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Kenya travel guide

About Kenya

Lions and leopards are just part of the landscape in Kenya, one of East Africa's favourite safari destination. More than 40 national parks and nature reserves are scattered between Lake Victoria and the Indian Ocean, covering every imaginable landscape and featuring just about every animal in Africa: from aardvarks to zebras.

As you might expect, wildlife safaris are the lifeblood of Kenyan tourism, and the infrastructure for travellers is impressive. Jeeps, buses and light aircraft fan out daily across the country to safari lodges and tented camps, some simple and rustic, others lavish and opulent. Refreshingly, you can enjoy close encounters with nature even on a budget, with walking safaris run by tribal guides and economic-tented camps that scrimp on creature comforts, but not on creatures.

Most people start their journey in Nairobi, Kenya's capital city, but few linger when there are more attractive cities strung out along the sun-kissed Kenyan coast and dotted around the Great Rift Valley. Whether you pick the interior or the coast (with its beach resorts and Islamic ruins), you can be sure to find a national park or reserve close at hand. Even Nairobi has a national park within the city limits, with zebras and giraffes just a stone's throw from the suburbs.

Kenya is also a great place for cultural encounters, with more than 40 different tribal groups, each following its own unique way of life. The semi-nomadic Maasai tribe, with their multi-coloured, bead-covered adornments, is perhaps the most obvious group, but visiting any tribal village is a fascinating and enlightening experience.

On appearances, Kenya would seem like the perfect holiday destination, but tourism has had its ups and downs in recent years, with political upheaval during elections and a string of high-profile militant attacks in Nairobi and along the coast.

These setbacks have made a noticeable dent in Kenya's tourist industry, yet travellers still flock to the teeming plains of the Maasai Mara and trek the slopes of Mount Kenya, and the biggest decision for most is not whether to go to Kenya, but instead, which wild animal to search for first.

Key facts

Area:

580,367 sq km (224,081 sq miles).

Population:

52,580,497 (2019).

Population density:

79.2 per sq km.

Capital:

Nairobi.

Government:

Republic.

Head of state:

President William Ruto since 2022.

Head of government:

President William Ruto since 2022.

Travel Advice

Your travel insurance could be invalidated if you travel against advice from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).

Areas where FCDO advises against all but essential travel

Kenya-Somalia border and northern parts of the east coast

Due to the risk of terrorism from groups based in Somalia, FCDO advises against all but essential travel to:

  • within 60km of Kenya’s border with Somalia
  • Eastern Garissa County, up to 20km north-west of the A3 road, including the Boni National Reserve
  • Mandera County, excluding Mandera West sub-county
  • Lamu County, excluding Lamu Island and Manda Island
  • Tana River County north of the Tana River, up to 20km north-west of the A3 road
  • within 15km of the east coast between the Tana River and the Galana (Athi-Galana-Sabaki) River

Find out more about why FCDO advises against travel.

Before you travel

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and any specific travel advice that applies to you:

Travel insurance

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

About FCDO travel advice

FCDO provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated.

This information is for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK. It is based on the UK government’s understanding of the current rules for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in Kenya set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Kenyan High Commission in the UK.

COVID-19 rules

You do not need a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination to enter Kenya.

If you have flu-like symptoms when you arrive, you must take one or more COVID-19 tests at your own expense. If tests show you have COVID-19, you must isolate. For more information see COVID-19 travel requirements from the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority.

Passport validity requirements

To enter Kenya, your passport must have an ‘expiry date’ at least 6 months after the date you arrive and at least 2 blank pages.

Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.

You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.

Visa requirements

You must apply online for electronic travel authorisation in advance of travel. The local authorities recommend applying at least 2 weeks before your departure.

Travellers who currently hold a visa can continue to travel using their visa until it expires.

For information on work permits and residency, check the Kenyan Department of Immigration requirements.

Vaccine requirements

To enter Kenya, you must have a certificate to prove you’ve had a yellow fever vaccination if you’re coming from a country listed as a transmission risk.

For full details about medical entry requirements and recommended vaccinations, see TravelHealthPro’s Kenya guide.

