Sunday, August 11, 2013

Welcome to Kenya: Getting your entrance visa

If you're traveling to Kenya, one of the first things you'll do when you get off the plane is get your entrance visa. 

While it is possible to apply online and get your visa ahead of time, many people find it easier to get theirs on entrance. That's what my family did when we came to Kenya in July 2013. Even if you have your visa ahead of time, you still have to wait in line. 

It's a good idea, as we did, to print out the white visa application forms from the Internet beforehand and have them filled out and ready to go. On our plane, flight attendants handed out yellow cards which also needed to be filled out for each person. Arriving at Nairobi airport's passport control with our white form and yellow cards ready to go, we found there were also blue cards to be filled out. You have to have all three of them, even though they ask almost identical questions. Go figure. 

(If you can, it would help to memorize your passport number. You'll have to write it on forms multiple times during your visit.)

A single entry visa costs U.S. $50 per person, including children. You can also pay in Euros or British pounds, but oddly, not in Kenyan Shillings. Credit cards are not accepted.

I'd read various online warnings that Kenyans won't accept U.S. bills that are torn even slightly or damaged in any way. Nor, said the warnings, will they accept bills that are "old." According to some, bills more than just five years old will be rejected.

Concerned about this, I went to my bank before we left and got four 2009 $50 bills to pay the visa fees for my family.  Even then, I was a little concerned
three of the bills were nice and crisp, but the fourth was wrinkled and well-used, and I feared this would be a problem.

As it turned out, my bills were accepted without question. But at an adjacent counter, we saw that one man's $100 bill was rejected as being too old. He was thumbing through a stack of other bills to find an acceptable one. 

Including standing in line, the whole visa process only took 10-15 minutes for us (having the white form and yellow card filled out in advance helped). But that was before the August 7, 2014, fire at Nairobi airport. I would expect the fire will result in much greater processing times for arriving passengers.

One last thing: When you leave Kenya, you have to go through Customs again (why?). That means filling out yet another form. 

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