How to set up an NGO in Africa – The details

Let me start with telling you a few things. First of all, this blog is more like a guide than ‘a fun story to read’. If you want to read the story of our first month, you can find it in our other blog here. Secondly, this blog explains how we handled everything with the NGO, work permit and car. We think we did okay. However, TIA (this is Africa), so there is probably multiple other ways that could be better or worse! Our motto for this part of the story:

“We’ll make the ‘mistakes’, so you don’t have to”

So, it’s been a little over a month since we left the Netherlands on Kingsday, the birthday of our precious King Pils. And what a month it has been, true to the African style it has been a month with a lot of frustration and huge amounts of patience and waiting. In this blog I will tell you the steps we had to undertake to get where we are now in the process of setting up an NGO in Zambia.

A few tips when you’re booking a one-way ticket

  1. First of all, try not to have too much of a social life ? It makes it that much harder to leave everything behind! But, if you do have a social life like any normal person, just a simple tip to make that part easier: time! Give yourself enough time. We had 27 days ‘off’ after we stopped working and before leaving. It may seem like a lot, but it wasn’t enough! During these 27 days, we were busy preparing everything for the NGO; working out details, contacting people relevant for the NGO and rephrasing the plan time and again. At the same time, we were also trying to see all our friends and family, wanting to have a proper goodbye before we immigrate to Africa! And then 27 days are gone in a blink of an eye.
  2. Second tip to save you a lot of trouble. When you make sure you have enough time back home, then you’ll also have time to get your visa sorted in advance! It sounds only logical, but for us it didn’t seem possible at the time. However, even when you think it might not be possible, give it a try anyway and you’ll be surprised how far you can get on the online world of the internet. Ask around on the expat Facebook group of the country you’re going to, mail the embassy, etc.
  3. When flying to South Africa, and probably other countries as well, they are going to ask questions if you have a one-way ticket. So, have an explanation for your one-way-ticket! For once in our live we were at the airport early, and luckily, because Egypt Air did not want to check us in. The reason? Because we did not have a flying ticket for leaving South Africa. Our solution, we bought a flying ticket from Johannesburg to Gaborone (Botswana) right then and there. It was a pain in the ass, because we already had a bus ticket for the same trip and thus a waste of a lot of money. So, be warned!

Our Circumstances.

We’ve travelled through Africa for three months before we decided to start our own NGO. We had in mind that we could join an existing project, but we didn’t come across an NGO where they had a spot that fitted us. We did come across a beautiful area in Zambia with so much potential for nature conservation and community development, that we knew that this was the place to be for us (see our blog about Kafue NP). We went back home to figure out a plan, get in touch with different stakeholders active in the area, work and save money. And then we booked our one-way ticket!

But that’s also were we get to the tricky part. If you want to do anything in a country like Zambia, you’ll need something else than a visitor/tourist permit. At first, we wanted to get a temporary work permit, but then we heard a story from a Dutch lady who applied for this permit (6 months) and after it expired, she wasn’t allowed to re-enter Zambia for another year! We’re not sure if she was the exception or the rule, but we figured it is not the way to go for us then.

We decided to ask the experience experts on the several Expat Zambia Facebook groups. We’ve got many replies, some more useful than others, but the main thing we found is that there were a lot of different stories. Apparently, there is no one way to do it, so that’s why we’ve decided to write down our own story. And let me warn you, it was a rollercoaster of feelings where the one day we thought we had to leave the country for two months and the next we knew we could stay!

The start.

We flew over Johannesburg, South Africa on a one-way ticket (which is a whole other story with several bumps on the road, read about it here). From there we visited some friends at the community operated Wild Olive Tree Camp next to Orpen Gate of Kruger National Park. Lars had done his thesis research there a few years back and we were eager to see them again and wondering how they were doing. Turns out, great! We definitely recommend staying there. It has become a beautiful tented camp fully operated by the locals, all the facilities you need and a brilliant game driver. After that, we went to Graskop near Blyde River Canyon where we stayed in our own little apartment for a few days with internet to figure some stuff out. From here, we called with several people from Zambia to find the best way to get a work permit. Our conclusion in the end… Get to Zambia as quickly as we can on a business permit and figure it out from there!

