Getting A Kenyan Visa On Arrival: A Comedy Of Errors

Filed Under: Humor, Travel

Yesterday morning I landed in Nairobi on Kenya Airways’ first nonstop flight from New York. We got an incredible welcome from hundreds of people, including the country’s vice president, and I was in disbelief at just how much effort they put into welcoming us.

Well, after that welcome we all got into a bus to go to the immigration hall, where my experience changed a bit. I’ve never had so many problems at immigration, so figured I’d share my story so you can hopefully get a laugh out of it.

Kenya offers visas on arrival for many nationalities (including US passport holders), so once inside the immigration hall I first had to fill out the visa form, and then had to get into the visa line.

Issue #1: Cash only

There was a lady at the head of the queue (who had on a vest that said “immigration”), and I asked her “do they take credit card?”

“Yes, just go to the window.”

There was quite a line to get a visa on arrival, and I waited for nearly 30 minutes. Eventually I was helped by a friendly person. She processed my application, and then said “that will be $50.”

I handed her my credit card.

“Cash only.”

“But I was told I could use card.”

“No, there’s an ATM in the hall where you can get cash.”

Okay, fair enough. Some countries take cash only, and they always have an ATM, so it’s not a big deal when that happens. I just wish I knew that before waiting for 30 minutes.

Issue #2: Broken ATM

There was a single ATM in the arrivals hall, and it was broken. Or more accurately, it was in a setting where it only acted as a “mobile ATM,” where you could apparently just withdraw money with your phone number, or something? I don’t know, I’ve never seen anything like that before. I thought I was going crazy, because my card just wouldn’t go in the slot.

I tried to call over one of the people helping in the immigration line to ask if she could help. I figured I must be doing something wrong. It took a lot of convincing to have someone go with me to the ATM, mostly because they thought I was crazy and just didn’t know how to use an ATM.

But two people eventually came there, and confirmed a setting for the ATM was off, because I couldn’t even insert my card.

“What am I supposed to do now?”

“There’s an ATM by gate six… but it’s a really long walk away.”

Issue #3: Gate 6 is a really long walk

I’m a very fast walker (people I’m with always complain about it), and from the outside Nairobi Airport didn’t look that big. Well, let me tell you, Gate 6 is a really long walk away. First I had to clear security as if I was a connecting passenger, then I had to walk for about 15 minutes (and that’s at a fast pace), and then I arrived at the ATM.

Issue #4: That ATM is broken as well


On the plus side, there was one other ATM in the terminal, and that one was working, so now I had cash in hand.

Issue #6: Explaining what I’m doing

At this point I had to go from the departures hall to the immigration hall, which wasn’t all that easy, because that’s not generally how someone would use the airport — when a flight arrives it lets out in a different hall. So as I walked backwards several security guards stopped to ask what I was doing, and for a reason I can’t quite figure out, I had to go through security yet again.

Issue #6: Kenya doesn’t accept their own currency

At this point I got back in the visa line, with cash and my application in hand. I asked the lady at the head of the line “I can pay with Kenyan shillings, yes?” “Yes you can.”

Then eventually I was helped at immigration.

“$50, please.”

I handed her the equivalent in Kenyan shillings.

“We only take Dollar, Euro, and Pound.”

“You don’t take your own currency?”

“No, because the receipts we give are for Dollar, Euro, and Pound.”

“But the lady there told me you accept shillings.”

At this point I realized that was the same lady who earlier told me they do accept credit cards, so I have no clue why I had even asked her.

So then I had to go to the currency exchange counter, get money exchanged, and then got in the visa line one last time. This time they let me in, wahoo!

Lesson learned

Lesson learned, bring cash when entering Kenya.

I’m sure some will say “well this is on you for not bringing cash.” Yes and no.

First of all, I’m not sharing this to be negative, but rather because I actually found the whole thing to be sort of comical.

This wasn’t a big deal in the end, even though it wasted about 90 minutes of my time. Yes, I probably should always have some cash. At the same time, I enter a lot of countries, and I’ve never had a situation where they either didn’t take credit card, or where there wasn’t a functioning ATM in the arrivals hall. But I guess that was bound to happen sooner or later.

