Africa Travel

18 African Covid Tests

I have now taken far more than eighteen Covid tests, but these were the first eighteen African Covid tests I took. All of them for travel in Africa, though the first one wasn’t technically taken in Africa.

Boulder, Colorado. Drive-Through. My first of MANY Covid-19 PCR tests.

I think these photos are barely legal, as I didn’t show the person in front of me being swabbed. The guy wearing his face shield as a back of neck shield yelled at me for taking photos cause of HIPAA, but it’s the patient that applies to, and there’s no patients in my photos.

So it turns out that doing dabs all day every day covers the inside of ones nose with enough leathery tissue to turn one into a total nasal test boss. The Plant Whisperer squealed like a baby and had to have her stop during it – and I didn’t even feel it.

Mombasa, Kenya

Annnnnd it’s time for another Covid test. Need one to enter Rwanda, which is annoying because they will test me again on arrival and confine me to a designated hotel until our results are in, and then we will be tested yet again before leaving Rwanda because they claim to assume 100% liability for exportation of cases.

Here I am at the Mombasa hospital, sitting in the balmy breeze outside, awaiting what I hope is a gentle swabbing….. $68, 24 hour turn around (! You cannot get results that fast in most of the US!), hard copy only.

Kigali, Rwanda (2 tests)

Instead of showing the Covid test I took on entry to Kigali, which I did not get a photo of, but which was efficient and sterile – here is a view from the designated quarantine hotel that I had to spend almost 24 hours in until I got the results of my PCR test that was provided, for free, on arrival. Mandatory process and the most complicated of any country I visited during the virus.

Also I feel like most people are missing out on some of the comedy of traveling during the new normal. Like these painter’s suits shown in the other photo, worn mostly by Koreans and Japanese, I believe.

Another day, another Covid test. This is the one I need to both exit Rwanda and enter Uganda. Rwanda does throat swab only. These plush chairs were pretty sweet, as we’re the tourism branded cubicles for the actual testing. $50. 48 hours for results. Everything government run like the good little authoritarian state it is. Of course, it’s the most organized, efficient little authoritarian state I’ve seen, so, did not get much time in the plush chairs.

Here is where what my Rwandan hosts tell me is driven home. No Rwandan can afford a test. The government is only testing those that present as severely ill, and even then sometimes they’re sent home to recuperate without being tested. So where are the numbers coming from?

Kampala, Uganda

Kampala, Uganda Covid Testing

It’s that time again!!!!! Ain’t no day like Covid testing day! $65, 24 hour turn around. You can get them even cheaper, and with as little as 6 hours between tests and results, and, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There’s sites all over Kampala. The Covid testing industry here is the most robust and competitive I have seen or heard about. All pretty unbelievable.

As in, I do not believe that all testing in Uganda is real. But this one probably is, because it’s upper nasal, and was brutal. Look they sat me in the whites section. Actually they made a whites section just for me. I gave them the benefit of the doubt that they did that because whites are the most likely to have it, but no. They did it because muzungu have special rights and are treated better than everyone else. They are testing me before everyone pictured here, even though I arrived after everyone pictured here.

Speaking of muzungu worship, how about this Ugandan mask promo with photos of Donald Trump and Angela Merkel and no one black?

Advertising masks with photos of Trump and Merkel

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

FANCY Covid test and it was only $25! Would have been less than $20 if I paid in cash. Upper nasal and throat. 24 hours for results. Absolutely the nicest facilities I’ve yet seen. Efficient, organized. We were the only people there.

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Well. Probably obvious to most that a Covid test in Tanzania would be, uh, different. Do not be fooled by these photos. A good third of both the patients and the testers were unmasked. No sanitation theater whatsoever, we all sit in plastic chairs and move through a chain of people, meaning that each plastic chair I sat in had been sat in by at least two hundred other people in the last couple hours. The opposite of social distancing, we all had to sit in the chairs under the tent the whole time, with or without symptoms.

It cost $100, 24-48 hours for results. It took three hours, and many arguments between testees and testers about the process and the time. I got the opportunity to learn my numbers in Kiswahili because they only intermittently called them out in English.

Upper nasal and throat, but, uh, the tester didn’t actually swizzle me at all, so likely not enough sample taken. This was at the central lab where all testing in Tanzania goes through no matter where you give your sample. It was located on Ministry of Health property, and the Ministry of Health in Tanzania suggests a ginger smoothie to prevent Covid, but also claims it doesn’t exist, or that it does but not here, depending on the day.

Tanzania likely making about a half million USD a day off this one site. This was my eighth Covid test in five weeks. Oddly I’m starting to enjoy the sensation of having my nose swabbed.

Lilongwe, Malawi

Lilongwe, Malawi Covid Testing

It’s that time again! Been a while since my last Covid test because Malawi only requires it taken ten days in advance (!). There’s only two testing sites in Lilongwe and one of them doesn’t process 24/7 so I went to the national hospital. (All sites in malawi are government operated. Four days ago the minister of health was fired for corruption involving embezzlement of foreign Covid aid).

The test itself was fine, upper nasal, precise, $96.50, results theoretically in 24 hours (I have to go back to pick them up tomorrow), but power and network outages are unpredictable in Malawi and so there’s no knowing. I did have to viscously argue for my test because we arrived just as they closed for the day, but I’ve learned that vehement arguments in Africa generally command respect and end in sweetness, and this was no exception.

The hospital itself though, was heartbreaking. A line of poor, sick people outside begging to be let in only to be roughly turned away by security. I pray that the money from my test has at least one person be treated for whatever ails them.

