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. English and Kiswahili are Kenya’s two official languages.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens living or traveling in Kenya are encouraged to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security information. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.
U.S. Embassy Nairobi
United Nations Avenue
Gagarin, Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: (254) (20) 363-6451
Emergency after-hours telephone: (254) (20) 363-6000
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ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: A passport and visa are required for entry into Kenya. Visas may be obtained in advance, although airport visas are available for U.S. citizens. Travelers who opt to obtain an airport visa should expect delays upon arrival.
Effective July 1, 2011, the fee is $50 for single-entry visas and $100 for multiple entry visas for each applicant, regardless of age and whether obtained in advance or at the airport. Evidence of yellow fever immunization may be requested, and some travelers have been turned around at immigration for not having sufficient proof of immunization. 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. Kenyan immigration authorities require a minimum oftwo blank (unstamped) visa pages in the passport to enter the country; some travelers have experienced difficulties when they arrive without the requisite blank pages. Travelers should make sure there are sufficient pages for visas and immigration stamps to enter into Kenya and other countries to be visited en route to Kenya or elsewhere in the region.
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.
HIV/AIDS Restrictions: The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Kenya.
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 page.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: All travelers to Kenya should review the Department of State’s Travel Warning for Kenya that provides detailed information about security issues affecting the country. Though thousands of U.S. citizens visit Kenya safely each year, the U.S. government continues to receive information regarding potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests in Kenya. Terrorist acts could include suicide operations, bomb and grenade attacks, kidnappings, attacks on civil aviation, and attacks on maritime vessels in or near Kenyan ports. Although there have been recent gains in the pursuit of those responsible for previous terrorist activities, many of those involved remain at large and continue to operate in the region. Travelers should consult the Worldwide Caution on the Travel.State.Gov website for further information and details.
Kenya initiated military action against al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabaabby crossing into Somalia on October 16, 2011, and, on June 2, 2012, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) whereby it formally joined the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Kenyan troops within AMISOM are now actively pursuing al-Shabaab in southeastern Somalia. In response to the Kenyan intervention, al-Shabaab and its sympathizers have conducted retaliatory attacks against civilian and government targets in Kenya.
In the past year, there have been numerous attacks involving grenades or explosive devices in Kenya. At least 76 people died in these attacks, and around 220 people were injured. No U.S. citizens were among the casualties. Approximately twenty-five of these attacks occurred in North Eastern Province, mainly in Dadaab, Wajir, Mandera, and Garissa. Four attacks occurred in Mombasa. Twelve grenade and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks have occurred in Nairobi, illustrating an increase in the number of attacks and an advance in the sophistication of attacks. Targets included police stations and police vehicles, nightclubs and bars, churches, a mosque, a religious gathering, a downtown building of small shops, and a bus station. One of the deadliest attacks occurred in Nairobi on November 18, 2012, when an IED detonated on a passenger bus in Eastleigh, killing ten. Seventeen people were killed and about 50 people were injured in a deadly attack on July 1, 2012, with two simultaneous assaults on churches in Garissa. Additionally, Kenyan law enforcement has disrupted several terrorist plots, which resulted in the discoveries of weapons caches and other dangerous materials, and the arrests of several individuals. Multiple kidnappings of Westerners have occurred in Kenya.
In September 2011, a British woman was kidnapped and her husband murdered at a coastal resort near the Kenya-Somali border. The British hostage was released in March 2012 after payment of ransom. In October 2011, a French national was kidnapped from a private residence on the popular tourist destination of Lamu Island on Kenya's north coast. She died while in captivity in Somalia. Also in October 2011, two Spanish nationals working for a NGO were kidnapped in Dadaab refugee camp, in northeastern Kenya. They are still being held. On June 29, 2012, four international aid workers (from Canada, Pakistan, Norway, and the Philippines) were kidnapped in Dadaab. All were rescued on July 1, 2012.
Following a series of security incidents attributed to violent extremists, including al-Shabaab, the Government of Kenya announced on December 13, 2012 that all urban refugees (primarily Somalis) should relocate to refugee camps. This directive is being challenged in court and is not currently being enforced; however, U.S. citizens of Somali descent should be aware that they may encounter interruptions in their travel due to increased police scrutiny based on the directive. It is very important to carry proof of identity and legal status in Kenya (e.g., valid visa). If you are detained by police or immigration officials, you should request to speak to someone from the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.
