This post has been contributed by: Family on Tracks
All travelers passing through the West African coast face the problem of crossing Nigeria. We made the choice to circumvent this country. Why, how did we do it, and how much does it cost?
We have written this article primarily for travelers who are asking the same question. Have a good trip to you, and be careful.
When we talk about Nigeria, we often imagine a dangerous country. For long-haul travelers or Overlanders who plan to cross Africa on the west coast, this country is a knot.
To cross or not to cross, that is the question.
Every week, travelers pass through this country. The 1500 km of travel is not easy, but still feasible. There is a route between Lagos and Banyo, a small border post with Cameroon located in the mountains. And for a long time, no incident would be to deplore.
During the preparation of this trip, we did not exclude to take this route. However, we changed our plans and decided to “shipper” from Lomé to Douala.
Before making our final decision, we waited to be well advanced in West Africa and to have already lived a few months of travel. At the moment when we are wondering about the passage of Nigeria, it is January 2019, and we are crossing Burkina Faso.
Several elements put us in doubt about this risky trip that we plan to do in the month of March that follows.
- A presidential election period is announced during this month. And as often in African countries, it is never safe to be in these countries at this time.
- The rainy season starts at about the same time, making some routes more complicated and reducing the choice of roads.
- Our configuration (trailer – tent) and our three children, make us less mobile if we needed to move quickly.
- Security on the Nigeria-Cameroon border zone deteriorated particularly in late 2018 and early 2019. In the south of this zone, the English-speaking part of Cameroon is in a state of civil war. To the north, Bokoharam has made big breakthroughs. It remains a narrow corridor to pass between the two.
As we report in this article , we live at this moment, the worst moment of our trip. Being robbed in the middle of the night by men in Jellabah and armed with Kalashnikoff, seriously believe in the beginning of kidnapping and have to drive the following days under high voltage with a geolocation by the security services to leave the country safe and sound … we gave …
These events have reminded us that we did not go on this trip to be scared or take unnecessary risks. The idea of our trip is rather to have a good time with the family.
This time it’s on, we’ll get around Nigeria.
To avoid Nigeria, there is not much choice.
Passing north, the road crosses Niger and Chad. Areas even more dangerous than the route that “passes” in Nigeria.
From the south, it is the maritime solution and “shipping”. When you do not know anything about port logistics, shipping and customs regulations, it’s very complicated. And that’s nothing to say.
On the customs side, when we enter a country with our vehicle, the customs issue us a “pass” or “passover”. This document gives us permission to temporarily import our car into the country and to circulate with it for a definite period. Depending on the country, obtaining this paper costs between 0 € and 15 €. This provision is valid when you arrive in the country by land. But when you arrive by the port, it’s a whole different matter. The diet is not the same anymore.
You are now subject to the customs rules in force in the country for international trade, with the necessary taxes on the import and export of goods. In one fell swoop, you are no longer considered a tourist who transits with his vehicle, but rather as a car trader, or a resident of the country who buys a car abroad. In other words, in this situation, the rules of the game change completely. Have a great dose of patience, a lot of time to explain your exceptional situation, and a good printer to bring a maximum of evidence and build a complete file.
We therefore choose to transit the car between the ports of Lomé in Togo and Douala in Cameroon. On our side, we will fly and cross Nigeria through the air.
For an automobile shipping, there are two solutions:
- transport in RORO (details here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roulier_(navire) )
- Container transport
As far as we are concerned, we have chosen container transport for the following reasons:
- It is we who drive the vehicle from the entrance of the container to its exit (not hot to leave the keys to someone else)
- The whole is closed and saddled, which reassures us when to a possible (but current) break-in during the crossing
- In case the car is stuck in the port, it prevents it being accessible by everyone for several days (and as our team is a bit eye to eye …)
The first step is to find a freight forwarder. This is a company that will perform the customs operations for / with you. In principle, this company knows who to go to, which office to go to and which file to build. But as in Africa they do not often treat this type of particular case, they are almost as lost as you. It does not help … When this subject is set, they manage the containerization and stowage of the car inside the container.
