The Visa from Hell
May 14, 2005
I arrived in Addis and immediately heard reports of the difficulty of obtaining a visa for Sudan. In Cairo, the Sudanese embassy issues visas in two hours, but In Addis, tourists had been waiting months for a visa. There was no logic behind it - but I've learned not to expect logic in Africa. A refugee camp of sorts had been established at one hotel where a half-dozen tourist trucks were parked. The vehicle's owners sat around every day with nothing to do but wait and hope that their visa would show up tomorrow.
Some overland travelers flew to Cairo, picked up a Sudanese visa, and then flew back to Addis. Others tried shipping their passports to embassies in their home countries. But, most just sat there with glazed eyes "They tell me my visa will be ready tomorrow."
While waiting for my laptop, I had time to fully investigate the situation. I never seriously considered flying up to Egypt for a Sudanese visa and, I'm glad that I didn't, because later I heard first-hand reports that Sudanese visas in Cairo are issued in 2 hours for everyone... except Americans. Sudanese visas for Americans in Cairo take 6 weeks. A number of people insisted that the Sudanese would never give a visa as an American. They might have had a point at, as the US did bomb them back in 1998 - but I had to give it a shot.
The process for getting a visa is not difficult, in theory. Previously, the embassy required a letter of introduction from your embassy, but that is no longer good enough. Now, you need authorization from the ministry of foreign affairs in Khartoum. This is expensive, but easy. You email a travel agent in Khartoum, and for a $75 fee, the travel agent will walk over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and arrange your authorization. The authorization is then faxed to the embassy in Addis, and they issue your visa. That's the theory; a bit bureaucratic, but easy.
I mailed a travel agent named Amr Aljundi. He told me that he would try to get me authorization. One quirk of travel agents in Sudan is that they work on an honor system. Because of the embargo, it is impossible to send money to Sudan, and you don't pay for services rendered until you arrive in Khartoum. It was an unfortunate situation for Amr, and a good situation for me, because I was not going to be able to pay him unless he succeeded in getting me a visa.
I waited, and waited, and slowly started to believe that I would never get a visa. And so, I began work on a backup plan. The most interesting overland route around Sudan (though perhaps impossible) was through Djibouti, to Eritrea, and then by boat to Egypt. Finally, as I didn't want to rush him, I mailed Amr for a status update. He wrote back that my visa should be waiting for me.
First thing the next morning, I made my way over to the infamous Sudanese embassy. It's a squat little building. The shaded waiting area has enough tightly packed wooden benches to seat 100 people. I got the next to the last seat, on the last bench.
Everyone sat silently. Once in a while, a name would be called and that person would go to the desk in front and fill out paperwork. I asked if my name should be on the list, but was ignored. After 90 minutes of waiting, only a half-dozen names had been called. But then unexpectedly, I was summoned into the inner office. It was a big upgrade. I sat waiting on a comfortable couch, watching TV, before being called over to one of the desks. I explained that they should already have my authorization for a visa. The clerk searched though a folder of faxes, and then told me that they had nothing. He told me to come back tomorrow, and check again.
I was back almost where I started. I mailed Amr and told him to please resend the authorization. This process would repeat itself. Khartoum sent my fax to the embassy 3 times, and I went back to the embassy at least 4 times looking for the fax.
More than a month had passed since beginning the process, and I still didn't have my visa. I was ready to give up, but then, with no explanation, a list with 5 names, including my own, magically appeared. They asked for two photos and $61 dollars. I was lucky in that sense, as they randomly demanded blood tests from other tourists. It took yet another week before the visa was actually issued because the embassy decided, without telling anyone, to go on vacation. Getting a Sudanese visa can try anyone's patience!
No one knows why it takes so long to get a Sudanese visa in Addis. It's a great mystery, but my theory is that the ambassador insists on personally approving all incoming faxes... and he works only one day a month.