As a result of these recent events and threats, U.S. government employees, contractors, grantees, and their dependents are prohibited from traveling to the cities of El Wak, Wajir, Garissa, Mandera, and Liboi. U.S. government personnel are restricted from traveling to the coastal area north of Pate Island, including Kiwayu and north to Kiunga on the Kenya/Somalia border.
Although these restrictions do not apply to travelers not associated with the U.S. government, U.S. citizens already in Kenya should take these restrictions into account when planning trips. The Embassy regularly reviews the security of these areas for possible modification.
Clashes occasionally occur in and around Isiolo and Moyale and in 2012 there were numerous instances of sporadic violence and protests elsewhere in the country. Rioting occurred in Mombasa shortly after a local Muslim cleric with alleged ties to al-Shabaab was killed in a drive-by shooting, resulting in the deaths of three policemen and four church burnings. Demonstrations in Kisumu following the murder of two prominent Kenyan citizens in October 2012 turned violent, leaving at least four protestors dead. More than 160 people were killed in clashes in late 2012 between two communities in Tana River County. While this violence is not directed at foreigners, protests and ethnic clashes are unpredictable. U.S. citizens are advised to check conditions and monitor local media reports before traveling to these areas.
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.
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CRIME: Violent and sometimes fatal criminal attacks, including armed carjackings, grenade attacks, home invasions and burglaries, and kidnappings can occur at any time and in any location. U.S. citizens, including U.S. Embassy employees, have been victims of such crimes within the past year. Crime is high 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.
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 U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to ask for identification if approached by individuals identifying themselves as police officials, uniformed or not. U.S. citizens have fallen victim to such crimes within the past year. U.S. citizens in Kenya should be extremely vigilant with regard to their personal security, particularly in public places frequented by foreigners such as clubs, hotels, resorts, upscale shopping centers, restaurants, and places of worship. U.S. citizens should also remain alert in residential areas, at schools, and at outdoor recreational events.
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. U.S. citizens 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 Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Marsabit, and northern Tana River counties, as well as Turkana county. 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 police escorts or convoys organized by the government of Kenya.
There have been reports of 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 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. Camping alone 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.
Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. We can:
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Kenya, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places, you may be taken in for questioning if you do not have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. Driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. There are also some activities that might be legal in Kenya, but illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law. For example, engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Kenya, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is not where you are going.
Persons violating Kenya's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking illegal drugs in Kenya are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Kenya has recently enacted strict legislation regulating the sale and consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. Please see the Special Circumstances section below.
Arrest notifications in host country:
Kenya is a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR), and is required by the VCCR to ask any detained U.S. citizen if he/she would like the U.S. Embassy to be notified and to contact the U.S. Embassy if the detained U.S. citizen requests it. Kenya does not routinely comply with its VCCR obligation. Any U.S. citizen who is detained should request U.S. Embassy notification if he/she would like consular assistance. 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.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Kenyan 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, ivory, etc. In 2009 and 2010, a number of U.S. citizens were detained or arrested for attempting to bring contraband into Kenya. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Kenya or one of Kenya’s consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Visitors should be aware of Kenya’s Alcoholic Drinks Control Act of 2010, which regulates when and where alcoholic drinks may be consumed in public. The regulations are strict and difficult to follow. For example, certain restaurants are authorized to sell alcoholic drinks on any day of the week to persons having meals in the restaurant, for consumption with such meals, from Monday to Friday during the hours of 5.00 p.m. to 11.00 p.m., and during weekends and public holidays during the hours of 2.00 p.m. to 11.00 p.m. Nightclubs have different licenses, most of which allow alcohol to be consumed until 3:00 a.m., while hotels do not have any restrictions on alcohol consumption. More information on this law may be found on Kenya's substance abuse website, NACADA. The police sporadically enforce these laws and have arrested some tourists if found in violation. The Tobacco Control Act 2007 regulates public smoking and the marketing and sale of tobacco products in Kenya. In public places, smoking is allowed only in designated smoking areas. If an individual is discovered smoking outside these designated areas, a substantial fine may be imposed.
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.
Wild animals may pose danger to travelers in some regions of Kenya. Serious injuries and deaths have occurred in Kenya's national reserves, forests, andwilderness areas. Travelers are advised that, even in the most serene settings, animals are wild and can present a threat to life and safety. In addition, potentially dangerous areas may lack fences and warning signs. Travelers are cautioned to observe all local or park regulations and exercise appropriate caution in unfamiliar surroundings. Travelers are advised to thoroughly check the qualifications and safety record of all tourist lodges and guides before engaging their services and venturing into the wild in their care. The governing body of Kenya’s national parks, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), announced in March 2010 that all tour operators andsafari lodges must purchase a nationally-mandated insurance policy. Visitors should inquire whether prospective safari camps or tour operators are in compliance with this requirement.
