Kenya Travel Information
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Kenya is a developing East African country known for its wildlife and national parks. The capital city is Nairobi. The second largest city is Mombasa, located on the southeast coast. Tourist facilities are widely available in Nairobi, the game parks, the reserves, and on the coast. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Kenya for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. Visas should be obtained in advance, although airport visas are available. Travelers who opt to obtain an airport visa should expect delays upon arrival. There is a fee for the visa, whether obtained in advance or at the airport. Evidence of yellow fever immunization may be requested. Travelers to Kenya and neighboring African countries should ensure that the validity of their passports is at least six months beyond the end of their intended stay, and that their passport contains sufficient blank pages for visas and immigration stamps.
Travelers may obtain the latest information on visas as well as any additional details regarding entry requirements from the Embassy of Kenya, 2249 R Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 387-6101, or the Kenyan Consulates General in Los Angeles and New York City. Persons outside the United States should contact the nearest Kenyan embassy or consulate. Visit the Embassy of Kenya web site at http://www.kenyaembassy.com for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: On August 7, 1998, al-Qaida bombed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, killing 225 people and injuring over 5,000 around the Embassy. The U.S. Embassy subsequently relocated outside of the city-center. On November 28, 2002, al- Qaida launched a bomb attack on a hotel in Kikambala, Kenya, (near Mombasa) in which 15 people were killed. A near simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli charter plane departing Mombasa was unsuccessful. These incidents have highlighted the continuing threat posed by terrorism in East Africa and the capacity of terrorist groups to carry out attacks. U.S. citizens should be aware of the risk of indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets in public places, including tourist sites and other sites where Westerners are known to congregate.
Presidential and parliamentary elections were held on December 27, 2007. In the wake of the announcement by the Electoral Commission of Kenya on December 30 declaring the incumbent candidate Mwai Kibaki as the presidential winner, violence erupted in strongholds of the opposition party. The violence, which appeared to be ethnically and politically based, was concentrated in Nyanza, Rift Valley, and Western provinces, as well as Nairobi and parts of Coast province. At least 1,000 people have died as a result of the post-electoral civil unrest and more than 300,000 have been internally displaced. Additionally, disruptions in public transportation services have occurred as a result of political violence, strikes, or work stoppages. There continues to be the potential for spontaneous violence due to simmering political grievances caused by the disputed election.
Political demonstrations can occur sporadically throughout Kenya. Travelers should maintain security awareness at all times and avoid public gatherings and street demonstrations. Violence, including gunfire exchange, has occurred at demonstrations in the past. Demonstrations tend to occur near government buildings, university campuses, or gathering places such as public parks. Police are generally unable to properly manage large demonstrations and they often resort to excessive force to break up large crowds. Most major tourist attractions, particularly outside Nairobi, are not generally affected by protests. However, tribal conflict in rural areas has been known to erupt into violence.
Cross-border violence occurs periodically. The area near Kenya's border with Somalia has been the site of a number of incidents of violent criminal activity, including kidnappings. In September 2007, the U.S. Embassy issued a warning that Islamic extremists in Southern Somalia may be planning kidnapping operations inside of Kenya, targeting Westerners, especially Americans, in the Kiwayu Island tourist area and other beach sites on the northeast coast near Somalia. U.S. citizens who decide to visit the area should be aware that they could encounter criminal activity.
Reports of violence continue in the North Eastern Province near the Somali border and the Northern Rift Valley over disputes involving land, cattle, and water. A number of deaths were reported in the violent clashes. Northern Kenya border areas continue to be plagued by cross-border inter-clan and intra-clan clashes. While foreigners are generally not targets of this type of violence, insecurity in these areas during such times usually increases, placing constraints on travel and threatening safety and security of travelers in the immediate area.
Some sparsely populated rural areas of Kenya, principally in the North, experience recurrent, localized incidents of violent cattle rustling, counter-raids, ethnic conflict, tribal or clan rivalry, and armed banditry. During the past several years, incidents have occurred in the Keiro Valley, Northern Rift Valley sections of Laikipia and Nakuru Districts, and other areas north of Mount Kenya. A number of incidents have also occurred near the game parks or lodges north of Mwingi, Meru, and Isiolo, which are frequented by tourists. The precise areas tend to shift over time. Recent cattle rustling incidents have involved firefights between hundreds of members of rival tribal groups and the theft of thousands of head of cattle at a time. For these reasons, U.S. citizens who plan to visit Kenya are urged to take basic security precautions to maximize their safety. Travel to northern Kenya should be undertaken with at least two vehicles to ensure a backup in the case of a breakdown or other emergency.
