Bargaining is common in Benin, though delving into negotiations over the cost of a plate of street food would be in poor taste.
Dangers & Annoyances
- Cotonou has its fair share of traffic accidents and muggings, so be careful. In Ouidah, avoid the roads to and along the coast at any time of day.
- Children, and sometimes also adults, will shout 'Yovo! Yovo!' (meaning 'white person') ad nauseam. It's normally harmless, but tiresome.
- The beaches along the coast are not safe for swimming because of strong currents. Stick to hotel swimming pools or the lagoon.
Supply is 220V and plugs are of the European two-round-pin variety. Network cuts are frequent.
Embassies & Consulates
British Community Liaison Officer Officially, British nationals must deal with the British Deputy High Commission in Lagos (Nigeria). However, the Community Liaison Officer for the British community in Benin, based at the English International School, can be of some help.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Benin's country code||229|
Entry & Exit Formalities
You will need a yellow fever vaccination certificate to come to Benin.
Visas are required for all travellers except nationals of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). They are not available upon arrival.
Local authorities have done a couple of U-turns on visa policies in recent years, with the latest turn meaning that visas were not obtainable at the border or upon arrival at the airport. Be sure to get your visa from a Beninese embassy before travelling. Allow €50 for a one-month single-entry visa.
Visa des Pays de l'Entente are not available in Benin.
Visas for Onward Travel
The following embassies deliver visas:
Burkina Faso No diplomatic representation in Benin – contact the French consulate.
Niger The embassy in Cotonou issues 30-day visas. They cost CFA23,500 and you'll need two photos. Allow three to four working days. You cannot get visas at the border.
Nigeria The Nigerian embassy only issues transit visas to travellers with a Nigerian embassy in their home country (there is no need to contact the embassy in your home country beforehand). You need two photos, along with photocopies of your passport and, if you have one, your ticket for onward travel from Nigeria. Fees vary according to nationality. Visas are normally issued on the same day.
Togo Seven-day visas (CFA10,000) are issued at the border. If crossing the border at Nadoba (coming from Boukombé), head to Kara where the Direction Régionale de la Documentation Nationale issues 30-day multiple-entry visas (CFA10,000, four photos).
- Greetings In business or casual situations, a handshake (right hand only, never the left hand) may be used, particularly among men. For women, a handshake or kiss is acceptable.
- Drinking Getting extremely drunk is considered rude.
- Dining If eating with your hands, only use your right hand (the left is used for bathroom needs).
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
While homosexuality is technically legal in Benin, it is a conservative country and gay and lesbian travellers should avoid making their sexual orientation known.
In towns and cities, complimentary wi-fi is available in almost every midrange and top-end hotel.
Internet cafes are plentiful in towns and cities. Connection speeds vary from pretty good to acceptable.
Beninese police are few and far between. In general, be respectful and most of the time you should not be harrassed. In the rare event that police request a bribe to leave you alone, it is generally a small amount and it is best to pay it and be on your way.
- Newspapers Cotonou's daily newspapers include La Nation and Le Matinal.
- Radio The state-owned ORTB broadcasts on the radio in French and local languages.
The currency in Benin is the West African CFA franc. The best foreign currency to carry is euros, which are easily exchanged at banks, hotels or bureaux de change.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Tipping is generally not necessary except at upmarket restaurants, where around 10% extra should be given for good service.
Banks 8am to 12.30pm and 3pm to 6.30pm Monday to Friday, 9am to 1pm Saturday. Some banks are open through lunchtime.
Bars Late morning until the last customers leave (late); nightclubs generally go from 10pm into the wee hours.
Restaurants Lunch 11.30am to 2.30pm, dinner 6.30pm to 10.30pm.
Shops & Businesses 8am to noon and 3pm to 7pm Monday to Saturday.
Benin's national postal service is La Poste. Expect long queues and unreliable service. It can take anywhere from one to three months for items to reach overseas destinations. The main post office is in Cotonou.
In addition to Muslim holidays, Benin celebrates the following days:
New Year's Day 1 January
Vodoun 10 January
Easter Monday March/April
Labour Day 1 May
Ascension Thursday May
Pentecost Monday May
Independence Day 1 August
Assumption 15 August
Armed Forces Day 26 October
All Saints' Day 1 November
Christmas 25 December
- Smoking Common everywhere, including indoor spaces.
Phone numbers have eight digits. Landline numbers start with 21, mobile numbers with 9 or 6.
Depending on which mobile network you use at home, your phone may or may not work while in Benin – ask your mobile network provider. However, local mobile phone coverage is excellent and fairly cheap. Local networks include Moov and MTN. You can buy a local SIM card (CFA1500). Top-up vouchers are readily available.
Taxes & Refunds
VAT in Benin is 18%.
Benin is GMT/UTC plus one hour and does not observe daylight savings time.
Public toilets are rarely available; pop into a bar or restaurant and use their facilities (you will encounter both sit up and squat varieties). Be sure to have your own paper.
There are tourist offices in Cotonou, Abomey, Ouidah and Porto Novo. The Benin Tourism (www.benin-tourisme.com) website is another source of information.
Travel with Children
- The Beninese love kids. Visitors with tots will find people extra friendly and helpful.
- Nappy tables are available only in high-end restaurants.
- Child-safety seats are hit or miss – best to bring your own.
- Roads tend to be unpaved, or pavement is uneven, so prams don't do well here.
- The best spots in Benin for kids are the beaches and wildlife watching at the national parks.
Travellers with Disabilities
People with disabilities will find Benin a challenge: there are few resources or ramps available. If you require help lifting, the best bet is to hire an extra guide from an upmarket hotel.
While travelling in Benin, visitors will find heaps of international volunteers but few local opportunities. A good place to research before departing is the African Volunteer Network (www.african-volunteer.net), which lists a wide range of volunteer projects.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Benin uses the metric system.
Beninese men can give women travellers a lot of unwanted attention. Particularly unnerving are military and other officials using their power to get more of your company than is strictly necessary. Always stay polite but firm and make sure you have a good 'husband story'.
The best work options for international visitors are through international organizations, organised before arrival. In general, foreigners work via umbrella organsations as contractors with specific (renewable) time limits for their work project.