Sunday 17 November 2013

Viven : How we crossed from Zimbabwe to Mozambique

Dear Viven,

We crossed from Zimbabwe to Mozambique in transit to Malawi, and were only in Mozambique for six hours.  Reports by other travellers from less than a year ago indicated that a Mozambique transit visa for exactly this purpose should cost only US$20 and be easy to obtain in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.  The process was indeed fast and easy, but the visas ended up costing US$110 each.  The rates were confirmed not only by the embassy’s list of prices by country (an Austrian’s transit visas costs $0), but also later by a Malawian passenger on the coach whose Dutch fiancée had to pay US$80.  As Al and I sat in the embassy waiting room we discussed other options: fly from Harare to Dar es Salaam or Arusha; return to Zambia, get new $50 visas (our old ones are single-entry and used up), and go back the way we came; or hop on a coach to Johannesburg and fly from there.  None of these were likely to save us money, so we gave in to the unexpected gouge and bought the visas. 

We are one British and one Canadian.  This letter is accurate as of the day we crossed, Sunday 17 November 2013.  We are currently travelling in a wide southeast African circle from Dar es Salaam to Victoria Falls in Zambia, then through Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, to return to northern Tanzania.  Much of the information here will be repeated in my next letter, on how we crossed from Mozambique to Malawi.  Our crossing prior to this was from Zambia to Zimbabwe, and our next crossing should be from Malawi to Tanzania.

Visas are required for us to enter Mozambique, and there are conflicting reports on whether or not they are issued at border crossings.  It seems that even if you can get the visa at the point of entry, complications and severe delays should be expected.  There are stories of people being stranded overnight at the border post, having to sleep outside until it opened again in the morning.  Furthermore, the conductor of our coach ensured that we had acquired the visas in advance, and others said it was impossible to cross without it. 

We visited the Embassy of Mozambique in Harare (on Herbert Chipeto Avenue, near the US Embassy) on Friday 15 November.  Visa applications are accepted all day, but visas will only be issued on the same day if submitted before noon; otherwise, the service is next-day (for Fridays, this means Monday).  We were each required to fill a single form with basic details as well as provide passports and US$110.  The woman who assisted us was pleasant and helpful enough, but when we made a fuss about the cost and how it must have changed recently, she simply shrugged and told us that the prices reflect what Mozambicans have to pay in the respective countries.  Eventually, we submitted our applications by 10:30am and were told to return at 2pm.  One of us returned with the receipts at 2pm, and had to wait until 2:30pm when the passports with new six-months, multiple entry Mozambique visas were returned.   

Portuguese is the official and most widely-spoken language in Mozambique, and there are numerous others also in use, mostly in the Bantu family, including Swahili.  We did not spend enough time in the country to ascertain the use of English.

Mozambique uses the New Mozambican Metical (MZN), currently valued at MZN 100 = US$3.36 or US$1 = MZN 29.76.  We found money changers on both sides of the border crossing and in the short distance of no man’s land, all offering the same rate: US$1 = MZN 30. 

The Route
After taking a mixture of trains and buses from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to Livingstone in Zambia, we caught a sleeper train from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to Bulawayo, and then a coach to Masvingo near the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.  Northbound coaches from Johannesburg make a lunch stop in Masvingo, and one had two spare seats to take us to Harare.  From there we took a full-day coach via Mozambique to Blantyre, Malawi, passing over the Zambezi river at Tete, Mozambique.  We crossed into Mozambique at Nyamapanda, and into Malawi at Zobwe.

Our Means of Travel
We travelled from Harare, Zimbabwe, to Blantyre, Malawi, by coach.  Two companies offer services between the two cities: Zupco and Premier.  Both depart Harare for Blantyre at 7am every day except Saturday.  Premier is known on both the internet and in Harare as the faster, more comfortable service, and we purchased our tickets with them the day prior to departure, on Saturday, for US$30 each.

The coach was comfortable enough, though the air conditioning did not function and the rear top-hatch was missing (if it had rained heavily, we would have been a little cooler, but soaked).  We boarded the coach at 6:45am, and it left the coach station by 7:30.  Onboard we paid the US$1 departure fee per person, though we were expected to pay before boarding (the collecting agent was happy, however, as he didn’t record our names and probably pocketed the fees for himself).  The Mozambique border held us back for 40 minutes, and the Malawi border for two and a half hours.  We arrived in Blantyre at 8:45pm – 14 hours onboard.

The Border
About an hour before arriving at the border the coach conductor issued each passenger with two photocopied Mozambican immigration forms, used for both entry and exit.  We arrived at Nyamapanda, on the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border, at 11:15am.  Everyone departed the bus and formed a queue at the Zimbabwe immigration office.  There were no other buses passing through at the same time, so our whole coach was processed and exit-stamped in ten minutes.  We walked five minutes to the Mozambique border office and waited in a queue for 20 minutes.  Without a word we handed over our passports with filled-out white forms and received our Mozambique entry stamps from the excessively rude and dismissive border official, who looked like he was going to spit on our fresh Mozambique visas before flicking our passports back in our faces.  Outside the building we passed through a final inspection point, where an assault rifle-wielding guard checked for Yellow Fever certificates.  We were back on the coach and on our way before noon.

What We Needed

In Harare
US$220 for visa fees ($110 each, Canadian and British at the same rate)
One simple application form each
Four hours wait for the visas

For the bus
US$60 ($30 each) for the ticket
US$2 ($1 each) for Harare Coach Station departure fees (yes, it is legitimate)

At the border
40 minutes waiting, including a five minute walk
Passports with Mozambique visas acquired beforehand
One filled-out immigration form (Mozambique) per person, which required our address at destination (in Blantyre, Malawi)
Yellow Fever vaccination certificates

Being charged such a ridiculous amount to transit through a country certainly made us think twice about going.  There were also a number of people who told us stories about Mozambique: terrible roads, corrupt bureaucracy, and tough for tourists.  When we took a photo of the Zimbabwe exit point, someone else on the bus said that was fine, but we better not take one of the Mozambique side.  This was the sort of thing we got used to back in West Africa, and it makes Mozambique somewhat of a sad anomaly in this otherwise easygoing and visitor-friendly region of Africa.  That being said, after six hours of passing through, Mozambique seems like a beautiful country.  I’d like to go back, and maybe I will – I’ve got just less than six months remaining on my thick-paper visa, and it still looks very fresh.

Happy trails,


Embassy of Mozambique in Harare 
Visa fee rates, page 1
Visa fee rates, page 2
Visa fee rates, page 3
Visa fee rates, page 4
Visa fee rates, page 5
Leaving Zimbabwe