It was my lucky day when I saw I was the only person in line at the visa application counter at the Mozambican border crossing. Other border crossings and immigration procedures that I’ve endured have lasted up to four hours, but this one looked easy. I smiled, said “bom dia” (good morning), and handed my passport to Mariacelia, the immigration official. She gestured for me to take a seat in the blue vinyl chair and started the process.
Outside in the sweltering heat, Andre guarded our Land Cruiser and coughed up a 200 rand (South African currency equaling about $15 USD) payment after a Mozambican guy named Joaquim initiated a bribe on behalf of the car inspection guy, who fancied himself as James Bond 007. Apparently officials can inspect your vehicle upon entry to the country – and rack up charges for anything and everything – so it’s generally beneficial to avoid an inspection. For example, drivers must have reflective safety vests and roadside warning triangles in their vehicles in case of a roadside emergency. (We had both.)
When visitors enter and exit Mozambique, all electronics and equipment (such as cameras and laptops) have to be declared; the idea is that visitors need to exit the country with the same items they initially declared and don’t sell their items on the black market. We definitely didn’t want to sell any of our gear, but we also didn’t think they needed to tear the Cruiser apart looking for something, for anything, so the bribe helped.
Bribery #2 (almost)
Back inside the non-air-conditioned building, I completed some paperwork and Mariacelia fingerprinted and photographed me. She mopped her brow as she worked the computer. The computer (or Mariacelia?) malfunctioned and I remained seated. In between each reboot, she fingerprinted and photographed me. For a moment I thought perhaps she was stalling, waiting for me to offer a bribe to either speed it up or to actually issue me an entrance visa. The boss arrived from another office, tinkered with the keyboard and slapped the side of the monitor. He too repeated the fingerprinting and picture-taking and he didn’t like it when I impatiently posed with my hands on my hips. I casually played with my iPhone and secretly took a picture of the boss while he was working on my application. I decided it was a good thing that we had not discussed any bribe.
The Republic of Mozambique nearly denied my visa application when I handed over a $100 bill to pay for my $82 visa fee; I didn’t yet have any Mozambican Meticals (currency), they didn’t have any change (USD or MZN) and credit cards weren’t accepted. I was actually willing to forego the extra $18, but after digging through my satchel, I scrounged up the exact amount. And so after 45 minutes and five rounds of fingerprinting and taking my picture, and a bit of huffing and puffing on my part, I was finally issued a visa to enter Mozambique! Success, and thank goodness I was the only one in line. Next stop: Maputo!