Saturday 3 August 2013

Viven : How we would have crossed from Benin to Nigeria

Dear Viven,

Because of our changed route and then the car accident, this is one border crossing we prepared for (it was quite the preparation, if only for the visa) but never got the chance to do.  

Visas are required in advance.  We visited the Nigeria embassy in downtown Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Tuesday 2 July.  The embassy is centrally located (near the French embassy) and easy to find, at the following address:

Immeuble Maison du Nigéria
35 Boulevard de la République
01 BP 1906
Abidjan 01

Unlike most secrecy-loving, assistance-hating embassies in Africa, there are several signs at the entrance displaying helpful information, including that visa applications are only to be made from 9am to 12:30pm, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The Nigerian embassy is a fortified, green-gated and barbed-wire enclosed military compound / office tower.  Two heavy steel doors, only one of which will open at a time, grant access to a holding area beside an air-conditioned kiosk, where one's business is stated and from whence is asked the first barrage of questions.  We arrived here at 9:45am, asked to apply for a tourist visa, filled out the 3-page application forms, and furnished all the documentation one could possibly want: vehicle registration, vehicle insurance, carnet de passages, passports with a mind to our other visas (we already had Ghana and Benin), letters, reservations, one of our Michelin maps, everything.  The application form was equally thorough, asking for previous countries visited, previous countries lived in, names of fathers and mothers, past drug use, and so forth.  We were told we needed letters of authorisation from our countries of nationality, but we argued that our countries didn't issue these as we were assumed to free to travel.  Our embassies, when contacted, were either too busy or respond, or didn't know what we were talking about.  Our argument, and Al's letter of employment in Tanzania, sufficed.  We were, however, asked to furnish a map of our overall African route, so I found a nearby cybercafe (there are plenty on Boulevard de la République) to do some Google Mapping and printing.

Up the steps from the holding area is a sparsely-decorated but air-conditioned waiting room.  After I returned and handed over the crisp new route map we sat outside in the hot sun, to the astonishment and dismay of the African visitors and staff, and waited until 11:30am to pay.  A helpful and friendly beige-shirted man told us the rates, and when we asked why the British rate was twice that of the Canadian, he laughed and said, "because you are our former colonial masters".  We paid at the holding area kiosk, got our receipt, were told to return at 10:30am the next day for an interview, and just before leaving were waved down by the beige-shirted man who said he could get us an interview that day.  We waited until 12:30pm, and visited a kiosk attached to the waiting room.

The interview took 15 minutes.  We were asked many more questions: why Nigeria, where in Nigeria, how long in Nigeria, why are we going at all, when did we leave, where did we leave from, why are we going by vehicle, etc.  Seeing no problems, we were dismissed and told to return the next day at 3pm to receive our passports with visas.  We returned at the set time, waited 15 minutes, and received our passports with 8-day  single-entry transit visas.

Insurance and Carnet
If we crossed with the truck, our carnet de passages would have been necessary as usual.  As well, we would have moved into the Pink Card insurance zone, necessitating the purchase of new insurance coverage either in advance (probably in Benin) or at the border.

It would have been back to English.

Nigeria uses the Nigerian naira (NGN), each divided into 100 kobos.  The current exchange rate is about €4.75 = NGN 1,000.

The Route
We would have crossed from southern Benin towards Lagos, a massive city that we would have crossed as fast as possible.  We would then either have driven north to Nigeria's capital, Abuja, in order to apply for the Angolan visa, or gone straight to Calabar, near the border with Cameroon, to apply for the Cameroon visa at the Calabar consulate.

What We Needed

In Abidjan
  • Money: CFA 100,000 (or about €153; 66,500 fee for British visa, 33,500 fee for Canadian visa)
  • Two passport-sized photos each
  • 3-page application forms
  • Carnet de passages
  • Brown Card vehicle insurance
  • Vehicle registration document
  • Photocopy of vehicle registration document
  • Printout of hotel reservation in Nigeria
  • Printout of the map of our overall route
  • Al's letter of employment, both original and photocopy
  • About three hours waiting on date of application, then just over one day to issue (normally, interview the following day, then visas issued the day after)
Nigeria was one of the country's we expected (and discovered) would be bureaucratically tough, and for that reason it was somewhat a relief to leave it off the path, by truck or on foot.  That being said, it was a shame to miss, not merely because we paid for it, but because this hefty, bustling and rapidly growing nation is considered by many to be the continent's beating heart.

Happy trails,


Page 1 of 3, visa application form,
Nigerian Embassy in Abidjan
Page 2 of 3, visa application form,
Nigerian Embassy in Abidjan
Page 3 of 3, visa application form,
Nigerian Embassy in Abidjan