One week ago I arrived in Ghana, and though I had already booked flights out of Accra, there was never a guarantee I’d make it inside the country in the first place.
Troubles Obtaining a Ghanaian Visa
Before my trip to West Africa I had researched a few countries’ visa requirements to give myself a few ideas of where I might like to visit following the completion of my 6 month internship in Ivory Coast. Ghana seemed a good idea: english speaking, next door to Ivory Coast, relatively travelled with a few key tourist attractions, and easily accessible by bus. I then found an article online stating that it was very difficult for a British Citizen to get a visa for Ghana if they were applying from a country other than the UK. As I didn’t want to plan anything too far in advance, I would be applying for the visa in Abidjan.. which it seemed might not be possible. I soon put the idea of visiting Ghana out of my mind.
A couple of months into my stay in Abidjan, I revisited the idea. I took myself to the Ghanaian embassy and asked what I would have to do to get a tourist visa for Ghana. They told me that unless I was a resident in Cote d’Ivoire I wasn’t eligible to apply. I was disappointed, but I had been expecting it, so once again I forgot about the idea of travelling to Ghana. (I have since heard stories of people that have succeeded in getting their visa at the embassy, though they said it was far more hassle than for any other country, with a lot of paperwork required and many administrative delays. Why are you making this so complicated Ghana?!). Another few months passed and I met a friend of a friend, who was just about to embark on a trip from Abidjan to Ghana! She had had the exact same problem with her US passport, but had been informed that it was possible to acquire a visa at the border, provided you had money on you. Intrigued as to how the affair would pan out, I stayed in contact with her, and a week later she had safely and easily made it to Accra! Excellent! And thus I began to plan a trip to Ghana myself…
Travelling to Ghana without a visa: Go Overland!
If, like me, you are without visa and wanting to travel to Ghana from a neighbouring country you will need to travel overland and negotiate your visa at the border. There is no way you will be allowed on a plane without a visa! From Abidjan the main bus to Accra is run by the bus company STC, who’s station is located in Treichville. A ticket will cost you 19,000CFA , however I wouldn’t advise this option. Firstly, they are not technically authorised to sell bus tickets to those without a visa (though I did manage to persuade them..) and secondly, the bus is unlikely to wait for you at the border. You will take far more time there, busy obtaining your visa, than the other buss passengers who will pass through immigration with ease, visa in hand.
Though I had already bought my STC bus ticket (prior to having thought about point number 2 above), I was offered a lift by friends to the border which I gladly accepted, happy to guarantee myself a comfortable and easy first 3 hours for my day-long journey from Abidjan to Accra. For those who don’t have friends with a car who are coincidentally travelling to Ghana on the same day as you, I would suggest taking a gbaka (Ivorian name for minibus) from Abidjan to the border, which you can catch from Treichville, near the STC station, for approximately 7,000CFA. They will drop you at the Ivory Coast border, where you can catch a taxi to the Ghana border immigration office and organise yourself a visa. Once you have successfully obtained your visa, another short taxi ride will take you to the Ghana bus station, where you can get a tro tro (Ghanaian name for shared minibus) to Accra for 48 cedis (and an extra 10 cedis to transport an item of luggage in the limited boot space). You should be aware that there are no fixed schedules for these busses, they will leave when they are full, which meant I was waiting a good 3-4 hours. I was quite happy though, sitting in my chosen seat on the bus reading my kindle, with a breeze coming in through the open window. After being in West Africa a while, you get used to the lack of schedule!
Top Tip: Make a Friend
Arriving at the border I unloaded my bags from the car and tentatively approached the immigration reception desk. I was warmly welcomed, to which I reciprocated a cheerful greeting and then stated that I wished to apply for a Ghanaian visa. They pointed towards the official I should speak to, but on my way there another man started talking to me, not in uniform. He appeared to be well informed about border procedures. He asked me where I was from, and upon mentioning my British nationality he immediately wanted to talk football with me, asking what team I supported. I do not follow football in the slightest, but in the spirit of making friends who might be able to help me I told him I supported Tottenham. Unfortunately this team was not compatible with Chelsea, his team of choice, but we laughed about it (and luckily he didn’t ask me any more detailed questions about football!).