Let me also point out that I took redeyes for six nights in a row, and have entered a similar number of countries in that time period. If I were traveling to one country I would have probably researched this more closely, but in this case didn’t. I just Googled the basic stuff, saw I could get a visa on arrival, and moved on with my day, since I had so much going on.

It’s just funny how quickly that whole arrivals experience went downhill.

Has anyone had a similar “cash” issue when getting a visa on arrival in any country?

  1. While it isn’t about immigration/visa, I’d like to share my experience at Incheon. I was fairly confident not to carry any Korean won after reading about their airport express trains take credit cards. However, the last train was a “local train” so cash only. With less than 15 min before departure of last train to Seoul, I found that each and every ATM on the landside was not working! Ended up exchanging some cash with a fellow traveller.

  2. This (cash required to pay a visa fee) is my experience in a number of East African countries, including Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. I never, ever travel in that part of the world without a small stash of USD….it can be useful for all sorts of reasons!

  3. The lesson learned should be to just get an eVisa online which takes about 30 seconds to process and accepts credit cards. You then can use any line at immigration and can be through in literally seconds. They don’t even need to see the physical eVisa copy – you just need to give them the confirmation code and they process it electronically.

    Kenya’s eVisa system is one of the smoothest in the world, so why anyone still uses the manual VoA system I don’t understand.

  4. Things might have changed now so forgive me … but a few years ago, the restaurants in the Intl terminal in Bombay would not accept rupees for any transaction. And all prices were US equivalent! I’m still sitting on a cpl hundred rupees if anyone wants some.

  5. The lesson is that you should always carry couple hundred USD’s especially considering how much you travel :).

  6. Had once they wanted USD and I had EUR. They first didnt want buy I said thats what I pay with and they accepted.

    I have always 200-400 USD with me. Weather for visa or 10/20’s to bribe to get in front of a line.

  7. Its much easier to steal cash than credit card transactions by officers. These countries have the highest rate of corruption on the bottom to the highest level. they far exceed Russia and china so you know it is bad.

  8. Why would you not have US Cash in hand?? I always have $100 in different bills when traveling. While I always utilize an ATM when I get to a country, it’s not as dependable as US.

  9. Wow, what a comedy of errors. With the amount of traveling you do to different airports, this sort of thing is bound to happen from time to time.

  10. @Lucky: Wow – you really are an amateur when it comes to travel, aren’t you?

    1. Always carry some cash in USD whenever traveling. It’s just basic travel 101.

    2. Also, always apply for an eVisa or a visa prior to travels, unless the travel is for an emergency situation, which this was not.

    No – never had any issues with visa-on-arrival in any country regardless of whether cash was accepted or not.

  11. Sounds like the author hasn’t been out much outside of the USA( apologies for the sarcasm). Who would ever go to a developing country and rely solely on cards? It’s also commonly know that these cash requirements from
    Immigration authorities with unstable local currencies are a way of beefing up hard currency cash reserves which are expensive to ship in. Who better than to fleece but rich foreign tourists. There used to be a lot of exit taxes in many countries years ago (eg Thailand). They have thankfully removed most of those. I alsways travel with at least US$1000 and €300 in a mix of large and very small bills(for tips and small purchases as sometimes you can get better prices if you negotiate in local and round down in $ also use it as a negotiation tactic). Remember don’t travel with anything near $10k or above. It’s illegal to enter and leave most countries without declaring cash over certain amounts (each country is different). I’m not encouraging anyone to take loads of cash but at least some to get by a few days. I’ve been on many a Greek island where many vendors didn’t take cards(‘our machine doesn’t work’ answer) so it even happens in Europe.

  12. Tanzania Zanzibar is also not that well designed. Need to fill a form on the plan, then on arrival need ro fill another form that is basically the same but different color, then need to move sidewards across different booths to try and make a payment, then move once again sidewards across a few booths to get the passport exercise done.
    I could in half a day redesign the arrivals flow there without any investment needed. But there is probably a reason for the strange set up there.

    Zambia was also messy coming from Zimbabwe, luckily a mild bribe worked to save a lot of time.

