No visa requirement for Kenyans eyeing South Africa - President Ramaphosa

William Ruto Cyril Ramaphosa shaking hands state house visa

President William Ruto (right) with his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa at State House, Nairobi on November 9, 2022. 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu I Nation Media Group

South Africa has removed visa requirements for Kenyans travelling to the southern Africa nation for up to 90 days starting January next year, reciprocating similar preferential treatment for its citizens by Nairobi.

South Africans have since 2017 been able to visit Nairobi without a visa for up to 30 days. South Africans, however, have no limit on how many times they can come to Kenya in a year.

President William Ruto and his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday witnessed an agreement that could end decades of complaints from Kenya on immigration policies by the southern Africa country.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta initiated talks for visa-free travel between the two countries when he visited South Africa in 2016.

The new visa agreement means that Kenyans will no longer need to apply for e-visa, or regular visas before travelling to South Africa for business or tourism. The tradition has been that Kenyans file an application for a ‘free’ visa at an agent of the South African High Commission which charges an ‘application fee’ to handle the paperwork. The visa often comes out after four working days.

With the new agreement, all Kenyans will need is an invitation and return ticket, as well as proof of vaccination for yellow fever and Covid-19; and proof of financial ability to stay in South Africa during the intended duration, for the case of tourists.

“This has been a challenge that has been with us for many years. Under the new dispensation, we can build a greater relationship,” said President Ruto at a joint press conference in Nairobi. 

Mr Ramaphosa said the deal could take business and tourism between the two countries “to greater heights.”


But there is a catch: Each country will bear the costs of deporting their nationals caught overstaying. This means that a Kenyan overstaying in South Africa or caught entering illegally would be returned at the cost of Nairobi. 

In essence, officials said this would mean the travel filters between the two countries will be stringent, sieving out illegal immigrants, criminal suspects, and all those with no paperwork, taking advantage of the system.

“People who abuse the system…they don’t deserve to be in South Africa, and they don’t deserve to be in Kenya,” President Ruto said. “This agreement will be implemented to ensure the bad elements that try to infiltrate our countries are dealt with firmly and decisively.” 

The deal marks a breakthrough for the two nations. President Ramaphosa’s s predecessors had resisted the arrangement, accusing Kenya of being a conduit for illegal migrants mainly from Ethiopia and Somalia.

Under Ramaphosa’s regime, however, he had tried to ease restrictions — including allowing those on student visas permission to renew their stay while still in South Africa and ending the need to travel back home.

Mr Ramaphosa also allowed Kenyans to transit through South African airports without a transit visa, but as long as they do not leave the airport. In the past, one needed a transit visa regardless of whether one was leaving the airport or not. 

Transit visas

Until January next year, however, Kenyans will still need transit visas if heading to neighbouring countries via South Africa by land. Mr Ramaphosa described the new ties as based on a “wonderful foundation that exists” between Nairobi and Pretoria.

“Our officials will speed up the processes to implement it. This dispensation will be available to Kenyans over a 90-day period in a given year, meaning that, yes, you can use the 90 days, ten days, 20 days or whatever, Kenyans will have a full 90 days to be able to visit South Africa and we would be able to review this and get reports from our ministers within a year and see how this is functioning,” he said. 

It means Kenyans must ensure their stay in South Africa does not exceed 90 days per year, cumulatively, to qualify for a visa-free stay.

“We are going to be monitoring this much more closely and we are setting in place various mechanisms to make sure that what we have agreed to is adhered to and that no one takes advantage of the agreement,” the President said.

Dr Ruto also announced progress in plans to create a joint venture between Kenya Airways and South African Airways. The two carriers signed a Strategic Partnership Framework in South Africa last November, in a move that will see the two eventually form a Pan-African carrier amid common financial woes exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is expected that the partnership will improve the financial viability of the two airlines. Customers will also benefit from more competitive price offerings for both passenger and cargo segments.

“There is progress on this matter and a lot is going on the side with our technical team,” President Ruto said.