Getting to The Gambia
Banjul International Airport (BJL)
Arrival and departure dates
You will want to arrive in The Gambia several days before the program begins so you can get settled down and sleep off the jet lag. Departure dates should be set for a few days after your last final exams, if you want time to pack and say good-bye.
Shop around to get the lowest priced airfare—there are many different companies that offer low-priced fares over the web. One good company is STA Travel (www.statravel.com), which cuts deals to student travellers. Their website can be stubborn in regards to travel dates, so it is often best to call toll-free at 1-800-781-4040 and speak directly to a representative.
At the time of writing, there aren’t any direct commercial flights from the United States to The Gambia. You will have to fly to Europe and from there hop on a flight heading to West Africa. Keep in mind that you just might just save money by booking these legs separately. Avro (www.avro.co.uk/) in England offers relatively expensive flights from the London Gatwick Airport, and SN Brussels (www.flysn.com) offers flights from London and Brussels.
Don’t forget to explore the wonderful world of charter flights—as far as flights to the Gambia go, they are sometimes less expensive than commercial flights. Students in the past have used the tour operator Gambian Experience, which offers charter/scheduled flights from four different airports in London as well as the option of fixed duration or flexible tickets. You can search flight times and prices on their website at www.gambiaflights.co.uk.
You will need to have a valid passport for the entire time you will be staying in The Gambia. If you do not have a passport or if your passport has been lost, you will need to appear in person before an agent authorized to accept passport applications, such as a post office, court house or passport agency. For important on obtaining a U.S. passport, click here.
All SMCM students participating in the study abroad program will need a student visa for their stay in The Gambia. The application fee for the visa is included in the cost of the program. To get a visa, you must fill out the application form (click here for the link) and return it along with one passport-sized photo and your passport to Bill Roberts, Program Director.
There is only one immunization required for entry into The Gambia (yellow fever) but it is highly advisable to be immunized against several other ailments as well. Below is a chart summarizing the required and recommended vaccines (see Center for Disease Control [CDC] website for more information at www.cdc.gov/travel/wafrica, which also provides other useful information for travel to West Africa). If you have missed any of your childhood- or college-required vaccinations, you should make an appointment to receive them as well. For more information on vaccines, including a complete list of required and recommended vaccines, please click here.
Dalasi, the national currency, is available only inside the country, so you will only be able to change your money upon arriving in The Gambia. (See Money changing.) Probably the best way to carry money into The Gambia is with traveller’s cheques, which are easy to cancel if lost or stolen. They can be cashed at any bank and most exchange bureaus, found at numerous locations near where you will be living (see “Bakau to Serekunda area” map). ATMS are available at least two locations, but it is unwise to rely on these oftimes finicky machines. Personal checks are more difficult to use than traveller’s cheques, though they can be cashed at certain locations (inquire at banks and exchange bureaus). Credit cards are not a good option, as only the most upscale hotels and establishments will accept them. Carrying all the money you need in cash is an extremely bad idea, as it is easy to lose track of and makes you and easy target for large theft.
The next question concerns how much money you should bring with you. Below are the suggestions provided by the program as well as some brief explanations of the expenses you might encounter while living in The Gambia. In general, as living costs are far cheaper in The Gambia than in the US, so each dollar will go a relatively long way.
Estimated cost of food is $675.00, approximately the cost of the smallest SMCM meal plan. Three meals per day will be provided during the month-long orientation program; after that, only breakfast is provided. Cheap but filling meals with no frills (e.g. sandwiches and dishes of Gambian food) generally cost bout a dollar each. Dining at tourist establishments will cost you closer to $5.00 to $15.00 per meal. The amount of money you take depends on your preference for restaurant style food vs. local fare—the latter of which is a much better way to ingratiate yourself into the culture and to end up with a happy belly.
You should bring about $500.00 for the broad category labeled “personal expenses.” Some examples of personal expenses are listed below:
The S.O.S. travel plan carries a $100.00 deductible, which probably won’t help you in paying for healthcare except in extreme cases. It might be good to budget $50.00-$100.00 for unforeseen medical expenses, such as doctor’s visits or medication. (A doctor’s consultation is usually less than $15.00; and medication $2.00-$10.00, depending on the ailment.)
- Travelling and transportation
Travelling within The Gambia is rather inexpensive by American standards, especially if you take the taxis with regular routes. Rest houses up-country range about $10.00-$20.00 per night (usually for a two person room), though it is possible to find locals willing to accommodate you (for which a voluntary donation would be a nice gesture). Daily transportation costs will most likely be minimal—if you take a round-trip taxi ride everyday to the large Serekunda market (probably unlikely), you will spend about 2 dollars a week.
- Phone calls
A mobile phone with accessories will cost about $75.00-$100.00. Incoming calls are free; local calls are about 30 minutes per dollar; international calls run about one dollar a minute. From a telecenter, local calls cost about $0.04 per minute and international calls about $0.90-$1.00 per minute.
If you plan on buying a bicycle, you should budget an extra $60.00-$80.00 dollars for the vehicle, accessories, and repairs.
Plenty of things to choose from—and only the most elaborate and largest goods will cost more than $10.00; most of the small trinkets will cost around $1.00 to $5.00.
School supplies, Internet cafes, laundry, clothing, gifts, and even camel riding—anything that doesn’t fit into the above categories.