Bargaining over prices is still very much a way of life in Sudan, although to a lesser extent than in, say, Egypt and some Middle Eastern countries – in Sudan, aggressive bargaining may offend. Vendors in Sudan won't necessarily quote you prices higher than those that the locals pay, particularly for local produce, so don't go around expecting everybody to charge high prices just, or particularly, because you're a foreigner.
Dangers & Annoyances
While there are still many no-go areas, the rest of Sudan is a very safe place – one of the safest in Africa, in fact. Crime is almost unheard of, but watch your wallet among crowds and lock your luggage in hotels. The Nuba Mountains, Darfur and the borderlands with South Sudan are generally dangerous and out of bounds to foreign travellers.
Scorpions are common in the desert. Although their bite can be painful, it's rarely life threatening.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information for travellers.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- Global Affairs Canada (www.voyage.gc.ca)
- French Ministère des Affaires étrangères et du Développement international (www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs)
- Italian Ministero degli Affari Esteri e della Cooperazione Internazionale (www.viaggiaresicuri.mae.aci.it)
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov)
Sudan uses 230V, 50Hz AC; plugs in general have two-round-pin plugs.
Embassies & Consulates
Countries with diplomatic representation in Sudan include the following, all of which are in Khartoum:
German Embassy Phone and email only.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Sudan does not use area codes.
|Sudan's country code||249|
|International access code||00|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering Sudan is usually straightforward for visitors carrying a passport with a validity of at least one year. Visas are available on arrival for most nationalities, provided visitors have an entry permit arranged via a local tour operator or a hotel.
It's strictly forbidden to take alcohol into Sudan.
Everyone, except Egyptians, needs a visa, and getting one could be the worst part of your trip.
Some embassies are easier to deal with regarding visas than others, and in all cases a transit visa (which gives you up to a fortnight to transit the country) is easier to get than a month-long tourist visa. Note that if there is evidence of travel to Israel in your passport you will be denied a visa. Currently Aswan (Egypt) remains the easiest places to get a visa; they are normally issued in a couple of days or even less there. A tourist visa is very hard to get in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), but transit visas are possible. In Europe, the embassy in Vienna is reportedly the easiest place to get a tourist visa. Expect all this information to change constantly.
For a tourist visa, it helps a lot to let a Sudanese tour operator arrange it. Most of the time they will get you a counter visa: you email them a copy of the first page of your passport and they arrange everything at the Ministry of Interior in Khartoum; after this they email you an entry permit, which you'll need to board the plane to Sudan; on arrival you show your entry permit at immigration, pay US$100 (US$150 for American citizens) and collect the visa. Sudanese tour operators typically charge US$150 per person for the visa service. If you are lucky, it can take as little as three days (but 10 days sounds more realistic).
If the tour companies give you the runaround (some may be reluctant to offer this service if you don't book a tour with them), some hotels in Khartoum can also arrange an entry permit. The Bougainvilla Guesthouse and Acropole Hotel are very helpful in this regard. They may ask you to book a few nights on top of the service fees.
Note that you'll need at least two blank pages in your passport.
You have to register within three days of arrival in Khartoum, Port Sudan, Gallabat or Wadi Halfa. In Khartoum, go to the Aliens Registration Office; the process costs S£250. You need one photo and photocopies of your passport and visa (there's a photocopier in the building) and a letter from a sponsor in Sudan; your hotel will normally act as your sponsor and provide you with the required letter. Even cheap hotels should be able to do this, although you might have to go and collect the required form from the office for them to fill in. If for some reason your hotel can't or won't do this, then local tour companies may accept to complete all the registration formalities for you for about S£150. If you're travelling with a tour company they will take care of this for you. If doing it all independently allow several hours and a headache.
There is also another registration office at the airport. Technically this office is only for emergency cases and shouldn't be relied on, but on Fridays, when the main office is closed, you can do it here.
If you registered on entry at a land border, you need to do it again in Khartoum, but you don't have to pay again. In all towns where you overnight you will need to register with the police – this is free, and it's a straightforward process; most hotels or guesthouses can do it on your behalf.
The Sudanese authorities have always been renowned for their paranoia about foreigners nosing about their country. All travel outside Khartoum requires a travel permit. Take one photo and a copy of your passport and visa to the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife in the Riyadh area south of the city centre. A permit covering everywhere you intend to visit (except the no-go zones) can be issued on the spot. This permit is a combined travel and photograph permit. Carry dozens of photocopies of this permit along with copies of your passport and visa to give to police at checkpoints and when checking in at hotels.
Visa extensions are issued at the Aliens Registration Office in Khartoum. You need one photo and varying amounts of money and patience to get your extra 30 days.
