Trip-Planning Essentials: What you need to know about travel to Accra, Ghana, in 2023
Are you curious about travel to Ghana or actively planning a trip there in the near future? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Akwaaba! (This means “welcome” in the local Akan languages.) In this article, you will find the help you need to sort out all your logistical quandaries and ensure a smooth journey to Ghana and back.
If you’ve been following my travel blog for a while, you may have already read my other articles on Ghana and familiarized yourself with important country-specific context on local history, languages, culture, gastronomy, and national attractions. I will not be any of that contextual information here, so if you missed it, not to worry – there’s still time to catch up on:
- Ten Insights into Ghanaian Culture,
- Ecotourism in Ghana,
- Why You Should Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ghana,
- Top Ten Things to Do in Ghana: Greater Accra Regional Edition, and
- Top Ten Things to Do in Ghana: Multi-Regional Edition.
A very important thing to keep in mind, when reading up on or planning a trip to Ghana, is to avoid referring to your destination as “Africa.” Africa is not only NOT a country, but each of its 54 fully recognized sovereign states is a diverse, multicultural nation that can hardly be generalized as a homogenous entity.
So now that we have that sorted out, let’s dive right into the topic of this piece. In this article, I will guide you through all the essential knowledge you need to successfully plan for a smooth trip to Accra, Ghana, in 2023, now that the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is pretty much in the rearview mirror.
No matter where you are going in Ghana, you will need to first fly into the capital, Accra, before making your connection. The main (and only) airport in Accra is called Kotoka International Airport (KIA), and it services almost every major airline. To learn more about the airport, click here.
To find the best (and cheapest) flight to Accra, I recommend using Google Flights and playing around with your dates a bit to find the best combination of cost, flight time, connection city, and layover duration. If you have accumulated travel points through your credit cards, remember to use those as well, when you book.
Remember that it is almost always cheapest to travel on a Tuesday. And that it’s best to book your flight directly on the airline website to avoid finger-pointing and general lack of accountability if problems with your flight should later arise.
Nationals of most countries will require a visa to enter Ghana. Those exempt from visa requirements include:
- Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) nationals: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote D’Ivoire, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo
- Diplomatic, Service, or Official passport holders of the following countries (up to 90-day stays only): Brazil, Cuba, Germany, Namibia, China, South Africa, Sudan, Hungary, India, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco, St. Kitts & Nevis, Suriname, Venezuela, Malta, Hong Kong (Diplomatic only), Turkey (Diplomatic only), Qatar (Diplomatic only)
- All nationals of the following countries: Jamaica, Kenya, Singapore, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Seychelles, Barbados, Rwanda, Guyana, St. Vincent & Grenadines
- Passengers working with the following international organizations: Regional Economic Communities in Africa, the African Economic Community, African Union, United Nations, The World Bank, African Development Bank
- All passengers in direct airside transit
Very important: other than an ECOWAS/Ghanaian passport or foreign passport with Ghanaian visa, it is mandatory to present a yellow fever vaccination card in order to be allowed to enter Ghana. This is a single-shot vaccination with lifetime validity; so if you’ve never received one before, go book that appointment right away at your local travel health clinic. And while you’re there, be prepared to receive their recommendations for other travel vaccinations for your destination. To this effect, it would be helpful if you brought along your vaccination booklet for them to properly assess your needs. Also expect to finish up your appointment with prescriptions for antimalarial, antibiotic, and antidiarrheal medications in hand. But don’t be overwhelmed by all the recommendations. Remember that it is your choice whether or not to take any of the recommended vaccinations or prescriptions. Do your research and exercise good judgment. All travel carries risk, and ultimately how you choose to protect yourself will depend on your risk tolerance and ability to make informed decisions.
All passengers flying into Ghana must also complete a Port Health Declaration Form prior to departure at this website. You may print out your finalized declaration, if you wish, although it may not be asked for, on arrival.
As of 2023, you are required to show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination (i.e., 2 doses) at least 14 days before departure OR a negative PCR COVID test result done within 48 hours prior to departure. If you are vaccinated or have been tested, upload your vaccination card or validate your test result at the African Union (AU)-endorsed PanaBIOS site or the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-endorsed Global Haven site and print out the certificate to present to immigration officials in Ghana. Passengers who are neither vaccinated nor tested prior to departure can be denied boarding, at the risk of the airline being heavily fined. Passengers under 18 years old are exempt from both vaccination and (pre- and post-departure) testing requirements.
