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Home / General Travel Tips /
ZYX Consular Info: Kenya

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ZYX Consular Info: Kenya

Kenya - Consular Information Sheet
December 26, 2002
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.
ENTRY 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 may obtain the latest information on visas as well as any additional details regarding entry requirements from the Embassy of Kenya, 2249 R Street, N.W., 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.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: On November 28, 2002, there was a car bomb attack on a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, in which 16 people died, and an unsuccessful attempt to shoot down an Israeli charter plane departing Mombasa. 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, especially in the coastal region.
Kenya became a multi-party democracy in late 1991, and its political institutions are still developing. From time to time, political or ethnic tensions boil over in outbreaks of civil disorder or political violence.
Political meetings, demonstrations, and strikes prior to elections are likely. These are often spontaneous, unpredictable, and sometimes violent. They are normally localized but could affect tourists. Travelers should follow the printed and electronic media to keep abreast of where and when any political rallies and demonstrations are likely to occur, and of the potential for confrontation. U.S. citizens should avoid large public gatherings, political rallies and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
The area near Kenya's border with Somalia has been the site of a number of incidents of violent criminal activity, including kidnappings. In a late 1998 attack by armed bandits at a resort in the Lamu district near the border with Somalia, U.S. citizens were identified as specific targets, although none were present. There are some indications of ties between Muslim extremist groups, including Osama Bin Laden's al Qaeda organization, and these roving groups of Somali gunmen. Recent information about possible targeting of Americans for kidnapping or assassination in this same area has heightened the Embassy's concern. In March 1999, a U.S. citizen was killed, reportedly by a Somali national, on the Somali side of the border 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. Over the last 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 frequented by tourists. The precise areas tend to shift with 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 very suspicious of all 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.
On August 7, 1998, terrorists bombed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, killing 213 people and injuring many more in and around the Embassy. The U.S. Embassy subsequently relocated to a different location.
CRIME: There is a high rate of crime in all cities, particularly Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and at coastal beach resorts. Reports of attacks against tourists by groups of two or more armed assailants have increased significantly throughout the country. 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. Walking alone or at night, especially in downtown areas, public parks, along footpaths, on beaches, and in poorly lit areas, is dangerous.
Thieves routinely snatch jewelry and other objects from open vehicle windows while motorists are either stopped at traffic lights or in heavy traffic. Armed vehicle hijackings are common in Nairobi but can occur anywhere in the country. Armed robbers in Nairobi steal approximately ten vehicles every day. Although these attacks are often violent, victims are generally injured only if they resist. There is also a high incidence of residential break-ins. Thieves and con artists have been known to impersonate hotel employees, police officers, or government officials. Thieves on buses and trains may steal valuables from inattentive passengers. Passengers on inter-city buses and their drivers should not accept food or drink from a new acquaintance, even a child, as such food or drink may contain narcotics used to incapacitate a victim and facilitate a robbery.
Many scams, perpetrated against unsuspecting tourists and foreign-looking residents on foot, are prevalent in and around the city of Nairobi. Many of these involve persons impersonating police officers and using fake police ID badges and other credentials. In one of the latest scams, a tourist was stopped by someone who appeared to be a beggar telling a "sob story." The tourist agreed to purchase a cup of coffee for the beggar. The tourist was then approached by "police officers" who told him that he was seen talking with a drug dealer/counterfeit suspect. The "police" demanded money from him. American visitors and residents should be alert to these kinds of scams and immediately contact the U.S. Embassy if they think they are being or have been victimized. Con artists may park their cars on the side of a road, pretending that they broke down, and rob persons who stop to offer assistance.
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 Garissa and Lake Turkana should travel with the police escorts or convoys organized by the Government of Kenya.
There have been recent attacks on ships in the vicinity of Kenyan waters, in particular near the Kenya-Somalia border. Mariners should be vigilant.
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.
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, to 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.
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. The pamphlets "A Safe Trip Abroad" and "Tips for Travelers to Sub-Saharan Africa" provide useful information on personal security while traveling abroad and an on travel in the region in general. Both are available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs' website at http://travel.state.gov, or from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, internet address http://www.access.gpo.gov/su docs.
MEDICAL FACILITIES: Adequate medical services are available in Nairobi.
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. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.
When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad," available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.
OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: There are frequent outbreaks of cholera, and malaria is endemic in Kenya outside Nairobi.
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); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/iht.
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. The information below concerning Kenya is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Safety of public transportation: poor
Urban road conditions/maintenance: poor
Rural road conditions/maintenance: poor
Availability of roadside assistance: poor
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, 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. 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, many unpaved roads are passable only with four-wheel drive vehicles with high clearance. Severe storms and heavy rains in late 1997 and early 1998 led to extensive flooding and critical damage to roads and bridges, making travel and communications difficult in many parts of the country. Although the government repaired many of the damaged roads and bridges, some are still impassable. Travelers are urged to consult with the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and local officials regarding road conditions.
For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs' website at http://travel.state.gov/road safety.html. 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.
RAILWAY SAFETY: 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 last two years there have been several 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.
AVIATION SAFETY: As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, or economic authority to operate such service, between the U.S. and Kenya, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Kenya's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards.
For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.
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 strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. The penalty for possession of illegal drugs, including marijuana, is ten years imprisonment, with no option of a fine.
CURRENCY REGULATIONS: 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.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children, international parental child abduction, and international child support enforcement issues, please refer to our internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone 202-736-7000.
GAME PARK SECURITY: 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.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: 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 facsimile machines but often limit their access to guests; some facsimile 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 pre-travel preparations.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens visiting or resident in Kenya are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy, where they may obtain updated information on travel and security within Kenya. Security updates are e-mailed to all registered Americans on a monthly basis. American citizens may complete a registration form on-line at usembassy.state.gov/nairobi/wwwhcon3.html or may request one by contacting the Embassy by phone at (254)(2)537-800 or email at kenya acs@state.gov. Biographic information, passport data, and itinerary may be faxed to the U.S. Embassy at (254)(2)537-810; or directly to the consular section at (254)(2)537-837.
The Embassy is located on Mombasa Road, Nairobi, Kenya; telephone (254)(2)537-800; facsimile (254)(2)537-810. In the event of an after-hours emergency, the Embassy duty officer may be contacted at (254)(2)537-809. The Embassy's international mailing address is P.O. Box 30137 Nairobi, Kenya. Mail using U.S. domestic postage may be addressed to Unit 64100, APO AE 09831.