  13. I agree with Sean M, eVisa application is pretty straightforward, not 30 seconds but 5-10 minutes as you need to fill up an application, info about your stay, upload picture and passport, etc, but very easy and smooth – $51 charged to your credit card

  14. @Jared. I don’t agree with your point 1 that “always carrying USD” is basic travel 101. This isn’t the 1970s. Most countries have totally fine usage of cards or only accept local currency. Your rule might work for a number of emerging or frontier markets. But carrying USD to the eurozone, UK, Japan, Singapore, Canada, or almost all other developed countries is pointless.

    In general, I agree with your point 2, but I’ve done Visa on Arrival with no problems before. The key is to make sure you look up ahead of time what the VoA process is so that you don’t get stopped short like @Lucky with cash or USD requirements. If you have any doubts or there is conflicting information, then definitely do get a visa in advance and if an evisa is available then definitely default to that.

  15. Good lesson, Lucky. We all sometimes get overconfident that credit cards will always work.

    I have done 2 quick European trips recently where I took Euro cash and ended up needing exactly zero (cabs take cash everywhere now). But never good to bank on that.

  16. OMG, similar issue in India – not regarding paying the visa fee but paying any taxi. Arrived without any cash but lot of cards. All so called ATM at Jaipur Airport didn’t accept any card, only Indian mobile phone withdraw. Of course the battery of my mobile was drained and no chance to call my husband (he was already in India for business).
    Fortunately the taxi counter was accepting credit cards for prepaid.
    Since that time never without cash 😉

  17. I always carry some USD with me when traveling abroad. You never know when the ATM might not work or whatever else, and US dollars will always get you somewhere just about anywhere in the world…

  18. I have several experiences, even in developed countries, where ATMs and/or card machines within airports would not vend. I resorted to cash during those times (typically euros or dollars). I live in Chicago and there are many vendors around here which still only accept cash. Carrying some cash (USD or Euros) on travels anywhere is fundamental. Frankly I would expect a seasoned traveler like Lucky to know that.

  19. About 15 years ago, I had a very similar experience to your’s; in Santiago de Chile. Totally my fault, I had a great time in Central America the night before and basically spent most of my cash – totally forgetting about the “reciprocity fee” that Chile was charging for citizens of the US, Canada and Australia. Upon arrival, I was short on cash and had to ask for an ATM – going through customs to the terminal to obtain……Chilean pesos. Went back in to the arrivals area through the out door, talking my way past the guard with the M-16 only to find out that they only accepted US Dollars! Had to go back out into the terminal, hit a currency exchange (where they tried to screw me over on the rate), then back in past the M-16 guy to finally pay the immigration agent who, by then was waiting alone (with my passport).

    Lesson learned – always have some dollars on you.

  20. Guess I’m just old, but I never travel without enough USD cash to get through several days — generally $500 or so. It’s a hedge against getting locked out of my debit card system or being otherwise unable to withdraw cash. I figure I’ll always be able to find someone who will accept or change the cash. Can’t remember any recent trip on which I’ve needed to use it though.

  21. @Justin – the consensus here is that one should have some cash with them when travelling. I agree with the majority. Lucky made a mistake and will learn from this.

  22. Moral of the story carry a certain amount of CASH, remember Kenya is their country not ours and it’s their rules.

    Not sure why anyone would travel without cash either dollars anywhere Euros acceptable in Europe

  23. Agree with many other posters- when traveling abroad it always helps to have $100-200 in cash. It’s helped me out numerous times, even in more developed countries where the atm isn’t working or my card is having issues.

  24. I am surprised that someone that travels like you do does not carry USD in your wallet. I almost never use cash BUT I always carry at least $100 in cash with me just in case. If you as an American was carrying $50 of your own currency none of the issues you described above would exist.

  25. I really have no sympathy for you. As several of the posts have said. Why would you not carry some US cash with you? . Its a no brainer..crazy..Relying on a credit or debit card is a crap shoot at best as ive learned the hard way in Africa and parts of the Middle East. That is something a novice traveller would do, not a travel blogger!

  26. @Chris
    Many ATMs in Korea (including I think all the ATMs at airports) shut down after 11pm. I’m not entirely sure why.