Lusaka, Zambia


1. Actual medical doctor performing test.

2. That last photo is a photo taken from directly in front of where I’m staying, so it was like two blocks away.

3. 24 hour turnaround.


1. Zambia requires a special travel certificate along with the test, which is an extra cost. Luckily this place supplies them for you, but otherwise you have to take your results to a government facility to get the certificate. This also means that even if your previous test qualifies in time window, you have to be re-tested in Zambia.

2. Cost of test: $75. Travel certificate: $27.50. What a fucking racket this game is.

3. This was the deepest upper nasal test I’ve had. Annoying, irritating, not the lovely tickle I’ve come to enjoy.

4. Test conducted indoors, waiting room indoors.

I am actually getting tired of this PCR test bullshit. I try not to complain because travel is an amazing privilege, but I just don’t want to see the inside of another African hospital (though this one was gorgeous, very high end, and I witnessed none of the usual horror because of the design of the building emphasizes privacy).

Cape Town, South Africa

English, Zulu, Afriksans

Here’s a sign from a bus in Cape Town reminding people to wash their hands in English, Zulu, and Afrikaans Totally forgot to take photos at Covid test in a weird South African travel doctor’s office. He tried to sell me Ivermectin. Was very cheap. I declined. Was also super proud he’d be getting the Sputnik vaccine in a few weeks. Can’t remember how much the Covid test cost but around $100 USD. The price he gave on the phone was lower. Maybe I should have bought the Ivermectin.

Windhoek, Namibia

Fourteenth Covid test in eleven weeks. Given in the parking lot underneath/outside a laboratory. $57. 48 hour turnaround for results. Upper nasal. Everyone in the line speaking German. Very efficient.

Lagos, Nigeria

Oh Lort. Yet another. $127. 24 hours (or less) turnaround. Oral and upper nasal both, but the samples were soft and inaccurate thankfully.

My favorite part about getting tested in Lagos, Nigeria is that the rules say you’re supposed to quarantine, and then take a test at the end of that time. So you must make an appointment for this test. I needed one to get into Ghana anyway, but wasn’t even staying in Nigeria long enough to make my appointment time. I just showed up days early with a Nigerian friend who argued until they put me in the system.

Kumasi (and Accra), Ghana (2 tests)

Another Covid test! That makes three total for Ghana (before, arrival, departure), but I didn’t get a photo of the mandatory on arrival airport test in Accra, which had a physically impossible turnaround time for a PCR test and cost $150. It was incredibly well organized, but it’s easy to be so when you’re not actually testing the samples, innit?

This one pictured was $60, throat swab only (merciful!), involved payment by dropping off cash at an actual bank branch and getting a receipt, then bringing it to the testing site. 24 hour turnaround time. Now instead of counting up the tests I’ve had, I’m counting down the tests I know are coming. Four to go.

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

Fuck this noise. Seriously. Fucking racket. Pretty much 1/10 of the tests I’ve received took enough of a sample that it would actually show positive if I were. It’s a fucking farce, all of it, and it’s expensive, and stressful, and a huge gamble because the timing of the test needs to fit in various, random windows that have nothing to do with keeping anyone safe.

Abidjan hides it’s test centers, making them nearly impossible to find (they just list the neighborhood, no location, no one to ask, you’re just supposed to know where it is by some miracle), and if you don’t speak any French then it would be absolutely impossible to get one. $90, 48 hour turnaround (fucking joke, like anyone could have hit that if they were, say, flying from here to the US today), short hours, sort of closed for holidays but not really (this was the second site and I had to fight, in French, to be tested) without listing that anywhere, upper nasal.

I’m gonna give this one the lowest rating out of any of the African Covid tests I’ve had, except Tanzania, and even that was at least entertaining in how absolutely extreme and high risk it was. The worst part is that by demanding them for travel it diverts resources from testing the local population.

Banjul, The Gambia

African Covid Test Banjul
Banjul, The Gambia Covid Testing

It’s that time again. Covid test $50. Had to pay at a bank and bring the receipt. 24 hour results. Upper nasal. The tester absolutely brutalized me and made a satisfied noise while doing so. Had expected this kind of nose rape all throughout Africa, but this was the only place where I got it.

Note the sterile box provided by Standard Chartered bank that sits unused behind the actual testing. That, my friends, is classic African Covid testing.

Dakar, Senegal (2 tests)

My sixteenth and eighteenth Covid test this year. This is actually the second test I’ve taken at this location and the efficiency was impressive both times, considering that they are sending some 300 people/hour through this system, and it takes less than thirty mins.

You give your travel destination, get a number, then go to a waiting area where numbers are called by an automated system. Attendants with tablets take photos of flight details, passport, and a local phone number. You use the same number you were assigned in another waiting area which when called you make the $75 payment in cash.

Then you get a receipt with the URL and a special secret code for your results, go to the last waiting area, and they call your actual name for the test, which is oral AND upper nasal. Then a separate exit door. Highly efficient people movement system, very Senegal. This should be my last African Covid test this year, inshallah.

18 African Covid Tests

Approximate total spend on African Covid tests: $1350 USD.

It was my last African Covid Test, but immediately on arriving into the United States I tested positive on the test I took at the same location as my first test in Boulder, Colorado. It turned out to be a false positive, which disrupted my life severely, but not as severely as would have any of the African Covid tests coming up positive.

Thankfully, the world has for now moved away from PCR testing as a gatekeeper of travel. I couldn’t be more grateful. It is useless and expensive, and the human upper nasal passage wasn’t designed for this kind of regular interference.

African Travel Stories:

Rwanda Uganda Tanzania South Africa Nigeria Ghana

Maybe it is all the work of the Tokoloshe…


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