Monday, November 3, 2008

Of course you want to come to sweaty Cameroon!

Several of you (…ok, a few of you) have asked about coming to visit me. I say, bring it on!! While I can’t guarantee you a visit free of sweat, potholes, or friendly leering, I’ll do everything in my power to be the cheery tour guide you’ve always wanted. I’ll even wear a Hawaiian shirt.

PC admin. put together a long and boring list of recommendations for visitors. I’ve tried to shorten it and make it more relevant. Hope this can be useful, and ultimately convince you that there is nowhere you would rather be on your next vacay than the Far North of Cameroon!

1. Visa, Cameroon. To apply for a visa to Cameroon, complete two application forms. I have a copy of the form that I can e-mail you, or you can download it here. Send them to the embassy, 2349 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008, with your passport, two passport photos, W.H.O. records showing the required yellow fever shot (see below), the application fee, a copy of either your tickets or your detailed flight itinerary, and a bank statement. Details about the application fee are included at the above link. Basically, it is $99 for your tourist visa, payable by Money Order or Certified check ONLY to the Embassy of Cameroon. You need to enter Cameroon within 90 days of obtaining the visa, so in your eagerness to visit me, please do not apply for your visa 6 months in advance!

(And they tell me it is hard for Cameroonians to get to the States?!) On my end, I will work with PC admin to obtain a standard PC letter to include with your application materials, which usually speeds up the application process. You’ll need to e-mail me a copy of your confirmed flight itinerary, your passport number, and its date and place of issue.

It is PC’s understanding that the Embassy will not return your passport to you unless you send a pre-paid express mail envelope. If you are in the D.C. area, you can pick it up at the embassy. Separate visas are required for almost all African countries you may plan to visit, except for intermediate stops where you will not go outside the terminal while en route to or from Cameroon. Each embassy requires that you send your passport with the visa application, so you can only apply for one visa at a time.

Visa, Chad. Due to my extremely strategic (?) location in the Extreme North Province, you may want to opt to travel through Chad to see me. This is the preferred method of many of our visitors to the Extreme North and an attractive option because the international airport at N’Djamena is roughly 5 hours from my house, thus you avoid the long sweaty bus trip otherwise required when flying through Yaoundé.

The Chadian government will be delighted to take your money; visa requirements listed here. Consider it your own personal contribution to international development. Here is the required visa form for Chad.

You will need your passport to apply for each visa, so I recommend you start early. You can also consolidate and expedite the visa applications if necessary by going through a private company, such as Travisa, which handles it for you for an additional fee of approximately $30 per visa.

2. Health. A yellow fever vaccination is required. This immunization must be logged in a World Health Organization (W. H. O.) International Certificate of Vaccination.

You should plan to take anti-malarial prophylactic drugs prior to departure from the US and during your stay in Cameroon. Usually you need to start popping these pills a couple of weeks before your departure. You can get mefloquine, my drug of choice complete with psychedelic dreams, in most pharmacies. Another option is doxycycline.

While in Cameroon, precautions must be taken with food preparation and water treatment. Drink only bottled water in sealed bottles or water that has been filtered and chlorinated or boiled. (I have a fabulous water filter you may use free of charge.) Vegetables should be soaked in chlorine if they are not being cooked or peeled.

Here is a site that gives other useful Cameroon health info.

There are health risks, and the medical facilities in Cameroon are not comparable to facilities in the United States. Peace Corps medical Staff cannot provide care for family members or friends who require medical attention while in Cameroon. We strongly suggest that you consider extra insurance with emergency evacuation coverage from a company such as International SOS Assistance, Inc. (P.O. Box 11568, Philadelphia, PA 19116, 1-800-523-8930 or 215-244-1500 in PA).

3. Money. The currency used in Cameroon is the franc CFA. (One USD is approximately 500 CFA.) Travelers’ checks are safe, but incur exceedingly high commission rates and other charges (up to 25%). Travelers’ checks in dollars have also become increasingly difficult to change. You may want to take at least some travelers checks in Euros, since switching dollars to CFA in Yaoundé is usually more expensive than switching dollars to Euros in U.S. and then Euros to CFA in Yaoundé. Some of the big (and expensive) hotels in Yaoundé will accept an American Express or Visa credit card.

ATMs on the “Plus” system are increasingly available around the country. My personal recommendation is to come with your ATM card. ATMs are available in Maroua, the closest large city to me, and I have had no problem using them, the few times I have done so. However, you should call your bank prior to your departure to let them know that you will be using the card in Cameroon, so that they don’t put a block on your account, thinking crazies have made off with your belongings to …Cameroon.

4. Baggage. Have all your suitcases locked. I recommend you call your airline directly to find out what the baggage and weight limits are. You can typically check your baggage all the way to your final destination. Be sure the baggage ticket has all appropriate code letters for the trip; the code for the airport in Douala is DLA, Yaoundé airport is NSI, N’Djamena is NDJ, and the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris is CDG.

5. Flight Check-In. If you fly through Paris, arrive at the check-in counter for your connecting flight two hours before take off. They start checking passengers in then and you cannot get a seat assignment until this check-in. The check-in process goes very slowly, so plan to stand in line a long time. They will not allow large carry-on bags.

6. Arrival in Douala / Yaoundé. You must have both your passport and W.H.O. card for immigration when arriving at the airports in Cameroon. French and some English are spoken at these airports (yay bilingual country!) You will have to open all bags for inspection. Try to keep all your bags in sight once they come into the baggage area. There will be men vying to carry your bags for payment. Carry your bags yourself if you can. If not, negotiate a price with one person before allowing anyone to take your bags (about 1$ per bag.)

7. Alternatively, Arrival in N’Djamena, Chad. The volunteers who have previously flown through Chad or sent their families through Chad have established a reputable contact for the purpose of fetching you and bringing you to Cameroon. This is my recommendation. The border crossing between the two countries closes at roughly 5pm; your flight would arrive at roughly 10pm, thus you’ll need to cozy up in an N’Djamenan hotel for a night. I can provide hotel recommendations and approximate prices.

8. Photos. Picture taking is fine, in general, but you should always ask permission before taking anyone's photograph. Although I am unsure of the aesthetic interest of the interior of an airport, photos are never allowed at the airport or any military installation, so please keep your camera concealed when near these locations.

9. Identification. During the course of your stay in Cameroon, you will likely have to show your passport to the police several times. It’s preferable to carry a certified copy of your passport for this purpose. I’ll help you obtain this after your arrival in Cameroon.

10. Departure. Presently, you must pay a departure tax of 10,000 CFA at the Douala or Yaoundé airport before boarding. Check ahead of time, as this tax needs to be paid in local currency, and most likely you would need the exact amount. There is no separate departure tax when flying out of Chad.

Bon voyage!


Tilt the world said...

Hello Kate,

cava? I am and RPCV who was in cameroon from 96-99 in the EN, and I am coming back to visit in a week. and was searching the internet and found your blog which brought back lots of memories.

So I have a few questions for you if you do no mind, as I am not really in touch with anyone up there anymore, as there was no internet back when I was there and most people i knew were not literate.

Is there still a PCv house in Dorsungo with Madi and his wife? Is there a halfway decent hotel in Maroua? Hmmm I think that is it, I would also love to hear more about your tourism project, etc.

My email is

take care

Cristina said...

Hi Kate,

I really enjoyed reading your blog!

I just received my invitation to serve in Cameroon as a Small Business Advisor under SED as well!

I'm reading as much as I can about it before making a decision which is how I came to your site.

If you'd like to share any thoughts, please feel free to email me. Perhaps I will be visiting you in the near future, who knows?!