Thursday, January 13, 2011

New year, new fees: Kenya visa charges and national park entry fee rises


Kenya single-entry visa fees have returned to the US$50 rate (see "Comments": the increase was finally  enacted on 1 July 2011). The fee was reduced to $25 (and under 16s were exempt – all passport-holders now pay the same fee) after the post-election violence early in 2008, in order to “stimulate visitor numbers”. With numbers duly stimulated, the government is now cashing in again, all of which leads to a level of hassle and disruption to every visit that has a generally negative PR effect and surely offsets the value of the fees, especially once processing costs – and inevitable leakage – have been accounted for.

You can apply in advance at your local embassy or high commission (which requires two photos and extra fees for mailing) or get the visa on arrival, whether you’re flying into Kenya or arriving overland. There’s no advantage whatsoever in applying in advance, apart from going through formalities on arrival slightly more quickly. Such is the lack of a queueing system at Nairobi and Mombasa, however, that even that advantage is often negligible.

If you’re getting your visa on arrival, to save time at the visa desk, you should print out the visa form and fill it in in advance. You won’t need photos if you’re applying on arrival, just the completed form and the exact sum in cash only – either US$50, €40 or £30 per person – for all the members of your party.

The single-entry visa actually allows you to leave Kenya for any of the other East African Community countries – Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi – and return to Kenya on the same visa (you’ll still need visas for the other countries). So for a trip that starts and finishes in Kenya (and includes only two stays in Kenya), you won’t need a multiple-entry visa. For a multiple-entry visa, which is valid for a year, you now pay US$100, €80 or £60.

It’s worth noting that South Africans and New Zealanders staying less than thirty days in Kenya don’t require visas. Most other nationalities do. Commonwealth passport-holders are generally exempt, except for Antigua & Barbuda, Australia, Canada, Guyana, India, Malaysia (more than 30 days), New Zealand (more than 30 days) Nigeria, South Africa (more than 30 days), Sri Lanka, St Christopher & Nevis, and the UK. The thirty-day exemption isn’t that widely understood at immigration desks, so you may have to argue the case.

Meanwhile, the Kenya Wildlife Service, who run the National Parks (not the national reserves), have announced new fees for 2011, including seasons for the busiest of the parks, Amboseli, Lake Nakuru, Tsavo East, Tsavo West and Meru.

It's worth emphasising that the fees schedule doesn't include Kenya's national reserves which come under the authority of local county councils rather than the Kenya Wildlife Service. That includes the Maasai Mara National Reserve and the combined Samburu-Bufffalo Springs-Shaba National Reserves.

Currently, the Maasai Mara fees for tourists quoted on the Narok County Council website are $60 for adults and $30 for children. However, the site is often down. Samburu-Bufffalo Springs-Shaba fees as quoted on Samburu County Council's site are here

Narok have recently announced changes to the entry fees to Maasai Mara National Reserve in the Kenyan press. Their fee of $70 per 24 hours puts them roughly in line with the KWS fees for Amboseli and Lake Nakuru ($75 in high season). However the inclusion of an $80 fee for being “outside” the reserve, is ambiguous, as the community ranches and private conservancies all have their own access fees. It’s hard to see what Narok County Council have to do with it.

Samburu County Council are likely to put their charges up soon. At least that payment covers 24-hour entry to all three reserves in the area – Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba.

And how long is a safari?

If you’re booking a safari, it’s essential to check your operator has included the fees in the price. And you should also check how many days they've included, as all fees are based on a 24-hour period. It’s not uncommon at the very competitive budget end of the market, and especially where the lodge or camp being used is outside the fee-paying area, for a safari to arrive in the park/reserve area towards the end of day 1, but not enter the fee area until the beginning of day 2 and then leave again shortly after the expiration of the 24-hour ticket on day 3 (ticket rangers at the park and reserve gates usually allow an hour’s extension). This means that a “three-day safari” might start with a pre-breakfast game drive on day 2, entering the park at, say 6.30am, and finish with an early breakfast and game drive out of the park on day 3, exiting at 7.30 or 8am.

And that’s how budget operators make a one-day entry fee stretch to a three day safari.