Madagascar Arrival Guide: What to Do When You Land in Tana Airport in 2023

A comprehensive guide for travelers arriving at Madagascar's Tana Airport in 2023, covering immigration, SIM cards, exchanging money, ATM withdrawals, mobile wallets, and airport transfers.

Madagascar Arrival Guide: What to Do When You Land in Tana Airport in 2023
Yep, this picture was taken in 2023, not 1969.

You just landed at Antananarivo Airport (TNR). It’s overwhelming. The heat smacks you in the face as you disembark onto the tarmac. Inside the terminal, it doesn’t get any cooler. As you navigate through the sea of people, you wonder how to efficiently clear immigration, get connected to the internet (hint: local SIM card!), and whether to exchange local currency at the airport or find better rates in the city center.

After conducting thorough research, I discovered that there wasn’t a lot of information regarding traveling to Madagascar during the post-pandemic era. It appears that a lot has changed. Tourism remains extremely underdeveloped, potentially even more so since the pandemic. However, this was the main allure for me. I wanted to explore Madagascar before it becomes overly commercialized.

That said, the process required a delicate balancing act. I had to venture out of my comfort zone and plan my trip only once I arrived in the country. It wasn’t easy, but the experience proved to be well worth it! As a result, I am writing this guide to help fellow travelers seeking a smooth and enjoyable Madagascan adventure.

Use this guide as a starting point. It covers the 4 most essential things to do when you arrive at Antananarivo Airport (clearing immigration, getting a SIM card, exchanging money, and getting to the city center). It also offers tips on dealing with tricky situations involving immigration officers asking for bribes, and taxi scams!

Clearing immigration: Tips for a Smooth Arrival at Tana Airport

When you disembark, you’ll walk down a flight of stairs from the plane onto the tarmac to get to the arrival hall. At the arrival hall, you’ll be directed to a line for tourists. You’ll be asked to fill in a paper autorisation de debarquement form that comes in a palm-sized booklet. Don’t discard the booklet — it contains important information like immigration office locations if you wish to extend your visa past 60 days. If you don’t get a booklet, wave down a member of the airport staff and ask for one. They do not provide pens, so it’s a good idea to travel with one.

There are two points to clear before getting you baggage claim: paying for your visa, and getting your immigration visa sticker.

Paying for and potentially extending your tourist visa

Tourists can stay up to 90 days. However, the maximum stay covered by the visa issued at the airport is 60 days — you will have to extend your visa for another 30 days at an immigration office. Mind of a Hitchhiker wrote an excellent guide on extending your tourist visa.

You can pay for the visa with dollars, euros, or local currency. A 30-day visa costs 115,000 Malagasy Ariary (US$37 or 35 EUR). A 60-day visa costs 135,000 Malagasy Ariary (US$45 or 40 EUR). The exchange rate is determined by the national tourist office — see their latest rates here.

Keep the receipt — you will need to present it to the immigration officer at the next station.

Clearing immigration: how to handle bribe requests

After presenting the immigration officer with your visa receipt, passport, and immigration forms, the officer will stamp your passport with a visa sticker. The officer might ask you about the purpose of the visit, where you are staying, and proof of onward travels — it’s helpful to have these documents within reach.

Here’s a few tips on how to handle potentially awkward situations when dealing with immigration officials. Note that this is based on my personal experience, might not be representative of all airport staff in Ivato International Airport, and I do not think of this as a good or bad practice — I’m simply stating my observations.

I first encountered airport staff soliciting for tips was when queueing in the very long arrivals line. A uniformed officer approached me, asking if I’d like to go to a “fast lane” to skip the line. My spidey sense told me that something didn’t feel right, so I declined his offer. For the more time-sensitive traveler, this might be an option, but I don’t recommend it because I don’t know how much much they expect for bribes, or what else they can do if you don’t give them enough. (If you know, please leave a comment below!)

The second encounter for bribes is with an officer at the immigration counter, who discreetly asked me for a “gift” after stamping my passport. After seeing how confused I was, he clarified that he wanted “tips”. I politely declined, explaining to him that I am a backpacker. On the way out to baggage claim, a few other officers also hassled me for tips, which I declined by saying “no, thank you very much” with a smile.

The most important thing when dealing with such encounters is to be polite, firm, but never rude or condescending. You simply never know what can happen in a foreign country!

Should you buy a SIM card at Ivarto airport? A Madagascar Traveler's Guide

Staying connected in Madagascar is essential for travelers, and selecting the right SIM card at Tana Airport can make all the difference. In another article, we discuss the importance of getting a local SIM card, the affordability of data plans, and how to maximize data coverage by choosing two out of the three available telcos.

You’ll get the most out of getting a local SIM card because:

  1. A local SIM card offers better connectivity and more affordable data than international roaming or eSIMs
  2. Data in Madagascar is surprisingly inexpensive, allowing travelers to stay connected without breaking the bank.
  3. You can maximize your data coverage by selecting two out of the three telcos, Telma and Orange, enabling you to stay connected for 30 days for under US$12!