The wearing of face masks is recommended at the airport and on the plane but is not required.
In summary, make sure to have the following 4 documents on hand to have a smooth entry into Ghana:
1. Visa-exempt passport or foreign passport with Ghanaian visa
2. Yellow fever vaccination card
3. COVID-19 PanaBIOS/Global Haven vaccination certificate OR PCR test validation
4. Port Health Declaration Form
Unless you have family or friends you plan to stay with in Ghana, you will need to book a place to stay ahead of time. Airbnb tends to be quite expensive in Accra, so if you’re watching your budget and want more variety in the cost of available accommodation, I highly recommend using Booking.com. It’s fast and easy to find great places to stay in Ghana, and you have a lot of flexibility to tailor your search to your tastes – including finding options with free cancellation, breakfast included, or airport pickups.
Use this link to book your Ghana accommodation on Airbnb.
Use this link to book your Ghana accommodation on Booking.com
Local currency cashflow
The local currency in Ghana is the Ghana cedi (GHC) and the pesewa (the equivalent of cents).
While in Ghana, you may find it more expedient to pay for as much as you can with a credit or debit card, or through an app like Booking.com or Uber.
However, keep in mind that many people and places still prefer cash, so it would be wise to always keep some Ghana cedis on hand.
It may be difficult finding Ghana cedis to buy at your local Foreign Exchange (ForEx) bureau, but not to worry – you can change money right at the airport – either at the aforementioned Smice Digital store, outside the terminal (unofficial dealer), or at a handy ATM machine inside the airport located next to carousel 4 in the baggage claim area.
-If you withdraw money from an ATM in Ghana, whether at the airport or elsewhere, you may need to select “savings account” rather than “checking account” when prompted to select where the money is coming from, because the latter choice may not work.
-Also, I highly recommend opening a free Wise account and requesting a Wise card to use during your travels. This will allow you to pay for purchases anywhere the “Visa” logo is accepted and also to withdraw money from ATMs, all the while providing you with the BEST exchange rate on the market. You can withdraw the equivalent of CA$350 per month from ATM or make unlimited debit/credit purchases on the card, as long as you have some money transferred to your account on the card. Get started on Wise here.
Phone service and data
You basically have 4 options when it comes to staying connected to the world through your phone, during your travels to Ghana:
1. Use your local service provider’s international roaming packing.
This would most likely be the most expensive option. My Canadian phone service provider, Fido, charges CA$15 per day just to use phone service and data roaming overseas.
2. Buy an eSIM card.
I recommend downloading the app, Airalo, to purchase this. It’s a worry-free way (and cheaper option than your local provider’s international roaming package) to ensure you have data to use while overseas. Note that this provides you with data only, and not phone service. Also, some travellers have reported a spotty connection at times, while using eSIM cards. And finally, eSIMs are not compatible with all devices. Check here to verify whether your device supports eSIM cards. Clue: if you have an older phone model, it most likely does not support eSIMs.
3. Buy a Google Fi plan here.
Similar to the eSIM card, Google Fi is an alternative way to purchase a data plan before you travel. Note that it provides data only, and not phone service. And the most important catch – it is only available for purchase to U.S. residents. It is however reported to have better coverage and more reliable service than eSIM cards.
4. Finally, your best, cheapest, most reliable bet for having phone service while in Ghana: buy a local SIM card.
With the local SIM card, you not only get local phone service, so that people can call you on a local number, but you also get a data plan that can be topped up anytime at any number of locations around town. And best of all – it’s cheap. Cheaper than your local service provider’s roaming package; cheaper than an eSIM card; even cheaper than Google Fi. Nothing to ponder here – get it as soon as you arrive!
You’ll find a local SIM card vendor right outside the airport (once you exit the terminal, cut past all the people outside waiting to greet new arrivals, turn left, and walk into a little store called Smice Digital).
