Welcome home, Kenya tells the world as visa-free policy starts

Visitors can expect equal treatment and reduced fees in boon to tourism

In Summary
  • Ruto had promised to ease travel last month, with the first beneficiaries arriving on Friday
  • The move is aimed at boosting tourism and attracting more foreign investments
Immigration PS Julius Bitok meets Ms Kyung Sang Yoo, who was among the first visa-free travellers to Kenya.
Immigration PS Julius Bitok meets Ms Kyung Sang Yoo, who was among the first visa-free travellers to Kenya.

Kenya has asked her visitors to feel free to tour the country after completing the development and implementation of an electronic travel authorisation system that will remove visa requirements.

President William Ruto had last month announced the removal of visa requirements for all foreign nationals visiting and transiting through Kenya from January 2024.

The move is aimed at boosting tourism and attracting more foreign investments to the country.

The first batch of visa-free travellers landed at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on Friday.

And on Sunday, the government announced that over 9,000 applications had been received on a portal managing the issuance of visas to Kenya.

“Of the 9,787 applications, 4,046 have already been processed,” Immigration PS Julius Bitok said.

“The others are undergoing review on priority basis, guided by the travel schedule submitted by each applicant.”

The PS said the decision to remove visa requirements reflects the commitment to the promotion of an open, accessible and inclusive tourism and investment environment.

The vacated visa requirements have been replaced by the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) system.

This is designed for visa-exempt foreign nationals travelling to or transiting through the country, especially by air.

“The introduction of ETA is premised on the need to have a fair, faster and reliable system that also addresses Kenya’s security and other strategic interests,” he said.

So far, 9,787 ETA applications have been received on, he said.

Before ETA, citizens from 51 countries enjoyed visa-free entry to Kenya, while travellers from 155 other countries were subject to a visa application process at a cost of $50, he said.

ETA has introduced significant changes to the travel and transit experience for foreign nationals visiting Kenya in four fundamental ways.

They include equal treatment and reduced fees.

The entry requirements and applicable payments for all foreign nationals, except for East African Community (EAC) citizens, will now be the same, irrespective of the country of origin.

The visa fee was $50, while the ETA fee for all is $30, thereby ensuring fairness and equality.

There is also advanced passengers’ information, he said.

Previously, he added, travellers from 51 countries were not required to fill out any forms on personal and relevant travel details.

“There was, therefore, no means of obtaining data to inform critical decisions and plans around security, infrastructure and insurance needs,” Bitok said.

“With the introduction of the ETA, we now have comprehensive data on all visitors, significantly improving our ability to ensure the safety and well-being of both our visitors and citizens,” he said.

He added there is reduced processing time. Compared to visa application, ETA provides for a simple and faster process.

“Previously, it took up to 14 days to process visa applications for foreigners from 12 listed countries. The waiting period for this category has now been drastically reduced to a maximum of 72 hours.”

The PS said there is a dedicated ETA desk to guarantee a seamless experience.

He said they have introduced a 24-hour service desk dedicated to ETA.

“This will ensure clients are promptly attended to irrespective of the hour, while also taking into consideration the different time zones across the world.”

He added they will continue to review and refine the ETA system to align it with the clients’ convenience and to support their commitment to making Kenya a natural home for visitors and investors.

“With the ETA system now in place, we are proud to declare to the world: 'Welcome Home!'“

The PS was responding to travellers who argued the system is now expensive.

“It’s not the $30 but the paperwork that the ETA requires. Confirmation of hotel bookings for every single day,” one traveller said.

“Copies of already booked flight tickets. Bank statements for three months.”

All of which needs to be done again (and another 72 hours wait) if even the flight number changes due to no fault of your own, he said.

“And no re-entry for 72 hours. So if I am on a safari that goes into Tanzania for two days, I cannot return to Kenya for another day?” the traveller asked.

“This is one of the harshest visa regimes in Africa now, and it masquerades as liberalisation of travel.”

He said the move may backfire on the country.

“The long term will not be kind to Kenyan tourism (nor Kenyan tourists, who will see reciprocal actions levied on them by other African countries),” the traveller said.

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