Our car.

Next step was to get our car. Last time we were in southern Africa, we bought a Toyota Landcruiser Prado together with our friend. It had done us well during those three months driving, except for the one time when the shocks broke on a horrible road in Etosha NP (read about it here). Unfortunately, during the time our friend used it, several things broke and we had to invest a lot more money than we intended. And then you have the next step, you have to figure out a price to buy each other out. We had discussed it and our friend agreed that he would buy us out and we would fix another car in Gaborone, Botswana. Or even in Zambia, we weren’t sure yet. However, when we suggested a price which we thought was fair, our friend started thinking and asked us to buy the car from him. Unfortunately, Lars and I didn’t agree on the fairness of this whole process, so that was a rollercoaster of intense discussions between us, advice from car mechanics and some more from family… Alas, in the end, friendship and practicality went over money and we regrettably spent much more of our budget on the car then we intended to. What we learned, it is smart to buy a car together, but properly think about the rules in advance, put them in black and white and sign them. Don’t just trust on your friendship, because in the end you’ll have different views on what’s fair and what’s not.

More car trouble!

Hold your horses, this wasn’t the end of our car issues. We drove a day to pick it up, get it registered on our name and drove a day back again to have everything checked. The mechanics found some other parts that were broke, not essential if you’re just driving on tar roads, but they are essential in the bush. And thus, we had to have them fixed. These parts had to come from Johannesburg and that takes three days… And of course, weekend included. Then when they arrived, the girl from the Toyota dealer ordered the same part twice, instead of two different ones. In short… it took another two weeks in Gaborone before we could leave. Luckily for us, we were staying in a great Airbnb with a local family and two sweet dogs (link Airbnb). Our host, Tumo, who is the same age as us and a traveler as well, took us out on several occasions. And on Mothers day, his mum vouched to be our substitute mom while we were there! We’ll miss them and definitely stay there again when we’re back in Gabs.

Setting up the NGO.

During these two weeks waiting in Gabs, we started to do some more research online about our best options. We found out the best thing to do when we enter Zambia, is to start the process of setting up our own NGO. We didn’t find any party around Kafue NP willing to employ us, so basically, we’ll have to employ ourselves then to get a work permit! We did this by getting into Zambia ourselves on a business permit (you’ll need an invitation letter from a Zambian resident to show you’ll be there on business) and go through the whole process, visit all the offices etc. But actually, a lot can be done online from a distance if you just know how, and we know how now! So let me walk you through it.

To set up an NGO as a foreigner there are some rules. First and foremost, your Board needs to be at least 50% Zambian residents. Tips for this; obviously find Zambian people you trust and who have enough money themselves. Make sure they know they are not going to get any money out of it.

There are currently still two ways to set up an NGO in Zambia. The official and best way is registering your NGO with the Ministry of Development. The law of the Non-Governmental Organisations Act No. 16 of 2009 (the “Act”) requires all NGOs as well as international NGOs operating in Zambia to be registered in accordance with the Act. Here’s the steps you’ll need to follow:

1) Certificate of Registration

  • Step 1
    You need to submit three copies of Rules and Regulations of your NGO and a recommendation letter from the collaboration government Ministry. Below are the guidelines of a constitution and the recommendation letter. You may not necessarily follow the order below, however the rules and regulation of your NGO must have contents as outlined below.

<Guidelines of a constitution>

  • Name of Organisation
  • Postal/ Physical Address
  • Objectives/ Aims
  • Office Bearers
  • Duties of Office Bearers
  • Term of Office Bearers
  • Members
  • Termination of Membership
  • Discipline
  • Finance
  • Meetings
  • Elections
  • Amendments to Constitution
  • Dissolution
  • Disposal of Assets upon Dissolution
  • Extract from “Register a Society or Church” by Office of the registrar of societies

<Recommendation letter>

Recommendation letter from line Ministry which the NGO will work under. This means, you’ll have to visit the local office of the Ministry in the town your NGO is based to get this recommendation letter.

