So the big announcement is out! We are officially driving across Africa in “Charlie,” our newest addition to The World Pursuit family. The 1989 Land Cruiser is awesome! He is a workhorse, a 4×4 Tonka trunk equipped with a bush bar, roof rack, and pull out drawers. Like others, you may be wondering what he cost so let’s just get how much the cost out of the way.
Charlie cost us a whopping 60,000 ZAR or about $4300 USD.
Never mind the cost, though. What was more of the issue were two Americans trying to buy a car in South Africa. I just want to call the whole process “a bureaucratic African nightmare.”
Here is the beginning of our fight to get our car.
We knew we needed our own car to travel through Africa the way we wanted. We want to travel to remote destinations and camp in the African bush. We want to see the villages and interact with the local people deeper than what a traditional overland trip offers. And we are also planning to stay at some beautiful lodges, in the middle of nowhere Africa.
We set a budget, we transferred over our money to our bank accounts, and we began to look for a car. We rented a car week after week in Cape Town, so that we could visit all the dealerships located in the area. We scoured the Internet and called the pros. After weeks of searching, we found our Land Cruiser that would get us through Africa. He was unadvertised online and sat right on the corner of Voortrekker Rd with a giant sign that said “4×4.”
But that was all child’s play.
For a foreigner to register a car in South Africa and get the title to said car, you need to present a Traffic Registration Number, or TRN. A TRN must be applied for at the Motor Vehicle Department and can take anywhere from one day to six weeks to process. When you apply for a TRN you need to bring in (SAPS) certified copies of your passport, international driver’s license, and proof of permanent address in South Africa. Sounds simple right?
Well, this is Africa so we knew going in that obtaining this TRN would be anything, but simple. We had the international drivers license, we had the made up proof of address, and we also had a 90-day tourist visa for South Africa.
That’s where the problem was – our tourist visa. Before tourists could get a TRN with just their stamped tourist visa, but rules keep changing and this is no longer the case. Now foreigners need to have a more substantial visa – think student visa, work visa, or pretty much anything longer than a year.
We decided to try our luck with our tourist visa anyway. First woman at the Civic Center in Cape Town shot us down within 30 seconds. “No visa, No TRN.” We tried again at a different office, and Cameron convinced the workers there that they should take the application. They took it, said all should be good and told us to come back in four days.
Four days later and no TRN. “Try tomorrow,” they said. We were running low on time; we had to be out of South Africa in two weeks as our tourist visas really were up. So being advised by the traffic employees we tried the next day.
“We can’t find your form, try tomorrow,” they said now. What in the world? Now they claimed they have lost the form.
Our stress levels were skyrocketing. We already found the perfect car, put a deposit down on him, and had the cash in hand. We wanted this car! We started to reassess our options. Should we rent a car through Southern Africa? Should we just resort to public transport? Should we abandon Hashtag Africa? Should we just get the hell out of Africa and get our asses to Southeast Asia where it’s easy to travel, cheap, and the Internet is plentiful?
No. We must accomplish this task.
After five more trips back to the Traffic Department and many agonizing nights, the South African Traffic Department eventually denied our application and we lost all hope. The rejection was based on the first stamp in our passport that had an expiration date on when we could apply for such things. Inevitably it was our fault that we waited too long to apply for this TRN. However, even if we applied the very first day we got to South Africa I doubt they would have given us the TRN on a tourist visa.
We went over our options for how to buy this car. We went over and over and eventually came to the conclusion that it was the car or public transport. With all of our expensive electronics, we knew that public transport through Africa would be a real problem and would severely limit us to main towns. We explained our problem to a couple friends and family and they asked us why don’t we just rent a car to travel through Africa.
So, why won’t we just rent a car for Africa?
Many people keep asking this question, and I believe it is a fair question to ask if we were only in Africa for a month or two. However, we have been dreaming about traveling Africa extensively and renting a car for this is just not a viable option.
Here is why:
Besides South Africa, just about every country on our route requires a 4×4. We witnessed first hand just how bad the roads are in Mozambique when all we had was a 2×4. After a few weeks traveling the country in a Nissan Bakkie, we had had enough. We knew we needed a 4×4 to get through Africa.
Do you know how much 4×4 rental costs on average throughout Africa? $100 USD on the very low end. Wowza… That means on just our month long trek through Namibia we would be looking at a rental for $3000! That’s just one country we are planning on going to! We plan on driving our Land Cruiser Charlie around for at least six more months. Now math is not my strong suite, but by my calculations that would cost us at least $18,000. $14,000 more than what our amazing Land Cruiser cost us – and that’s not including petrol.