  27. You never know when you might need cash – whether at home in the US or traveling abroad. Even if you mostly rely on credit cards, ATMs, or other virtual payment sources, you should ALWAYS carry a stash of emergency cash in your wallet! I was in line at Prince St Pizza in NYC a couple of weeks ago. Two 20-something girls were in line & realized they only took cash. So one of them kept running off & then reporting back to her friend that every ATM she tried was not working. So whether it’s for pizza OR a visa OR a tip OR a late night bus/train/taxi ride, you should ALWAYS have some cash!

  28. Ha, this brings me back!

    1. Entering Jordan at AMM (the old terminal), overhead sign reads: “Only Jordanian dinars and credit cards accepted”. I reach the counter and hear “Cash only, ATM is behind you”. Luckily the machine was just a few steps away and the line was almost empty, so no big deal.

    2. Entering Indonesia at DPS, I’m one of the first people in line, having read that cards are OK. Turns out they’re not, and so I go back to the ATM, all the while a China Airlines 747 pulls in and unleashes 400+ passengers into the empty hall. Ended up spending almost an hour there and found my checked bag in the corner, offloaded from the belt.

  29. I’ve managed my last 5 overseas business trips without cash and enjoy not carrying any so would have been in a similar situation to you…

    Anyway, was in Kenya recently and whilst I had an e-Visa, I still had to queue for a good 40 minutes to get seen. Guy was happily playing on his phone and half heartedly letting people through slowly!

  30. Welcome to Kenya… this is 100% par for the course. I once went to pick up a package at the central post office in Nairobi and I was sent to receive no less than 7 stamps/endorsements from 7 different people on my pickup slip before I could actually receive my package. Nothing happens quickly or easily in Kenya- you just have to lie back and enjoy it.

  31. Same thing happened in Cairo, they wouldn’t accept their own currency, only USD. They accepted my credit card but FYI, these types of transactions always gets coded as a CASH ADVANCE. Same thing happened in Nepal to me. I paid VOA with credit card and it got coded as cash advance.

  32. Similiar issue in Tanzania… they didnt accept the Schilling, only USD or Euro. And by USD I mean only large bills 20/100 and any minor wrinkle/discoloration/tear wouldnt be accepted by most people. Meanwhile, the quality of the local currency bills was… shall I say… not nearly as good.

    But TIA as they say. Part of what makes Africa rewarding.

  33. I always carry at least a couple hundred US dollars when I travel overseas. Its just common sense. Even to developed nations. But going to developing nations without US dollars and just assuming electronic money is available is too much of a risk factor.

    How you gonna bribe with a credit card?

    What if you get in a jam? US Dollars speak. Loudly.

  34. Fine to find it funny. I’m sure you’re not shocked. The juxtaposition of a new, modern, nonstop flight and the decidedly antiquated arrival process is a good story.

  35. As someone who travels to East Africa for work regularly, I wholeheartedly agree with the comment above about the Kenya evisa system. It’s super easy to get a $50 single entry and even easier to get a $20 transit visa that is good for up to 72 hours (also note that you need this even if you’re just collecting bags to recheck with a different airline on separate ticket).

    As for Tanzania, yeah carry a lot of cash. If you’re not there for legit tourism, also you really need to get the $250 business visa (in usd still). They have immigration police all over trying to bust people for doing business on a tourist visa.

  36. Wake up, it’s 2018! Cash quite unbelievably is still king in so many cultures, but I can only fault the preconception alas always carry EUR/ GBP/ USD 100-500 wherever you go.

    Just think of pick-pockets (in the air or on the ground) and off they go. This is why the same situation could have easily happened to me as I hate to carry any hard currency around.

    If need be I will just withdraw locally when I enter the country.

  37. Travelling to any developing country, having at least US$300 in crisp new bills is always the safe thing to do! Never know when they might come in handy

  38. All the commenters piling on, reminds me of, “Did you get the memo about the cover page for the TPR report?” Oh, and Lucky, it’s a good idea to get an evisa and bring some cash with you.

