Navigating Dar es Salaam’s airport

Dar es Salaam's airport is one of the worst in Africa, so if you make it this far without breaking into a sweat, congratulations! Photo: Daniel Hayduk

Dar es Salaam’s airport has been named one of the worst in Africa, so if you see this view without breaking into a sweat, congratulations! Photo: Daniel Hayduk

So it’s your first time coming to Dar es Salaam: here’s what you need to know about arrivals at Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA or DAR) — which has the dubious distinction of being named the ‘fourth worst airport in Africa.’

Some flights carry the landing card on board, so you can fill that out prior to arrival.

If they don’t have them available on the airplane, you’ll need to join a crowd of tired huddled masses scrambling for them in the customs arrival hall. (getting off the plane quickly can help.)

If you need a visa, you’ll still need to fill that out that paperwork.

There are never any pens, so bring your own.

Once you’ve filled the paperwork, a customs official standing near the wickets usually does a cursory check to make sure everything is filled out and then directs you to the wickets where you’ll be fingerprinted and photographed by a customs officer.

Tip: Health checks are sporadic at JNIA. Always carry your yellow fever card, even if you’re on a flight that shouldn’t need it. You don’t want to get jabbed at the airport.

At some point, you’ll have to pay for your visa and hand over your passport — though the exact method has changed several times recently. It used to be a police officer walking around with a stack of passports and a wad of cash.

Payment is in USD and bills must be newer than 2006. Try to have exact amount, as getting change may prove challenging.

And then you wait. How long depends on several factors, but we’re aware of wait times ranging from 15 minutes to over 3 hours.

There are toilets available, but seating is limited and no drinking water is accessible. It can get very hot and uncomfortable, especially for a first-timer, so take extra water and food from the airplane.

At some point, your visa will be ready and you can proceed to the passport control, where you’ll be stamped into the country.

visitor-sales-teaser

If you don’t see your luggage on the carousel, don’t panic: have a look around the room first, as airport staff are known to move luggage off the carousel and stow it away in dark corners to make room on the carousel.

Should your luggage actually be lost, there is a lost luggage desk.

Leaving the airport, all checked bags are screened — regardless of whether or not you have anything to declare.

Before you pack your bags, it is worth considering what it will look like to customs at this point.

Generally speaking: shiny new electronic things attract the attention of customs. So, use whatever you’re bringing once or twice and remove all tags or labels suggesting its value.

Common sense is also important at this point: if customs asks you why you’re bringing a toaster oven to Tanzania and you’re entering on a tourist visa, don’t say ‘I’m going to live here,’ even if that’s the eventual plan. A discrepancy like that is likely to raise red flags and intrigue the officer.

An answer likely to raise less questions would be: ‘I love toast, and while I’m in Tanzania I’m using my old toaster for my toast & cheese. Tanzania has great cheese. Have you tried goat cheese from Lushoto? I can’t wait to try it.’

You get the picture.

Recently, the airport authority cleaned house and removed over a dozen corrupt employees, so most officials are quite friendly and decent and they may indeed have legitimate questions for you.

As soon as you walk through the last set of doors you’ll be accosted by middle aged men saying ‘tax. tax. tax. my friend, tax.’

What they’re asking is if you want a taxi.

That’s an adventure on it’s own, but remember to keep the windows up, doors locked and all valuables out of sight — the airport road is quite unsafe, especially at night.

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