Villagers in rural areas are sometimes suspicious of strangers. There have been several incidents of violence against Kenyan and foreign adults in rural areas who are suspected of stealing children. U.S. visitors to rural areas should be aware that close contact with children, including taking their pictures or giving them candy, can be viewed with deep alarm and may provoke panic and violence. Adoptive parents traveling with their adopted child should exercise particular caution and are urged to carry complete copies of their adoption paperwork with them at all times.
Travelers should keep informed of local developments by following local press, radio, and television reports prior to their visits. Visitors should also consult their hosts, including U.S. and Kenyan business contacts, hotels, tour guides, and travel organizers.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs' web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: There is a high rate of crime in all regions of Kenya, particularly Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and at coastal beach resorts. There are regular reports of attacks against tourists by groups of armed assailants. Pickpockets and thieves carry out "snatch and run" crimes on city streets and near crowds. Visitors have found it safer not to carry valuables, but rather to store them in hotel safety deposit boxes or safe rooms. However, there have been reports of safes being stolen from hotel rooms and hotel desk staff being forced to open safes. Walking alone or at night, especially in downtown areas, public parks, along footpaths, on beaches, and in poorly lit areas, is dangerous and discouraged.
Violent criminal attacks, including armed carjacking and home invasions/burglary, can occur at any time and in any location, and are becoming increasingly frequent, brazen, vicious, and often fatal. In early 2007, two American citizens were killed and one critically injured in two separate carjacking incidents. Nairobi averages about ten vehicle hijackings per day and Kenyan authorities have limited capacity to deter and investigate such acts. Matatus (public transportation) tend to be targeted since they carry up to 14 passengers. Although these attacks are often violent, victims are generally not injured if they do not resist. There is also a high incidence of residential break-ins and occupants should take additional security measures to protect their property. Thieves and con artists have been known to impersonate police officers, thus Americans are strongly encouraged to ask for identification if approached by individuals identifying themselves as police officials, uniformed or not.
Thieves routinely snatch jewelry and other objects from open vehicle windows while motorists are either stopped at traffic lights or in heavy traffic. Vehicle windows should be up and doors locked regardless of the time of day or weather. Thieves on matatus, buses and trains may steal valuables from inattentive passengers. Americans should guard their backpacks or hand luggage and ensure these items are not left unattended. Purchasing items from street vendors is strongly discouraged – visitors should only use reputable stores or businesses. Many scams, perpetrated against unsuspecting tourists, are prevalent in and around the city of Nairobi. Many of these involve people impersonating police officers and using fake police ID badges and other credentials. Nevertheless, police checkpoints are common in Kenya and all vehicles are required to stop if directed to do so.
Highway banditry is common in much of North Eastern Province, Eastern Province, the northern part of Coast Province, and the northern part of the Rift Valley Province. These areas are remote and sparsely populated. Incidents also occur occasionally on Kenya's main highways, particularly after dark. Due to increased bandit activity, air travel is the recommended means of transportation when visiting any of the coastal resorts north of Malindi. Travelers to North Eastern Kenya and the North Rift Valley Region should travel with the police escorts or convoys organized by the government of Kenya.
There has been an increase in armed banditry in or near many of Kenya's national parks and game reserves, particularly the Samburu, Leshaba, and Masai Mara game reserves. In response, the Kenya Wildlife Service and police have taken some steps to strengthen security in the affected areas, but the problem has not been eliminated. Travelers who do not use the services of reputable travel firms or knowledgeable guides or drivers are especially at risk. Safaris are best undertaken with a minimum of two vehicles so that there is a backup in case of mechanical failure or other emergency. Solo camping is always risky.
