Applying for an Ivorian (Cote D’Ivoire) Visa : An Adventure on its own

Took me a week to get it!!

Took me a week to get it!! (My photo looks so haggard! I was a bit stressed! :s

I always find Visa Applications to be challenging, frustrating and exciting. It also often involves incidents that adds to the pressure while applying and waiting for the approval which then becomes a funny anecdote later on. My travels in West Africa involved a few. Here’s one that really makes me smile every time I think about it! :)

Okie… So here’s the story of my unforgettable Ivorian Visa Application.

So I’m in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The next country would be Cote D’Ivoire which means I needed to get a visa for Cote D’Ivoire while in Ouagadougou as the embassy is located here. There’s no chance to get a visa on arrival at the border. It needs to be applied for in advance.

With my very basic French, I managed to ask for directions from where I’m staying. Unfortunately, my basic French took me to the Ambassador’s home, not the embassy! Armed men at the front gate started talking to me in French at the same time, perhaps asking me (in French) what I’m doing there. With my scared face and extremely panicking heart beating hundreds per second, the armed men gave me a break and tried their best to speak in English to me after I said “No French”. I showed them my passport and said “VISA” with hand gestures and all. They gave me a smile and said “Ambassador” pointing to the mansion “HOUSE”! I then confirmed that I’m at the wrong place.

I went back to my accommodation to seek for some help from the owner who’s English, though also very basic, is better than the armed men guarding the ambassador’s house. He drew a map for me and despite the scorching heat, I went back outside and followed his map. I finally reached another mansion-looking building without any sign saying it’s the Ivorian Embassy. I pushed the buzz and someone opened the gate for me. He asked me to sign in the visitor’s book and pointed me to a pathway with arrows saying where I needed to go.

So I followed the arrows and it led me to an office. I approached the counter and greeted the lady who seems to be the only person there. As with other embassies I’ve been to, I expected our conversation to run smoothly in English. I told her that I wanted to apply for a visa and asked her what the requirements are. She faced me with a questioning look and said “No speak English. Very little.” I then replied, “No French.” with a pleading face, hoping she would try and get someone who can speak English to talk to me. She didn’t move, unforutnately, but gave me an annoyed look. I took my passport from my bag and handed it to her and tried speaking slow, broken English to simplify things. I said “Apply Visa”. She took my passport and then pointed to a list on the counter. She then handed me a form. I asked “How much? Pay?” (my way of asking how much the visa is). She gave me a questioning look again added with some more annoyance this time. The lady took a deep breath and gestured to wait. She opened a side door off the counter and disappeared for a while.

When she returned, a gentleman was with him. He smiled and said “Oui, mademoiselle?”. The lady spoke something in French to him and the only thing I got was “English”. I presumed she asked him to talk to me in English. He spoke to me and said “How can I help Madam?” I smiled and told him what I need and asked how much the visa is. He said to organize the documents needed on the list and then pay on the website. He wrote www.snedai.ci on a piece of paper and told me that it’s where I needed to pay and I’ll get more information there too. After talking and thanking the gentleman, the lady then said “You go Cote D’Ivoire, you speak French.” I gave her a smile and thanked her as well.

It’s 2:30pm when I left the embassy and since they close at 4pm but actually don’t do any business from around 2:30pm onwards, I was asked to bring the requirements the following day. Thinking I got things covered, I happily went back to my accommodation and relaxed for a bit. With my visit to the embassy, I figured that I needed the following for the next day – my passport, the completed form, print out of the receipt of online payment, my hotel booking – letter confirming my reservation and a letter explaining my mode of transport. I checked out the website that they gave me and paid the hurtful fee of 110 Euros (ouchhhh!!!). Then I searched for a cheap accomodation in Yamoussoukro, my first stop in Cote D’Ivoire.

 

My temporary home while waiting for my Ivorian Visa.

My temporary home while in Ouagadougou.

I was successful in paying the fee but wasn’t really happy with the hotel booking system in Cote D’Ivoire, especially Yamoussoukro. I know, I know, I should not expect much since I’m in Africa but since the hotels I’ve been trying to book have websites and reservation system on their website, I would have thought that they’d send a confirmation email for my reservation. It was almost 11pm and I haven’t received any confirmation! :s

I went to sleep hoping that when I wake up and check my email, a confirmation of my booking will be there. Morning came, still no email. Thank goodness, Brendan of Brendan’s Adventures have been to Cote D’Ivoire. I’ve been following his travels in West Africa and my attempt to message him did not disappoint. He replied minutes after I messaged him with some very useful information. He suggested a hotel that confirms reservation right away and provides a confirmation letter for visa applications through fax. Hotel Akraya (highly recommended!) doesn’t have a website but I managed to find a telephone number. I tried using my Ghanaian number to call but it doesn’t seem to work. It’s almost noon and my deadline to submit my documents at 2:30pm is fast approaching. My stomach is also rumbling and I didn’t think I would have the energy to do the running around without eating. I asked the helper at my accomodation for a place to eat that’s near and he told me about the American Embassy Restaurant on the next block. It’s like the best thing I’ve heard since arriving in Burkina. American Embassy means people who can speak English! Why did he not tell me about it the first time??? :(

Anyhow, I was so thrilled that I rushed out and went to the next block and looked for the American Embassy. Guess what? I didn’t find it. :( Desperate and hungry, I approached the first person I saw. I asked the guy carrying some folders and documents if he knows where the American Embassy is. He gave me a big smile and said “It must be your lucky day. I am the manager at the restaurant at what used to be the American Embassy.” Apparently, the actual American Embassy moved to another location and the building is now sort of a club house – with accommodation, gym, pool, restaurant, yoga sessions, etc. Also, it’s not called the American Embassy anymore but “The Rec Center”.  It must really be my lucky day that day! I was able to eat and get some advice from Alfred, the manager. He’s a Burkinabe who speaks perfect English. He even gave me a scooter ride to the airtel office to get a sim card.

