More unwelcome visa news – Uganda and Malawi fee hikes

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UPDATE, July 30, 2016: The cost of Uganda single-entry visa has been reduced back to 50 USD, so the double price was a short experiment ending in a foreseeable failure.  For Malawi, the current visa fees appear to be 75 USD for a 3-month-visa, or 50 USD for transit visa valid for seven days.

Just as Kenya stops issuing visa on arrival, two other African countries punish tourists by significantly increasing visa fees. Reports say that the cost of Ugandan single entry visa has been doubled from 50 to 100 USD, while the Malawi visa is or will be increased to 75 USD, while previously visa-exempt nationalities have to pay for a visa.

Western tourists are used to visit most countries of interest without having to pay for a visa, but just few of those countries are in Africa. Recent fee hikes further highlight the divide. Majority of potential tourists shun Africa due to numerous image problems the continent has, and new visa rules will not improve situation.

The cost of the Ugandan visa has now been hiked above reasonable, but the most worrying thing is the manner how the visa fee was doubled, it all happened unannounced and overnight. They just started charging tourist who were not prepared to pay the higher fee.  Even Ugandan embassy web sites still mostly cite 50 USD as the visa cost, so the information provided here is based on reports by tourists. Now travel agencies and airlines will have to inform travellers about the new fee, who will be gutted even before their trip has started! Not good for a country that attracts tourists mostly through experiences of other visitors.

Crater lake in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Photo Source: Wikipedia
Crater lake in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Photo Source: Wikipedia

There is now little point in obtaining Ugandan single entry visa, since multiple-entry and East African Tourist Visa also cost 100 USD (unless there are other unannounced changes). Anyone visiting also Kenya and/or Rwanda should now get the East African visa, and those who did not intend to can now use the opportunity to visit these countries without extra visa cost. Uganda would have benefited from new Kenyan new visa rules, which will turn tourists to other countries, but the 100% visa fee hike will have the same effect with Uganda. It is Tanzania who are set win these tourists now.

New Malawi visa fees are set to have been effective since July 1, 2015, but again details are scarce and mixed, without reliable official communication. According to some sources the implementation has been postponed. Anyway the new fee for single-entry visa is said to be 75 USD, with some previously exempt nationals such as the British now having to pay the fee. Malawi has gained some popularity as a low-cost destination, so visitors will be sensitive to these hikes. Moreover many (most?) tourist to Malawi are on a multi-country trip, for whom visa fees already make visible portion of their travel budget, something they want to cut down. Overland travellers have so far been able to easily enter Malawi, but not so after the new fees have been implemented, thus travellers may now leave the country off their itinerary. Flying to Malawi becomes cheaper as Fastjet has just commenced flying from Dar Es Salaam to Lilongwe, which is great news for budget travellers, but new visa fees spoil the joy.

Lake Malawi. Visitors may shun Malawi after the fee hike.
Lake Malawi. Visitors may shun Malawi after the fee hike.

Governments raise visa fees to generate more money, but this is very short-sighted. Tourists’ contribution to local economy comes mostly from what they spend in the country, not what’s collected through visa fees. As high visa fees mean fewer tourists, their overall contribution will be less. This also takes into account the fact that visitors have limited travel budgets, so more money spent on visas means less is left to be spent while in the country. One popular argument justifying high visa fees for tourists is that western countries tend to charge even more from African visitors. Surely that isn’t fair. But again one has to play with economic realities. The economies of many African countries depend heavily on western tourists, and too high visa fees would effectively kill the industry. Western countries, on the other hand, are unwilling to let in visitors from developing countries, fearing these people would use the opportunity to stay, never to return home.

Tourist from most Western countries can visit much of the Americas, Europe and South Eastern Asia without paying for a visa. Fortunately there are still a number of countries in Africa letting many tourists in visa-free, namely Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Gambia, Mauritius, Seychelles, Tunisia and Morocco.

When choosing a destination, a tourist will have plenty of choice, the field is highly competitive. Having to get a visa will definitely not attract visitors. A 50 USD visa may not be huge cost to most visitors, yet it is a psychological barrier telling “you are not welcome here”. Something that matters when deciding which destination to travel.

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One thought on “More unwelcome visa news – Uganda and Malawi fee hikes

    […] a nasty move, Uganda doubled their visa fee from 50 to 100 USD last year. Recent reports say some visitors to Uganda have had trouble getting East African Visa on arrival, […]

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