Visas for Onward Travel
Egypt This consulate is not the most organised place – it's easier to get a tourist visa on arrival (which most but not all nationalities can do), especially if you're flying, or at the border (US$20) if you're travelling from Wadi Halfa.
Ethiopia One-month visas cost S£250 and require two photos. You can pick your visa up the same day.
Saudi Arabia Visa applications are handled by travel agencies (many of which surround the embassy), which can get you a transit visa in two days. You need a visa to a neighbouring country (normally Jordan), two photos and a mandatory insurance (from US$32). Visas are not issued during the hajj and nor are they issued to unmarried women under 40 unless they are accompanied by their husband or brother (and can prove it).
South Sudan Not the most helpful of embassies and more than a little vague about what is required in order to obtain a tourist visa! What you will need though is a hotel reservation/letter of invitation, a letter or invitation from your embassy, US$100 and two passport photos. Visas take one or two days to issue.
Sudan is a famously welcoming country, but following a few rules of etiquette will make your travels smoother.
- Greetings Greetings are an important formality in Sudan. As such, learning some greetings in Arabic ('salaam aleikum') will smooth the way considerably. Men should wait for Sudanese women to offer handshakes.
- Clothing As in all Muslim countries, it's greatly appreciated if women dress conservatively.
- Sudanese time Impatience will get you nowhere in Sudan, where nothing is hurried.
- Maalesh 'Maalesh' means 'sorry'. It's a very important concept, expressing regret and acceptance when something doesn't run smoothly.
- Photographing people Ask permission to photograph if a candid shot can't be made and don't insist or snap a picture anyway if permission is denied.
- Eating The left hand is considered unclean as it's used for toilet duties. Don't handle food with your left hand, particularly if eating from a communal dish.
Homosexual practices are illegal in Sudan, which is under Sharia (Islamic) law, and homosexuality remains a topic of absolute taboo. That said, Western travellers are unlikely to encounter outright prejudice or harassment so long as they remain discreet. However, this may well change if you become involved with a local. Room sharing is generally not a problem (it will be assumed that you're economising).
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a good idea. Some policies specifically exclude dangerous activities, which can include scuba diving, motorcycling and even hiking. Always check the small print and make sure that the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home. If you plan on diving, we strongly recommend purchasing dive-specific insurance with DAN (www.diversalertnetwork.org).
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Internet access is generally very good in Sudan – even in small towns connection speeds are decent and prices low. Most towns have an internet cafe (or perhaps internet cabin is a better description) or two – although they're slowly disappearing in favour of 3G – and most midrange and top-end hotels have wi-fi. It's also possible to access the internet on your phone using a Zain (www.sd.zain.com) or MTN (www.mtn.sd) SIM with mobile-phone data.
The legal system in Sudan is based wholly on sharia law, derived mainly from the Quran.
Possession and use of drugs is strictly illegal and penalties are severe – don’t think about bringing anything over the borders or buying it while you’re here. Alcohol is also prohibited.
Sudan's security services are sensitive and active. There is no reason why travellers should attract the attention of the police, but if it happens, it's usually pretty harmless information-gathering. Police, military and immigration officials are generally courteous and calm. In your dealings with officialdom, you should always make every effort to be patient and polite in return.
If you find yourself in a sticky legal predicament, contact your embassy.
Sudan Vision (www.sudanvisiondaily.com) is the only English-language daily newspaper. Press freedom is limited.
Both the Sudanese government-owned Omdurman Radio (95FM) and the BBC World Service (95FM) occasionally broadcast news in English.
Satellite TV is so common in Sudan that few people watch the four government-owned stations.
ATMs and credit cards are not accepted in Sudan because of the US sanctions. Bring US dollars or euros in cash.
- The official currency is the Sudanese pound (S£/SDG), which is divided into 100 piastres.
- In the last couple of years the Sudanese pound has started to lose value against the US dollar at a steady rate, and with inflation increasing an exchange black market has sprung up. Official rates massively overvalue the Sudanese pound (up to triple!). If you use the black market be very discreet. Hotels and shops are good places to enquire. You can also ask your driver if you're on a tour.
- To curb the black market, the government has allowed a few private exchange offices which offer much better rates than the banks, and longer working hours. The rates offered by these offices is generally only a little lower than the black-market rate. The exchange office in the arrival hall at the airport in Khartoum is the best one.
- You can't pay with a foreign credit card in Sudan and ATMs don't accept foreign cards.
- Cash is king. Euros and US dollars are the easiest to change (outside Khartoum you'll be hard-pressed to change anything else). Bring clean, uncreased notes, preferably in denominations of US$50 or US$100 printed since 2006.The only way to change Egyptian pounds and Ethiopian birr is on the black market, which is easy at the borders.
