Living it Large in Africa-the do’s and don’ts of applying for visas and work permits!

Thank you for supporting Payroll Pundit and reading my ramblings. It has been a reasonably eventful week and a friend of mine was travelling to Africa and hit some visa bumps along the way, so I thought this would be an ideal article to manage anyone’s expectations when it comes to applying for work permits or visas in Africa.

Cardinal rule number 1- have no expectations. Take each day as it comes and expect surprises along the way.

When I started my career in Immigration, I facilitated visas for Canada, Australia and Europe. The visa applications were relatively seamless and my stress levels were zero. Fast forward to two years later when I got involved with African Immigration- what a game changer! I have been in the Immigration field for 7 years now and have learnt to strike a happy medium of having no expectations and expecting the unexpected.

I have done over a 1000 applications to over 25 African counties, and due to the nature of the game- I research each application as if I was doing it for the first time.  This is not because I lack confidence in my capabilities, it is because the visa/immigration goal posts are constantly changing.

My typical day starts by calling the embassies or local immigration departments to ensure that there have been no changes since the last application was submitted a week ago! They assure that there have been no changes and get quite exasperated by my tenth call for the week.  I then breathe a sigh of relief and get the application together for the contractor to submit at the embassy, only for the contractor to call me and inform me that there is a notification on the wall stating that applications will now only be accepted on certain days or they no longer accept cash payments.

After a call the embassy or immigration authorities as to inquire about the sudden changes, I am told that I should have called to confirm before the application was made! At this point anxiety sets in because you have to explain this to the client and go through the whole process again and hope and pray for the best that there aren’t any more nasty surprises in store.

While most immigration departments have the list of requirements on their websites, the lists are mostly outdated and more than 5 years old. Some do not possess a website at all and one is therefore expected to phone to confirm that all is in order. They rarely ever respond to emails and if they do, it is usually an answer not related to the query or a one word answer such as yes. At larger embassies, you can speak to ten different people and get ten variations of answer for the same question.  My all-time favourite is “Extra documents may be requested at the discretion of the official”. This is why I always add additional documents (Even if they are not required), based on previous experience.

The aim of this article is to make clients aware that from the onset of your application, processes change with little or no prior notice and that unregulated requests are normal and often legal.

Summary of Challenges

  • 3 days is never 3 days and neither is 14 days 14 days, regardless of what the embassy says. The following formula applies: 3 days – add an additional 3-7 days. If they say 14 days, add an additional week or two.
  • If you phone for advice or requirements- please phone more than once and if you speak to different officials, make notes so that you can cross reference the advice.
  • If you are still unsure about the information at hand, pick up the phone again and ask to speak to a senior official. It may take a while and on the third of 4th attempt one might get lucky.
  • Don’t expect emails to be answered. emails are returned with one syllable answers. If you want to go the email route, I insist that you ask one question per email as questions 2- 5 are usually ignored. 
  • Rest assured that the goal posts will move, constantly. On Monday the application will be accepted and on Wednesday they will ask why the application form is typed out and not handwritten.
  • Always be cordial and refer to officials as Sir/Madam or Mr and Mrs so and so. They are very formal and they find it disrespectful to be buddy buddy with them on a first name basis. If you have spoken to them 100 times, refrain from calling them by their first name unless they indicate otherwise. 
  • Follow up every 3- 4 days. The point of this exercise is to ensure that they do not require any additional documents or changes to current documents.
  • Documents are known to be misplaced occasionally (Particularly South Africa) . Zambia and Botswana are fond of losing photographs.
  • Never show your frustration and never raise your voice or get flighty with the Immigration officials- it may affect or impede your application. 

Having said that there are some African countries that are very efficient. Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria have excellent visa process. Since Angola upgraded their immigration system, it is now much easier to apply than before.

On a whole, it is a frustrating experience and not for the fainthearted- I would not like to sugar coat the experience. It is therefore imperative to make use of professionals with years of experience in this field as they usually have built a good rapport with the necessary officials in the Embassies and Immigration Departments and are able to overcome obstacles.  There have been many who attempted to do the visa themselves and just gave up.

Should you require any work permit assistance, please feel free to contact

Have a fabulous weekend.