Our Worst Day Yet – Ghana Immigration

Today we had to stop by the Ghana immigration office to pick up new Ghana visas for our return from Sao Tome & Principe (a country off the coast of Gabon) before meeting with International Justice Mission (IJM) later in the morning. We arrived at immigration slightly after they opened and met with an immigration officer who was pleasantly helpful.

He took our passports and asked us to wait. We waited. Next, he returned to tell us we needed an invitation and that there was a business outside that could provide the letter. We paid for the letter, only to discover that, in fact, it was just a letter of application, of which we were the authors. Oh well!

After submitting the letter, we again we waited.

Next, they wanted money—cash in USD. $300 for the two visas, to be exact (a ridiculous price but the only option since we were denied visas five times when we visited Ghana embassies on our drive up to West Africa).

Again, we waited. By this time, we had totally missed our appointment with IJM and requested a reschedule. The immigration officer dismissed us, but not before we confirmed we needed the visa (and passports) by 2 PM, since we had a 4 PM flight.

We drove out to a mechanic and left the car for repairs. Leaving it at a mechanic was a great way to ensure it was secure while we traveled out of the country for the weekend. Our time at the mechanic was rushed but we were able to communicate what we needed and rushed back to pick up our visas.

Back at Ghana Immigration, we waited. And waited. And sent messages. And waited. And muttered, fretted, and waited some more. We arranged for a cab to be on standby to take us to the airport. The cab left. We switched to hailing a scooter to be on standby since scooters can lane-split, so they are less affected by traffic. We waited some more.

At 3:45 PM, the immigration official arrived with our passports and visa. We had presumably missed our flight. We went to the airport anyway. Some friendly military guards at immigration took pity on our plight and gave us rides on their motorbikes. One commented,

“While I can tell you how fast a bullet travels across the street, I have no idea what happens inside that immigration office.”

We were dropped off at the airport, but it was the wrong terminal. By this time, our flight had departed so, with stress gone, we walked to the correct terminal and looked for Air Portugal. Their office was closed. We went upstairs to the food court and connected to the Internet to attempt to make an appeal. All requests for understanding were denied. Once the desk opened, we went downstairs and made our appeal at the Air Portugal desk to reschedule our flights. They sent the request to management and asked us to wait. Eventually, they got back to us and denied the request. They said that since the flight had now left, our tickets were cancelled under the no-show rule, and we would be out of luck. There was nothing else to be done. I tried sending some emails, but they fell on deaf ears as well.

In summary:

  • Ghana immigration held onto our passports until after our flights left.
  • We ran a red light that was extremely hard to see and paid the consequences.
  • We completely missed our meeting with IJM and had to reschedule for the following week.
  • We had to delay leaving Accra in order to wait for our meeting with IJM.
  • Our car (and home) was now at the mechanic, so we would need to find a hotel.
  • By the time our visa came through, we couldn’t use it, so we waisted $300 USD.

Were the immigration officers corrupt? I expect that they were pocketing the $300 somewhere. Although I requested them, we never did get receipts. However, not issuing us a visa in time makes no sense, even if they were. They simply didn’t make it a priority.

I chatted with the immigration official over WhatsApp afterward. Although it didn’t help, he was very apologetic. He even tried connecting us with an immigration official at the airport. However, that also wasn’t going to help us with the airline. In the end, we should have just left and traveled on our backup US passports and then applied for an emergency visa upon arrival back in Ghana. Presumably, this would have been successful. Unfortunately, hindsight has no effect on history.

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