There are two important things you need to know about buying a local SIM card in Ghana:
(i) you will need a foreign (non-Ghanaian) passport to buy one. (Don’t ask; it’s strange, but it’s just the way it is.) You will be asked to present a foreign passport, which will then be photocopied, and your picture will also be taken, before you can purchase the SIM card. You cannot use a Ghanaian passport to purchase a local SIM card. You can only use a Ghana national ID to do so. So, basically, to buy a local SIM card, either a foreign passport or Ghana national ID need to be registered in the system for the transaction to be completed.
(ii) if you are buying a local SIM card with a foreign passport, you have only one option for purchase – the Airtel SIM card. And the data you put on this card will expire 6 months from purchase. However, if you are using a Ghana national ID to purchase the SIM card, you can purchase any SIM card at all – MTN, Vodafone, Airtel, etc. The MTN SIM card is the best one, in my opinion, because it has the widest range of coverage across the country (compare provider coverage here) and it is also the only SIM card you can you to make local money e-transfers to pay for everyday transactions, using an app called Mobile Money (Momo, is what everyone calls it, for short). The SIM card itself will cost you about GHC 20, and then you add however much data you wish to put on the card – GHC 60 for 5 GB data, for example.
There are several transportation options to get around Accra, or move around the country.
The most commonly used and cheapest options are the trotro (a kind of dilapidated minivan that is very popular among locals but is notorious for young and reckless drivers), and the local taxi, which is a shared taxi cab that costs more than the trotro but is still pretty cheap and transports passengers to any one of several stations where you can catch a connection to a different part of town. Some of the most popular transportation connection hubs are: Circle, Kaneshie, 37, Accra, and Abeka Lapaz.
You can also hail a taxi cab just for yourself to go anywhere in town. This is obviously more expensive, and the cost must be negotiated before getting into the taxi. You hail this kind of taxi by pointing your finger down to the ground where you want it to stop.
In the past couple of decades, a fine fleet of intercity buses has emerged in the city, providing comfortable and safe rides between major cities in Accra. You can find more information on these intercity STC coaches here.
Finally, taxi apps have boomed in Ghana in the past decade. The most popular apps used by locals are Uber, Bolt, and Yango. Bolt and Yango, being newer, are a bit cheaper than Uber; but the final cost depends on factors like how remote your pickup location is and whether or not it is rush hour, both of which drive up the price. Using Uber in Ghana is a bit different from using it in other countries. Find out all you need to know in this excellently researched article here.
The tap water in Ghana is not safe to drink, so you will need to either boil it, filter it, or purchase bottled water. The majority of locals in Accra drink bottled water, and you can find it almost everywhere to buy. Unfortunately, this does lead to a lot of plastic pollution in the city, even though a plastic recycling program is in place in the municipality.
Do not buy drinking water from the square plastic sachets as they are not well regulated and have sometimes been contaminated with unsafe water, leading to some typhoid outbreaks.
The tap water is OK to take a shower with or to brush your teeth. However, if you want to be extra careful, especially if it is your first time in Ghana, you may choose to brush your teeth with pre-boiled or bottled water instead.
Why come to Ghana to eat burgers and pizza!? If you are coming to Ghana, you have GOT to try the local food. It is unbeatable! Delicious, healthy, and so diverse.
You can expect to pay between GHC 50 and 80 on average for a meal at a nice restaurant, so make sure you are paying a fair price and not an inflated “foreigner rate.”
When ordering food, ask any local server or diner for recommendations on what to try and what to combine it with. For an introduction to Ghanaian gastronomy, check out my article on Ghanaian food here.
You’re going to love your trip to Accra, Ghana, if you keep an open mind to try new things, embrace the heat and humidity, suspend your expectations of having things work exactly as they do back home, and most of all, have a sense of humor when travel doesn’t go according to plan. Instead, think of all the positives your trip has afforded you – hot, sultry weather; beautiful views of the ocean; healthy, delicious food; and the warm, sincere generosity and companionship that comes with a collectivist culture, to name a few.
Hopefully, the tips I’ve provided above will help to smooth out some of the jagged edges of the inescapable improvisation and problem-solving that is part and parcel of the nature of any travel. Godspeed to you, and enjoy your trip to Accra or elsewhere in Ghana!
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