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Free-visa regime? Why Kenyans will still need to apply for visas to go abroad

Amidst Kenya’s visa reform, challenges loom for Kenyan citizens in international transit as the Spanish Embassy of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation announces, starting from January 20, 2024.

Kenyan citizens holding ordinary passports will be required to have an airport transit visa to be able to go through the international transit areas of Spanish airports.

This requirement mandates that individuals travelling to other countries and transiting through Spain must possess either a Schengen Visa or a Transit Visa issued specifically by Spain.

Comparable regulations exist in various countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, which similarly mandate transit visas for travellers passing through their airports or seaports.

However, within Kenya itself, the government has introduced substantial alterations to the Citizen and Immigration Regulations of 2023 in an endeavour to facilitate a visa-free directive.

Also read: Visa changes: How to apply for Kenya’s Electronic Travel Authorization

Interior and National Administration Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki, issued a special Gazette notice dated January 2, 2024, signaling a significant shift by replacing the term ‘Visa’ with ‘Electronic Travel Authorization’ (ETA).

This amendment establishes an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system designed to streamline the pre-screening process for all individuals intending to enter the country.

As per the Gazette notice, individuals are now obligated to apply for an ETA via the electronic portal available at Furthermore, they must possess this authorization before commencing their journey.

The application process, delineated in Form 22 of the First Schedule, necessitates providing biographical information, travel itinerary, and any additional details as requested by the Director.

The Gazette notice strictly emphasises that carriers arriving in Kenya are prohibited from permitting passengers without a valid ETA to board.

Violation of this regulation carries an administrative penalty of Ten Thousand United States Dollars for carriers or commanding agents.

Nevertheless, holding an ETA does not automatically ensure entry, as the government retains the right to deny entry for breaches of regulations.

Airlines are mandated to furnish passenger information to immigration officers for meticulous fact-checking, with severe penalties amounting to Sh1.57 million for providing false information.

Also read: Details of new system that will replace visas to Kenya

The immigration department has implemented robust cross-checking mechanisms against watchlists to identify and apprehend criminals or suspects attempting entry into the country.

This stringent system aims to bolster national security while enabling more efficient entry procedures for genuine travelers.

President William Ruto had previously declared during the preceding year’s Jamhuri Day Celebration that Kenya would adopt a free-visa regime for all international visitors, effective January 1, 2024.

However, the recent Spanish transit visa requirement stands as a distinct challenge for Kenyan citizens navigating global travel routes.