At the visa official’s desk they ask me a bunch of questions: why I was going to Ghana, why I didn’t have a visa (a last minute emergency was my story of choice), how long I planned to stay in the country and where I would be staying. I pulled out a few documents such as an invitation letter, which I thought would help my cause, and from that point on my new friend handled all the negotiations. He entered the office and had a decent chat with them, before returning to me to tell me my request for a visa had been accepted provided I paid $150, which I promptly handed over. (I had been informed prior to arrival that this is how much the visa should cost at the border). However, on handing over the money, they looked at my 20 dollar bills strangely. After some deliberation they told me that only $50 and $100 bills were accepted. Apparently $20 bills have less value at the border.. so more money would be needed to reach the equivalent of $150 in value… This seemed very strange to me, but ultimately I wanted to cross the border. I paid the additional fee in CFA (about 30,000), filled out a form, and after a 20 minute wait I had my passport stamped with a 14 day visa and I was on my way!
“On my way” except I didn’t know which way I was going exactly. I turned back to my friend and asked him where I could get a bus to Accra, and where I could buy credit for my phone. He said he would escort me as it wasn’t an easy walking distance. Before I knew it I was getting into his car and he drove me – first to buy credit and to show me how to load the credit onto my phone (I already had a Ghanaian SIM card lent to me by a friend) – and secondly to the bus station, where he found me the correct driver, helped me buy a bus ticket, and then, after explaining to him where my final destination was in Accra, he explained to me in which neighbourhood the bus would be dropping me, and which instructions I should give to a taxi once in Accra in order to find to my accommodation easily.
I’m sure I would have been able to figure this all out myself, but having made a friend (and someone who could speak the local language, Twi) everything happened with ease. Others might have been weary to jump in his car, but I have learnt of people’s kindness during my time in Ivory Coast, and I never doubted he simply wanted to help me out. It turns out he was an official who was off duty that day. As the town by the border is so small and according to him it is boring to stay home, he comes in even on his day off, simply to chat with colleagues and other people such as myself. He said that if he hadn’t decided to take me under his wing (his reason being that he felt bad for me as I was alone), his colleagues would have given me a much more difficult time, potentially refusing me entry. We’ll never know for sure what would have happened if I hadn’t met him, but what I do know is that friendliness and trust will get you a long way in West Africa. Before we parted ways I asked him to teach me the most important phrase in Twi: “Etisan” which roughly translates to “how’s it going”, and the answer “Eye“, “good”. This has since helped me befriend other Ghanaians, and allowed me to extend a warm greeting to people in the street.
What to bring with you to ensure you cross the border:
As I stated, a 14 day visa at the border should cost $150, but I would bring a bit more money to be safe. Currencies accepted are US dollars, CFA and Cedi. You should also ensure you spread your cash out in lots of different pockets. You don’t want any official to know how much money you have as they may then round up prices, or ask for extra bribes (but have the money ready in a different pocket in case they are adamant they need more money).
This should be an obvious one… you are travelling internationally. There is no way they can grant you a visa without your passport!
- Invitation Letter
Though they didn’t explicitly ask me for my invitation letter, it is normal procedure to require a lettre (or hotel reservation) in order to obtain a visa. I would also advise addressing the letter to the border officials in the specific place you will be crossing (for example, if you are coming from Abidjan, you should address the letter to the Ghana border officials at Elubo). Even if they don’t ask for a letter, they will require an address of where you’ll be staying in Ghana, along with contact details, so have this information ready.
- Passport Photos
Passport sized photos are often required to attach to your visa application form. They didn’t ask for mine, but better to be safe than sorry.
- A flight out of the country (?)
I had already booked my flight out of Accra before arriving in Ghana. Though this could be considered a bit risky, I thought it gave me the added confidence that I “would” successfully cross the border and enjoy 2 weeks in Ghana. I also saw it as an extra bargaining resource as I had proof I would be leaving the country. (I would recommend planning to stay within the standard 14 days they issue at the border. I don’t know what the procedure is at the border if you want to stay longer than that, and I would probably recommend re-trying to apply for a tourist visa at the embassy, as this would last you 3 months.)
To those about to embark on a border-crossing journey, I wish you good luck! Just keep your cool, be friendly, (bring money), and you’ll be absolutely fine. I would love to hear your stories and experiences!