Then they take care of transferring your container to the boat.
Sometimes the freight forwarder can include in his services, the freight. This is the part transport by boat from one port to another. In our case, we had separated the two companies, although they are part of the same group. MedLog Togo for the forwarding agent and MSC for Freight. For the forwarder on arrival, we will work with Bolloré Cameroon.
For the operations on arrival, it is similar to those of the departure. Customs clearance assistance and transport of the container from the dock to the recovery zone for opening and leaving the car.
It sounds simple like that, but it can be long and complicated, for many reasons:
- You do not know the job and the process
- You have a hard time estimating deadlines and therefore organizing yourself accordingly
- You do not understand anything about the language and vocabulary used
- You do not understand anything about the quotes that are offered to you
- It is difficult to have a definitive budget before receiving the final invoice (some costs are variable in time)
- According to the countries and the ports, it is a little “shenanigans and companies”
Afterwards, we say that it allowed us to discover a universe hitherto unknown, to know new trades, to go to places that we had never attended, but to see all the same … not bad multi-level aberrations.
Here is the schedule:
- 26/03 – Arrival at the port of Lome for loading
- 30/03> 06/04 – Transit from Lomé to Douala
- 27/04 – Exit of the port of Douala (more than 4 weeks blocked at the port)
This delay includes:
- An interview with the director general of the Cameroonian customs to explain our situation and obtain a letter facilitating
- Obtaining the Bolloré’s fraternal bond (following the request of the DG of Customs)
- The establishment of a Cameroonian taxpayer’s card (required to pick up goods passing through the customs)
- Bolloré’s estimates and a few hours of discussions to (try to) understand what is understood and what is not (so the surprises to come)
- Meet the N-2, N-3, N-4, and N-5 of the Customs DG to present the letter from the DG and that all this small world gets in working order
- Negotiate the value of the car and trailer with customs
- Make payments for Customs at the bank and wait for the receipt for confirmation of payment to customs
- Put oil in the workings of Bolloré to accelerate their internal processes (a file can sometimes take a day to change floor within the same building …)
- Wait for the transfer of the container from the port to the unloading area
- Transit departing with MedLog: 986 €
- Freight with MSC: 2240 €
- Transit on arrival with Bolloré mainly including port fees and taxes: 2623 €
Total cost of the operation: 5849 € to which we can add the plane tickets for 5 people (1300 €). Ouch It hurts. Especially since it is about double between the first quotes and the reality of the bills on arrival.
That’s … it’s the price of safety for our family. We do not regret anything. We would do it again.
There is probably a more economical version by choosing a port of destination further south, such as Walvis Bay in Namibia for example. But that forced us to give up the crossing of many countries that we really wanted to discover.
For freight, a Roro solution could also have been (a little) expensive month.
For us, it was long and relatively complicated. There were many unknowns when we started. In the end, we outdid ourselves and we got there
We thought we had gone on a trip with few belongings but the fact of being without our “home” and having to travel in a backpack, forced us to do even simpler, to lighten up a little more. This gave us the opportunity to experience another mode of travel which was pretty cool on this front. But for all of us who used to cook and sleep in our little house, we were often at the hotel and the restaurant most of the time, which was a pain in the long run. So, it was an opportunity to stay a little longer with some good old friends, or to taste the generosity of those who lent us their home.
During this period, we met many people who did everything to help us in our efforts. Xavier who put us in touch with Yves, who himself got us an appointment with Rafael, the cabinet of the DG Customs. The DG who put us in contact with Bolloré. Amaury, Charles and their teams who accompanied us in all our efforts at the port. Just like Donatien, who also gave us the keys to his house while our car was leaving the container. And without the support of all these people, we probably would not have succeeded in this challenge …