Last week, for one day – and one day only - the Government of Malawi charged $160 to American citizens for visitor visas on arrival. Normally, a 30-day visa is free and a 60-day extension the equivalent of $10. It supposedly was meant to mirror the amount that Malawians have to pay to get into America, but it appeared literally overnight. All the flights arriving that day were met with this new requirement and, finding no provisions to help them fulfill it (stocked ATMs, cashboxes, change), were left to deal with painfully long queues, confusion and frustration. Welcome to Malawi!
It was rescinded the next day.
Not speaking much Chichewa and never listening to the Malawi Broadcast Company station, if there was an announcement, it’s not surprising that I didn’t hear it. When I asked at the American consulate, I was told it came as a surprise to them as well, and they were not consulted on the amount. Even if they had been, the roll out seemed unnecessarily speedy and confusing. The only thing I saw in the news was a few days later.
Bizarre roll out aside, a few other countries structure their visa fees in this tit-for-tat manner. Certainly it’s very politically popular, and given the amount of development folk that jet in and out, seems to be a viable revenue stream. I do think Malawi ought to have a (minimal) visa fee, like its neighbors. But what point is really being made here: is this visa fee meant to change US policy towards Malawi? Elevate their status as a country worth paying to get to?
All it appears to do is make getting to this corner of the world even harder, a further dis-incentive to well paying tourists. It seems unlikely to change the way Americans view Malawi, and if they exempt everyone on government travel (as stated in the news link) they’re not even going to get that much money. Worst of all, the madcap way it was implemented does nothing to dispel the stereotype of the disorganized African nation. Status: denied.
As sympathetic as I am towards high visa fees for Africans to America, this kind of retaliatory policy-makes siding with Malawi here really hard. I’m only left shaking my head, like I have on so many other things here I just don’t understand. I’m glad I wasn’t traveling last week!