Thursday, May 8, 2008

If you plan to visit, please read!

Remember: Visitors are not permitted during a Volunteer's pre-service training or during the first three months at post. The best time for visits are after a Volunteer has spent at least six months at post.

1. Planning. Start planning at least six months before departure since several things have to be done sequentially which can add up to several weeks/months. Keep in mind that communication takes a long time, so arranging the logistics through the mail will require a lot of lead-time. Make sure that the timing of your visit is convenient for the Volunteer you are visiting. A Volunteer's primary obligation is to his/her assignment, so be sure that your visit will not disrupt any work plans. We recommend visits at some point during the second year.

2. Passport. If you do not already have a passport, obtain a passport application and application instructions from a post office or your travel agent. To apply for a passport, you will need the completed application with two passport photos (with your signature on the back of each photo) and the application fee.

3. Visa. To apply for a visa to Cameroon, obtain two application forms from the Cameroonian embassy, 2349 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008 or over the Net; the phone number at the embassy is (202) 265-8790. After completing the applications, send them to the embassy with your passport, two passport photos, W.H.O. records showing the required yellow fever shot (see below), the application fee, and a copy of either your tickets or your detailed flight itinerary, and a bank statement. You may also need to submit a letter of invitation from your Volunteer family member. Peace Corps Cameroon will also provide you with a letter supporting your visa application if your volunteer provides the offices with the details of your visit. You will be issued a single entry visa only, unless you specifically request multiple entry. You must have multiple entry if you plan to leave the country and return during the period of the visa's validity. Be sure to call the Embassy and verify with them that procedures have not changed.

It is our understanding that the Embassy will not return your passport to you unless you send a pre-paid express mail envelope. If you are in the D.C. area, you can pick it up at the embassy.

Separate visas are required for almost all African countries you may plan to visit, except for intermediate stops where you will not go outside the terminal while en route to or from Cameroon. Each embassy requires that you send your passport with the visa application, so you can only apply for one visa at a time.

You can consolidate and expedite your passport and visa applications if necessary by going through a private company that handles it for you for an additional fee of approximately $30 per visa or passport. (Ask a travel agent for details).

4. Health. A yellow fever vaccination is required. This immunization must be logged in a World Health Organization (W. H. O.) International Certificate of Vaccination. For more information on what additional vaccines, antimalarials or medications are required or recommended, contact your local health board or the Division of Immunization at the Centers for Disease in Atlanta, Georgia, (404) 639-1870, or on the Internet at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/cafrica.html

You should also plan to take anti-malarial prophylactic drugs prior to departure from USA and during your stay in Cameroon. Contact the Malaria Hotline at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, (404)639-1610 for information on what drug(s) to take and where you can get them.

While in Cameroon, precautions must be taken with food preparation and water treatment. Drink only bottled water in sealed bottles or water that has been filtered and chlorinated or boiled. Vegetables must also be soaked in chlorine if they are not being cooked or peeled.

There are health risks, and the medical facilities in Cameroon are not comparable to facilities in the United States. Peace Corps medical Staff cannot provide care for family members or friends who require medical attention while in Cameroon. We strongly suggest that you consider extra insurance with emergency evacuation coverage from a company such as International SOS Assistance, Inc. (P.O. Box 11568, Philadelphia, PA 19116, 1-800-523-8930 or 215-244-1500 in PA).

5. Money. The currency used in Cameroon is called franc CFA. The franc CFA is fixed to the Euro (656 CFA = 1 Euro; 1 USD is about 400 CFA.) Travelers’ checks are safe, but incur exceedingly high commission rates and other charges (up to 25%). Travelers’ checks in dollars have also become increasingly difficult to change. You may want to take at least some travelers checks in Euros, since switching dollars to CFA in Yaoundé is usually more expensive than switching dollars to Euros in U.S. and then Euros to CFA in Yaoundé. Some of the big (and expensive) hotels in Yaoundé will accept an American Express or Visa credit card (caution advised). ATMs on the “Plus” system are increasingly available around the country. The best person to answer questions about money (and how much to take) is the Volunteer whom you are planning to visit.

6. Baggage. Have all your suitcases locked. On most airlines, you are allowed 2 pieces of baggage (not to exceed 50 lbs. each) per passenger for trips from the United States to Europe, but only 20 kg (44 lbs.) total for intra-European or African flights. Therefore, you may be charged an excess baggage fee for anything over 44 lbs. from Europe to Africa unless you check your baggage through to Africa directly from the U.S. (If you check baggage all the way through, be sure the baggage ticket has all appropriate code letters for the trip; the code for the airport in Douala is DLA, the Yaoundé airport is NSI, and the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris is CDG). Consult your airline or travel agent for further information.

7. Flight Check-In. If you fly through Paris, arrive at the check-in counter for the flight to Douala or Yaoundé two hours before take off. They start checking passengers in then and you cannot get a seat assignment until this check-in. The check-in process goes very slowly, so plan to stand in line a long time. They will not allow large carry-on bags.

8. Arrival in Douala / Yaoundé. You must have both your passport and W.H.O. card for immigration when arriving at the airports in Cameroon. French and some English are spoken at the airport, but it would be best to ask the Volunteer you are visiting to have someone meet you at the airport. You will have to open all bags for inspection. Try to keep all your bags in sight once they come into the baggage area. There will be men vying to carry your bags for payment. Carry your bags yourself if you can. If not, negotiate a price with one person before allowing anyone to take your bags (about 1$ per bag.) If no one is going to meet you at the airport, get instructions ahead of time from the Volunteer on how to take a taxi to your next destination.

9. Accommodations. Your best source of information about where to stay is the Volunteer whom you are planning to visit. The Yaoundé Hilton presently has a special rate for families and friends of Peace Corps and is recommended by Peace Corps staff, and the Akwa Palace Hotel in Douala gives a Peace Corps discount as does the Parfait Garden.

10. Photos. Picture taking is fine, in general, but you should always ask permission before taking anyone's photograph. Photos are never allowed at the airport or any military installation, so please keep your camera concealed when near these locations.

11. Identification. During the course of your stay in Cameroon, you will have to show your passport to the police several times, so you must carry it with you in a safe place at all times. It is sometimes convenient to have a certified photocopy of your passport to present to officials. Your volunteer will know how to do this.

12. Departure. Presently, you must pay a departure tax of 10,000 CFA at the Douala or Yaoundé airport before boarding. Check ahead of time, as this tax needs to be paid in local currency, and most likely you would need the exact amount.

1 comment:

Lanna said...

Hey Wendy!

How long until you leave? Best of luck, and I look forward to reading all about it! :)