Customs rules

There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Kenya. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.

Taking drones into Kenya

It is illegal to import or export drones without prior approval from the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA). Contact the KCAA well in advance of travel if you wish to bring a drone to Kenya.

This guide also has safety advice for regions of Kenya.

Terrorism 

There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times.     

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.

Terrorism in Kenya

Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Kenya.

There is a heightened threat of terrorism across Kenya. Attacks could target westerners, including British nationals. These could occur at any time including at religious events, public holidays or celebrations. Attacks are indiscriminate and could occur in places visited by foreigners, including tourists, such as, but not limited to:

  • hotels, bars, restaurants and nightclubs
  • sporting events
  • supermarkets and shopping centres
  • beaches
  • safari parks
  • commercial and government buildings
  • places of worship

Be particularly alert in these places. If you go regularly to any location, try to vary timings and patterns of movement. Always travel during daylight hours if possible. Look at the security arrangements in buildings you visit, including bag searches, physical security and guards. The main terrorist threat is from extremists linked to Al Shabaab – an Al Qaida-affiliated militant group in Somalia. Al Shabaab has issued threats and carried out attacks against Kenya, in part, due to Kenyan military intervention in Somalia. See Regional risks.

Recent significant attacks include :

  • in 2020 Al Shabaab conducted an attack on a military airstrip in Lamu County, killing 3 people
  • in 2019 there was an attack at the hotel and commercial complex at 14 Riverside in Nairobi, resulting in injuries and loss of life

There is some evidence of growing support for Daesh (formerly ISIL) in Kenya. On 4 January 2024 Daesh published a statement calling for a new global campaign of terrorism including a specific focus on western and Jewish targets. This statement and the ongoing conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories could increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks that affect British nationals.

Lamu Island and Manda Island

Travellers to Lamu Island and Manda Island should be particularly vigilant given the close proximity of these islands to the Lamu County mainland. You should only travel to the islands by air to Lamu airport (a civilian airport on Manda Island), and not by road. The only commercial option for air travel to or from Lamu Island and Manda Island is through Lamu airport. See Regional risks.

Terrorist kidnap

There is a high threat of terrorist kidnap across Kenya. You should be alert to the heightened threat of terrorist kidnapping targeting westerners, including British nationals. Westerners have been the target of kidnaps in northern counties bordering Somalia and coastal counties. Further kidnaps are very likely.    

British nationals are seen as legitimate targets, including tourists, humanitarian aid workers, journalists and business travellers. If you are kidnapped, the reason for your presence is unlikely to protect you or secure your safe release. 

The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners builds the capability of terrorist groups and finances their activities. This can, in turn, increase the risk of further hostage-taking. The Terrorism Act (2000) makes payments to terrorists illegal.

Political situation

Recent weeks have seen major protests against the draft Finance Bill 2024 across multiple cities in Kenya, including Nairobi. A number of protestors are reported to have been injured and killed at political demonstrations in recent days. Avoid political gatherings and large crowds and monitor local media to see when and where major protests are likely. The situation could change quickly. Follow local news and the instructions of local authorities closely.

Crime

There are frequent incidents of violent crime including mugging, armed robbery and carjacking, particularly in the large cities and on major highways.

Although uncommon, violent crimes have resulted in the deaths of British nationals, including during daylight hours.

Avoid walking alone in isolated areas, including in daylight. Criminals might target you directly, so be aware of your surroundings and make sure people know where you are and when you are due to return. The risks are higher in some areas of major cities.

In Nairobi:

  • Eastleigh
  • Central Business District
  • Mathare, Kibera and slum areas

In Mombasa:

  • in the Old Town
  • on and around the Likoni Ferry, which links Mombasa to the southern resorts

Crime rates are often higher around the Christmas and New Year period so take extra precautions at this time of year.

Protecting your belongings

Bag-snatching is common in bus stations, railway stations and airports. Be vigilant and take note of any security advice given by your hotel, employer or your hosts. If you’re attacked, do not resist. Avoid carrying large sums of money or wearing expensive-looking jewellery or watches.