  • Step 2

When you submit the above, details about the procedure and required documents will be provided. Below are the required documents;

  • Form 1- Application for Registration/Exemption, the form must be submitted in triplicate (3)
  • Copies of NRC, Passport or Driving Licences in respect of Zambian Members and Immigration permits in respect of Non-Zambian members must be submitted. Additionally, phone numbers of the office bearers should be included.
  • All the members appearing on the form must be scrutinized and cleared by the Police before the application for Registration is submitted (fingerprint certificates should be attached to the application).
  • Three certified copies of the NGO’s Constitution must be attached.
  • Clearance letter from the Registrar of Societies, PACRA and Lands and Deeds.
  • Fee: ZMW1,008.00 for International NGOs

Registration forms can be obtained online or from the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health, Headquarters, at the department of Registrar for NGOs and the District Community Health Office in all the Provincial capitals, where a manual receipt will be issued upon production of a computerized bank receipt and deposit slip showing payment of a non-refundable application fee.

  • Step 3


When your documents are approved, you will be given the certification which has a registration number. The certification is issued within three months of submission of all required documents. You are advised to make a schedule which shows time deadlines.

As you can see, applying for an NGO through the Ministry of Development can take up to three months. We don’t have that time, as we needed the NGO to apply for the volunteer work permit. The other way is registering yourself as a ‘Company limited by guarantee, non for profit’ at PACRA. The procedure for that is as follows:

Step 1. Name Clearance.
If you do this online, this might take up to three days. If you go to the PACRA office, they will give you the Name Clearance immediately. You don’t need much for this:

  • Three possible names for your NGO
  • Your ‘principal business’ in accordance with the ISIC Classification. For us, and for most NGO’s this is Other social work activities without accommodation.
  • Certified copy of the NRC(s) of your Zambian Directors
  • Fee which is 90 Kwacha

Step 2. Set up the NGO

We went to the PACRA and had our Name clearance the first afternoon. We also already took the documents described below to have them checked. The lady from PACRA told us the few things we did wrong or needed extra. As we had everything ready, we could set up the company limited by guarantee the next day!

  • Articles of Association (you can find a format online/here)
  • Form 3 from the PACRA website
  • On this form you need the signatures of all Directors. If it is a photocopy (which it was for us, because our directors were in Mumbwa and Lusaka, while we were in Livingstone), you’ll need to get this certified at the court.
  • To certify a signature, you need the already certified copies of the NRC of these people. These can be copies. It costs 10 Kwacha to have a document certified.
  • Have a look at this form for all the information you’ll need. E.g. personal details of all the directors, guaranteed amount, address for your NGO office etc.
  • Registration fee which was 950 Kwacha

After we’ve received our work permits and settled down a bit, we will also register as an NGO through the Ministry of Development, as every NGO will need to do this in the end.

Work permit.

After the registration of the NGO, we wanted to apply for the volunteer work permit. This has to be done online nowadays. However, we did visit the immigration office for advice, as we heart too many different stories. At PACRA we have put ourselves as Guarantors of the company, so we’re basically the owners. Some people said we then couldn’t apply for a work permit, as we cannot employ ourselves. However, this is going to be an NGO, so we will volunteer. This is what we asked at immigration, and they told us it should be fine. If you want to be sure, start off with asking some friends or family to be the guarantors of the company. This is only an amount of 7500 Kwacha per person (which is about 500 euro) and you can agree between yourselves on paper that you will pay this amount when things go wrong.

Online registration of your NGO

Back to immigration. We explained all of our circumstances to the immigration officer and he told us that we could apply online through the NGO. However, to have an online account on the NGO’s name, we needed some other things first.

  • A ZRA clearance or TPIN. You can also apply for this online, but we went to the office in the hope that everything would go faster (it didn’t).
  • Certificate of NGO
  • Letter addressed to Director of Immigration with the question to unlock the online immigration registration account of your NGO (click here for our letter).

Take these papers to the immigration office to get your account unlocked. For us the unlocking of the account took about a week and a daily visit to the office, but we were very unlucky. The IT guy in Livingstone, apparently the only one in the whole office who knows how to work with the online registration, was on leave and they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get a hold of the IT guy in Lusaka. In the end we went to Lusaka ourselves and fixed it there.

Online registration for your Work Permit.