  39. I’d agree that going to a less developed country without any cash is asking for trouble, but there’s another reason why you should carry at least some, even in areas where credit card use is common – you never know when your debit or credit card issuer is going to block your card for “suspicious” activity in a foreign country, even if you have a travel notification on file. This happened to me in Romania. I tried to get money from an ATM, but my lovely bank blocked the transaction, despite the travel notification. I call, they say it should be fine now – and the card is declined again! By now, customer service is closed, and I have to wait until 4 pm Romania time to call back (it finally worked on the third try). Luckily I usually take about $100 just in case of stuff like this, so I just went to a money exchange and continued on with my day.

    No, I don’t suggest carrying large amounts of cash because of safety concerns, but I suggest always carrying something – enough to get a meal, a taxi ride, through the VOA counter, etc.

  40. @Kent: I actually agree with the statement “always carry some cash when travelling” and I do so myself. But it doesn’t need to be USD. If you’re a French traveller going to Germany, why would you need USD? Or a Singaporean traveller going to Hong Kong? Or a Canadian traveller going to the UK? The statement “Always carry USD is rule no.1 in travel” is a very US-centric view that is just not true.

    And after reading the commentary, no, the consensus isn’t to always carry USD, the consensus is to carry some cash. I agree with the latter, but not the former.

  41. I’m guessing Endre travels with a titanium briefcase full of neatly stacked usd/eur because he pays only in cash and never in the local, flea-bitten currency.

  42. @Justin – Ok. Carry some major currency (really don’t care which). That isn’t even the topic that you were debating in your original post… but glad to see that your views have changed and rightfully so, probably due to the consensus that carrying some cash is a good idea, even if we don’t live in the 1970s. 😉

  43. @Kent @Justin – Actually, I always carry USD (with very minor exceptions).

    My business travels can take me to five continents in one week. I find that the USD works best universally.

  44. Welcome to Kenya. An epassport renewal takes 30 days and you have to present yourself physically to apply for and collect the passport.

  45. @Kent: Actually that was the topic that I was debating in my original post and my views have not changed. If you had carefully read my original post, you would have seen that I was addressing @Jared. His comments were:

    “1. Always carry some cash in USD whenever traveling. It’s just basic travel 101.”

    For those based in the US, “carrying USD” is interchangeable to “carrying cash”. But if you’re based in many other parts of the world, the hassle of changing your local currency (let’s say Japanese Yen or Australian Dollars) to USD and then back again to another currency is inefficient and unnecessary in most cases.

  46. Jeez Louise folks on here are tough. I think it is almost impossible when you travel a lot to NOT have a situation arise at some point where you forget something or something goes wrong or whatever. Folks who are so high and mighty and scoff at you must have not read the part where you visited a ton of countries in a short time and mea culpa didn’t think this part through enough. IT HAPPENS PEOPLE. All this to say, even with an online visa, the last time I went to Kenya the system did not take 30 seconds online it ate the payment one time and I had to redo it, then I got it, then when we got to the airport one immigration person said we could get in any line and one said no, only this line. So -shrug- it is what it is. Your attitude is the most important takeaway from this article- you stayed positive and look back on it with humor! That to me is the sign of a REAL frequent traveller! Thanks for showing you are human Lucky!

  47. @Travis: If you’re travelling as much to as many diverse countries as you do, then I can totally understand why carrying a USD reserve makes sense, especially if you’re US-based.

    My point is that the vast majority of travel does not actually take place to countries where USDs can be used in everyday exchanges or are somehow more able to be converted at currency changers than other hard currencies. I was based in Singapore for years and traveled throughout Asia and some other parts and never bothered with USD. I’d bring some SGD so that I could change cash if my cards failed and I’d also usually pre-change some SGD into local currency at the many cheap rate local moneychangers in Singapore. This worked fine everywhere from Burma to South Africa to Vietnam.

  48. @Lara S. – I tried reading your comment, but it was just too long.

    On a different note – @Lucky – newb mistake. tsk tsk…

  49. @Justin: Although EUR or GBP may be worth more than USD I still see that USD is a much easier currency to be accepted in developing countries. Yes, if you are in the EU USD may not be the best choice but in my experience in Asia, Africa and Latin America USD is still the king. Carrying one or two 100 USD bills in a pocket inside my wallet can be a life saver and if someone takes my wallet it won’t be a huge loss.

  50. Hey Lucky, that’s why we like you and OMAAT so much. You’re not a machine! Things happen. Next time you will carry on small amount of cash with you.

