Juba, South Sudan, As Seen Through Its Immigration Office

Juba, South Sudan’s capital city, is a bit disordered, chaotic, and bewildering. Like everywhere else, there are a lot of wonderful people here interspersed with a few less-wonderful people, and, like everywhere else, you just kind of go with the flow of things.

If you added some random violence and a bit of late-night robbery by drunk military guys,* it feels a little like this:**




  • 3:30 PM Call Immigration Offices, fully expecting them to be closed. A nice woman will answer and tell you the office is open until 5:00 PM
  • 4:00 PM Go to the Immigration Office.  Look like you have no idea what you’re doing. Ask around until you are told to go to one cramped room to pick up form. Go to another cramped room to fill out and hand in form
  • 4:15 PM Wait in queue as officers accept the 170 SSP fee (about $38) from other applicants
  • 4:30 PM Be told that the office is closed, in the open office, as the officers are working. Be told to come back tomorrow. Leave


  • 9:30 AM Return. Pay fee. Go back to first office. Another officer will tell you to bring in additional forms – which weren’t required on Friday – and to come back later. He will tell you that this is no problem for you, that you can do this because you took a long flight to get here “all the way from America.” Don’t argue. Leave


  • 12:00 PM Return. Go back to first office. Ask to borrow a pen. Have this conversation:

ME: “Hi, can I please borrow that pen?” OFFICER: “What do you want?” ME (pointing): “Can I please borrow that pen there?” OFFICER: “For what?” ME: “I need to fill out these three lines on my form. I’ll give it back in a minute” OFFICER: “No, you cannot borrow the pen. Go outside to your left, walk down to the pharmacy, and buy a pen” ME: “Can I just borrow the pen? It’ll take less than a minute” OFFICER: “No, you cannot borrow the pen” ME: “Why?” OFFICER: “Do not ask why. We are using it.”

Everyone has more than one pen, and the pen-to-be-borrowed is just sitting on the desk. Leave

  • 12:05 PM Go outside the room to borrow a pen from a kind Ugandan man. Fill out the three lines on the form in under a minute
  • 12:06 PM Go back to first office. Wait. Hand over completed form and passport. Have this conversation:

OFFICER: “Why did you ask to use the pen? Do you think that you could go to an official office in America and just ask to use a pen?” ME: “Yes, I do” OFFICER: “You would not be able to just ask to use a pen in an official office in America” ME: “Yes, I would” OFFICER: “You should not have asked to use that pen” ME: “I asked to use it on Saturday and the officer gave it to me without issue. I thought I could quickly use it again” OFFICER: “You would not be able to use a pen like that in an official office in America, so why do you think it would be OK to ask to use it here?” ME: “I would be able to use it in America” OFFICER (Stares): “You should not have asked to use that pen” ME: “OK. I am sorry”

  • 12:15 PM The officer will sigh, then sign and stamp the form. She will point outside
  • 12:15 PM Go outside. It is hot. Stand in the sun in a long line for 15 minutes.
  • 12:30 PM Be unconvinced that you in the right line. Go to a different office. Be pointed back to the same line. Stand in the sun in a long line for 15 minutes
  • 12:45 PM Be unconvinced that you are in the right line. Ask an old man. Be told you are in the wrong line. Go to a different room
  • 12:50 PM Be registered by a kind, young guy. You are now a legal alien in South Sudan. Leave

*Things, I should add, that haven’t happened to me, but that all of the expats, and some of the South Sudanese I’ve spoke with, said are common in the city

**Though with the obvious caveat that this is an Immigration Office. No country should be judged by its Immigration Office – this anecdote just happens to illustrate how I’ve felt some of the time I’ve been here

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