You can read the detailed guide here if you're interested in learning more about selecting the best SIM card at Tana Airport.

A Traveler's Guide to Exchanging Money at Madagascar's Tana Airport

The local currency, Malagasy Ariary, is commonly referred to as “Ariary” (ah-rhee-are-ee), abreviated “Ar.”, less frequently “MGA”. I don’t recommend carrying too much cash for safety reasons. Bring and exchange at least US$500 at the airport money changer to cover expenses for the first few days. You can always withdraw more cash at ATMs located in major cities.

I encourage you to use a mobile wallet called MVola (available to anyone with a Telma SIM card) because it’s not safe to carry around huge wads of cash. The largest denomination is 20,000 Ariary (~US$5). Imagine carrying US$4,000 worth of notes for a 3-4 week trip — that’s over 900 banknotes! Not only is that extremely cumbersome, I’d be very anxious leaving that amount of cash unattended even if it is in a hotel “safe”, which can often be accessed by hotel staff. Not saying that all of them do, but I prefer to err on the side of caution.

For a comprehensive guide on all things money, including how to set up and fund a mobile wallet, refer to the section below .

Exchanging cash at the airport money changer

The money changer, creatively named “B€$T CHANGE”, is located next to the telco kiosks in the airport arrivals hall. The process is straightforward. Rates are displayed on the electronic board. They accept major currencies including EUR, USD, GBP, and CHF. Tell the staff how much you’d like to change, confirm the amount that you’d receive, and they will process your transaction. For larger amounts, they might make a copy of your passport. I like to count the banknotes to ensure I receive the correct amount.

Withdrawing cash from the airport ATM

There is also an ATM right next to the baggage claim exit area (to your right once you exit the gate). Depending on how much your bank charges you for foreign ATM withdrawals, rates might actually be the same if not better than exchanging physical currency. Aside from your bank charges, the ATM also assesses a fee, usually around 8,000 Ar. (US$2) per withdrawal. You can usually withdraw up to a maximum of 40 bank notes at once i.e., 800,000 Ar. (US$180). However, you can make several withdrawals at once — you’ll have to pay the ATM fee for each withdrawal.

You might see conflicting information from other websites saying that you can only withdraw 400,000 Ar. at once. That’s likely because their blog has not been updated — Madagascar released a new 20,000 Ariary denomination in 2017. The number of banknotes withdrawable still remains at 40, so you’re capped at withdrawing 800,000 Ar.

Personally, as a traveler from the US, I use fee-free debit card from Schwab that not only reimburses you for foreign ATM withdrawal fees, but also does not markup the foreign exchange rates, nor charge a fee when withdrawing local currency from a foreign ATM. I’m often able to get local currency cheaper than if I had exchanged dollars at the money changer.

Mastering Money in Madagascar: Mobile Payments, ATMs, and Credit Cards

The sections above provide an essential overview of what to do when you arrive at the airport. For a complete understanding of money management in Madagascar, I’ve written a comprehensive guide called Money Matters in Madagascar: Mastering MVola, Orange Money, ATMs, and Credit Card Payments. This covers the following:

Madagascar Airport Transfers: How to Reach Antananarivo City Center from Tana Airport

The simplest way to get to the city is to take the official flat-rate taxi service, which costs 70,000 Ar. (US$16) in the day, and slightly more at night. I was approached by several people offering taxi and “porter” services after I exited the baggage claim area, which I politely declined.

You’ll see a large “70,000 Ar.” official taxi sign when exiting the terminal. It can be overwheming as you might get hassled by a lot of people. Speak with the person directly behind the sign, and he will direct you to your driver, who’s most likely going to be wearing a green vest.

I was very tired having spent 30-hours transiting from San Francisco to Tana (with 2 stopovers!), and was really thankful that there was a flat-rate taxi service available. It would’ve been very draining to have to negotiate for taxi services after such a long flight!

However, you should still keep your guard on. Here are 4 things to take note of:

  • Non-official taxis might be marginally cheaper (10-20% less). It’s not worth the hassle.
  • Don’t hand your luggage to anyone unless you’re willing to tip them.
  • Always check if the cost includes luggage that you store in the trunk. I’ve heard of anedotal stories where the driver promises a flat-rate, but charges you extra at the end of the trip for your luggage stored in the trunk. Personally, I put my backpack with me in the backseat as I was onebagging (traveling around the world with a carry-on bag).
  • Pay the driver at the end of the trip, and try to have exact change. Tips are not expected, but I gave a small tip because the drive was smooth and enjoyable.

The journey will take a minimum of one hour, depending on traffic and where your hotel is located.

Conculusion: Taming the Tana Airport Tango

So, you’ve survived your long flight, and with this guide, you elegantly navigated through the immigration labyrinth, gracefully exchanged local currency, and lept into full data coverage with your new local SIM cards.

As you waltz from baggage claim to the bustling streets of Antananarivo, remember to maintain your composure in the face of tricky situations. Now, go fourth an explore the enchanting wonders of Madagascar, the world’s eight continent. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below. Bon voyage!