After the page for the NGO is unlocked, you can apply for the work permit. You could apply for the work permit individually, but this will cost you about three times more. That’s why we went through the NGO. For the application you’ll need A LOT of documents:

  • Covering letter from employer addressed to the Director General of Immigration
  • Application for an Employment Permit (Form 23 for volunteer employment permit)
  • Employment contract/Letter of offer
  • Police Clearance from country of residence
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Registration certificate from the relevant professional body in Zambia (where required)
  • Certified Copy of qualifications (academic, professional)
  • Copy of marriage and birth certificates (where available)
  • Certified copy of valid Passport particulars (bio data & last endorsement stamp for Zambia)
  • Certified certificate of company
  • List of Directors
  • Two recent passport size photographs
  • Prescribed fee (volunteer work permit requested through NGO should be 2000 Kwacha)

All of this was in cooperation with our Zambian directors and with total transparency towards all the officers we’ve asked for advice. It’s then that they’ll realize your intentions are good and that they want to work along. Unfortunately, the officers from immigration we talked to, won’t actually be the ones handling our case, so we’ll have to wait and see how it turns out! We’ll keep you updated.

This Post Has 56 Comments

  1. Alex Choti

    thanks for everything, I want to start a new NGO for fighting against poverty in Zambia

    1. bylifeconnected

      That is great, well done. I hope our blog helps you get there. Where will you be based in Zambia?

    2. Geoffrey phiri

      Wow I look forward working with you

  2. Emmanuel Kasonde

    I am Zambian based, I would also want to start a new NGO that will bring a lot of awareness to the Youths on Governance Issues in Zambia and across African Countries, this information has been helpful. I thank you.

    1. bylifeconnected

      You’re very welcome. I hope you manage, you do a good job! It is very important.

  3. Lubasi Makoma

    Thank you for the information. I would like to form an NGO to help people who suddenly become visually impaired.

    1. bylifeconnected

      That’s great to hear, I’m sure you can help a lot of people. I hope this blog helped you along a bit, good luck with everything!

  4. GDK

    Beautiful, your noble course is indeed worth the effort you are putting in… it would be nice working with you guys, let me know if you need any volunteers. Kindly get in touch on via email on :

    All the best.!

    1. bylifeconnected

      Thank you so much, we’re very grateful for your offer and will definitely get in touch if we need volunteers :).

  5. Kalonga Mwiinga

    Thank you for sharing this information. As a Zambian, I was blank on all these procedures – your blog has indeed helped.

    I am looking forward to kick-starting my own NGO…one which will start the test of time. My interest is on climate change awareness, especially among the rural folks. There are also many other thorny issues affecting Africa.

    Thank you much once more for sharing.

    1. bylifeconnected

      That’s very good, thanks for letting us know that our blog has helped. That’s why we wrote our own experience down, to help other people and make it easier 🙂

  6. Natasha Chanda

    Thanks for the blog I have learnt a lot and I’m looking forward to start the registration for my orgo
    God bless you

    1. bylifeconnected

      Thank you, the best of luck with your own NGO.

  7. Loretta Ching'andu

    This information has been extremely helpful. I think so many people shun away from forming NGOs because of the long processes or simply not knowing how to go about it. But this has propelled my passion to have my organization registered and running. Thank you

    1. bylifeconnected

      Hi Loretta, thank you so much for your feedback. It’s great to hear that we can help other people with their great initiatives in this way!

  8. Tendai Madziakapita

    This was informative! Just a quick question on the Immigration stuff, so you had to apply for work permits as volunteers under the NGO than the “owners” of the NGO? And could you apply as owners of it?

    1. bylifeconnected

      We were told that if you apply as the owners of the NGO, you will have a much harder time to get a work permit. I think that’s because they prefer Zambian people doing the jobs, which makes sense! Plus, as it is right now, we are volunteers, as we don’t get a salary or anything through our NGO. We live of our own savings. I know not everyone has the liberty to do that, so if you want to discuss a different solution, you’re very welcome to sent an email to 🙂

  9. Nchimunya Chilokota

    This is owesome. If you can’t be an employee then be an employer. Very motivating….

  10. Racheal

    Wow so thanks for the information. It has helped me. God bless you

    1. bylifeconnected

      You’re so very welcome. We are happy to help in any way with great initiatives.