The Sudanese embassy isn't the only one with problems. There were classic stories about the Djiboutian embassy too. They insist upon having a letter of introduction from your embassy. Some embassies charge twenty or thirty dollars for these letters. The Djiboutians require this letter, but they don't even read it. A Dutch tourist presented them a letter in Flemish, which they could not read, but they didn't even blink, and gave him a visa. The American embassy no longer writes letters of introduction. Instead, my embassy gives (for free) letters explaining that they do not write letters of introduction. The Djibouti embassy accepts these letters too, without question. The moral of the story is: Do not even try to expect logic from African embassies.
The Djibouti embassy ran out of stickers, and couldn't issue visas for two weeks. They got in a shipment of stickers, used them all up on the stack of waiting passports, and then couldn't issue visas for another two weeks.
My friend Steve finally managed to get approved for a visa. Come back tomorrow to pick it up, they told him. Cheerfully, he arrived back at the embassy in the morning. But the guard refused him entry. "I cannot let you in without a passport." "But.... my passport is inside", Steve pleaded. The guard was still adamant with his rule. You don't usually want to scream at a guy with a gun, but I imagine that's exactly what Steve did before the guard finally conceded and let him in to pick up his passport.
If you're heading to Sudan, and need help getting authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (or help with anything else), here is the contact information for two good travel agents:
Mafaza Travel Services
Leave a comment! I'm much more inspired to write when I know people are reading.
Crazy. Totally crazy. :) I deduce that while travelling through the Black Africa you need every time(mean: in every single country) an alternative plan? This is totally interactive travel :D
Ben Smart - Aug 31, 2005
Visas for Djibouti can be got (without a letter of introduction) from the embassy in Dira Dawa. The embassy is about 10min walk from the train station. Itll take about 2 hours to get one. The embassy closes from 12.30 3pm each day for lunch.
One drawback the visa costs $35 and not the $30 you pay in Addis. You'll also need 1x passport photo
midhat - Oct 25, 2005
how are you ?
thanks alot for you
with my regards
hope to se you in sudan and if youn ned help in sudan jest contact me
thanks once again
E - mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Roberta - Oct 25, 2005
I am a Canadian booked on a tour to Sudan using a UK tour agent. Canadians applying for a Sudanese visa in Canada must have a "travel permit" faxed to the Embassy from the Sudan government. This was never indicated in their website. I am 9 days away from leaving Canada and will have to fly to Cairo without obtaining the Sudan visa in Canada as cancellation insurance will not cover this situation and I doubt that the travel co. will do anything to assist me after they received my money. I am placing all hope that I can get the visa in Cairo and, after reading about your experiences, I feel finally a bit optimistic.
Thanks for posting this.
FRANK - Feb 22, 2007
its all the same thing getting an american visa or european visa in nigeria. you pay a hundred dollars and be sure you will not be given. Seems they decide on what number to give but then why collect $100 from over 2000 person per day.
Karen - Apr 27, 2007
I was wondering about getting Sudanese visas in Egypt, so this was good news and useful to know it only takes 2 hours. However, have just noticed your article is from 2005. Hope it's still applicable. All the info was important too, which you wrote.
As of 2007, that info still seems correct. But Sudan is a bit of a crazy country, the rules and regulations can change day to day.
saeed ghous bhatti - Aug 03, 2007
give me visa
EMO - Sept 10, 2007
Just a liitle comment over what has been posted.
YOU've got a point there, you never expect a logic from African Embassies, am african but I admit this is the reality.
Much thanks, and write more...
samuel - Sept 11, 2007
Thanks for the entry and especially Amr's contact info. I'm in the states trying to secure a Sudan tourist visa before I head out on almost the exact same route -- Flying into Dar and ending up in Beirut. Hopefully with Amr's help I won't have to to experience the same "visa from hell" though I certainly wouldn't mind hanging out indefinitely in Ethiopia, if i had the time.
- Feb 21, 2008
Thanks very much for your useful info here. Hoping our trip to Sudan could go well.