This is the third in our series of posts regarding crossing borders into the rest of Africa. Please note, the information and tips shared on this blog, are based on our own experiences. We hope that sharing this with you might make your next crossing from South Africa to Botswana a pleasant experience.
South Africa/Botswana Borders
There are fifteen border posts between South Africa and Botswana. Some are well known and others not so well. We have firsthand experience of the following five Border Posts and our tips/comments will be restricted to these only:
- Groblersbrug/Martin’s drift
- Stockpoort/Parr’s Halt
- Skilpadshek/Pioneer Gate
- Twee Rivieren
The other Border Post’s that we do not have any personal experience of and cannot comment on, are:
- McCarthy’s Rest
Which Border Post to use
Botswana is divided into seven main regions and the choice of Border Post depends on which region in Botswana you are visiting, or what your final destination is if you are travelling through Botswana to get there.
Groblersbrug and Stockpoort
If you want to visit or pass through Central and/or North West Botswana Groblersbrug (S22.99822 E27.94221) or Stockpoort (S23.41277 E27.35683) would be the Border Post of choice.
The buildings and facilities on the South African side of the border are old and really not well maintained. Last time round (2014) the border post made use of containers as offices for certain functions. The flow of people through in and out of these containers are note well organized, and you should be prepared to face the elements (sun, heat, cold, rain, wind) whilst waiting your turn to be assisted. If your passport is covered in a “plastic jacket”, you might as well take this off now – inside you will bear the brunt of annoyed officials demanding you present your passport in its original format.
The Botswana side has more modern buildings and is much better maintained and organized. The main problem on this side that there is only ONE cashier for payments of permits and taxes. You do the calculations … It can – and will become a LONG day. When planning our holidays, we put a day aside for border crossings. This way we manage any unexpected occurrences as well and time management. To get your passport stamped takes minutes though. If you are in a big group, you can relieve each other by taking turns to stand in the payments queue. There are plenty of underroof and shaded places to sit and “wait” though.
Being the main border to Central and North West Botswana it can be very busy at times. If possible plan your trip to not cross this border on long week-ends or during December holidays. You might end up spending hours at the border.
The longest that we had to stand at this post was four hours (yes – count them … FOUR). Be prepared – manage the group expectations – take precautions before you get out of your car. And again – take water and don’t be caught off guard.
There are two possible routes to the border if traveling from Pretoria. The most popular route is the N1 to Mokopane where you turn off on the N11 which will lead you straight to the border post.
The alternative is to take the R33 turn-off to Modimolle (Nylstroom). Continue on the R33 to Lephalale (Ellisras) from where you will continue on the R510 for 37km before you turn right on the R572 that will take you to the border.
Stockpoort/Parr’s Halt is smaller than but just as busy as Groblersbrug. The gate times for Stockpoort are from 06:00 to 18:00.
Stockpoort also leads to Central and North West Botswana. Like all other border posts leading into Botswana, Stockpoort is also very busy on the first and last day of each month – and obviously long weekend and holidays. Stockpoort is not as well staffed as Groblersbrug. Getting trucks through takes longer – and this result in longer delays than at Groblersbrug.
We experienced Stockpoort in 2006 at 13:00. It was dead quiet – and almost all of the personnel at the border were having some form of lunch hour. We entered and exited the post in less than 30 minutes. All about timing … as with everything else in life.
From Pretoria travel north on the N1 and then take the R33 turn-off to Modimolle (Nylstroom). Continue with the R33 to Lephalale (Ellisras) and continue on the R510 until you get to the border.
Skilpadshek and Ramatlabama
If you are heading for Namibia or want to visit the southern parts of Botswana, the Kgalagardi district or Ghanzi, Skilpadshek (S25.27546 E25.71340) or Ramatlabama (S25.64209 E25.57408) would be the Border Post to use.
At the Skilpadshek/Pioneer Gate border post you connect with the Trans Kalahari Highway (A2) that runs through Botswana to the Buitepos (Namibia) border post where you enter Namibia. This in itself should be an indication that this is a BUSY border post.