  51. y’all are so annoying… everyone knows to carry usd… thanks a lot expert travelers.
    Did ya take the time to read he had 6 redeyes in a row? Do ya think maybe you (prob not since you’re perfect) might forget to grab some cash or perhaps even spend it elsewhere beforehand??
    Odds are none of us travel as much as Lucky and odds are even better nobody has done an itinerary like this one. So relax and enjoy the story.

    Super cool that you remember to grab a couple hundred bucks and get one e visa months before your once-yearly “big trip” very cool guys, super pro travelers!! write a blog about it, I’ll shred it apart

  52. Dude – I spend as much time on the road/in the air as you do – just stuff some bills in your pocket and leave it there. Chances are you may never need them, but at least they are there just in case for situations such as the one you described. As @Matttttttttttt points out above, it’s very tiring jumping from flight to flight, but this way, we have one less thing to think about! Better luck next time.

  53. Having USD on me has been helpful a number of times, like in Ukraine when my ATM card got blocked because they through my withdrawal from an ATM there was “suspicious” (and gave me an 800# to call — can’t call toll-free numbers from abroad).

    Or in Argentina where due to huge inflation, the ATMs run out of money every few hours because they have a limited number of bills they can hold.

    Or in Brazil where only a few ATMs accepted my foreign card, and none of those ATMs were near my hotel.

    Luckily I have never had my wallet stolen while traveling, but that’s another case for carrying cash. I carry cash in a separate pocket and also keep some in my suitcase and my carry-on. Actually, that cash is permanently there since I travel a lot — I’m surprised Lucky doesn’t keep some cash in a hidden pocket in his carry-on for emergencies.

  54. @Lucky They usually make an announcement (at least on EK) prior to landing in NBO that you will have to pay for the visa in USD, EUR, GBP and only cash. The most ridiculous thing I heard was that it was either 50USD, 50 EUR, or 50 GBP!?!? Not sure if that’s true as I don’t need a visa… Next time, just get an eVisa online for your return to LHR if you plan on leaving the airport. Easier and they take CC.

    As others have said, I am surprised that you didn’t have USD on hand being such a seasoned traveler. I always carry 100USD, 100EUR and 100GBP when traveling.

  55. We are not here to debate whether to bring cash or not! Lucky is sharing his experience, and preempted what some of you might comment. Please stop being so condescending. Step forward if you have never made a mistake!

  56. @Lucky – I see why you always post your articles in such caveated language.

    Some of these comments are fairly brutal.

    We all flub a bit from time to time when we travel to different countries / cities, but not all of us have the grace to succinctly and entertainingly publish a blog about it.

  57. @Lucky I had to smile a bit when I read your posting. For many years, I travelled to Nairobi for work. Thank goodness, I had staff based there who warned me about all the possible traps for getting my visa. This included the fact that US dollars and exact change was required along with the fact that there were actually two lines for immigration, but one was hidden behind a kiosk, so you couldn’t easily find it. Going directly to that line was my little trick.

    But, just so you won’t feel bad, understand that getting through immigration quickly and getting downstairs to fetch my checked luggage didn’t insure a quick exit. Unloading of luggage was always sloooow, and so eventually everyone would catch up with me.

    Over the years, I had some interesting things go missing in my checked luggage. The one I talk about most was a small canvas bag that I had placed inside my luggage that mysteriously disappeared. While I was a bit surprised and upset, I’m sure the culprit who took the bag was even more surprised. It contained all of my dirty laundry (mostly underwear) from my previous stop in Cairo. I hope s/he enjoyed my Calvin briefs!

  58. As other postings have said , you really must carry some cash in USD or GBP or Euro once you get outside USA and Europe .
    Many countries want USD cash for visas. Before you go to a country , do your research .