  11. Thomas Lufungulo

    I can imagine how frustrating the whole journey was, especially the “car-tumour” in the early days. Your tesmony as helped many (including myself), the reason i am commenting on this blogpost is because i was looking for “how to set up an NGO in Zambia” with a personal expression and not only instruction from PACRA (because sometimes “they swallow their own pride”)TIA.
    We need more posts on your noble cause.
    maybe something like “the IT Guy mistake at PACRA”
    “The Employed CEOs”. LOL, Just joking but i mean we need more!
    God bless.

    1. bylifeconnected

      Haha thank you so much. Yes it’s always good to read other people’s experiences. Feel free to share your own! I know it will turn out differently for everyone.

  12. Thomas Lufungulo

    Once again i thought introducing myself won’t cause anytrouble.
    I am a blogger, web developer&designer and online entrepreneur.
    I am am rating the theme you used A 5/5 star.
    the design Is 200% responsive more than PACRA’s. LOL, and content is amazing.
    God bless,

  13. Mary Chike Nakazwe

    Thanks for sharing the details and the procedure how to register for NGO will do it

  14. eddy note

    anyone who is ready to form up one is welcome. we can work together to form one..we can bring heads together to archive that.0977272028.I made a mistake on the first number that I posted. my original and real number is 0977272028

  15. Joseph Chipeta

    I would like to start an NGO in Zambia to eliminate poverty in rural Zambian communities. I want to join the already existing NGO Outside my country to provide technical and financial support. We want to teach the communities on fish farming, keeping village chickens, and literacy boost in communities among children in the rural areas. The project will start in two districts of LUMEZI and Lundazi.

    1. bylifeconnected

      Hi Joseph, maybe you can see if there’s any big existing projects in your area that you could join? Think UNDP, USAID or World Vision. Good luck with your endeavors.

  16. Davies mwakalombe

    Thank for this information it’s very helpful I already have a limited company by shares I wand to charge in NGO ,my aim is to elimanate poverty by providing borehole water in different parts of Zambia this is by offering the actual drilling to small scale farmers who have no finecial muscle in paying the drilling company to drill borehole for there variouse projects eg aquaculture farming, pourtry farming, vegetable farming, orchards and community boreholes. I have been in this sector for same time and my company have already a drilling lincese from warma , we understand drilling boreholes in Zambia it’s very expensive because it’s not Zambians who provide such services but if Zambians could own the drilling rigs then we will bring down these high prices of drilling boreholes in our country and we will encourag small scale farmers do develop there various sectors eg poutr, pigery, vegetables farming ,orchard, and general agriculture

    1. Zoe foundation

      Davis mwakalombe, partner with Zoe foundation they are a program on community water drilling…

  17. Maimbolwa Kalaluka

    This information has been helpful as I am trying to come up with a Constitution for an NGO

  18. saston bwalya

    thank you for your testmony indeed you are giving me the guidline.otherwise my mind was troubling on how to start and register of ngo in zambia.but do you need volunteer workers if yes where can i find you?

    1. bylifeconnected

      Hi Saston,
      We might start volunteering in the future, but currently do not have the capacity to house them. If you subscribe for our newsletter, you will be kept up to date on progress in that section. We’re in Nalusanga, the entrance village into Kafue National Park. Feel free to reach out once we announce that we need volunteers through our newsletter!
      Kindly, Kellie

  19. Isaac kapandula

    Thanks so much,
    Iam a passionate zambian based social worker who’s been willing to meet people with such great mindset. My ambitions are to become an active custodian in as far as social issues are concerned. Nalusanga is been my place and am very farmilia with it in terms of culture and many other things. Am looking foward to working with you as a volunteer
    Thank you

    1. bylifeconnected

      Hi Isaac, that sounds amazing. We will be starting a volunteer program and would love to welcome you. Maybe you could send us an email program with a bit more information about yourself, what you do, why you’re motivated, maybe your resume? You can contact us through The easiest way for us to communicate :).

  20. Isaac kapandula

    Iam motivated to helping the elderly have a better life. Life is always not easy for them to find a good balance once they stop working. They are often isolated and facing financial or healthy challenges. I want to improve their situation for them and advocate when necessary for this target group

  21. Mwengwe bwalya

    I want to open an organisation that will look at patients nutrition
    I want to help malnourished patients of all ages boost their immune and have a healthy bodies by providing nutritional food staffs.

