In December 2023, Kenya made history by announcing that it would be the first African country to be visa-free for all travelers. “It shall no longer be necessary for any person from any corner of the globe to carry the burden of applying for a visa to come to Kenya,” Kenyan President William Ruto announced at an event on December 12, Kenya’s independence day.
Visa-free does not, however, mean document-free. In place of a single-entry visa, which previously cost U.S. visitors $50, international travelers must apply for an electronic travel authorization (ETA). Here’s what to know.
How to apply for an ETA to enter Kenya
As of January 2024, international visitors must apply for an ETA prior to departing for Kenya. The ETA is a semi-automated online system that determines whether visitors are eligible to enter Kenya. It costs $34 per visitor, including infants and children.
It is recommended that travelers apply for the ETA at least three days (and up to three months) prior to departure. The authorization is valid for a single entry and is specific to the flights and dates given in the application. It allows for a stay of up to 90 days.
Kenya’s official ETA website details the requirements for all visitors:
- Valid passport for at least six (6) months after your planned date of arrival into Kenya, with at least one blank page
- Selfie or passport photo that you upload on the website
- Contact information, including email address and phone number
- Details of your arrival and departure itinerary
- Accommodation booking confirmation(s)
- Credit card, debit card, or other means of payment
In addition, travelers coming for personal visits must submit the passport number (or number from another identity card) of their hosts. Those coming for business purposes must show an invitation letter from the company they are visiting.
Visitors must apply on the official ETA website. After submitting your application, you will receive an email confirming receipt of the application as well as the payment made. Within three working days, you will receive another email stating whether the immigration department has approved or rejected your application.
Assuming it is approved, print (or screenshot) the PDF attached in the email. It will need to be shown at all arrival and departure points in Kenya.
Why Kenya implemented the new ETA system
‘’The announcement that Kenya will ease visa requirements for travelers and the introduction of an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) presents a good opportunity to improve visitor numbers into Kenya,” Kenya Tourism Board’s Chief Executive Officer John Chirchir told AFAR in an email. “We tell our visitors Karibu Nyumbani, or ‘welcome home.’”
The primary benefit of the ETA for the Kenyan government is to digitize what was a burdensome paper process and, in so doing, collect data on visitors to the country.
In a statement, the principal secretary of Kenya’s Immigration and Citizen Services, Julius Bitok, compared the new ETA requirement in Kenya to similar systems that are already in place or forthcoming in European and North American countries.
There has, however, been substantial backlash to the change. Many people, including experts in Kenya’s hospitality industry, say the ETA is essentially a visa in another name. The initial rollout faced some logistical challenges, including website crashes and confusion among travelers.
Kenya’s director general of the Directorate of Immigration Services, Evelyn Cheluget, said in a statement at the beginning of January that the government hopes to enhance the efficiency of the ETA system in coming weeks. “We have been listening to feedback from our clients, and we’ve gone ahead to reduce the number of questions in the form that were causing stress,” she said.
“Easing travel requirements puts Kenya on a more level playing field with other countries,” added Chirchir. “The easing of requirements can send a positive message about Kenya’s openness and friendliness to international visitors and investors.”
Why visit Kenya in 2024
President Ruto said in his December address that, with a more streamlined entry process, he hopes more tourists will be interested in visiting the East African country.
Kenya is a dream travel destination for its abundant wildlife, spectacular beaches, outdoor adventure, culture, and cuisine. The country boasts 22 national parks, as well as 28 national reserves, 5 national sanctuaries, and dozens of community-run conservancies.
The new, arguably more relaxed entry system comes at a time when Kenya is seeing an uptick in new and newly overhauled hotels and lodges. Wildlife enthusiasts may be interested in checking into the new Angama Amboseli, by the team that created the luxurious Angama Mara. The lodge, situated in the community-run Kimana Sanctuary, features 10 sleek yet earthy tents that offer a perfect base from which to spend time with the park’s “super tusker” elephants and enjoy uninterrupted views of Mount Kilimanjaro. In the Masai Mara, the JW Marriott opened its first safari lodge last year, with 20 spacious tents, wellness offerings, and Canon EOS cameras available to use on game drives (yes, they take Bonvoy points).
The newly refurbished Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club is located, as the name suggests, at the foothills of the country’s highest mountain. Guests who stay in one of the 100 rooms and suites may spend their days hiking, horseback riding in the nearby forests, or visiting a nearby animal orphanage.
Visitors to the Kenyan coast may check out Lamu Island, which AFAR chose as one of our top destinations to visit in 2024, owing to its unique Swahili-style architecture and old-world charm. The Jannah, created by artist Anna Trzebinski, offers three full-service suites and hardwood dhow boats to take out for a sunset sail.