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Angola - Travel and visas
Tourist visas were introduced for the first time in November 2007 and quickly gained a reputation as being one of the hardest tourist visas in Africa to get hold of. The original list of requirements was truly mind-boggling: health certificates, proof of residence, bank statements, letters from your employer, and of course the ever-elusive (certified) letter of invitation. Thankfully, after 11 years of frustration, things suddenly changed. In March 2018 President Lourenço scrapped this whole process and introduced a tourist visa on arrival for citizens of 35 countries, later expanding it to 59 countries (including all EU nations). You still need to apply online and receive pre-approval before landing. However, traveller reports indicate that as long as you upload the correct documentation, an approval email is sent to you within 72 hours of your application. You then show this approval at your port of entry to collect and pay for your tourist visa.
At the time of writing (October 2018) the cost was US$120 or €120, with payment accepted in cash or by Visa. A full list of the eligible nationalities and required document scans can be found at smevisa.gov.ao. The general requirements are scans of: passport, passport photo, yellow fever certificate, proof of accommodation, a recent bank statement showing at least US$200 per day you are visiting and a scan of your inbound and outbound ticket. Note that once the e-visa approval is issued, you have 30 days to arrive in Angola and collect your tourist visa (not 60 days, as it says on the website’s out-of-date terms and conditions).
Tourist visas must be used within 30 days of issue and are valid for multiple entries and for a stay of up to 30 days. They can generally be extended twice for a further 60 days total (page 56). Tourist visas do not allow the holder to work in Angola. If you plan to travel overland to or from the exclave of Cabinda, check carefully that your visa is a multiple-entry one, particularly if you were given a short-stay visa instead of a tourist visa.
The vast majority of visitors will fly into the international airport at Luanda. Flights into and out of Angola used to be fully booked and extremely expensive by international standards. Thankfully those days are behind us, as Angola’s economy opens up and there is an increase in competition on the routes. TAAG are working hard at making Luanda a transit hub for air traffic between southern Africa and South America, so do not be surprised if your flight in from Johannesburg is full of South Africans heading to Brazil. You should be fine booking flights and hotels through major online travel agents, but car hire is best done through local Angolan tour operators.
The airport is only 3km from Luanda, but it can take anywhere between 20 minutes and 90 minutes, depending on traffic, to reach the city centre. The airport is properly known as Aeroporto 4 de Fevereiro and its name commemorates the start of the armed struggle against Portuguese colonialism. It has two terminals: one each for international and domestic flights. If transferring between international and domestic flights, allow at least a couple of hours and seek the help of ground handling staff. The terminals are not physically connected and you will need to take a taxi. Beware of being overcharged: the drive is only about 5 minutes with no traffic! A new airport is being built 30km out of Luanda close to the town of Viana and is expected to open in phases from 2020.
Apart from the occasional cruise liner, passenger ships do not usually dock in Angolan ports. Private yachts and other small vessels would be treated with great suspicion and mooring facilities are poor to non-existent outside of the capital.
TAAG has come a long way since it was banned from EU airspace in 2007 due to safety concerns. In fact, as of September 2018 TAAG is now the only Angolan airline not banned from EU airspace. You can find the full list of 13 other operators (including SonAir) here.
If you decide to fly, you are likely to buy a ticket with either TAAG or SonAir. There are smaller operators based out of airports such as Cabinda’s, but they have limited routes. Most Angolan domestic airlines are small and have very limited backup or support. Flights can be cancelled without notice, and can leave passengers stranded with no information or refund. You can buy tickets for most of the domestic airlines from any travel agent in Luanda, however, it is easier to buy online at TAAG’s website. Alternatively, you can go to the domestic terminal at the airport and buy your ticket from one of the booths in the departures hall. The domestic terminal at Luanda airport was enlarged and refurbished in 2012. It now has VIP and CIP waiting rooms, shops, a café and limited parking (only 90 cars). Allow 2 hours for check-in if you have bags. If you are flying with hand baggage only, you can print your boarding pass at home and breeze through security in about 15 minutes (assuming there is no queue). You will need your passport even for domestic flights.
Until very recently, Angola was one of the few countries in the world where there were no licensed taxis to pre-book or hail on the street. Things are improving slowly and there are now at least four licensed taxi companies – Afri-taxi, Morvic, Arvorense Táxi and Rogerius Táxi. Afri-taxi is the largest with a fleet of 300 vehicles, with 150 in Luanda and the rest distributed between Cabinda, Benguela and Lubango. It operates between 06.00 and 22.00. All of Luanda’s taxi services are expensive and not that reliable. An easier option is to download the Allo Taxi app and book a collection (in the same way you would use Uber). You can also register an account and make online bookings via its website. Allo Taxi are reliable and you can register a credit card on the site so you do not need cash.
Unbooked reliable taxis are still in short supply and this makes life for the visitor incredibly difficult as walking in Luanda at night is generally considered to be unsafe, and great care should be taken elsewhere. Business visitors should ensure that their company or sponsor has arranged transport to and from the airport and will provide a car and driver for the duration of their visit.
Tourists will need to make arrangements in advance with their hotel or a local travel agency for airport transfers (not all hotels offer a transfer service), book an Allo Taxi collection, or take their chances that a taxi will be available at the airport. If not, they may need to take a potentially unsafe informal taxi or use collective minibuses. To use an informal taxi, just ask around at the airport or hotel or even on the street. There will be plenty of offers but the vehicle is likely to be unlicensed, uninsured, unroadworthy, badly driven and expensive. Embassies recommend against using them. Personal safety is a concern and single females and anyone carrying valuables should not get into the car of a complete stranger. If possible use a driver recommended by your hotel, or contact a travel agency. Informal taxis can be hired for short or long journeys. They tend to ply fixed routes and charge fixed prices, usually 100–200AOA. However, you’re likely to be charged more as a foreigner than other local passengers. If you are planning a longer journey and need a car to yourself, most Angolans know someone, who knows someone, who has a car and could drive you. Be sure to negotiate a rate in advance and stick to it. If you are staying in an expensive hotel you won’t be able to negotiate a cheap rate – so expect to pay US$100 upwards per day.
First-time visitors to Luanda would be well advised not to hire a car on arrival. The roads are chaotic, traffic is very slow, there are few decent maps and even fewer road signs. Instead I strongly recommend you ask your hotel if they will provide an airport transfer service or contact one of the local travel agents.
There are grand plans to link the cities of Cabinda, Soyo, Nzeto, Dande, Luanda, Porto Amboim, Lobito, Benguela and Namibe by ferryboat. Whereas these are rather ambitious, there is already a 150-seater ferry service running between Luanda’s slave museum, Caposocca (where you get the boats to Mussulo) and the Port of Luanda. However, at the time of writing, there were only a few services per day, concentrated in the mornings, following the sinking of one of the ferries in June 2018.
On rural roads hitchhiking may be the only way to get around if you do not have your own vehicle. Your driver will ask for a gasosa (a payment) and bear in mind that very low driving standards make hitching a risky option, but not that unusual.