Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lesotho: The World's Only Drive-Thru Passport Control

Last week a friend and I decided to visit Lesotho.  Most people haven’t actually heart of Lesotho, but it is a very small, landlocked country, which is entirely surrounded by South Africa.  As you can see here it is the white country with the star indicating Maseru, the capital:
Lesotho is one of only four countries in the world which are “contained” within another country.  The other three countries are San Marino and Vatican City (both in Italy) and Monaco (inside France).

The population of Lesotho and Botswana is actually the same, just over 2 million people.  The difference is that Botswana is the size of Texas in terms of landmass, while Lesotho is about the size of Maryland.  About a quarter of the entire population lives in Maseru, but it feels as if everyone in the country lives there.  Maseru is incredibly small for a capital city, with only one traffic circle and five main streets.  And the streets are FULL of traffic, mostly combis (mini bus taxis) and TONS of people walking, EVERYWHERE.  We drove to Lesotho and I was so thankful we made it out without getting in a car accident.  We saw several and they are so common people don’t think anything of them; they just ignore them and keep driving.  Perhaps they don’t even have car insurance there.

One of the things that was really interesting about Lesotho was their border.  I’ve entered and exited over fifty countries and never seen a border with a drive-thru passport control.  You don’t even get out of your car.  The driver just hands the passports of everyone in the car through the window to the woman sitting inside the office and she stamps the passports.  However, what surprised me was that she only stamped the passports, she didn’t scan them.  In fact, there was no machine in which to scan them.  If you are unsure what I am talking about, when you enter a country, the passport control officer checks the passport to make sure it is really you in the picture.  Then he/she scans the passport on a special passport scanning machine.  This pulls up all your personal information which stores it in the system and alerts the officer in case you are wanted by InterPol (basically the International Police) because you are a criminal or a missing person.  In Lesotho they skip all steps and just stamp the passports, no questions asked.  It definitely makes the process quick and painless, but then again, I can’t imagine a lot of criminals going to Lesotho to hide out.

Welcome to Lesotho, “I’ll take a cheeseburger, fries, a chocolate milkshake, and a passport stamp please:”

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