Airtel - one of the service providers in West Africa

Airtel – one of the service providers in West Africa

So, I got the sim card and bought some credit so I can make a call. I called the number of Hotel Akraya. Someone answered.Yay! Unfortunately, again!!! He can’t speak English. I went back to The Rec Center and looked for Alfred so I can ask him to talk to the person at Hotel Akraya… Not so lucky day, he just left to The Rec Center. Damn!!! Okay, okay… I had to relax. Thank goodness I had my netbook with me and there’s good wifi at The Rec Center. I checked my email hoping that there’d be some good news. Alas! An email from one of the many hotels I tried to book the night before. But I can’t just print the email, apparently, I needed an actual letter of confirmation. With my Burkinabe sim card, I tried to call Hotel Parliament’s number. Someone answered. I first asked, “Can you speak English?” The phone was passed on to another person. Hallelujah! He greeted me in English! We had a good conversation and he understood what I was requesting. After around 15 minutes, I received the email with the attachment of the letter I needed. Just in time, Alfred arrived back to the restaurant. I asked him again for a favor, if he can print the document for me in his office. He agreed right away and printed it for me! Thank goodness for such kind people like him!! :)

I ran as fast as I could to the Ivorian embassy as it’s 1:45pm already. It’s Wenesday afternoon. I aim to get my visa by Friday so I can then start my journey to Bobo Dioulasso, still in Burkina Faso, early Saturday or Sunday. When I arrived to the embassy and signed in, the guard told me that the staff are in a meeting and that I should go back in an hour. That’s what I understood from his broken English (I appreciated very much) What?? An hour? That’ll be after 2:30pm. I was told they won’t accept applications after 2:30! I wanted to cry. I am frustrated as I can’t explain to him fully how important it is that I submit my documents that day! :( :( :(

As I was about to step out, another guy with documents came in and signed in and asked the guard. He spoke to the guard in French. From their conversation, I got the word “Visa”. I assumed he’s also applying for a Visa. When their conversation finished, I asked him if he speaks English. He said, yes. We walked outside the gate and he told me that he’s also applying for a visa. He’s French, working in Burkina and needs to go to Cote D’Ivoire on Saturday for business. He already got his flights booked so he really needs the visa by Friday. As we were told to be back there in an hour, he offered to give me a ride back to The Rec Center. It was scorching hot so I accepted. On our way, I asked him about his documents just to check that I have everything I needed to submit. He told me that all documents needed to be photocopied. When he dropped me to The Rec Center, I again asked Alfred for a huge favor. He photocopied my documents. I offered to buy him a drink or a meal just to thank him for his kindness but he just told me that “It always make me feel good to help people, specially travelers.” He’s such a kind, nice man! :) Bless him! :)

Even if only half an hour has passed, I started walking again to the embassy and thought I’d just wait outside. When I arrived there, I saw Jonathan, the French guy who’s also applying for a visa. He’s also waiting. He told me to come inside his pick-up to at least get comfortable with the AC instead of waiting outside the gate under the sun. When the clock hit 2:30pm, we went back inside to the embassy office. The lady was there in the counter. Since Jonathan can speak French, I let him do the talking. I know he is more desperate than me to actually be in Cote D’Ivoire on Saturday. After he did his talking, he then faced me and asked me to hand in my documents to him so he can give it to the lady in charge as well. While the lady was checking our documents, Jonathan told me that the lady asked if I’m his girlfriend. He said that she told him “No, she’s not my girlfriend.” She asked him back “Do you have a girlfriend? If you don’t have, I can ask her to be your girlfriend.” All of this she told him in French. Jonathan translated it to me. He said that he needs to just accept whatever this lady is trying to say just to “break the ice” so she won’t give us a hard time with the application.

After almost an hour of checking our documents, taking our photo (despite having submitted the passport photos already) and finger printing, we were told to go back at 11am the following day to pick up our passport with our visas. Jonathan is a life-saver! I can’t imagine what would have happened to me and if I would have done it that day if I didn’t bump into him at the gate.

It’s a lucky day after all… After that day, we wen’t out for a drink with a mate of his, ate dinner and they showed me around Ougadougou at night!

The following day, we met again at the embassy, both beaming with happiness as we are about to get our visas in our passports. When we arrived at the office, we heard a lot of shouting and screaming from perhaps another office. There was no one in the counter so we sat and waited. He then joked that perhaps they are fighting on whether to give us visas or not. Hahahaha… Finally, after another half an hour, the lady was back at the counter. She handed us our passports. While looking at my passport, the lady spoke to Jonathan again, then laughed. We were walking outside when he translated their conversation to me. Apparently, she asked if I am his girlfriend yet. If not because I said no to him, then she will arrange him to her daughter as she would like him to be her daughter’s boyfriend! :) Hahahaha!!! The joys of applying for a visa!

We exchanged emails and became good friends after that! :)

In summary, the Cote D’Ivoire Requirements for Visa Application are:

1. Passport

2. Letter of Confirmation from booked accomodation in Cote D’Ivoire.

3. Copy of your Itinerary/Flights or letter explaining your mode of transport – overland/driving

4. Completed Form.

5. Passport Photo

6. Online Payment – Print Receipt. Price is a staggering 110 Euros! (Ouch to the maximum level!!) – www.snedai.ci

Last but certainly not the least…

7. *Basic French to break the ice with the Embassy lady who will keep on giving you a hard time unless you get her jokes! :s LOL :) A whole lot of patience and a little bit of luck! :)

VERY HAPPY MERRY TRAVELS!!! :) :) :)

 

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