Tanzania: The Border 14 October

The last 100 or so kilometers to the Tanzania border yet again made us realise how poor the country is. So many donations are made to Malawi (you see the branded, new Land Cruisers all throughout Malawi) but little is spent on useful improvements like irrigation and agricultural education – a lesson in diversifying your product offering will be well worth the time and effort. I mean honestly how many red onions, garlic and tomatoes can you eat before craving eggplant, green pepper, peas or even green beans? At the rate they are catching fish they will definitely need to start thinking about some other way to feed the nation because I cannot see the fish lasting much longer.

Malawi’s kids having one last peek at Bertus

We reached the Tanzanian border mid-morning, mentally prepared (or as much as one can be) for the border procedures. So far we have not had a difficult crossing and we do not see any reason why this one should be any different. 20min max and we would be in Tanzania.

Exiting Malawi: quick, easy and only 1 failed bribery attempt by a border official who made the mistake to try and get money out of Marcia and Matt.

Entering Tanzania. Quick temperature check, passports stamped without any hassles and off to customs we go. Should be a breeze because there is no one in front of us. We were met by 2 expressionless officials who sat behind the desk. There we stood, papers filled out, Carnet in hand, just waiting for them to acknowledge our existence so that we can hand over the paperwork for them to process. Our smiles were met with blank stares. The more we smiled, politely indicated to the paperwork and then to their computers, the less eye contact they made, as if we would disappear if they did not look at us. Moving a piece of paper from one side to the desk and then an inch to the left and then back to its original spot was far more important than assisting us. That and checking their mobile phones if they’ve maybe received a message since the last time they looked (a minute ago).

I had the urge to jump over the counter, shove them aside and process the documents myself. But I could not and just keep repeating to myself over and over again: “Shut up and let Clayton do the talking”. It became my mantra but after a while my fake smile did not reach my eyes and eventually my face transformed into a scowl. I knew in a couple of minutes I would start to go red from pure anger and frustration so before I reached that stage Clayton, who by now can clearly see the signs of imminent sense of humour failure, gently suggested that I go with Matt to organise the Comesa 3rd party insurance and look for a bank to get Tanzanian shillings.  

Finding someone that sells insurance is easy because you do not find them, they find you, or more accurately, lay claim to you. From the minute you enter the border in the country you are leaving they are by your side, escorting you through the sometimes confusing border procedures until you get to the other border where they then make it clear to the other insurance brokers that you are theirs and should not be approach! They are good. Very good. And they annoy me to no end.

We eventually found an ATM that worked but as we drew our first Tsh400,000(R2,500) we realized to our utter horror they they charge you an additional Tsh9,000 (R56). This is in addition to the bank charges back at home (R65 per withdrawal + currency conversion + R1.80 for every R100) Tsh400,000 will last us about 5 days if we do not have to fill up Bertus so let’s say 3 days. +-R160 per withdrawal every 3 days excluding conversion… Tanzania is going to screw us over financially if we keep drawing cash which we will have to because you can hardly pay anywhere with card.

Anyway, to get back to the border where we have been about an hour at this stage. We had cash, now we needed Comesa Insurance (this will cover us for the remaining countries which means this is the last time we have to buy 3rd party insurance and I can finally tell the brokers to fu.. go away).

20171014_124601 (2)
Good advise brought to you by the Tanzanian Government

They were sold out of Comesa. I kid you not. How this is possible is beyond me but we can buy their 3rd party insurance which is valid for 3 months and cost Tsh90,000. We won’t be there for 3 months and I am sure as hell not paying Tsh90,000 cash! I lost it and went to another broker. Broker #1 did not like this at all and after a very heated conversation in Swahili with Broker #2, Matt and I left to see if we cannot find sim cards. We found a dodgy guy who was an Airtel agent next to the side of the road, under an umbrella that has seen better days. The process took at least 20 minutes and when the dodgy guy  asked me for my passport, took a photo and basically every personal detail about me, I could only laugh. At that stage another: “are you kidding me?!” conversation would have been pointless.  Stranger things have happened…

Back to the actual border crossing. Matt and I went to see if the other guys made any progress. They did but now had to find an agent to pay the import tax to who will then in turn pay the border official. 2 questions immediately comes to mind: 1. Why am I paying import tax if I have a Carnet? 2. Why can I not pay the border directly? Why, why, WHY?

We did not get answers on either question and eventually just did as we were told. We followed an ‘agent’ (identifiable only by the word AGENT printed on his shirt) to his little shack next to the side of the road, outside the official border post. Totally legit, right? Stranger things have evidently not happen.

With that done, we had to sort out the insurance. Everyone was sticking to the sold out Comesa insurance storty and we decided to stop fighting the system. We bought our Tanzanian insurance at a reduced rate of Tsh80,000.

2 hours later, 0km done in Tanzania and a quarter of our cash was already spent. Welcome to Tanzania!


Sim cards: I later learnt that the dodgy guy did follow the correct procedure but the s.o.b charged us 10 times more for the sim cards!

Comesa: We figured out  that they were out of the official pages they print the Comesea insurance on thus the reason why we weren’t able to buy Comesa. Also, Comesa is not valid in the country you buy it in. Why I do not know, but it is what it was so we would have had to buy local 3rd party insurance regardless.

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