Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Travel Guide: Senegal Visa Shenanigans

Senegal recently (within the past month, I think) began requiring tourist/business visas for visitors to the country. They are calling it a “reciprocity” visa... meaning, if you come from a country that requires a Senegalese person to apply for a visa, than you are now required a visa to come to Senegal. Whelp... fair enough.

Although I live and work in Senegal, I travel so frequently that I’ve been staying here without a visa (I never overstay the 3 month limit). When I was teaching, I had a one year resident visa but it has since expired.

So you can imagine my panic when I decided to travel at the last minute and did not know how the visa process would work—these things can be lengthy and bothersome, and I was already IN Senegal for that matter. Would I have to visit a consulate in France during my five day trip? Would I be allowed back in Senegal??

Let's take a moment to remember what Customs looks like at the Dakar airport:

Originally from here, as I mentioned the Dakar airport in a post about travel.

So here’s how the process did go down (and of course, there’s some typical Kim-stress thrown in for good measure!)

1. I "pre-enrolled" for the visa online at this website: You need:
          a. a scanned copy of your passport,
          b. hotel reservation,
          c. return flight itinerary or reservation,
          d. as well as contact information for someone in Senegal.

2. I did not have a hotel reservation or a return flight leaving Senegal, so I wrote myself a Letter of Invitation with the address I’d be staying at and just uploaded my Dakar-Marseille-Dakar ticket, hoping for the best. Desperate times call for desperate measures!

3. I paid 50 euros online after filling out the forms, and was emailed a receipt with barcode that I needed to print. (P.S. For no apparent reason my Visa card was declined, so my mom kindly paid for me.)

4. Of course, I had no printer at the time... Later I searched the entire Casablanca airport for a printer to no avail. My solution was to email C. the document to print and bring to Customs in Dakar on the other side.

5. Panicked during my layover, I made a reservation for a flight leaving Senegal later in the month (I did not pay for it, of course). I actually will be leaving for work but I don’t have my ticket yet. I emailed this to C. to print.

6. I entered the Dakar airport slightly anxious but confident it would all work out somehow {as things always do}.

7. I called C. and he hadn’t made it into Customs yet... I beat him to it as my flight was early, so the printing plan didn’t help me at all :-/

Upon arriving at the Dakar Airport... 

1. As soon as we reached Customs/Border Security, a few officials were calling out for people who hadn’t purchased their visa yet. I don’t know if this will always be an option, but apparently I didn’t even have to buy it online!

2. I explained my situation (not having the printed receipt with barcode) and they told me to go through as normal. I passed through security to some offices set up explicitly for visa processing.

3. They absolutely needed the barcode or I would have to purchase another visa. So, I pulled out my laptop and charger, hooked it up in the office, and showed them the barcode on my screen (only in Africa?). This was enough!

4. I didn’t need any other printed documents (I thought I needed the reservation, etc.). They had a machine on hand to take my picture, scan my finger prints, etc. The policeman asked me some simple questions (my job, position) and was extremely friendly. In fact, he automatically gave me the 3 month visa with multiple entries and didn’t seem to care at all that I didn’t have a flight leaving Senegal. Phew!

5. With this information, they simply printed a visa sticker with my picture and slapped it in my passport. Bingo bango.

6. At this point I backtracked to Customs and my passport was stamped.

Victory! I am allowed on Senegalese soil!

In conclusion—the visa process was quite easy and not stressful, for me, this time. It might be different for someone coming from a different country, or someone older, or a man... I don’t know. (Lets not be naive—my age and gender probably played a part in the ease of this process ;) And it might be difficult for me next time around, especially if the official on duty isn’t so friendly and laidback.

The only thing you absolutely need is your printed receipt with barcode, or else you will have to buy another visa on the spot—though an electronic copy will suffice. I also didn’t know if I’d be allowed multiple entries, and I am... so that’s a plus! The one mistake I made was to apply with my French passport. All my other visas are in my U.S. passport so I’ll have to travel with both from now on. Oh, well!

I hope this was or will be helpful to someone out there! If anything, you got a peek at the chaos that is Kim traveling... My mom likes to joke that I have bad travel karma; I call it rolling with the self-induced-stress-punches ;)

If anyone out there has questions about the new visa process for traveling to Senegal, feel free to comment or email me!

I'm also taking this opportunity to link-up with Belinda from Found Love Now What, and Bonnie at A Compass Rose for Travel Tuesdays. We expats must stick together!

Found Love. Now What?

(P.S. Love their button! ;)


  1. Arg, I remember trying to enter the US the first time after moving to Germany. My Green Card was still active, because I haven't been outside the country for more than a year. What I did not know is that we actually need a residence address in the US for the Green Card to be accepted (learned that at the Munich airport when the computer would not accept the GC with a German address, so we were smarter once we arrived at the US port of entry). So we arrive slightly beat up in Philadelphia and meet a very nosy border control officer. "Why did you leave the country?", "Why have you been outside the country for 10 months?", "What did you do outside the country for all that time?", "Do you REALLY live in the States again??". After a while, the hubby was fed up and silenced the guy by announcing: "My wife works for *insert company* and has been on delegation!" Guy shuts up, stamps my passport, and sends me on my way with a "Welcome home Ma'am!" Hubby rules ;-)

    Glad everything went well for you! Will you try for a permanent or resident visa or just keep paying the 50 Euro per quarter for your tourist visa?

    1. U.S. customs is the WORST!!! That was the thing with my Senegal customs adventure... as anxious as I was, I knew I'd get out of it somehow. In the U.S..... no such guarantee! Glad your husband worked some magic though ;) Actually, I was recently questioned pretty intensely in Minneapolis as to how I got my U.S. passport (having been born in France). I was totally taken off guard and stuttered my response. Luckily, he dropped it after a few hard-hitting questions.

      As for Senegal... I'm not sure what I'm going to do! Probably depends on what my work is willing to pay for ;) We shall see!

  2. US Customs Story: When returning to the US from studying abroad I was questioned by an agent at DFW Airport in Dallas, TX, my first stop in the US. A large 60 year old man with a beer gut and 10-gallon hat flips through my passport and sees that I have been to Amsterdam, "I see that you have been to Amsterdam ma'am, were you SMOKING POT in Amsterdam?" he asked me in a accusatory tone!!!!! I was so scared being back in the US after a long time abroad and was totally experiencing some reverse culture shock,and this set me over the edge. I was seriously regretting leaving Europe at that moment!

    1. Hahaha.... as if you would own up to that voluntarily to a U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL!!! I probably would have cried, haha. There is something so intimidating about their questioning, even when it is ridiculous!

  3. that is good, me and my kids are going in May 2013 to live and we lived their before for a year & never had to apply for a visa so I'm wondering what kind of issues will i have with our one-way tickets.

  4. Oh they have the same policy as the Brazilian visa. Reciprocity.

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