Vehicle crime

Always drive with windows closed and doors locked. When driving outside of cities and in remote areas, consider driving in convoy. Avoid driving at night if possible. Carjackers may set up bogus checkpoints. See Transport risks.

Scams

Beware of thieves posing as police officers or private security guards. It’s a technique used by criminals to take charge of valuables, passports and vehicles and steal them. Always ask for identification.

Drink and food spiking

Do not accept drinks or food from strangers in bars or clubs. Criminals spike drinks to weaken and confuse their victims and then commit theft or sexual assault.

Attacks and sexual assault

Sexual assaults are rare, but do happen, and can affect both male and female travellers.

Laws and cultural differences

Personal ID

You must always carry ID. A copy of your passport is normally acceptable, but police officers may insist on seeing the original document so keep it within a reasonable travelling distance.

Dress code

The coastal areas of Kenya are mainly Muslim. Show courtesy by dressing conservatively away from tourist resorts and hotels – particularly in Mombasa. Wearing holiday-style clothing is likely to get negative attention at religious sites or buildings.   

Smoking and e-cigarette bans

It is illegal to smoke in any public place in Kenya, except in designated smoking areas. If you smoke in a prohibited place, you could get a fine of up to 50,000 Kenyan shillings or up to 6 months in prison.

Illegal drugs and prison sentences

If you’re convicted of using illegal drugs in Kenya, you will get a heavy fine and prison sentence. The penalty for possession is up to 10 years in prison. People found to be trafficking illegal drugs could face life imprisonment.

Using cameras in secure areas

It is illegal to take photographs of official buildings, including embassies, or at airports. You could be arrested if caught.

LGBT+ travellers

Same-sex sexual activity is illegal and same-sex relationships are not tolerated in Kenya’s conservative society. Showing affection in public could lead to arrest and imprisonment.

Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.

Wildlife, animal products and souvenirs

It is illegal to buy, sell, kill or capture any protected wild animal or trade any of its parts without a licence. If you are caught buying or trafficking banned goods, you could face a fine or prison sentence.

Outdoor activities and adventure tourism

Game reserves and national parks

If you’re visiting game reserves, use reputable tour operators and arrive at your destination in daylight hours. Do not buy safari tours from touts. Always follow park regulations and advice from wardens.

There are risks associated with viewing wildlife, particularly on foot or at close range. Swimming in rivers and lakes is illegal in national parks and is best avoided elsewhere due the dangers from wildlife and waterborne diseases.

Hiking and mountaineering

You must hire a local guide on certain hikes in Kenya. Be conscious of the risk from wildlife and do not approach wild animals. Make sure your travel insurance covers all your planned activities.

Altitude sickness is a risk when hiking in high-altitude areas, including on Mount Kenya. Read about altitude sickness on TravelHealthPro.

Transport risks

Road travel

If you are planning to drive in Kenya, see information on driving abroad.

You can use a UK photocard driving licence in Kenya for up to 3 months. If you still have a paper driving licence, you may need to update it to a photocard licence.

After 3 months, you’ll need to have both the 1968 version of the international driving permit (IDP) and your UK driving licence with you in the car. You cannot buy an IDP outside the UK, so get one before you travel.

If you’re staying longer or living in Kenya, you’ll need to get a Kenyan driving licence.

Driving standards are often poor. There is a risk of vehicle crime – see Crime.

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Nairobi City

For travel between Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Nairobi City, use the Mombasa Road or the Nairobi Expressway. There is a higher risk of carjacking on the old airport road (Airport South Road) and Jogoo Road.

The Mombasa Road can get very busy during rush hour, and check-in can take several hours. Allow plenty of time to get to the airport. A vehicle security check outside the airport may add to your journey time.

Travel in remote areas

Monitor local media and take care in all remote areas. The Kenya Tourism Federation Safety and Communication Center provides tourist advice and emergency help.

Bus travel

There have been serious accidents involving long-distance buses and minibuses (‘matatus’). The accidents are often due to poor maintenance and speeding. Often minibuses are uninsured. Check operators’ safety standards.

There are frequent minibus hijackings and robberies.

