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A visa-free regime can only be good for Kenya

With the recent implementation of the electronic Travel Authorisation system (eTA), Abednego Mutie from leading corporate and commercial law firm, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr (CDH) Kenya, outlines the economic benefit inherent in this decision. As of 1 January 2024, foreign nationals, regardless of nationality, can enter Kenya without a visa for tourism or business travel for stays up to 90 days. Travelers must, however, obtain a new Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA).

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By Abednego Mutie, CDH Kenya

As Kenya celebrated its 60th independence anniversary, a critical decision was made that would resonate across borders. The government decided that Kenya would become a visa-free country effective from January 2024.


Thanks to the implementation of the eTA system, a new era dawns for Kenyan immigration, opening doors not only for travellers but also for economic and social advancement.


The eTA system, while not entirely aligned with conventional notions of visa-free travel, does streamline entry procedures by necessitating preapproval through an electronic platform.


What makes this modern approach so beneficial is how it underscores Kenya’s commitment to efficient governance and security while facilitating smoother travel experiences – which can benefit the country all around.


However, this transition has not come without its challenges. Some travellers are not too happy over the unexpected rise in costs that come with additional documentation requirements. This is a departure from traditional visa-exempt expectations.


By adopting the eTA system, Kenya aligns itself with progressive African nations like Seychelles, Rwanda, and Benin. In an increasingly connected world, this signals a commitment to regional integration by fostering more efficient intra-African travel.


It also aligns with global trends with countries like Australia, Canada, and New Zealand having successfully implemented similar electronic travel authorisation mechanisms to great success.


The legal framework underpinning the eTA system imposes responsibilities on airlines and establishes penalties for non-compliance. Such measures not only ensure adherence to regulations but also bolster security protocols, fortifying Kenya’s position as a safe and welcoming destination.


While the eTA system aims to streamline processes, certain travellers are exempt, including holders of specific permits, citizens of East African Community partner states, and diplomatic personnel. This targeted approach acknowledges existing agreements and diplomatic protocols, fostering goodwill and cooperation among nations.


Despite initial apprehensions, the eTA system application process proves straightforward and expeditious, reflecting Kenya’s commitment to embracing digitalisation for enhanced service delivery.


Furthermore, the revised fee structure, with the eTA system application costing USD 30, offers a more affordable alternative compared to its predecessor, fostering accessibility and inclusivity.


Crucially, data protection measures embedded within the eTA system, in accordance with the Data Protection Act, safeguard traveller information, ensuring compliance with international standards and instilling confidence in the system’s integrity.


That had to be a priority and it was encouraging to see this in its implementation. What does this mean for the Kenyan economy?


Yes, it has a great benefit on free travel, but the eTA system also holds profound implications for Kenya’s economic and social fabric.


By removing barriers to entry, Kenya becomes a more attractive destination for investment, tourism, and cultural exchange. In a globalised world, this is an inevitability we should all embrace. Zooming into the region, the streamlined process also fosters greater connectivity, improving trade and cooperation among the East African Community.


With all progress comes risk. The implementation of the eTA system was always going to present challenges.


This includes concerns over potential repercussions on bilateral agreements and operational hurdles encountered by some travellers. Addressing these issues demands ongoing dialogue and collaboration between stakeholders to refine and optimise the eTA system for maximum effectiveness.


Ultimately, we should all be celebrating as Kenya’s adoption of a visa-free regime through the eTA system signifies a bold step towards progress and inclusivity.


By embracing digital innovation and prioritising efficiency, Kenya not only enhances its global standing but also paves the way for shared prosperity and collaboration within Africa and beyond. As Kenya charts a course towards a brighter future, let this movement stand as a testament to Kenya’s commitment to growth, opportunity, and openness in a modern economy.


The writer is a Senior Associate, Tax & Exchange Control, and Immigration sectors.

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