Several documents are very important for a stay abroad with your own vehicle. In this article, I describe each document.
Most countries require a passport valid for at least 6 months after your return date. In addition, it is important to have enough pages in the passport for visas, some of which can spread over two full pages (in general, only a page or less is needed per visa).
In Canada, it was possible to get a 48 pages passport instead of the classic one with 24 pages. It only costs 5 dollars more. If you evaluate that your passport won't have enough empty pages for your trip, it is possible to change it at anytime. For example, I changed my passport after 2 years since I had only 5 pages available.
NOTE: Since 2013, are only a 36 pages electronic passports...
Getting visas is the bane of any trip. Visas dictate how long you can stay in a given country and sometimes even the route you will have to take. Some visas are obtained at the border, others in an embassy in the preceding country, some through a local agency and sometimes, only in your country of origin. In the latter case, it is sometimes possible to send your passport by mail, but it implies being in a foreign country without a passport... not very reassuring.
In Africa, south and east do not pose any problems. In most countries, a stay of 90 days is granted and a visa can be issued at the border at a price that varies from 50 to 100 $ — in Rwanda, an online application must be filled — in Ethiopia, it is necessary to obtain the visa in its own country of origin. North Africa is more complicated and a case-by-case method must be applied — easy: Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt — difficult: Libya, Algeria. In West Africa, most visas can be obtained in an embassy in the previous country. However for some countries, it is almost impossible to get one. Crossing West Africa is almost impossible at this time (2012-2013).
Then, why not get all the visas before leaving from home? Simply because the visa will probably expire before you reach the country concerned. Often, a visa is valid for 3 to 6 months after it has been issued. For a trip of several months or years, it becomes pointless.
Also, rules for obtaining a visa can change at any time in a country. Therefore, you have to be very careful to what is written on the web. The travel date and nationality of those obtaining a visa are important, but everything may have changed when you get there.
Personally, I have chosen to get my visas as I travel, except for Ethiopia. In this case, I will get the visa in Quebec before going again on the second trip of my African tour.
Carnet de passage en douane
To put it simply, a Carnet de passage en douane is a passport for your vehicle. In many countries, it is necessary to fill a vehicle temporary import form that will be invalidated when you exit the country. A financial guarantee that can reach up to 200% of the vehicle value may be required. Dealing with thousands of dollars with a local bank is not very reassuring. To counter this problem, a Carnet de passage is very useful.
A carnet is a guarantee, issued by the automobile association of your country (in Canada, the CAA), for temporary importing a vehicle. This guarantee is recognized by several countries and entry procedures are then greatly simplified. A carnet contains up to 25 pages on which customs authorities will place a stamp for entering the country and one for exiting. With the carnet, it is not necessary to go through a temporary import and to put a guarantee.
Of course, this document is not free and a financial guarantee must be provided to your automotive association. However, the guarantee is provided only once and to your local association. It is much less stressful to put 10 000 dollars with CAA than with a local bank at the border of a country. A carnet is valid for a year and can be renewed while on the road.
For example, in my case, the vehicle is valued at 5000 $. The highest amount of guarantee to provide is for Egypt that requires 180 % of the vehicle value. Thus, I put down 9000 $ with CAA. A carnet by itself costs 750 $ that must be paid for each carnet. At the end of my trip, when I return the carnet, the 9000 $ is entirely refunded provided I have the entry/exit stamps for each country I visited and that the vehicle is back in its country of origin. Even though my car is from Tanzania, I may get a carnet through the CAA since I am Canadian.
It is possible not to put down a cash guarantee if you so desire. Insurance can be bought with the CAA. However, this option is costly since you will lose a few thousand dollars for every carnet.
NOTE: Since 2015, CAA doesn't manage carnets anymore. The company 'Boomerang' in the USA now manages them for Canada and the USA.
Dealing with the driving licence is simple. You bring your original licence and an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your automobile association. An IDP is only a translation of your driving licence in many foreign languages. You can get it for a few tens of dollars and it is valid for a year. It can be renewed while on the road.
If the renewal of your driving licence happens while you are travelling, it is possible to renew it while on the road, but this new licence won't have a photo. I didn't have this problem, thus I can't talk about my experience. However, if your driving licence has no photo, I think it could be problematic in some countries.
Registration and Insurance
Whether your vehicle is registered in your own country or abroad (in my case, in Tanzania), make sure you always carry all the original documents with you. Make sure the vehicle is in your name and that it matches the one on your passport and the Carnet de passage. As a minimum, you need third-party insurance for the vehicle. For example, in East Africa, it is possible to get a COMESA insurance covering the region. For other countries, an insurance can be obtained at the border for an amount varying between 20 and 100 $ a month.
A few countries require a proof of vaccination against yellow fever if you come from a country where the disease occurs. Even though it is rarely asked for, bring the original record.
This is important for you. See the article on health.
A plane ticket is sometimes useful as a proof that you are going to exit the country. If you have one, it may help you. I did cross a few tens of land borders without ever being asked for one.
Photocopies of all documents
At customs, it is imperative to show original documents. In other cases, photocopies should be used and original documents keep in a safe place.
For example, at a roadside check by the police or army, if you give the original document to the person, he could find whatever reason for obtaining money from you before giving back the document. Corruption is very frequent in some countries. Practically, in my first trip in East Africa, I didn't meet corrupted policeman. A few policemen have asked for a gift from Canada, with a smile, but after our courteous refusal, they let us go onward.
Make many photocopies of your documents before you go abroad and leave some with relatives or friends. It is also recommended having a digital copy on a site such as Yahoo or Google.