The Kenyan mail system can be unreliable and monetary instruments (credit cards, checks, etc.) are frequently stolen. International couriers provide the safest means of shipping envelopes and packages, although anything of value should be insured.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Adequate medical services are available in Nairobi. Frequent outbreaks of cholera and malaria are endemic in Kenya outside Nairobi. In addition, diseases such as Ebola, Rift Valley Fever, and anthrax from handling sheep skins are concerns, have potential and do occur periodically. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what antimalarials they have been taking. For additional information on malaria, protection from insect bites, and antimalarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. One of the greatest threats to travelers in Kenya is road safety. The information below concerning Kenya is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
In Kenya, one drives on the left side of the road, which can be very disorienting to those not accustomed to it. Excessive speed, unpredictable local driving habits and manners, poor vehicle maintenance, bumpy, potholed and unpaved roads, and the lack of basic safety equipment on many vehicles are daily hazards on Kenyan roads. When there is a heavy traffic jam either due to rush hour or because of an accident, drivers will drive across the median strip and drive directly toward oncoming traffic. There are often fatal accidents involving long-distance, inter-city buses, or local buses called "matatus." Matatus are known to be the greatest danger to other vehicles or pedestrians on the road. They are typically driven too fast and erratically. Several American citizens have been killed or seriously injured in motor vehicle-related accidents. Also, vehicle travel outside major cities at night should be avoided due to the poor road and street light conditions, and the threat of banditry.
During the rainy season, some unpaved roads are impassable even with four-wheel drive vehicles with high clearance. But, with good driving skills, and common sense you'll get through. Travelers are urged to consult with the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and local officials regarding road conditions.
For specific information concerning Kenyan driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the commercial attaché at the Kenyan Embassy in Washington, D.C. via telephone at (202) 387-6101 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visitors contemplating adventure tours should contact the Kenya Tourist Board Offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota via the internet at http://www.magicalkenya.com, via telephone at 1-866-44-KENYA, or via email at email@example.com.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. For specific information concerning Kenyan driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Kenyan National Tourist Organization offices in New York at telephone 212-486-1300 or in California at telephone 310-274-6635.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Kenya, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Kenya's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Kenya customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Kenya of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, currency restrictions, ivory, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Kenya in Washington, D.C. or one of Kenya's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. A current list of those countries with serious problems in this regard can be found at the United States Trade Representative's web site.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available if questioned by local officials.
Kenya is a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR), and is required by the VCCR to ask any detained American citizen if he/she would like the U.S. Embassy to be notified and to notify the U.S. Embassy if the detained American citizen requests it. Kenya does not routinely comply with its VCCR obligation. Any American citizen who is detained should request U.S. Embassy notification if he/she would like consular assistance.
Up to 100,000 Kenyan shillings may be taken out of the country. Destruction of Kenyan currency, even in small amounts, is illegal, and almost always results in arrest and a fine. Visitors to Kenya carrying U.S. Dollars should ensure that the bills are relatively new, as banks in Kenya have been known not to accept older U.S. currency.
Use of firearms is strictly forbidden in wildlife reserves and national parks. Permission to carry firearms must be obtained from local authorities prior to entry.
Local tap water is not potable. Sealed bottled water is safe to drink and can be purchased in hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores. Kenya Telephone and Telegraph has discontinued its "collect call" facility. 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Kenya. Use of international long-distance calling cards is very limited in Kenya. International long-distance costs from Kenya are significantly higher than corresponding long-distance rates in the United States. Several local companies offer computer Internet access, including on an hourly rate basis. Many hotels have fax machines but often limit access to guests; some fax services are also available at office supply shops. Travelers are urged to consider their method of maintaining contact with family and friends when making their travel preparations.
Kenya does not officially recognize dual nationality. In addition to being subject to all Kenyan laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Kenyan citizens. For additional information, see the Bureau of Consular Affairs' Dual nationality flyer.
Travel via passenger train in Kenya is considered unsafe, particularly during rainy seasons, because of the lack of routine maintenance and safety checks. Over the past several years there have been accidents, including a passenger train derailment between Nairobi and Mombasa, which resulted in the deaths of 32 people, including one foreign tourist. Several trains derailed in 2000. The Kenya Railway service has been reduced from seven days to three days per week. The service from Nairobi to Malaba is now only a cargo service and is no longer a passenger service. Please see our information on Customs Regulations.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Kenyan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Kenya are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. There are frequent cases of "mob justice" in Kenya in which suspected criminals are lynched by private citizens before the police arrive to intervene. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
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