I’m never keen on arriving in a new country alone late at night without very explicit instructions, and I was possibly overzealous to get the instructions from my new boss, who worked for Thomson Reuters in Washington DC. I was able to get a visa on arrival for Sierra Leone, but also had gone to some lengths to obtain year long visas for Liberia and Guinea. Guinea was the most bizarre – their embassy in London was away from the usual rich Georgian honeypots of Bloomsbury, Fitzrovia or Kensington, but was in the north London suburb of Kilburn, not far from the High St train station. There were no markings on the outside to show it was Guinea’s representation in the UK, and when I went inside I realised the building was shared with several businesses. I never got to see the embassy offices that time, but was asked to sit in a lobby area – looking like a cafe without any coffee in sight. A pleasant enough guy eventually came down from the offices and I showed him all the relevant documents – the passport itself, photos of myself, the application form. He flipped through it and asked me about the cash – several hundred pounds. No hope in them having a card machine; I had to pay cash. And I did not have enough in my pocket. So he took all my materials and asked me to meet him back here in an hour with the cash. So I wandered the streets of Kilburn with a wad of twenty pound notes in my pocket. When I returned, I was relieved that the embassy was still there and I had not been hustled into handing over my passport to a bunch of con artists. He showed me the visa in the passport (saying “the visa is the only receipt you have”). It was a blue label stuck to a page, with text that I could easily have printed out for myself. Indeed when I got home I had to Google the visa and find it was actually legitimate.
By comparison the Sierra Leone visa was a breeze. A company called VisitSierraLeone helped to deal with payments and forms, as well as a whole host of other tourist activities. I was soon to discover that Sierra Leone had a very small tourist market but this company obviously helped to take some of the stress over logistical arrangements and I heartily recommend them.