Saturday, August 17, 2013

Want to Visit Me?

Or to visit Cameroon but not me?

(This is taken directly from information sent to me by the Peace Corps.)

Information for Family & Friends Visiting Volunteers in Cameroon
The following points of information and advice have been compiled from various sources (previous visitors, former Volunteers, staff, etc.) for people planning to visit Peace Corps Volunteers in Cameroon. Visitors and Volunteers have learned that advance planning, communication between the volunteer and visitor, and flexibility are very important aspects of a successful and satisfying trip. We hope that the suggestions and information below will be helpful. You may also wish to consult various travel books such as the Lonely Planet's Africa on a Shoestring and West Africa on a Shoestring or the Rough guide. 

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. They have established themselves in their community and have honed their language skills. Thus they are better able to host visitors. They also have a better understanding of Cameroon and have a clear idea of what sights they would like to show you! Note that Volunteers' supervisors discourage them from receiving visitors during peak periods of work.

  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • Visa. Download the application at or obtain the application form from the Cameroonian Embassy (1700 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20007).
After completing two copies of the application, send them to the embassy with your passport, two passport photos, World Health Organization (WHO) records showing proof of a yellow fever vaccine (see below), the application fee, and a copy of either your tickets or a detailed flight itinerary. You may also need to submit a letter of invitation. The Cameroon Country Desk will can provide you with a letter supporting your visa application if necessary. If you plan to leave the country and return during the period of the visa's validity, you must superficially request a multiple entry visa (single entry visas are generally granted). Be sure to call the Embassy and verify with them that procedures have not changed. The phone number at the embassy is (202) 265-8790. 

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 you to 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). 
  • Health. A yellow fever vaccination is required. This immunization must be logged in a World Health Organization (WHO) International Certificate of Vaccination. For more information on what additional vaccines, anti-malarial drugs 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 

You should plan to take anti-malarial prophylactic drugs prior to departure from the US and during your stay in Cameroon. Contact the Malaria Hotline at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia at (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 US. 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). 

  • 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 500 CFA.) Travelers’ checks are no longer commonly used in Cameroon. ATMs on the “Plus” system are increasingly available around the country. Some of the big (and expensive) hotels in Yaoundé will accept an American Express or Visa credit card (caution advised). The best person to answer questions about money (and how much to take) is the Volunteer whom you are planning to visit. 
  • Baggage. Use TSA-approved locks to lock all of your luggage. On most airlines, you are allowed 2 pieces of baggage (not to exceed 40-50 lbs. each – please check your airline’s guidelines) 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. Consult your airline or travel agent for further information. 
  • Flight Check-In. If you fly through Paris or Brussels, arrive at the check-in counter for the flight to Douala or Yaoundé two hours before takeoff. 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. 
  • 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 may have to open 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • Departure. You must pay a departure tax of 10,000 CFA at the Douala or Yaoundé airport before boarding. This tax needs to be paid in local currency.
It sounds like a lot, but its manageable. Keep your chin up and eye on the prize: ADVENTURE!

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