidity and lack of French, gave nothing, and were waved on.  Al got an extra passport stamp as the vehicle owner (this instead of using our carnet de passages, which Mauritania does not recognise), and we were given a single white sheet of paper with which to go on.  There was no inspection.

Before we could go on we had to pay OUM (Mauritanian) 300 for ‘Commune Tax’ (parking).  We checked to make sure the paper was official and necessary, and were told by the gendarmes that it was.  We paid, went through a final police check, and got past the border.

The final stop was for vehicle insurance.  Hustler No. 2 accompanied us, but now was hostile, seeing that he’d missed his chance with us, and had nothing better to do than glare.  He and the insurance official got in a heated argument, perhaps about us, and he was gone.

Because there is only one currency exchanger and one insurance seller (and the two occupy two halves of the same desk), we had no choice but to accept both the crooked exchange rate (€1 = OUM 340, as opposed to the actual €1 = OUM 380) and the cost of insurance here (OUM 7800, or about €20, for three days), as we could not acquire either money or insurance before arrival.  We were able to exchange our remaining Moroccan dirhams for ouguiyas for a better rate.

The Nouadhibou-Nouakchott road is a short drive from the end of the border, and there is checkpoint at the junction.  We did not know about this in advance, and the checkpoint looked more like an improvised roadblock of tires and scrap metal made by bandits posing as cops.  We did consider running through it, but decided to stop for the man waving us down, who underneath his plain green coat was indeed wearing a uniform.  He merely asked to see our Douane document and a fiche.

The whole process from arrival to departure took two hours.

What We Needed

In Rabat
  • DH 680 (340 each) for visa fees
  • Passports
  • Photocopy of passports
  • Photocopy of the Moroccan visa stamp in the passports
  • Two passport photos
  • 0 bribes
  • Six hours to process
At the border
  • Two carbon copies for the Douane form, issued upon arrival into Morocco
  • Passports, including entry stamps
  • Vehicle registration document
  • Mauritanian customs stamp in Al's passport (as the vehicle owner), received at border
  • OUM 7800 for insurance
  • Patience / feigned stupidity / negotiation for both hustlers and greedy gendarmes
  • 0 bribes
  • About two hours to cross
This one was more complex than anything I’ve ever done before, but compared to what we've heard about future crossings, was straightforward and relatively easy for hustles, hassles and bribes.

Good luck,


View of our dashboard, waiting cars and rubbish of No Man's Land.
Hustler No. 1 drives the car on the road, facing forward.