Everyone except Egyptians needs a visa (most people pay US$160, and if there is evidence of travel to Israel you will be denied) and getting one could be the worst part of your trip. Except in Cairo, where visas are often issued in a day or two (but not for Americans and Britons), you should expect a wait of at least two weeks and probably more (you should see the twinkle in the eye of the official in Addis Ababa when he tells you it will take one month!) and there is no guarantee it will ever come.
If you won’t be in Egypt, it helps to let an agent arrange it. Most of the time they will get you a counter visa: they arrange everything at the Ministry of Interior in Khartoum and you pick it up at the airport. This service will likely cost around US$150 and if you are lucky can take as little as two days. The other option, used primarily by those crossing overland since it costs more, is an invitation visa, in which you are sent a number that you give the embassy or consulate, which should speed up the normal process. With either option, there is a good chance something will go wrong along the way, so get started as early as possible.
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 (al-Tayyar Murad St; 9am-3pm); the process costs SDD8700 and you need one photo and photocopies of your passport and visa (there’s a copier in the building). If you registered on entry at a land border (which only costs SDD6600), you need to do it again in Khartoum, but you don’t have to pay again. In many towns you will need to register with the police; this is free.
A travel permit is required for most journeys outside Khartoum, excepting northern destinations. Take two photos, a copy of your passport and SDD8700 to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and expect to wait a day or two. Carry photocopies of this permit along with copies of your passport and visa to give to police.
Visa extensions are issued at the Aliens Registration Office (al-Tayyar Murad; 9am-3pm)in Khartoum. You need one photo and varying amounts of money and patience to get your extra 30 days.
Visas for onward travel
Visas for the following neighbouring countries are available from embassies in Khartoum.
Central African Republic A one-month visa costs SDD13, 500; you’ll need two photos and it takes two days.
Chad The embassy was closed at the time of research, but should reopen soon.
Democratic Republic of Congo A one-month visa costs SDD15, 000; you’ll need two photos and the visa is ready in two days.
Egypt This consulate is not the most organised place – arrive early to beat the worst queues. Most people pay SDD7500 and you’ll need two photos. The visa is ready the same day. It’s easier to get a tourist visa on arrival (which most but not all nationalities can do), especially if you’re flying.
Eritrea One-month visas cost US$40 and are ready in three days, or pay an extra $10 for same-day service. You need two photos and a copy of your passport.
Ethiopia Three-month visas cost US$20 and require two photos. You can pick it up the same day.
Kenya A single-entry visa valid for three months costs US$50 and is issued the same day. You need one photo and photocopies of your passport and plane ticket.
Libya Applications must go through a Libyan travel agent, but you can pick up the visa here.
Saudi Arabia Visa applications are handled by travel agents (many of which surround the embassy), which can get you a transit visa in two days (perhaps one day if you go very early). You need two photos, a letter of introduction from your embassy and US$100.
Uganda Single-entry visas valid for up to three months cost US$30 and are ready in two days. You need two photos and a letter of invitation from someone in Uganda, though this last requirement is sometimes waived.