Since 2015, citizens of the EU/EEA, UK, US, Canada, Russia and Brazil no longer require visas for stays of up to 15 days in São Tomé and Príncipe. Other passport holders who hold valid Schengen area or US visas are also exempted from the visa requirement. As the UK is no longer a member of the European Union, documentation requirements for UK citizens may change. Check before travelling.
Stays beyond 15 days still require a visa. A 30-day visa can be acquired using the e-visa service provided by the Serviço de Migração e Fronteiras (SMF; Migration and Borders Service), through a tour agency, or at a Santomean diplomatic mission abroad – of which there are only a few!
The e-visa service is known for being a bit glitchy, with service outages and travellers occasionally having to apply more than once. Therefore, you should start your application at least two weeks before travel. The online application asks for information on your visit, including where you plan to stay, travel dates and method of travel. Upon completion, you will be given a reference number (Referência Autorização de Entrada) – be sure to note this down so you can check the status of your application later if need be. When your application is approved, you will be emailed an entry authorisation form (Autorização de Entrada) that must be printed and presented to the airline in lieu of a visa and again upon arrival in STP. The visa itself is paid for (€20 – bring euros cash) and inserted into your passport upon arrival in STP.
If you are using a tour operator they will take care of your entry authorisation, and you will pay €20 for the visa on arrival (as with the e-visa). Another option, eVisa.ST, is a private visa service that facilitates visas online for a fee. Note that you may be asked where you plan to stay (the first place, at least) and to show proof of funds and a return ticket on arrival.
Getting there and away
As of 2021, all international flights arrive at São Tomé International Airport (IATA code TMS) in the capital. There has long been talk of introducing international flights to Príncipe, but at the time of writing all arrivals to the smaller island involve a domestic connection from São Tomé.
In terms of getting to Príncipe from São Tome the recommended option is: a short 40-minute hop offering great views of the Tinhosa Islets and the spectacular Príncipe coastline (choose a seat on the left). STP Airways flies five times a week, sometimes twice daily (roughly €250 round-trip), and you can book online or buy your ticket from the office in São Tomé or even at the airport. Be aware that seats get booked up quickly, especially for festivities such as São Lourenço in mid-August.
There are cargo boats operating from Libreville, but they are overloaded, uncomfortable and dangerous – not many recommend this way of travelling to São Tome.
With regards to reaching Príncipe from São Tome, a regular, reliable and fast boat connection would be one of the best things that could happen to Príncipe, and STP tourism in general, but as long as tourist numbers remain relatively low, and air fares to the country high, investors remain understandably reluctant.
Few locals can afford the airfare from São Tome to Príncipe so most go by cargo boat, on an overnight passage taking between 8 and 12 hours. Be aware that boats have gone down on this crossing, with loss of life, including the cargo ship Santo António (or ‘Ferro-Ferro’), which disappeared with 12 on board in 2017, and the Amfitriti, previously regarded as the reliable choice, which sunk in April 2019; 55 of the 72 passengers survived. Other ships have lost their way or run out of fuel and had to be rescued.
In light of the above, travel between the islands by boat is not to be recommended at this time. Currently, only the Príncipe makes the crossing once a week, taking passengers and light cargo. Departure information and tickets are available at the port in São Tomé if you decide to take the risk.