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Visiting me - Information from Peace Corps

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The following points of information and advice have been compiled from various sources (previous visitors, former Volunteers, staff, etc.) for people planning to visit Peace Corps Volunteers in The Gambia.  Visitors and Volunteers have learned that advance planning, communication between the Volunteer and visitor, and flexibility are very important aspects of a successful and satisfying trip.  We hope that the suggestions and information below will be helpful.  You may also wish to consult various travel books such as the Lonely Planet's Africa on a Shoestring and West Africa on a Shoestring. It is also advisable to plan your travel through a reputable agent to assist you in having all the information you need.  The Peace Corps' staff, either in Washington or Banjul, cannot assist in your travel plans, or in expedition of passports, visa and ticket arrangements and confirmations.

1.  Planning.  Begin planning at least six months before departure since several things have to be done sequentially which can add up to several weeks/months.  Keep in mind that communication takes a long time, so arranging the logistics through the mail will require a lot of lead time.  Make sure that the timing of your visit is convenient for the Volunteer you are visiting.  A Volunteer's primary obligation is to her/his job assignment, so be sure that your visit will not disrupt any work plans.  We recommend visits at some point during the second year of the Volunteer’s service. 

2.
 Passport.  If you do not already have a passport, obtain a passport application and application instructions from a post office, your travel agent or the Department of State website: www.travel.state.gov. 

3. Visa.  U.S. citizens traveling on U.S. passports require a visa to enter The Gambia.  For information contact the Gambian Embassy at 1155 15th St., NW, Suite 905, Washington, DC 20005 (202/785-1399) or the Permanent Mission of The Gambia to the U.N., 820 2nd Ave., 9th floor, New York, NY 10017 (212/949-6640). You can consolidate and expedite your passport and visa applications if necessary by going through a private company that handles it for you for an additional fee.  (Ask a travel agent for details.)

If you plan travel to other countries in the area:

Separate visas are required for almost any African country you may plan to visit in addition to The Gambia, except for intermediate stops where you will not leave the terminal.  For The Gambia and most African countries, visas CANNOT be obtained upon entry and you may be unable to obtain visas for further stops during your stay in Banjul.  Determine the visa requirements for all countries you plan to visit well in advance of your travel. 

4.  Health.  You must get, at minimum, a yellow fever immunization and have it logged in a World Health Organization (W.H.O.) medical card.  For more information on what additional immunizations are required or recommended, contact your local health board or the Division of Immunization at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, (404) 639-8230. The CDC can also answer other questions and advise you on relevant health precautions. You should also plan to take anti-malarial prophylactic drugs during your stay in The Gambia.  Contact the Malaria Hotline at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, (404) 639-1610 for information on what drug(s) to take and where you can obtain them.

While in The Gambia, precautions must be taken with food preparation and water treatment.  Drink only bottled water, or water that has been filtered and chlorinated or boiled.  (Bottled water is available for purchase throughout the country at reasonable prices.)  Vegetables must also be soaked in iodine or chlorine if they are not being cooked.

Malaria is also present in all areas of The Gambia.  It is a serious disease that is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Please consult your doctor or other health care professional regarding the various anti-malarial drugs currently available.

There are health risks, and medical facilities in the Gambia are not comparable to those in the United States.  Peace Corps Medical Staff cannot care for family members or friends who require medical attention while in The Gambia.  We strongly suggest that you consider extra insurance with emergency evacuation coverage from a company such as International SOS Assistance, Inc. (P.O. Box 11568, Philadelphia, PA  19116, 1-800-523-8930 or 215-244-1500 in PA). 

5.  Money.  The unit of currency in The Gambia is the dalasi. Currently the exchange rate is approximately 19 dalasi per US Dollar.  Traveler’s checks are recommended.  Some major hotels in Banjul accept major credit cards, such as American Express and VISA.  The best person to answer questions about money (in what form and how much to take) is the Volunteer whom you are planning to visit. 

6.  Baggage.  Have all your suitcases locked.  On most airlines, you are allowed two pieces of baggage (up to 80 lbs total; with a maximum weight allowance of 50 lbs for any one bag) per passenger for trips from the United States to Europe, but only 20 kg (44 lbs) total for intra-European or African flights.  Therefore, you may be charged an excess baggage fee for anything over 44 lbs from Europe to Africa unless you check your baggage through to Africa directly from the U.S.  (If you check baggage all the way through, be sure the baggage ticket has all appropriate code letters for the trip.)  This is particularly important if you plan to break travel in Europe. Consult your airline or travel agent for further information regarding baggage.

7.  Flight Check-In.  Please arrive at the check-in counter at least two hours before take off.  They start checking passengers in then and you cannot get a seat assignment until this check-in.  The check-in process goes very slowly so please be prepared to wait.  Large carry-on bags will likely be refused.

8.  Arrival in Banjul.  You must have both your passport and W.H.O. card when boarding a flight to Banjul and upon arrival. While English is spoken by most airport employees, it is advisable to ask the Volunteer you are visiting to meet you or try to have someone meet you at the airport.  You will have to open all bags for inspection.  Try to keep all your bags in sight once they come into the baggage area.  There will be men pressing to carry your bags for payment.  Carry your bags yourself if you can.  If not, negotiate a price with one person before allowing anyone to take your bags.  If no one is going to meet you at the airport, get instructions ahead of time from the Volunteer on how to take a taxi to your next destination.

9.  Accommodations.  Your best source of information about where to stay is the Volunteer whom you are planning to visit.

10.  Photos.  Be advised that picture-taking is never allowed at an airport or any military installation. 

Identification and Registration.  Visitors are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Banjul and have a certified copy of their passport made.  The certified copy should be carried at all times, with the original locked in a safe place.
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