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 and 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Kenyan landlines, though they can be called through a mobile phone by using the prefix . Use of international long-distance calling cards is very limited in Kenya. International long-distance costs from Kenya on a landline are significantly higher than corresponding long-distance rates in the United States, but calling to the United States on a mobile phone is very inexpensive. 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.
While the new constitution recognizes dual nationality, this portion of the law is not yet officially enacted. In addition to being subject to all Kenyan laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may also be subject to laws that impose special obligations on Kenyan citizens. For additional information, see the Bureau of Consular Affairs Dual Nationality flyer.
Accessibility: Individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation in Kenya very different from what you find in the United States. Although Kenyan law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, the government has not effectively enforced these provisions and implementation has been slow. Very few government or private buildings, medical facilities, restaurants or other public or private facilities have adequate access for the disabled. Travelers to Kenya will find very little accessibility to public transportation or taxis. There is no functioning bus system in Nairobi, but rather an extensive use of vans (“matatus”) that travel along designated routes, or taxis. Neither of these options can easily accommodate wheelchairs and most often are hailed from the side of busy roads. Footpaths along the side of roads are generally unpaved, bumpy, dirt paths with unmarked road crossings.
LGBT Issues: Kenya is a relatively conservative society. Overt public displays of affection between persons of the opposite gender will likely garner serious disapproval, particularly in rural areas. Public displays of affection between persons of the same gender also risk serious disapproval, and possibly violence. LGBT advocacy organizations, such as the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, have been permitted to register and conduct activities. However, societal discrimination based on sexual orientation is widespread. Violence against the LGBT community has also occurred, particularly in rural areas and among refugees. NGO groups report that police have intervened to stop attacks, but generally have not been sympathetic to LGBT individuals or concerns. LGBT travelers should review the LGBT Travel Information page. Although authorities have rarely prosecuted persons for engaging in same gender sexual activity, it is a criminal act in Kenya. The Kenyan penal code criminalizes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” which is interpreted to prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity and specifies a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. A separate statute specifically criminalizes sex between men and specifies a maximum penalty of 21 years’ imprisonment. Police have detained persons under these laws, particularly suspected sex workers, but released them shortly afterward. Travelers should be aware of cultural norms as well as the risk of possible arrest and imprisonment for such activities.
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 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 anti-malarial drugs they have been taking. For additional information on malaria, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web site.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Kenya. For further information, please consult the CDC's Information on TB.
On May 17, the CDC issued a Travel Notice regarding an outbreak of dengue in Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city and a major tourist destination. Dengue is spread by mosquitoes, and travelers to Kenya’s coastal areas should plan to protect themselves from mosquito bites through covering exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats, and using insect repellent as directed on the packaging. For more information on dengue, please visit the CDC web page on dengue.
The CDC issued a Travel Notice on June 3, regarding the recent diagnosis of polio in Kenya. All travelers to Kenya and surrounding countries should be fully vaccinated against polio. In addition, adults previously vaccinated as children should receive a one-time booster dose of polio vaccine. For more information on polio, please visit these web pages:
You can find good information on vaccinations and other health precautions, on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You cannot assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It is very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy does not go with you when you travel, it is a very good idea to take out another one for your trip.For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Kenya, you 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, traffic circulates 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. Many U.S. citizens have been killed or seriously injured in motor vehicle-related accidents. Inter-city night-time road travel should be avoided due to the poor road and street light conditions, and the threat of banditry throughout the country.
During the rainy season, some unpaved roads are impassable even with four-wheel drive vehicles with high clearance. Travelers are urged to consult with local officials regarding road conditions.
Travel via passenger train in Kenya is considered unsafe, particularly during rainy seasons, because of the lack of routine maintenance and safety checks. The Kenya Railway service operates only two days a week. The service from Nairobi to Malaba is now only a cargo service and is no longer transports passengers. Please see our information on Customs Regulations.
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. Visitors contemplating adventure tours should contact the Kenya Tourist Board Offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota via the Internet or via telephone at 1-866-44-KENYA.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: There are no direct commercial flights between the United States and Kenya. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority’s compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. Further information may be found on the FAA’s Safety Assessment page.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Kenya dated December 18, 2012, to update the section on Threats to Safety and Security.