Carnet de Passage: Advantages and Pitfalls

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

If you read my last article The challenge of buying a car in Kenya to cross Africa, you’ll know I’m very grateful for the existence of the Carnet de Passage. Without it, I would have never been able to make my trip through Africa.

So, at this point, you might be wondering how driving around the world – especially Africa - works. How is it possible to legally cross so many borders with a car? Maybe you’ve even heard of something like the ‘Carnet de Passage’ before, but you still feel pretty clueless regarding the subject.

Do not worry, it took me a while as well to figure out all the pros and cons of this document. My attempts to search for it online were not very helpful. In fact, they only made me more confused: Should I get a Carnet or not? That’s why I wrote this article: I’m hoping to clarify a bit for you, which will make your travels that much smoother!

Crossing Borders with a Private Car

Border crossing to Namibia

To understand all the logistics of the Carnet de Passage, you first must understand why countries are so strict about border crossing in the first place. The answer is simple: money and control. No country wants you to bring your car in, only to leave it there without paying taxes. That’s why border patrol will do everything in their power to make your life really hard.

Europe nowadays has freedom of movement, but some countries - for instance, Russia and a lot of African states - still require you to fill out a temporary import declaration. Therein is stated that if you don’t leave within a certain amount of time, you’ll be charged with taxes.

Unfortunately, the whole thing is still pretty vague, considering that you usually aren’t even able to register your vehicle in most countries.

What is the Carnet de Passage?

You should think of the Carnet de Passage as a passport for your car. Every traveler needs their own personal one. It states the origin of the vehicle, as well as a promised return date. Just like your personal passport, the Carnet has pages that will be stamped when you enter or leave a country.

CDP will save you so much hustle with corrupt police once you're traveling around Africa! 

Basically, it’s an efficient, ready-to-use customs declaration package. As convenient as that sounds, it does come with a price - quite literally. You’re required to pay a steep deposit, which might be as high as the car’s value!

How to Get a Carnet de Passage

Luckily, the process of actually getting a Carnet de Passage really isn’t that difficult. Just call the local automobile club in the country you plan to start driving from or pay them a visit in person. Your car will there be safety-checked and its price will be valued. There are multiple kinds of ‘passports’, at different price points. Which one you’ll qualify for, will depend on the countries you want to travel to. It may take up to a week to issue, but once it got it in your hands, you’ll be ready for your journey!

When you cross a border, you’ll have to show the Carnet twice: Once when you leave the country you were driving through, and once when you enter the ‘new’ country. There are a couple of important things, however, that you should keep in mind.

Most importantly, you must return the car to its origin to get your deposit back. If you plan on depositing or selling your car while staying in a foreign country, you can wave your money goodbye. If you severely damage the document, or it gets stolen, you will need to file a police report to get a new one.

My Experience with a Carnet de Passage

My overall experience with carnet de passage

The Carnet de Passage definitely was one of the major expenses of my trip. But without it, I would have never been able to travel through Africa as much as I did, so I consider it a good investment. Getting the document was simple enough, and the actual crossing-of-the-borders went smoothly.

The most straining part was probably returning the Carnet since I had to ship the car back to the country of origin. But once that was done, I got my money back, and could look back happily at my epic journey across Africa!

What I learned from this experience is that traveling with your own car absolutely has its advantages, but also that there are some problems you need to consider. First off, there’s no denying it’s going to be expensive - a lot more so than for instance going backpacking.

But for that money, you’ll get full freedom of movement and you’ll have your home on wheels with you at all times. I personally despise borders - I think they’re an unnecessary hindrance - but being prepared makes them almost bearable.  

Therefore, I’d highly recommend investing in a Carnet de Passage. It will save you time and energy, make your life easier, and thus make your trip so much more enjoyable!

Adrian Sameli founder and editor of aSabbatical.com
Travel mindfully to meet local people around the world and embrace new cultures. Get inspired and inspire others!