Travel and visas in Ivory Coast

Visas

You do not need a visa to visit Ivory Coast for up to 90 days if you are a citizen of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Philippines, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Togo or Tunisia.

If you hail from anywhere else you will require a visa for which you must apply online. You will need to provide copies of your passport identity page, your airline ticket and your hotel booking/evidence of alternative accommodation. Visas cost €140/93,397.50F, are multi-entry and valid for one stay up to three months from the date of entry. Multiple-entry visas are valid for the same period of time.

The authorities will inform you by email within two working days as to whether your application has been approved or not. If it has, you will receive a ‘pre-enrolment document’ by email that you will have to present at the airport when you arrive in Abidjan whereupon the visa will be added to your passport.

Should you want to stay in Ivory Coast for longer than three months, you will have to apply for a visa extension once you are in the country (a somewhat bureaucratic process handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abidjan) and pay an additional fee for every extra 30 days. It’s worth knowing that a visa extension in Abidjan might take two weeks to process, whereas it shouldn’t take more than 48 hours at any other regional capital. A more attractive option might be to cross into a neighbouring country and get an extra three months on your return to Ivory Coast.

It’s compulsory to have a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate to enter Ivory Coast, and customs officials will likely check you have one upon arrival.

For security reasons, it’s advisable to write up all your important information in a document and email copies to yourself and a few trusted friends or relatives, together with a scan of your passport (which will facilitate getting a quick replacement if it is lost or stolen). Other information you might want to include on the document are your flight details, travel insurance policy details and 24-hour emergency contact number, passport number, details of relatives or friends to be contacted in an emergency, bank and credit card details, camera and lens serial numbers, etc.

Getting there and away

By air

At the time of writing there are no direct flights to Abidjan from the UK, USA or Canada, so passengers from these countries usually have to change in Brussels or Paris. Unless it’s absolutely unavoidable, don’t even think about flying to Ivory Coast on a one-way ticket and organising your return once you are there. Firstly, you may encounter serious problems with airport immigration officials if you don’t arrive on a return ticket and, secondly, flights out of Abidjan are very expensive, so you’ll almost certainly end up paying double what you would for a cheap return.

Overland

There are two overland routes between Europe and Ivory Coast. Both start in Morocco and involve crossing the Sahara – one via Algeria and the other via Mauritania – then continuing through Mali and Burkina Faso. The Algeria option has been impassable for some years now, and more recent events in Mali mean that this country should be avoided altogether for the time being at least.

For readers based in the UK, the best way to gauge the situation would be to get in touch with the many overland truck companies that advertise in magazines such as TNT and Time Out. Frankly, unless you have a reliable 4×4, joining an overland truck trip is almost certainly the best way of doing this difficult route, especially if you have thoughts of continuing through the Democratic Republic of Congo to East Africa.

Travellers visiting Ivory Coast overland from Europe will presumably want to carry a regional or continental guide. If you are taking your own vehicle, get hold of Sahara Overland by Chris Scott, the essential companion, while Africa Overland by Siân Pritchard-Jones and Bob Gibbons is very useful when it comes to general planning. It might also be worth investing in a regional guide to West Africa, or even a more general guide to Africa, but bear in mind that the wider the scope of the guide, the skimpier it will be on individual country detail.

Getting around

By car

Without doubt the most effective way of traversing Ivory Coast is by private 4×4 car, although it is by no means the cheapest. The roads between the largest cities in the north, south and centre are smooth and robust, making overland travel easy enough. With a 4×4 you’ll also be able to explore the rural villages of the north and access the national parks, most of which have rough or muddy approaches.

Petrol stations are ubiquitous – even in rural areas – and fuel is inexpensive by international standards. Aside from the illegal checkpoints, there are tolls (péages) charging tiny fees on the main roads connecting Abidjan and the major routes around the country. The telecoms company Orange has erected helpful signs on roads all over Ivory Coast indicating the direction and distance in kilometres of significant towns and cities.

From Abidjan, the roads east to Grand-Bassam and north to Yamoussoukro, Bouaké, Kong and Korhogo are properly tarmacked, smooth and robust. Travelling west from the capital or between the main towns and cities of the centre and north is a different deal: expect everything from slippery dirt tracks to broken roads that require drivers to regularly swerve around pot-holes.

By air

Air Côte d’Ivoire offers flights from Abidjan to the five other major cities in Ivory Coast: Bouaké, Korhogo, Man, Odienné and San-Pédro.

By boat

Short-distance ferries travel across Lagoon Ebrié and to its interior islands, and whisk guests at Assinie’s resorts to the waters surrounding Ehotilé Islands National Park.

By bus and taxi

The highways and byways of Ivory Coast are served by air-conditioned buses, non-air-conditioned minivans (known locally as gbakas), inner city and town buses, and shared taxis and motos (motorbike or moped taxis). The main towns and cities boast several different bus stations, each one usually run by a particular company with several different-sized vehicles in its fleet. Smaller settlements will have just one bus station, if any.

UTB (L’Union des Transports de Bouaké) publishes official timetables in paper form (obtainable at their stations) but doesn’t stick rigidly to them – it’s not uncommon for buses to set off long after their scheduled departure time. The best policy is to find out what time in the morning the earliest bus will leave and get there at least an hour before. Other buses, gbakas and long-distance shared taxis head off only when they have enough passengers. This, of course, can be problematic if punctuality is your goal.

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