  22. Mark Young

    I am planning on starting an A|NGO in Zambia and your information was truly helpful.

    Could you tell me what the total cost was? I know that Zambia has raise the fees.

    1. bylifeconnected

      Hi Mark, I honestly can’t tell you how much the costs are at this moment in time. And I don’t know by head how much we paid in the end, because it was just so many different places we were paying and getting stamps and another office paying etc. etc. But my estimate would be that it was around a 10,000 kwacha total to get both the NGO up and running and our work permits. And then after that you still need to add money to open a bank account, for which you then need a reference and a lawyer. So take into account a bit more. PLUS, the permit prices have tripled since the first of January, so it’s definitely going to cost more.

  23. olga mashilo

    very informative indeed. Am being approached by a Zambian lady to start an NGO to help vulnerable women and children in the rural areas. Am very much keen to do so though I am South African very much in the upliftment of women in rural areas. The Board of Trustees in the NGO should they also be Zambian or we can have overseas based people?

    1. bylifeconnected

      Hi Olga,
      The board can definitely have overseas based people, as long as the board is at least 50% Zambians, or Zambian residents.
      Hope that helps 🙂

  24. Annie Musonda

    Hello, Great minds!
    Your article has really helped a lot and has set my mind on what to expect. Your experience has been an eye-opener and thanks for sharing your ‘we will make mistakes so that you do have to’. What a selfless disposition! I am now more determined to help my community from the grassroots by registering an NGO for Adult Education. I am passionate about community service works to do with enhancing adult literacy, sanitation and hygiene, soft work skills and other related activities. Hope to exchange notes in due course.
    Kind regards,
    Annie (Chongwe District, Zambia)

    1. bylifeconnected

      Hi Annie,
      Thanks for your feedback! That sounds like an amazing thing to do, Adult Education. Super important. I’m actually thinking, because I’ve heard an organization doing that before, but I can’t remember which one it was. I think World Vision.. I would definitely suggest Googling a bit, you might not have to reinvent the wheel yourself :). And yes, we are all for community development! So if we’re at a level where that might be something we would like to do in our community, we will definitely reach out to you as well!
      Good luck with everything,
      Warm regards,

  25. Zoe foundation

    To make the process of registration issue easy, I think its best to volunteers in a program that operational and start consultations from government offices for information.. And you start registration. That way cost of registration can be low….

  26. masiye nyirenda

    That quite a work u did there, i just came across ur blog today despite it been old its never too late i guess. I m in the pipeline of formation an organization that helps youths become self reliant by using their God gifted talents and skills so if any is intrested please lets talk. We might just do a collaboration i don’t have funds as at now so anyone interested can email me we talk.
    Your information wasvery helpfully

  27. Frank

    I was researching for the guidelines of a constitution until I found this. Its really great, but am a little behind. Me and my team are about to form an organisation to assist the youth and the vulnerable specifically the orphans and old much would the registration process cost us.and what adviçe can you give us please.

    1. bylifeconnected

      That’s great. My main advise is to visit a PACRA office. They can easily answer all your questions and up to date prices!

  28. janet mwandila

    Thanks for the information its really helpful, am Zambian based would like to open up a children foundation

    1. bylifeconnected

      That’s amazing, I wish you the best of luck. I’m sure you’ll succeed ?

  29. Cephas Mumanga

    Thanks for shading more light. We are an organisation helping talents and we intend to work globally. Just looking for potential donors to fund our projects… If you know any donors please help…. is our site

  30. Taonga Shacholi

    Thank you for shading more light on how to start a NGO.
    Am also in an organization that gives aid to street kids in Zambia.
    Just praying for donors to help the organization because this is when the NGO was created.

    1. Patrick

      Wow! great thing,have been wanting to be in one…do you mind connecting me to that NGO which you’ar into?

  31. Enock

    Even in 2022 this is so helpful. Thank you so much.

  32. Spender musonda

    Thank you for helping me to continue with my dream.

  33. Patrick

    Very amazing despite all you guys went through. Thank God you’hav managed to do what you wanted most.

Leave a Reply