Zambia shares borders with eight countries, so there’s a huge number of crossing points. Most are open daily from 6am to 6pm; the border closes at 8pm at Victoria Falls and at 7pm at Chirundu. Before you leave the Zambian side ensure that you have enough currency of whatever country you’re travelling to or South African rand to pay for your visa (if you require one).
If you are crossing borders in your own vehicle, you need a free Temporary Export Permit (TEP), which is obtained at the border – make sure to retain a copy of this form after it’s stamped. Before crossing be sure to inform your rental car company in order to guarantee you have all the required documents in order. You’ll likely need to purchase insurance, sometimes called COMESA. It can be bought either at the Zambian border crossings or just after you’ve gone through formalities on the other country’s side (for Zimbabwe it’ll cost around ZMW150). For Zimbabwe you also need an Interpol Certificate (good for three months), which can be obtained from the police in Zambia, and a typed ‘Permission to Drive’ document, which basically states that the vehicle’s owner knows you’re driving their car.
You also need to request and complete a Temporary Import Permit (TIP), and of course pay for it. Retain the document and payment receipt for when re-entering Zambia.
Heading back into Zambia you’ll might get hassled from Zambians trying to sell you insurance – you don’t need this if you’re in a Zambian-registered vehicle.
Note also that Zambia charges a carbon tax for non-Zambian registered vehicles; it’s usually about ZMW150 to ZMW200 per vehicle.
Botswana Zambia and Botswana share what is probably the world’s shortest international boundary: 750m across the Zambezi River at Kazungula. The pontoon ferry (ZMW40 for foot passengers, ZMW30/40 for an ordinary/large Zambian-registered vehicle) across the Zambezi is 65km west of Livingstone and 11km south of the main road between Livingstone and Sesheke. There are one or two buses (ZMW20, 35 minutes) here daily from Livingstone, departing from Nakatindi Rd in the morning.
US dollars and other currencies are not accepted at the Botswanan border crossing.
A quicker and more comfortable (but more expensive) way to reach Botswana from Zambia is to cross from Livingstone to Victoria Falls (in Zimbabwe), from where shuttle buses head to Kasane.
Buses to Gaborone, via Kasane and Francistown, leave several days a week from Lusaka.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, Zaïre) This border is not for the faint hearted. DRC visas are only available to Zambian residents and this rule is strictly enforced unless you can get a letter of invitation from the Congolese government. The most convenient border to use connects Chingola in the Copperbelt with Lubumbashi in Katanga Province, via the border towns of Chililabombwe (Zambia) and Kasumbalesa (DRC). Charter taxis cost about ZMW100 from Chingola to the border. Crossing into the DRC can take a lot of time or money, so it is wise to hook up with some mining consultants or UN workers rather than venturing alone. Avoid local touts who probably want to scam you, but it is hard to avoid the official scams if the immigration officials take an interest in you. From the border to Lubumbashi a taxi is about US$50, but travelling in the other direction, the Lubumbashi taxi drivers will usually ask for US$75 as a ‘security’ bonus for venturing out of the city.
Malawi Most foreigners use the border at Mchinji, 30km southeast of Chipata, because it’s along the road between Lusaka and Lilongwe. One figure to keep in mind – it’s only 287km from Mfuwe to Lilongwe. Note that visas into Malawi are free for most nationalities.
Further north is another border crossing at Nakonde. Going either way on public transport is extremely difficult; you really need your own wheels.
Mozambique The main border is between Mlolo (Zambia) and fairly remote Cassacatiza (Mozambique), but most travellers choose to reach Mozambique through Malawi. There is no public transport between the two countries.
Namibia The only border is at Sesheke (Zambia), on the northern and southern bank of the Zambezi, while the Namibian border is at Wenela near Katima Mulilo. There are bus services to Sesheke from Lusaka and Livingstone respectively; it’s 200km west of the latter.
From the Namibian side, it’s a 5km walk to Katima Mulilo, from where minibuses depart for other parts of Namibia.
Alternatively, cross from Livingstone to Victoria Falls (in Zimbabwe) and travel onwards from there.
South Africa There is no border between Zambia and South Africa, but several buses travel daily between Johannesburg and Lusaka via Harare and Masvingo in Zimbabwe. Make sure you have a Zimbabwean visa (if you need one before arrival) and a yellow fever certificate for entering South Africa (and, possibly, Zimbabwe).
Tanzania The main border by road, and the only crossing by train, is between Nakonde (Zambia) and Tunduma (Tanzania). Bus services run from Lusaka to Nakonde (ZMW140, 15 hours, 3pm) and on to Mbeya. Alternatively, walk across the border from Nakonde, and take a minibus from Tunduma to Mbeya in Tanzania.
Zimbabwe There are three easy crossings: at Chirundu, along the road between Lusaka and Harare; between Siavonga (Zambia) and Kariba (Zimbabwe), about 50km upstream from Chirundu; and the easiest and most common of all, between Livingstone (Zambia) and Victoria Falls town (Zimbabwe). Plenty of buses travel every day between Lusaka and Harare, via Chirundu. If traveling from Siavonga, take a minibus or charter a car to the border, and walk (or take a shared taxi) across the Kariba Dam to Kariba, from where buses leave daily to Harare.
Although travelling by bus to the Tanzanian border is quicker, the train is a better alternative.
The Tazara railway company usually runs two international trains per week in each direction between Kapiri Mposhi (207km north of Lusaka) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). The ‘express train’ leaves Kapiri Mposhi at approximately 3pm on Tuesdays and Fridays. The journey time is, well, anywhere between two to five days. The fares on the express train are ZMW238/200 in 1st/2nd class (both are sleeping compartments). A discount of 50% is possible with a student card.
Tickets are available on the spot at the New Kapiri Mposhi (Tazara) train station in Kapiri Mposhi and up to three days in advance from Tazara House. If there are no more seats left at the Lusaka office, don’t despair because we’ve heard from travellers who easily bought tickets at Kapiri Mposhi, and upgraded from one class to another while on board.
It’s prudent to get a Tanzanian visa in Lusaka (or elsewhere) before you board the train; at least, contact the Tanzanian high commission in Lusaka about getting a Tanzanian visa on the train or at the border. You can change money on the train but take care because these guys are sharks.