- Money can be wired to Khartoum and Port Sudan (even from the US and UK, though this could always change because of sanctions) with Western Union and Travelex.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com. Note that these rates are the official rates.
Service charges in Sudan are generally included in the bill and tipping is not normally expected.
Guides and drivers of safari vehicles will expect a tip, especially if you’ve spent a number of days under their care – US$5 to US$10 per day should suffice.
The following are common business hours in Sudan. Friday is the weekly holiday for offices and most shops.
Government offices 8am–12.30pm and 4–6pm Saturday to Thursday
Restaurants Breakfast 8–10am, lunch noon–3pm, dinner 6.30–10pm
Shops and businesses Typically 7.30am–1.30pm and 4pm–7pm Saturday to Thursday
Shopping centres 10am-10pm
Photo permits are obligatory for foreigners and they form part of your travel permit. On the permit you must write down everything you want to photograph. Put 'historical sites, landscapes and tourist sites'. Permits are issued by Khartoum's Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.
Photography along the northern Nile route is generally a breeze and people will be keen to pose for your camera. Anywhere else it can be something of a pain thanks to overzealous officials. Photography in Khartoum (away from recognised tourist attractions) is asking for trouble.
Mail in and out of Sudan is unreliable.
In addition to the main Islamic holidays, which change dates every year according to the lunar calendar, the following are the principal public holidays in Sudan:
Independence Day 1 January
Christmas Day 25 December
Smoking is not particularly prevalent in Sudan. This has something to do with the strict interpretation of Islam and the discouragement of dependency on stimulants of any kind. That doesn't mean to say you won't encounter smoking; a number of Sudanese people do smoke, but never in public.
Taxes & Refunds
- Throughout the country, quoted prices and tariffs almost always include all local taxes.
- There is no system of sales-tax refunds for tourists who purchase items in Sudan.
- Sudan's country code is 249.
- When phoning Sudan from abroad, you’ll need to dial the international code for Sudan (249), followed by the 10-digit local number (without the initial '0').
- There are no area codes.
- Mobile-phone reception is excellent throughout the country.
- Depending on which mobile network you use at home, your phone may or may not work while in Sudan – ask your network provider.
- If you have a GSM phone and it has been 'unlocked', you can use a local SIM card purchased from one of the three providers (Sudani, Zain or MTN). It's an easy process involving only a few photocopies of your passport.
- You can buy credit at many shops in the form of scratch cards.
Sudan is three hours ahead of GMT/UTC, so when it’s noon in Khartoum, it’s 9am in London, 10am in Paris, 4am in New York and 8pm in Sydney. Sudan does not operate a system of daylight saving; being close to the equator, its sunset and sunrise times vary only slightly throughout the year.
- There are two main types of toilet: Western sit-down (mostly in midrange and upmarket hotels), with a bowl and a seat; and African squat, with a hole in the ground. Standards vary tremendously. Bring toilet paper.
- There are no public toilet facilities. If you're caught short, the best bet is to use the toilets in a hotel or restaurant.
There's no tourist office in Sudan. Local tour operators and some hotels in Khartoum are the most reliable sources of travel information.
Information for travellers is hard to come by outside the country.
Travel with Children
- Many important facilities for children, such as cots in hotels, safety seats in cars, and high chairs in restaurants, are almost totally lacking.
- Items such as nappies, baby food and mineral water are easily available in the well-stocked shopping malls in Khartoum.
- For older kids, a camel ride around the pyramids of Meroe can be great fun.
If mobility is a problem, the hard fact is that most Sudanese hotels, museums and tourist sites are not wheelchair-friendly. However, take heart in the knowledge that the absence of infrastructure is somewhat compensated for by the friendliness and willingness to help of most Sudanese people. Nonetheless, the trip will need careful planning, so get as much information as you can before you go.
The London-based Sudan Volunteer Program sends people to Sudan to teach English. Those with the relevant skills can also take part in volunteer archaeological work through various universities and archaeological organisations.
Weights & Measures
Weights & Measures The metric system is used.
Contrary to expectations, women travelling alone or in groups in Sudan are unlikely to face any major problems bar the odd cheap hotel refusing to rent you a room. What you will encounter though is general astonishment that you are here alone. People (particularly families and Sudanese women) will constantly try and take you under their wing and there will be lots of invites to people's houses. You should dress conservatively – a headscarf will likely make you feel more comfortable.
Most opportunities for foreigners are in Sudan's aid industry. There are also a few ops for experienced divers aboard live-aboard dive boats, usually between December and May.