Kenya Work Visas: Options for Expats
Kenya is East Africa’s most influential hub for business, commerce, and tourism. English is the second working language (the first is Kiswahili) in this multicultural, multilingual country and there are abundant opportunities in multiple fields. Plus, the country is beautiful and the animals are amazing. No wonder so many expats want to move to Kenya! But, like all destinations, you need a visa in order to work in Kenya. These are some of the most common work visas in Kenya, plus practical tips on how to apply for one.
Who Needs A Visa?
Nearly every nationality needs a visa to work, live, and travel in Kenya. However, people from Tanzania and Uganda do not need a visa in order to enter Kenya for a short term stay. They can obtain a visitor’s pass at airport immigration counters.
The majority of tourists can obtain a visa upon arrival in Kenya. However, the government is slowly moving towards a system in which online visas will replace the visa upon arrival system. All non-tourist foreigners must have an appropriate work or business visa.
Applying For A Kenyan Visa
When applying for a visa, your passport must have at least two blank pages where the visa can be pasted in. Your passport must also be valid for at least six months longer than the length of your chosen visa. In addition to your passport, you’ll also need the following:
- The official visa application form.
- At least two recent passport-sized photographs.
- A copy of the flight itinerary or similar proof of travel.
- Additional paperwork as needed. Examples include a copy of your marriage certificate or an invitation from your future employer.
- Method of payment for the visa fees.
Business Visa Options
Those going to Kenya for non-tourist activities require a business visa or a work/residence visa. Business visas are valid for a period of 90 days with a possible extension of a further 90 days. This kind of visa is best for an expat who is spending a short amount of time in Kenya. You cannot work with a Business visa. However, it does allow you to attend conferences, workshops, seminars, or discussions. Like all visas, applications will have to provide supporting documentation such as a letter of invitation from a local business.
Work/Residence Visas in Kenya
Work/residence visas are intended for people who need to spend more than six months in Kenya and want to work, live, or volunteer. Employers or charitable partners usually spearhead efforts to submit these applications on behalf of their employees and partners. However, it’s possible to apply on your own. Typically, would-be expats apply for their work/residence visa before arriving in Kenya. Processing time takes up to three months, which is extra motivation to start the process early on.
These visas are typically for a term of one to two years with an option to renew. There are several different types of work/residence visa depending on the kind of work you will do. Visas are organized by “class”, which range from “A” to “M”. These are some of the most common categories.
Class C Visas
Class C visas are for “prescribed professions”. The government defines this as lawyers, engineers, accountants, architecture, and medical professionals, among others. If your profession requires you to register with a regulatory body or institution, you probably require a Class C visa.
Class D Visas
Class D visas are often referred to as employment permits. They’re used for specific job offers with specific employers. This also includes expats coming to Kenya on intra-company transfers and humanitarian workers with an approved NGO. The hope is that this visa will attract expats with certain skills that are missing in the local job market.
Expats with a firm job offer outside the Class C prescribed professions will need their employer to submit the paperwork for a Class D visa. Alternatively, your employer can provide a written contract and you can apply directly with copies of their resume and other qualifications.
Class G Visas
The Class G visas offer permits for specific kinds of consulting, including entrepreneurs looking to invest or launch a new company.
Class I Visas
The Class I visa (formerly Class E visa) is reserved for foreign missionaries wanting to work in Kenya.
Obtaining a visa is just one part of the process. Once you arrive in Kenya, you still have to register with the Immigration Department or with the local police. You must do so within three months. This rule applies to all foreign adults who plan on staying in the country for more than 90 days.
In addition to visiting the appropriate authorities, you must also present your valid travel documents and identifications, two recent passport-sized photos, and a registration fee. Your fingerprints will be taken during this visit.
Not everyone visiting Kenya requires a business or work permit. There are many categories of residency permits that apply to people who don’t fit any of the work visa classifications. Some of the most common ones include:
Spouses of Kenyan Citizens
If you’ve been married to a Kenyan citizen for at least three years, this is the visa for you.
Permanent Residence for Work Permit Holders
If you’ve lived in Kenya for at least three continuous years and have held work visas for at least seven, applying for permanent residency may be your best move for the future.
Class K visas
Sometimes called the “ordinary residents” visa, applicants for a Class K visa are anything but ordinary. This is class of visa is reserved for highly wealthy applicants with an independent annual income.
Not Sure What’s The Best Visa For You?
Moving to Kenya is a big step and, naturally, you’ll want to have the correct visa or permit for your exact situation. If you aren’t sure, visit or call your nearest Kenyan embassy or high commission. They will be able to explain things in detail and give you helpful local information like which photographer they prefer.
There are many third party visa processing agencies that profess to expedite your application process and make it as painless as possible. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell legitimate agencies from scam artists. Your nearest embassy can tell you if there’s a preferred agency they recommend.