PUBLISHED ON February 6th, 2015

Visa-free travel for expats in East Africa: Fantasy or reality?

Waturi Wa Matu, the Coordinator of the East African Tourism Platform, the region’s private sector body connected to the East African Community, has given the thumbs up from Juba, where the latest meeting of the Northern Corridor Integration Project took place over the past two days.

There were a number of controversial issues which had made their way on to the agenda, prompting finger pointing and cross-table accusations over delays, obstacles, and obstructions. Waturi then aptly posted on her Facebook page: “Partner States carpeting each other on failure to deliver on Heads of State directives…”

There was, however, progress, and upon repeated questions and answers going back and forth between Kampala and Juba, it emerged that the visa-free travel for duly registered expatriates holding work permits, or residents holding residency permits, will after all become effective on February 15, two months after it was supposed to come into effect. Said Waturi in her last communication before heading for the formal dinner hosted by the government of South Sudan for the delegates: “Just go with this – foreign residents visa fees to KE, RW, and UG waived for foreign residents from these partner states. They will receive interstate passes at [the] departure airport upon presentation of [a] valid permit. Kenya to implement by 15th Feb…”

It should be pointed out, however, that this arrangement only applies at present to Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya – countries which have subscribed to the common tourist visa and implemented travel arrangements for citizens of the three countries to cross the respective borders using only an ID, or in the case of Uganda, a voters’ card. South Sudan, which is not part of the joint tourist visa initiative, as well as Tanzania and Burundi, the other two members of the East African Community, first need to sign up to this before these other measures can fall into place.

Reaction from two hoteliers at the coast was swift as they expressed hope that the waiving of visa fees for duly-registered expatriates will boost travel from Uganda and Rwanda to the Kenya coast and help fill empty hotel beds. “If a family of four can save 200 US dollars in visa fees that is money they can spend directly into our economy. It will hopefully draw traffic away from the Gulf or South Africa – places this target group has favored in the past, because they needed no visa to go there. What is now needed are more flights from Kigali to Mombasa and direct flights again from Entebbe to Mombasa. Travel agents can then package offers and tariffs at the coast right now [which] are very, very low. This should be a big inducement for potential travelers to spend weekends or short vacations at our beaches.”

This correspondent, repeatedly in the past faced with visa requirements and payment when traveling to Kenya and Rwanda since the announcement was first made in December, will monitor progress and report either full implementation or else the ongoing failure to turn the Head of State directives into action.

Source: eTN Global travel industry news

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TradeMark Africa.