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I just arrived in Johanneburg, South Africa about 90 minutes ago from Buenos Aires, Argentina on a direct flight operated by South African Airways in Business Class (and paid for with US Airways miles.)

The flight was enjoyable–I slept for five of its nine hours by depriving myself of sleep the night before–but arriving in Johannesburg has already been an adventure.

We taxied to a remote stand and took buses to the terminal. The worst part about this was that it mitigated my business class advantage when going through passport control, which was the first stop.

When I got to passport control, the line looked very long, and it did end up taking me about 25 minutes to get through. (I wish Global Entry worked everywhere!)

South Africa is the only country in the world that I’ve visited that required no migration form at all to be handed in. That’s the good news, a reduction in paperwork and a three-minute savings.

But the bad news is that passport control is horribly run. Signs point to three areas: South African passports, African passports, and Other passports. But following the signs, I still ended up in a line with all foreigners including Africans. The South Africans line was shorter, and several people left our line for it. Why not? No one was enforcing the rules.

At the front of the lines, there was no computer monitor directing people, so the system relied on a few lackadaisical employees and that people who just flew a redeye were paying attention.

As I waited in line, I noticed that the passport checkers were far less formal than anywhere I’ve been. And they seemed to be giving some entrants the third degree. I was ten feet away from one agent grilling an African (couldn’t see the exact passport) about where he would be staying in South Africa.

“You said you are staying there until the 13th, and you leave the 15th. Where will you be the other two days?”

“Uh-oh,” I was thinking. I’ve never once secured a hotel room for an entire trip in advance.

“I know you’re not staying here. You are lying. Who is paying for this?”

“Oh geez,” I thought. I’m about to get grilled. And now I’m nervous, so I might seem suspicious.

“I’ve been waiting all day for someone like you! I haven’t sent anyone home all day. Come with me!” The agent left his booth and escorted the unfortunate gentleman away. At this point I was pretty terrified about being denied entry.

In another inefficiency, the back of the line, where I was, was directed to a new line with no one in it, so we cut everyone who had been there longer than us. An agent motioned me forward and let me enter the country with only one question: “How are you?” Perhaps they aren’t as tough on American-passport holders.

He did not check my yellow fever vaccination document, though that had been checked by the South African Airways agent at check in in Buenos Aires. I think Argentines must show one, so they check everyone’s in Buenos Aires.

After passport control and baggage claim was the South African Airways Arrival Lounge. I only had 2hr30min to go check in with a different carrier to Cape Town, so I only peeked my head in. The lounge featured showers, wifi, and a modest breakfast spread. I grabbed some cheese and crackers and headed through customs, where again I handed in no forms. I walked down the Nothing to Declare lane, and I’m not even sure when I exited customs because I never saw an agent.

Outside the Terminal B arrivals area, I saw a Vodaphone store, which was perfect since I was looking to buy a micro-SIM to get a local number. I got a free SIM rental because apparently the computer system was down, preventing a purchase. I am getting one gig of data for 395 rand ($40), outgoing calls will be 2.4 rand per minute ($0.25), and I will not have to top up the credit at any point. It comes with a prepaid 1,000 rand ($102) line of credit, secured by a deposit on my credit card.

I headed upstairs to print my boarding pass for my British Airways flight to South Africa (the cheapest awards in the country), having already checked in online. The computer asked for the credit card that I purchased the ticket with to be inserted into the machine. I didn’t bring the one I used, so I headed to the checkout counter, worried this would happen to me. The agent didn’t ask for a credit card and printed my boarding pass.

In contrast to the lines and attitudes at passport control, security was a breeze, and now I’m off to Cape Town in half an hour. What should I do there?

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