Not to mention:
For every border you cross overland you need a letter from the owner of the vehicle stating that you can drive across the border. Almost all rental car companies charge anywhere from $50 to $150 per border crossing letter. That’s one expensive piece of paper.
Speaking of crossing a border with a rental, it’s interesting to know that any car rented in the Southern Africa countries generally don’t let you travel further than Zimbabwe. We have plans to go as far north as Ethiopia or Sudan so this isn’t an option for us.
Oh, yea and…
I literally hate dealing with rental car companies – especially in Africa! I hate worrying about every little ding and scratch we may put on the car. I hate thinking about sleazy companies having our credit card to charge whatever they want on. I hate all their lies and deceitfulness and little “extras” they try to make on every booking.
We rented three separate cars in South Africa, and every single time we returned the car the rental company tried to charge us for something ridiculous. The first was when we rented our bakkie for two months throughout Mozambique, Lesotho, South Africa, and Swaziland. We brought the car back completely unscathed, but they still tried to squeeze 300 Rand out of us to “clean the sand out of the floor mats.” Really?
If Charlie happens to get a scratch on him? Oh well. Oops, we ran into a ditch, springbok, or traffic cone. Let’s not worry about it. I cherish the freedom of having our own car.
We have been driving the car for one week now and have already gotten two offers to buy the car. This is a four-wheel drive Toyota Land Cruiser in Africa. Or in other words, a very hot commodity. When we bought Charlie we thought of him as an investment. We got a great deal on the car for $4300, and we hope to sell the car back for that much plus some. Assuming we don’t completely total Charlie, we have every hope that we will at least break even on the purchase at the end of the trip. We may cry at the end when we have to give him up, but our pockets will be smiling again.
Now, back to the bureaucratic African nightmare story
So they denied our application for the TRN and we had now one week left to get out of South Africa. We turned our problem to the Internet and sent out one last email that could make or break us.
We sent an email to the only people we could trust in Cape Town – the lodge owners of the beautiful Travessia Beach Lodge in Mozambique (where we had stayed earlier this year). We asked if they could register the car in their name and thankfully they happily agreed! This became our only option to drive the car out of South Africa, but obviously, this choice could have only been available with a South African that we completely trusted not to screw us over. Although we bought the car, the registration is still and will remain in their name. To drive the car across borders we just needed a letter from the “owner” giving us power of attorney over the vehicle. So we could drive it wherever we wanted in Africa (remember that $50 form the rental companies try to get you with? You can write it yourself…)
So, three days later and after months of stress, worry, uncertainty, and researching we finally had our very own wheels and it felt GOOD. Now time to get the hell out of South Africa. We left Cape Town feeling great as we made our way north to Namibia with Charlie. We had been in South Africa a total of 87 days and had a 90-day tourist visa – so although there was so much more to be explored we felt comfortable leaving. Until we got to the border.
“You’ve overstayed your visa, you’re both undesirable to this country,” said the customs officers.
What was supposed to be a quick exit just became an issue. I knew what she was referring to; she was referring to the three-month date from when we FIRST entered South Africa. I tried to explain to her that we had traveled into Mozambique, Lesotho, and Swaziland and had entered and exited South Africa three separate occasions. That didn’t matter though we had 90 days in South Africa since the very first time we entered, the clock did not start and stop every time you exited and re-entered.
Being a travel perfectionist, I researched this before this dilemma. There was little to no information online – even on the government website. The only information I found was in old Lonely Planet threads saying you could enter and exit and it didn’t count against your 90 days.
“But there is no information anywhere on your government site that says what we did was prohibited,” I pleaded with her.
Her response was the typical African response that I still can’t tell if I hate or love. “Yes I know the info is very vague, but that’s just the way it is.”
I’ve never overstayed a visa. Even through the Schengen Zone in Europe I always make sure to leave before my 90 days are up. I know that Cameron and I did not do our due diligence on the matter and broke the rules in South Africa, unintentional or not. Now what?
Cameron and I are now labeled “Undesirables” to South Africa and are not permitted to enter again until who knows when. I feel a bit like Snowden in the US. Undesirable (and much more). Good thing we have lots more of Africa to explore!
Plan Your Trip to South Africa
We rely on a few trusted websites that help save us money and time when booking hotels, flights, and car rentals. Check out some of our preferred partners below:
Accommodation in South Africa
- Booking.com has over 5,000 properties in South Africa including hotels, apartments, and guesthouses. You get free cancelation on certain rooms and a best price guarantee. We have a Genius account and it saves us 10% on eligible bookings. Here are the most popular destinations in South Africa: Cape Town, Johannesburg, Knysna, and Stellenbosch.
Flights to South Africa
- Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).
Car Rental in South Africa
- Economybookings.com is a car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.