The Zambian and Botswana governments are currently constructing a bridge across the Zambezi at the Kazungula border. Intended to ease the massive congestion experienced here.
It is rumored the bridge will be operational to some extent by 2019. However, the mooted completion date is 2021. Until then, be warned the border is exceptionally busy with truck traffic, you will see trucks backed up for kilometers before each of the respective border posts.
Why is the Kazungula ferry crossing so busy?
These trucks are mainly loaded with copper exports and mining supplies. Making the long trips between Africa’s Southern seaports and the Northern Zambian copper belt and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It is not uncommon for drivers to wait for five to ten days to make the crossing at the Kazungula ferry crossing. Though the average is usually five days. The drivers all have interesting stories about their trips, they tend to be a wealth of information on road conditions and regional happenings.
Interestingly, during high flow years, as we are currently experiencing on the Zambezi. There is even more pressure on the ferry time as each crossing is against the current and takes even longer.
What should I do in event of a problem in the border area on the Zambian side?
Driving these routes is a tough job and there is a very seedy underbelly at a lot of the truck pinch points in Southern Africa.
As a general rule, the senior drivers and family men will have their cook pots out in the open. Besides their vehicles, in groups, traveling/crossing together.
Their trucks are usually clean and in good order. They are fiercely protective of each other and their loads.
If you do have an issue, offering to pay the small fee for the truck group’s communally appointed guard, being polite and open. Will get their assistance and a good safe place to sleep in or on your vehicle.
Should I queue with the trucks?
As a non-commercial small vehicle at the Kazungula ferry you are free to pass the trucks; don’t queue behind the trucks on either side of the river, go straight to the border.
Are both border sides difficult?
Crossing into and out of Botswana at Kazungula is not really an issue. Though occasionally, there are long queues and border staff can be lethargic. Try and avoid 0700-1100 in the morning, as tourists are crossing for the “Chobe day trips”.
Zambia and Botswana both operate ferry services across the Zambezi River at the Kazungula border post. At the time of publishing, Botswana has one ferry in operation. Zambia has a total of four ferries, though one is being used for the bridge construction. While two are currently down for maintenance, so only one is operational.
The ferry’s nationalities are easily discernable as they carry their flags.
If you are in a Zambian or Botswanian registered car, stick to your country’s ferry for a cheaper crossing. Otherwise, there is little difference from a cost point of view. However, the Botswana ferry is in a better state of repair.
The huge build-up of truck traffic is due to the slow operation of the river craft. As a light non-commercial vehicle you are given preference over the trucks. Usually, it will be your vehicle and two trucks making the crossing together.
Where do I park to get to the Ferry?
After doing your exit formalities drive down to the loading area on the banks of the river.
Park away from the trucks and wait for the ferry staff instructions. It can be chaotic, the staff on the boats are usually in overalls of some sort, and have an ID card on a neck ribbon.
They may or may not acknowledge you, but they have seen you, and you will be in the line-up. Ignore obvious touts giving you mindless instructions.
The staff will call you down when it is time to load. You will load first or with another light vehicle. Try and park out of the way if you can, space is at a premium and there is a lot of big vehicle shifting which could damage your vehicle.
What you need to do, to board the Kazungula ferry:
- Unclip your seat belt.
- All of your passengers must get out of your vehicle and will be required to walk onto the ferry.
- You will be called to drive onto the ferry first, before other trucks; foot traffic/your passengers will board last.
- Simply drive up onto the ferry, the driver is adept at docking so the loading ramp is usually easily navigable. Be warned at some water levels it can be a high step up, or the ramp tracks may not be exactly square. If you feel you can’t get up it or may damage your vehicle. Don’t do it.
- Ask them to re-dock and stand your ground or take the next ferry.
- On the ferry, they will direct you to your spot, it is a squeeze, while you should follow the instructions of the staff, be warned if you ding your vehicle, there is no recompense from them. Keep that in mind.
- Once your vehicle is in position make sure the handbrake is on and it is in gear. You can then get out while they load the other vehicles.
- You will need to present your receipt for the ferry to the cashier on the ferry, or make payment.
Why are there so many formalities?
Zambia is a conduit country for stolen vehicles and the illegal movement of people. Particularly through her Northern borders, so be advised there is a lot of security and processes in place, which you have to go through.
What you need to do, to enter Zambia at the Kazungula ferry crossing.
Be sure to have multiple copies of all your vehicle documents and have a pen!
- Find a safe place to park, while theft is not a huge issue. It is a busy border with dubious perimeter security. There is potential for things to go missing. You may want to appoint a car guard for a small fee. Agree on it beforehand. Or leave one of your party with the car and take it in turns to go to immigration.
- Present yourselves, at the passport office in the main building. All of you will need to show your passports and present yourselves in person. Get stamped into Zambia, ask for double the length of your intended stay to be stamped in your passport. This is in case of unforeseen problems. Double check your days and that the stamp is in your passport. Do this before leaving the desk. Take a look here with regard to Visa requirements: https://safpar.com/top-5-livingstone-victoria-falls-travel-tips/.
- Three counters to the left of the passport control window are Interpol. The Interpol officer will give you a vehicle information form.
- Interpol will come and inspect your vehicle. Sounds silly, but before leaving home ensure your numbers on your engine block and chassis disk match your documents to the letter.
- Interpol will give you a stamped inspection form.
- Return to the window and fill out the “Temporary Import” form or “TIP”, with your stamped form.
- Go to the next window and pay your Carbon emission tax, this is about Kwacha 275 for a light vehicle.
- Leave that building and go to pay your Road Tax at the offices adjoining. This is USD 20 and must be paid in USD or kwacha only.
- Next to the road tax office is the council tax office, you have to pay the rural council tax, about USD 5. Be sure to keep this receipt handy. When you get to the gate they will ask for it from the driver. They will ask you to pay for your exit too, saying it is better to pay both ways. This is not necessary and insist on only paying one way.
- You then need to go and get insurance for your vehicle. While you may have fully comprehensive on the vehicle you still need to get the Zambian insurance. If you check on the back of the TIP, it has the costs listed. Pay that only, it is common for insurance sellers to attempt to upsell. As long as you have your home country full comprehensive you only need third party cover. At time of publishing insurance from the third party is KW 263.
- Once you have all the above you present your TIP to the gate officials. Then you can exit, sending one of your party on foot with the TIP form and then driving up to the gate separately is the most efficient way to do this.
The Zambian border is full of “Hamba” boys, or self-appointed helpers. They will offer to guide you through the border. It’s up to you if you use them, speed wise it can help giving them photocopies of your car documents. Get them to start paying council tax and things you don’t need to do. Agree on a price beforehand.
Usually, they just want the fee you will pay them for assistance. Though be clear you are aware of what the various fees are.
On the Botswana side, the approach is straightforward and parking is safe. You will find the “Hamba” boys waiting for you around the ferry in Botswana before you get to Zambia.
It’s not going to be there forever.
The Kazungula crossing is a busy commercial African border, the crossing is adventurous. You will come into contact with a variety of characters, enjoy it. In a few years, the ferry crossings will be from a bygone era and the bridge will take out the adventure of crossing the mighty Zambezi.