Starting from July 1st, 2015 Kenya introduced e-visa, meaning the Kenyan visa will be applied online from now on. Visa on arrival will be available until August 30, 2015, but thereafter every visitor to Kenya must have obtained the e-visa (save those from visa-exempt countries). Visa will be applied through the Kenya E-Citizen portal. Visa application process should take at least two days and up to a week. A visitor may be denied boarding a plane if he/she fails to provide a proof of a granted visa. Thus booking a trip to Kenya on a short notice will be difficult or impossible, as a consequence Kenya will lose potential tourists.
Most visitors to Kenya will probably book their flights well in advance and have time to make a visa application. But this is not always the case. Internet has changed travel patterns, making flexible travel easier than before and thus many travellers won’t have detailed travels plans, and they tend not to make bookings much in advance. People booking their flights at a late stage often choose their destination based on best flight offers. Many flights to Kenya are only half full, meaning good prices could still be available even until the departure – but visitors can’t take advantage of this anymore, since there may not be sufficient time to obtain Kenyan visa. If they wait for the visa to be issued first, the offer may expire by then. Most affected are those based or travelling in neighboring countries, since they are likely to do impromptu visits to Kenya (East African citizens, however, don’t need a visa to visit Kenya). Sometimes there may be urgent reasons to visit the country, e.g. to see seriously sick or injured relative or friend.
Even the transit visa has to be applied beforehand. This means travellers on prolonged transit in Nairobi (eg. due to missed connecting flight, or cancelled flight) cannot leave the airport, and they may have to stay there 24 hours or so! Problems may also arise if a traveller on transit has to unexpectedly collect checked luggage in Nairobi, but cannot get transit visa needed to get the luggage. Kenyan immigration authorities clearly haven’t thought about these different scenarios before hastily putting new rules.
Single-entry or transit visas can be applied through the E-visa site. The price of these visas remains at 50 and 20 USD, respectively, but added with a 1 USD service charge. Noticeably, neither multiple entry visa or East African Tourist Visa can be applied through the E-visa site, so it remains unclear how can they be obtained in the future. For more information on the East African Tourist Visa, check my earlier blog post.
To lodge the visa application, scanned passport information page and passport photos are needed, which many may find inconvenient (that said I recommend to have scanned passport copy anyway, and keep it online so it can be accessed in the case of lost passport or so). The visa application form requires plenty of information such as details of hotel reservations, something the visitor may not have when lodging the application.
If one needs to enter Kenya on very short notice, the East African Tourist Visa may provide an “emergency measure”, by getting it in Uganda and then continuing to Kenya. The Visa can be obtained on arrival at Entebbe Airport, I got mine there. This option is most useful if going to Western Kenya, which can be reached by bus from Uganda. I have no firm information whether the East African Visa can be obtained on arrival at Kigali Airport in Rwanda, probably not. Travelling from Dar Es Salaam to Nairobi, Kenya Airways has a monopoly on the direct route and subsequently prices are very expensive. Rwandair offers cheaper fares via Kigali, and it would be handy to use the stop to obtain the EA Visa.
Security reasons are being used as a reason to introduce the E-visa, so they have time to scrutinise the background of potential unwanted visitors, especially terrorists. A number terrorists, also from western countries, have entered Kenya in recent years indeed. What I don’t get is if they can’t identify potential terrorist in 15 minutes, how could a week make any difference?
Fair to say, the application process for a Kenyan visa is still much easier compared to what Kenyans have to endure when they apply for a visa in a western country. The difference is, however, that Kenyan economy is much dependent on foreign tourism, therefore the entry there should be made as straightforward as possible. I have done online visa or permit applications before to USA and Australia, in both cases was granted them within hours after sending the application. Kenya can offer only a snail’s speed compared to them (and both were cheaper than Kenyan visa).
The only benefit E-visa can offer tourists will be possible faster immigration when arriving, though I can’t remember ever queuing excessively long to get visa on arrival in Nairobi. On the other hand, travellers may have to queue long even if having visa granted already.
E-visa is a good idea in itself, but it should complement visa on arrival, rather than replace it. If they want visitors to get their visas in advance, they could offer cheaper prices for those applied online. Another option would be requiring to do the visa application in advance, but in the event the visa is not granted in time, it would be finalised on arrival. If not anything else, the visa application process time should be made much quicker to facilitate travel on short notice.