We have entered this post numerous times, and every time things are different – or things have changed – or what was applicable last time will not be applicable this time round. All in all very frustrating. In 2010 we decided to escape the 2010 Soccer hype in South Africa and headed out to Mabuasehube in Botswana. We got stuck at this border post for hours on end. Not only did we have to write everything down that we had in the Landy that remotely resembles “valuables”, we also had to unpack the Landy for Police sniffer dogs to search for drugs. All in the name of “Soccer”.
The gate times of the Skilpadshek border post are from 06:00 to 24:00.
Construction of buildings as well as road infrastructure from the South African sides has been in a “stop and start” mode for years now. When asked, officials also don’t know when the construction of the new buildings will be completed – and when the roads will be fixed.
The very cramped buildings that currently house the border offices are dirty, hot and very run down. Definitely not pleasant if you are stuck there for a few hours. Again, remember to wear comfortable shoes, take water with you, and put on your sun hat and SMILE!
The last time that we made use of this border post they were busy changing the internal network system (upgrading according to them) which led to major confusion and extreme time delays as no-one was certain what was required. It took us almost two hours to get through the border on the on the South African side. Again – if you have a border post day on your trip, set that day aside for this. You don’t have control of the pace at which officials work, if the networks are up and running etc. Manage the expectations of your group by informing all that it is impossible to predict how long crossing the border will take.
The Botswana side always seems to be more organized and it does not take long to go through the clearance procedures and to pay the required fees.
The officials also seems a bit friendlier – more engaging. They are always up for a chat – even during December breaks. When Pieter and I went through the post one year on our way to a very hot December Mabuasehube break, a lady official looked at my passport photo and queried if this was me? I assured her it was … and as luck would have it, upon returning, I get my passport stamped by her again. She gave me one look and smiled: “yeah, Botswana is not for the pale skin people”. After 23 days in the desert Pieter and I were a lush brown tanned colour. I banked her comment and proudly looked at my hard earned tan.
The N4 will take you from Pretoria past Rustenburg, through Zeerust to the Border.
Ramatlabama is a much smaller border post and not busy at all. Gate times were from 06:00 to 22:00 when last checked.
Since our last experience at Skilpadshek we now prefer to enter or exit Botswana at Ramatlabama. It was the day of Mr. Mandela’s funeral. Every border official was in mourning – and so were we. It took us less than halve an hour to clear through the border on both the South African and the Botswana side of the border control.
This was not a once-off though. Later on when we went through this post again, we got treated exactly the same. There are sufficient seats to sit – you don’t have to queue in the sun, the officials are much friendlier, the bathrooms are clean (and stacked with toilet paper!!) and there are no delays with officials not knowing procedures.
There are two possible routes to Ramatlabama. The first would be the N4 from Pretoria to Zeerust. Instead of turning right on the N4 just outside Zeerust towards Skilpadshek, continue straight on the R49 towards Mafikeng. At Mafikeng turn right on the N18 which will take you to the border.
As an alternative you can continue for plus minus 27km on the N4 towards the Skilpadshek border, and then turn left on the D2280 which will take you past the Botsalano game reserve to Mafikeng. Be aware that this is a dirt road and badly corrugated at times … but fun to drive though!
The alternative is to take the N14 from Pretoria all the way to Coligny. At Coligny don’t turn left to stay on the N14, but continue straight on the now R503 to Lichtenburg and from there to Mafikeng where it joins up with the N18 taking you to the border.
Twee Rivieren Border Post
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a cross border park between South Africa and Botswana. The Nossob River which runs through the park is the border between the two countries. As a visitor to the park you may cross the border (Nossob River) freely as long as you don’t not exit the park into a country other than the one from which you have entered the park.
If you entered the Kgalagadi Trans frontier Park from South Africa side at the Twee Rivieren gate, and you will stay within the borders of the park including the Botswana side, you don’t need to go through customs.
However, if you enter the park and want to leave through the Botswana side for further travel into Botswana, you need to go through customs at the Twee Rivieren Gate (S26.47527 E20.61378).
Border clearance for both South Africa and Botswana are done at the Reception Building at the gate. You have to appreciate the building where everything inside is spotless, clean, air conditioner – absolute bliss.
