Being Legal in Cameroon: Getting your Paperwork in Order
Things to Keep in Mind
There are a few points to consider before reading this article. First of all, the Cameroonian immigration laws changed in 2015. So if friends offer to help you based on their experience, this is something to keep in mind. Due to the Boko Haram issues, many rules are now much stricter than before.
Whatever happens, this is Cameroon. That means that almost everything is possible as long as you are ready to pay. I certainly don’t want to encourage bribing, but if you have made a mistake at some point, it may sometimes be the only way to solve it.
Procedures can take forever. You can easily spend an entire day applying for one little document. Be friendly and patient. Most police officers in this country want to be respected. Getting angry with them normally has the opposite effect; they will refuse to attend to you or (if you were really angry) even refuse your bribe and simply don’t help you. So, take a book when you go to the immigration office, clear your schedule for the day, and just smile at them.
Although this is a bilingual country, don’t expect police officers to speak English. If you don’t speak French, I would recommend you to take someone who does to help you translate. Even in the Anglophone regions you may find police officers who are completely Francophone.
Before Travelling to Cameroon
Before you enter Cameroon, you need to obtain your entry visa. Online, you can find an overview of all Cameroonian Embassies and Consulates abroad. If there is none in your own country, you should contact the one closest to you. In some cases you may be able to get a visa at the airport after prior permission from National Security.
Getting your visa should normally not be too complicated. Compared to some other countries in this region, the procedures are fast and easy. The only challenge I have heard of was from someone who had to submit a scan or copy of the residence permit of the person inviting her. The invitation letter from the host should be certified by the police; this means they put a lot of stamps on it. If you want to invite someone, you need to go to the police station. Here they will stamp the invitation and you will need to sign a register. The stamps cost 1,000 XAF.
Although visas are easy to obtain, they are relatively expensive. You pay 120 EUR to obtain a visa for three months. (Special tariffs may apply to citizens of other African countries.) Your local embassy or consulate should be able to tell you exactly what you need to submit. At least, make sure your passport is valid for more than six months and you have a valid vaccination against yellow fever. Upon arrival your yellow fever card is (normally) checked, so take it along in your hand luggage.
Renewing Your Visa
Once you are in Cameroon, you can renew your visa. However, a tourist visa can only be extended in Cameroon if you work or volunteer for an organisation (this is one of the changes that came into effect since 2015). So if that is not applicable to you, double check with the embassy which visa you should apply for before coming to Cameroon.
It is possible to obtain an exit visa in Cameroon. This enables you to leave the country without too many issues. However, if you apply for this visa after your entry visa has expired, fines may apply. The price may then depend on your bargaining skills and the mood of the officer attending to you!
Visa renewal is only done in Yaoundé, at the Frontier Police. You need to submit quite a lot of documents.
First of all, you need to bring your passport with your valid entry visa as well as certified copies of both. To certify the copies you take them to the immigration office to buy a fiscal stamp for 1,000 XAF per piece. Immigration will sign the copy for you (and put some more stamps on it, of course).
Then you need to hand in a written request to renew your visa. You can try to request an extension for another six months. If that doesn’t work, you will still get three months, but it will never work out the other way round. Make sure to specify that you want a re-entry visa; otherwise you will end up with one that allows you to stay, but not to travel.
Remember to bring a residence certificate, too. This is a form you can buy for 100 XAF in small copyshops. You will need to fill it out and get it signed by the Quarter Head of the area you are living in. It is not easy to find out who is the Quarter Head (sort of traditional authority). The best way is to ask your landlord. If he/she doesn’t know, your landlord could sign and stamp the form. You will need to certify the form by buying a fiscal stamp for 1,000 XAF and get it signed by the local police in your city.
On top of this, you should also have the following documents at hand:
- two identical passport pictures
- a photo copy of your yellow fever certificate
- a proof of occupation (e.g. your work contract)
- documents to prove your employer’s official status (e.g. their status as a non-profit)
- a request from your employer to renew your visa (with some nice stamps on it)a copy of the invitation letter for your original visa
And don’t forget to bring cash, patience, a book, and a friendly smile!
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