Driving fines

On-the-spot fines from traffic police are common but illegal. If a traffic police officer stops you, ask them to issue you with the correct paperwork.

Air travel

If you charter a private aircraft, check with the company about the condition of the aircraft and runways. If the air crew does not include a safety pilot, qualified to take over the controls, find another company that does.

Rail travel

Passenger trains run between Nairobi and Mombasa. Take care of your belongings while on the train and at railway stations. If you leave your compartment, take your valuables with you.

Sea travel

Piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean remain a significant threat.

See piracy and armed robbery at sea.

Extreme weather and natural disasters

Find out what you can do to prepare for and respond to extreme weather and natural hazards.

Earthquakes

Kenya lies on an active fault and tremors occur from time to time. The last significant earthquake to affect the region was of magnitude 5.2 in 2007.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake.

This section has safety advice for regions of Kenya. It only covers regions where FCDO has specific advice.

You should also read FCDO’s overall travel advice and safety and security advice.

Kenya-Somalia border and northern parts of the east coast

 Due to the risk of terrorism from groups based in Somalia, FCDO advises against all but essential travel to:

  • within 60km of Kenya’s border with Somalia
  • Eastern Garissa County, up to 20km north-west of the A3 road, including the Boni National Reserve
  • Mandera County, excluding Mandera West sub-county
  • Lamu County, excluding Lamu Island and Manda Island
  • Tana River County north of the Tana River, up to 20km north-west of the A3 road
  • within 15km of the coast between the Tana River and the Galana (Athi-Galana-Sabaki) River

There have been frequent attacks in the north-eastern border regions, most of which were attributed to Al Shabaab.

Attacks have killed members of the Kenyan security forces as well as civilians. The Kenyan security forces have increased their presence in the affected areas. Armed militia groups operate within the Boni National Reserve and along the border with Somalia. See Terrorism.

Lamu Island and Manda Island

If you travel to Lamu Island or Manda Island, you should fly to Lamu Airport (a civilian airport on Manda Island). Do not travel by road. See Terrorism.

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Nairobi City

For travel between Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Nairobi City, you should use the Mombasa Road or the Nairobi Expressway. See Transport risks.

North and north-east Kenya

Rural areas, particularly in the north and north-east of Kenya, occasionally experience cattle rustling, banditry and ethnic clashes. Foreign nationals are not usually the target, but you should take great care.

Turkana, West Pokot, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Baringo, Laikipia and Samburu counties

The Kenyan government has imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in parts of Turkana, West Pokot, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Baringo, Laikipia and Samburu counties. Follow local security measures and use caution.

Kenya-Ethiopia border

There have been attacks using landmines around Moyale, close to the main A2 road south. Vehicles crossing the Kenya-Ethiopia border at this point should stay on the A2. Avoid staying at the rest house at Sololo – travel directly to Marsabit before breaking the journey.

Mount Elgon

There is a large security presence in Mount Elgon because of armed clashes. Further incidents are possible. Seek local advice before you set off.

Before you travel check that:

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number

Dial 999 and ask for an ambulance.

Contact your insurance company quickly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Vaccine recommendations and health risks

At least 8 weeks before your trip:

See what health risks you’ll face in Kenya, including:

  • malaria and dengue
  • Zika virus
  • schistosomiasis

Altitude sickness is a risk in parts of Kenya. Read more about altitude sickness on TravelHealthPro.

Medication

The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro.

Healthcare in Kenya

FCDO has a list of medical facilities in Kenya.

There is also guidance on healthcare if you’re living in Kenya.

Travel and mental health

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.

Emergency services in Kenya

Telephone: 999 (ambulance, fire, police)

Kenya Tourism Federation

Kenya Tourism Federation’s Safety and Communication Center provides tourist advice and emergency help.

Contact your travel provider and insurer

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.

Refunds and changes to travel

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Support from FCDO

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:

Contacting FCDO

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated.

You can also contact FCDO online.

Help abroad in an emergency

If you’re in Kenya and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British High Commission in Nairobi.

FCDO in London

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)

Find out about call charges

Risk information for British companies

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating in Kenya on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

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