A Guidebook to Hosting Your First International Conference in Africa

December 23, 2020

by Mahider Tadesse

Hosting an international event in Africa can seem difficult, especially if you are a first-time traveler to Africa. Even if you have traveled to Africa before, you may be visiting a new country within Africa that you aren’t as familiar with.

Throughout this blog, we will be going through the necessary steps needed to successfully plan and host an event in Africa. As we move forward and restrictions change, we want you to be fully prepared for your next international event in Africa.

Understanding Travel Logistics

Visa & Travel Restrictions

Before you begin, you need to understand the visa process and travel restrictions of where you are going in Africa. As an event planner, you want all your participants to arrive on time and safely. Visa processes are different based on your participants’ nationality and city residency. You must understand the visa process of all your participants to help them arrive without any issues. Some African countries allow visa on-arrival for event participants, this will make it simpler for your participants to travel without having to worry about visa application. Here at Hallpax, we can help process visas for groups or individuals within your event. We verify that every application is accurate and submitted on time to ensure your event goes smoothly.

COVID test requirements are currently in place as more African destinations reopen. Regulation around COVID is changing regularly. Some location restrictions are different from others, so be sure you are up to date with regulation as they change frequently. Take into consideration who is coming to your event and where they are coming from. Participants may be attending from all over the world, so remind them to also read up on the travel restrictions, as they are unique to each person depending on their location.

Time Difference

As you gather information on where your participants are coming from, consider their time zones and how jet lag might affect their experience at your conference. If you’re setting up their travel plans, be sure to give your attendees time to adapt to the new time zone; that way they are well-rested and ready for the day of your event. If you do plan events for the first couple of days after your attendees arrive, try to keep the day short so that anyone feeling jet lagged can get a chance to adjust without missing out.

Shipping & Customs

If you are planning on shipping items for your event, be sure to understand the shipping and customs process of your desired destination. If you don’t do your research beforehand, multiple issues may arise. For example, most African countries apply duty fees on event giveaways, this can be applied on items as simple as printed programs, branded pens, notebooks, promotional material, etc. Some countries have regulations that restrict foreign businesses and organizations from shipping any type of item, even if you are willing to pay duty you might not be able to clear your shipping. If you wait too long or don’t ship early , your items might be held up at customs for weeks.

Depending on your destination “carry-on” can be better, even though all customs regulations are applicable on items imported as “carry-on”. Most African countries have customs checkpoints for “carry-on” luggage. If you have the required paperwork clearance process can be as short as a couple of hours or in some cases a couple of days. This is much shorter than shipped items in most cases.

We highly recommend you get a reliable clearing agent on the ground, most international courier service providers don’t help with customs clearance. If planned ahead and with the right local partnership they can help with clearing event shipping customs and can get your products to your event on time. With Hallpax we pick up from anywhere in the world and deliver directly to your event. Through our reliable partners at your destination of choice, we take care of shipping end to end.

As you look through the customs information for your desired locations, make sure that everything you want to ship won’t be confiscated through the customs process. Inform your attendees as well— make sure this information is clear and easily accessible to them. This way, they can also pack and prepare their conference materials accordingly.

Study Up

Cultural Norms

Culture varies by country. What may seem normal to you may be unheard of in the country you are hosting your event in. This is why making sure you study up on the culture of your desired location is crucial. Africa specifically has many different countries with many different cultures. What is accepted in Southern Africa is different from what is accepted in Northern Africa. Give yourself time to look into the details of terminology, hotels, clothing, weather, etc. You don’t want to misunderstand something that can have an impact on the day of your event.

For Africa, a main cultural component is religion. Depending on where you are traveling to, the main religion can vary. Study up on certain ceremonial dates that are honored in that religion. Additionally, keeping informed of local politics as well can help you see what dates you may want to avoid. During election season, things could be very hectic in the country you are hosting an event. Political instability, tensions, riots and security issues are more common during election season.

Terminology and Language

Language can always be a barrier when it comes to international travel. When you pick your desired destination, consider the main language spoken in that area. If you are unfamiliar with the language, hire an interpreter to help you with translation. Being able to communicate smoothly with locals will make your experience much more enjoyable and less stressful.

Terminology can differ as well; locals may use different terms for somethings, misunderstanding some terms can affect your event. This is a common mistake for first-timers to make especially when it comes to food and beverage, audio visual equipment, transport arrangements, and stationeries. If you aren’t confident you understand some terminologies ask a local what it means, this is very important, especially when signing contracts.


When it comes to finding a venue, hotels and conference centers are very popular. When you do find the perfect venue, a key component is to look at their cancellation policies. Hotels in different countries may cancel your event due to an unanticipated scenario occurring after the time that you book. Some African governments have authority over hotels and conference venues. This allows them to use the conference halls at their disposal whenever they may need it. This is usually stated in your event contract, so be sure to read your cancellation policy closely to make sure you are prepared.

Making sure that the venue you pick is accessible to your attendees is another important part when hosting an international event. Knowing that not all hotels and conference centers in Africa are handicap-accessible can help you find ones that are. You want your attendees to feel comfortable and prepared for this conference— research your venue appropriately.

Always be Prepared

Be prepared for something to go wrong. It’s completely normal and happens more often than you think. Being prepared for anything to happen allows you to be able to correct it more quickly. Always have backup plans in place. For example, maybe your shipping doesn’t get through to your hotel in time or it was claimed at customs. You want to have a plan B so that you can get your event back on track.

A great way to do this is to visit your desired country before your event. Look around, evaluate the culture, and take notes on what could impact your event and attendees. Having a “lay of the land” gives you a step up on what the overall experience is like. If an actual visit beforehand is not possible, you can oftentimes request a virtual tour of your venue instead. As your event date gets closer be sure to arrive a couple of days earlier than your participants to make sure everything is ready to go.

As the person organizing this event, you want to know what is happening at all times with your event and other events going on within your destination. This may seem overwhelming; however, if you do proper research and preparation, you’ll be ready to seamlessly host your event in Africa.


Are you looking to learn more about hosting an event? Let us help you! Hallpax has destination experts who are dedicated to making your event planning process enjoyable and stress-free. We are passionate about the cities we work with, and with our in-person presence in Africa, we help our clients navigate their cities of choice with ease.

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