The same procedure will apply if you have entered Botswana through any other Border post and want to leave the park going to South Africa at the Twee Rivieren Gate.
Both the South African and the Botswana Border Officials are well trained and the process is completed within minutes. SUPER friendly, very helpful and in our books the BEST border post EVER.
Gate times are from 07:30 to 16:00.
Botswana entry requirements
Entry requirements for Botswana are changed and updated from time to time. When you start your travel planning, contact the relevant departments in Botswana prior to your departure to obtain the latest information. The Automobile Association’s website is not always up to date.
Still not sure? ASK – plenty of forums where people share information – people who have just returned from Botswana. We have found this the best way to be prepared. Facebook is great – but we have found hundreds of “know how’s” whom dish out great advice just to find out this person has never been through the border post. Rather register to Overland and 4×4 forums for the most credible and updated info.
With our recent Malawi trip (read our trip report) this did not help though – all the advice we were given did not help. We had to learn the hard way … hence THIS blog with info on our experiences.
Border fees for entering Botswana
The following fees fees are payable in Pula at the port of entry: (PS: Pula is a currency that you can get/order from banks in South Africa)
Road Permit: P50.00 for a single entry or P90 for a return trip. This amount might vary as it is calculated on the size of the vehicles engine. Not applicable for trailers/caravans.
Road Fund: P20.00 and valid until 31 December every year. Payable for vehicles and trailers/caravans.
Third Party Insurance: P50.00 and valid for 90 days. Vehicle only.
NB!! These figures were correct during the time of our last visit to Botswana and based on the engine size or our vehicle. It might have changed in the meantime. Rather confirm with a border post prior to your departure.
General comments on the South Africa/Botswana Border Posts
We have never had problems in crossing border posts between South Africa and Botswana. Most of the times it went smoothly. Yes, we did stand in queues for long times during some crossing, but that was expected as we did our homework prior leaving – and we manage expectations well and set a day aside for border crossings. During long week-ends and holiday period long queues are expected and you might end up standing in the sun/rain/wind/cold for a long time. Be patient, have a chat to your fellow “crossers”, joke, find out what the road conditions are going forward, etc. During these times, Pieter and I have had the most amazing chats with truck drivers – finding out exactly what the road conditions were like, what to look out for, how long is will REALLY take you to reach your destination, where is the freshest fruit/bread etc.
I feels forever – and sometimes very demotivating to watch the pace at which the border official work, but being impatient, rude or unfriendly will NOT help your case – it might even prolong your queue time.
As long as you are prepared (physically and mentally), having all the required documentation ready and don’t try to smuggle restricted or prohibited goods through the border, you won’t have any problems.
We have found from our experience that crossing borders between South Africa and Botswana is far easier than crossing into the rest of Africa. Just smile and nod.
Download the calendar of public holidays in Botswana before planning your trip and take that into account in planning. This will avoid disappointment/frustration of standing at closed shop doors when you urgently need supplies. It also impacts the number of people that you can expect at the border posts. Also – remember – if it is a public holiday, no banks are open!
Take a sun hat with you – even if the queue at the border post seems short enough. You will thank me!
Take water with you – again – even if the queue looks short. The pace at which the queue moves is the key factor.
Dress sensibly. If you know you are going to cross a border, put on sensible shoes (one’s that you can stand in for some time). Wear jeans, trousers or shorts (for women). If you have to stand in the queue for hours and want to just sit down for a while, a dress will NOT be the best choice.
If it is raining – do take a raincoat with you. We have been stranded outside these offices for hours on end in pouring rain. Losing your place in the queue is “nonnegotiable” if you want to quickly go back and grab your umbrella or raincoat. It’s useful to take a bottle of water with you – again, it can get very hot outside in the sun.
You WILL have people in your space – pushing and pressing against you. All sweaty (as you will be). We always have “Wet wipes” in the car ready for when we are done at the border post. You get to touch so many hands, pens, forms – a Wet wipe takes care of it and makes you feel a little bit fresher moving on.
Till the next blog post.
Pieter & Gerida