Challenges remain for the common East African tourist Visa


(Posted 18th November 2014)

The common tourist Visa, much applauded when launched a year ago at the World Travel Market 2013, and then delayed by several weeks when the logistics were not in place on January 01st 2014, has according to information received sold less than 1.000 times since the system became operational, a figure which if correct, and the source is not known to dish out fictional figures, would be disappointing.

Two Ugandan safari operators confirmed also that the Visa is only recommended by them to such clients actually travelling to all three countries, as the cost, when visiting only two countries, is the same and less bureaucratic. ‘Right now very few tourists actually have a three country itinerary. Two countries is more common, yes, but not all three. Those who visit three are still the exception. Therefore, the common Visa does not make sense for them and we only recommend it when it gives them a financial advantage. They pay once, but when crossing the borders they still have to queue at immigration and then show the page of the passport where the sticker has been put or they might risk being charged single Visa fees. What we need to do across East Africa, at least across the three countries which cooperate over the new Visa, is to push for longer safaris and then cover the key attractions in each of them. How this will work we have to see. Right now the economy is not doing too well in Europe and therefore it is a challenge to sell longer and more expensive safaris. We also have the Ebola effect to deal with. But that does not mean we will not devise some ‘BEST OF EAST AFRICA’ itinerary and try to sell it’.

The more recent introduction of Visa fees for a number of nationalities in Rwanda will no doubt now have more tour and safari operators look afresh at the common Visa which costs 100 US Dollars per person and is valid for 90 days and allows multiple entries across the borders of the three countries. Single Visa in Kenya and Uganda for most nationalities cost US Dollars 50 each while Rwanda presently charges 30 US Dollars, giving an advantage of now 30 US Dollars if a tourist intent to visit all three countries purchases the single common tourist Visa.

Waturi Matu, Coordinator at the East African Tourism Platform, the regional tourism private sector apex body, in addition suggested that added signage at airports might be helpful when she wrote: ‘Signage/Adverts at Jomo Kenyatta, Moi, Kigali & Entebbe International Airports should be put up to promote #SingleTouristVisa & #UseOfID’s. Awareness levels still remain low and this may just be a game changer. Immigration staff must also ensure that coupons are available. Last week only 3 out of 10 KE delegates to ATA Congress travelled by ID, reason being, KE immigration had run out of coupons’ also making reference to the now permitted use of national ID cards for citizens of the three countries when crossing the borders. For Uganda special arrangements were in fact made as no national ID is yet widely available, also allowing for the use of either student’s ID’s or National Voter’s Cards. Exit immigration is supposed to issue the traveler using the ID with a ‘coupon’ which is then handed in at the entry immigration counter in the destination country, but as pointed out these coupons have in the past run out of print or out of stock complicating such travel arrangements.

Ms. Matu then went on to say with reference to the uptake of this Visa format and the challenges this poses: ‘The uptake of the Single Tourist Visa will be driven by the tourism private sector. That will only happen if they are packaging all three countries as one. [For instance] The SADC Region tourism private sector have perfected the art of multinational packaging. This has greatly contributed to the increased arrivals to the SADC Region. The average stay in the region is estimated at 14 days.

It is clear that there is a greater need to provide up to date statistics from the three countries about the uptake to allow the private and public sector to discuss ways and means to further support and push for the use of this Visa type from an informed standpoint and not having to speculate how many such Visas have actually been sold in each of the three countries.

There is some indication that Burundi may come on board sometime in 2015 as detailed enquiries have been made in this regard as to distribution of revenue mechanisms and if that were to be the case would the value of the Visa immediately rise significantly as four countries are better than three, though the best value will still be for all the five East African Community member states to come together and cooperate, not a very likely scenario though considering the range of objections Tanzania has put forward, including statements that accepting such a Visa would pose a security risk for them.

Much work still needed but at least have the three ‘Coalition of the Willing’ members Uganda. Rwanda and Kenya shown seriousness in taking cooperation in tourism forward, with joined exhibition stands at major tourism trade fairs and with the single tourist Visa, current challenges notwithstanding.

For more information on the region’s tourism attractions, and why one should indeed visit more than one country when coming to East Africa, click on,,, and

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