I made my first big travel mistake a few years ago when I decided to accept a teaching job in tropical Costa Rica. No, the teaching job was wonderful and living in paradise was a dream come true. Travelling from South Africa to Central America was the problem.
I already considered myself a seasoned traveller and always double checked everything. Perhaps I was getting over confident and it caused my slip-up? Here's what I learned from my big mistake:
1. The Cheapest and Quickest Way
It turns out that travelling through the USA is going to be your best option. We decided to fly via Dubai then the US and make the final flight to Costa Rica. This is already a super lengthy trek, but when you look at your other options you're either going to turn out broke travelling with direct flights or the others add on extra layovers and flights. Although this is was the route we originally planned to take, you'll see why we had to quickly change our plans.
We were simply transferring through an airport in the USA. In our previous travel experiences this meant we wouldn't be exiting the airport and we wouldn't go through passport control to enter the country - so no visa needed, right? Wrong!
As a South African, you'll need a transit visa even if you are simply landing on American soil. We booked our flights, paid for them and when we tried to do our online check-in the day before we were expected to leave we couldn't understand why we were being asked for a physical address for the USA before it would accept our check-in. School in Costa Rica was beginning in a matter of days and there was no way I could wait to receive a US visa (having to go through the visa process, interview and the waiting period was not an option).
My advice is that if you are a frequent South African traveller, you should look into getting a US travel visa even if you're not planning on visiting the United States. The tourist visa is usually valid for ten years and it makes transferring around the world cheaper, quicker and easier!
2. The Long Way Around (visa on arrival route)
We needed to find an alternative - fast. And I guess this is what travelling faces you with at times. You need to be good at decision making and a keen problem solver. So, we kept our Dubai flight but rerouted it to Argentina (visa on arrival - yay!) and connected to Peru before Costa Rica. I've also used Costa Rica - Colombia - Brazil during another travel between SA and CR. Either way, it's at least a two day travel saga. If you've got time to spare make it worthwhile and visit the transiting countries!
South America is a visa gold mine for us Saffa's but be warned, you'll need a Yellow Fever Vaccination to enter most countries. These are valid for life so get it done and don't worry about it again. We had to wait out the 10 day period before we were allowed to officially enter through Argentina.
This was definitely a more expensive way around but needed to be done because of time. I was able to afford the 10 day waiting period but wouldn't be able to take the month or so the US visa process would be.
I guess I learned a lot of valuable information from this process and am sure to remind every South African I know about these visa issues. I am also extra careful when booking flights now and always check through transit regulations a few times before booking anything. You win some, you lose some.