Recently on arrival at one of the airports in the region, a traveller caused a stir when he insisted on being “exempted” from producing a yellow fever card since he had a US passport.
Much to his surprise — and the amusement of the other travellers — the airport health official would have none of his argument, telling him he was going to get a jab and detention, a development that left the traveller livid.
I recalled an incident a year earlier, when a Kenyan woman had to spend 25 hours at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport because she didn’t have a yellow fever vaccination card on arrival.
Regardless of the passport a traveller holds, so long as their journey had originated from a country where one needs to have a yellow fever card, the law will be applied.
These two incidents left me wondering how many travellers take time to apprise themselves of the travel document requirements of the countries they intend to visit.
Granted, it is impossible to keep track of the entry requirements of over 200 countries as they are constantly changing, but this information is readily available on various platforms.
Key requirements for travellers to ensure compliance go beyond passport and visa, and include travel insurance, airport tax, adherence to Customs regulations, currency and laws on travelling with minors.
Take Customs, for instance. There is no better way to get someone’s attention than utter the words, “Customs regulations” as they retrieve their luggage from the carousel. It always triggers a sense of alertness even in the most tired of long haul travellers.
For the light business traveller, there is little or usually nothing to worry about. But for the holiday makers and business people, there is always an anxious moment as they wait to claim their baggage.
Most travellers, unless directed to the Customs desk will, pick up their bags and head straight for the “nothing to declare” exit sign.
Until now I have never figured out the formula that Customs officials in the region use to wave a traveller through or ask to check their baggage.
All countries have a limit on what can be imported without incurring duty, with the majority having clearly published guidelines on tobacco products, alcohol and currency.
Whether these and other items are purchased at the point of origin, are gifts or are above the allowable duty-free limits, passengers are expected to pay tax for them.
It would be prudent to note that some countries go as far as having a minimum age restriction on who can import items duty free.
Curiously, Uganda Customs allows free imports — within limits — of tobacco products, spirits, perfumes and personal effects to a maximum value of $500 except for those returning from visits to Kenya and Tanzania.
Limits on currency for both nationals, residents and foreigners is taken very seriously by many countries, with most having a ceiling on what can be brought in or taken out.
The Kenya Revenue Authority for example, recently revised its currency limits to $10,000 or its equivalent — which must be declared at Customs upon arrival.
Equally, it is important to beware of items prohibited for entry into specific countries. A good number of countries forbid fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts or seeds.
Where one is travelling with medicine or other healthcare products, it is prudent to always have a doctor’s prescription for them.
South Africa is those strict on requirements for the travelling with minors and demand an unabridged birth certificate of the child with details of both parents and child.
This regulation applies to all travellers — nationals and foreigners, departing or arriving — and also requires that when one parent is travelling with a child, they have to produce an affidavit from the other parent approving of the travel.
There are also countries that still charge an airport tax either on entry or exit that is applicable to all travellers.
Keep in mind that even when holding all relevant documents, there is no guarantee of being granted entry into any country.
As a frequent flyer, it is vital to appraise yourself with the guidelines set by the country you intend to visit.
Michael Otieno is an aviation consultant based in Nairobi. Twitter: @pmykee143, Email: [email protected]