    Let me tell you a story. In 1976, I bought an old VW Combi RV in Florida and drove from Miami to San Francisco and back over 3 months . I was young and young people did not have credit cards in UK at that time , so I carried travellers cheques in USD drawn on American Express. Trying to cash these in America was a nightmare , staff in small regional banks in small towns in random states did not know what a travellers cheque was and one even refused my British passport as ID , asking instead for a US drivers license , which of course I did not have . I was driving with a UK drivers license , which in 1976 did not have a photo , so was not effective ID. Other banks told me to go find an American Express office , which usually were only in large towns . Today, travellers cheques have almost disappeared , yet they would be so useful in many countries which have unreliable and /or few ATMs. I now carry cash on trips , at least USD500 plus GBP100 plus Euro 100 , and use exchange booths to get local cash , because you really never know when you may get stranded without an ATM nearby. In an emergency , many people outside USA will take USD notes.

  59. Ben, I don’t want to be rude, but no matter how much you fly and travel the world, Africa seems to take you by surprise time and again, to the extent that it’s actually not even funny anymore. Next time, you need to prepare. It’s truly a world of its own and frankly, you were lucky you made it into the country at all.

    You should never travel to a developing country without a reasonable amount of both euros and dollars, hard cash, sometimes even pounds make sense. To rely on a credit card or an ATM in Africa? Man, don’t make me laugh! If you think Africa works like the rest of the world, think again.

  60. LOL. Had near similar experience in June in Nairobi. I rarely carry cash also as CC’s are so universal. I flew in on EK and I don’t know why the airlines don’t give you somewhat of a heads up on the plane with a PA announcement so you can go straight to the atm instead of finding out at the counter. I was in first and first at the counter but with the palava others had caught up.

  61. I always travel with $400, $100 in 10’s, $100 in 20’s, $100 in 50’s and a $100 bill. Learned this lesson the hard way as some places want exact change!

  62. I once was running short of time and didn’t have any cash to pay an exit fee in Ecuador. None of the ATMs were working much to my dismay but fortunately I just happened to have some random CAD in my wallet that I was able to exchange.

    Based on that experience I started carrying a couple hundred USD emergency cash which was great up until it got robbed at gun point in Buenos Aires. You just can’t win!

    Don’t sweat it Ben, happpens to the best of us. I might have even shown up to places on work trips and didn’t know a thing about the place. Stuff happens and you get sidetracked when it’s your job.

  63. Once at Zanzibar Airport I handed a little wrinkled USD 50 bill for the visa – and the reaction was, “too dirty” and was returned back in exchange for a new crisp bill. I mean, it’s not like your country has all brand new local notes! I don’t understand the mentality of locals who just see only crisp dollar bills to be “the valid” one.

  64. I recently flew to Kenya and, as a US citizen, I was told that I needed to apply for my visa online and that they had stopped issuing visa on arrivals – this was in April 2018. I applied and paid for the visa online and then when I went to the immigration desk, I found out that I could get a visa on arrival. There was no incentive to buy the visa beforehand as they had to do the same security checks and at that time, they were only accepting cash. I went up to the line at the same time another person went up to the line – I had prepurchased my visa and they were getting a visa on arrival and we both took the same amount of time.

  65. @Ben/Lucky, You are so good/smart at planning your trips and getting great deals. However, all of your travelling has not taught you to carry some hard currency? That REALLY comes across as amateur hour! 🙁

  66. Wow! The same thing happened to me in February, but a Immigration Agent had to escort me to a bank OUTSIDE of the airport in order to get cash — because every ATM in the airport was down. It was so bizarre, but the agent was so considerate and helpful. The lesson? Carry USD wherever you go.

  67. 1. 99% of people entering Kenya use e-Citizen (web-issued visas) – possibly the simplest visa issue system in the world. Why on earth was there a line at VOA? Research! Kenya has all but phased out VOA! Ahhh, the flight came from the USA (*mind travels back to when I worked for AA in London and conversed with American travellers who repeatedly told me that they were ‘leaving the UK to travel to Europe’, had ‘visited Buckminster Castle’ and were on their way to Germany to see ‘the Eiffel Tower’… Yes, really.

    2. ATMs not working is really rare at NBO. The KQ/KL terminal is modern and has plenty of facilities. Why you transited across to the old terminal (non-Skyteam) is a bit of a mystery.

    3. The cash machine that “you could apparently just withdraw money with your phone number, or something?” is offering Mpesa service. Mpesa is one of the worlds most successful and fastest growing money transfer and banking systems. See

    Research before you fly guys – it’s respectful.

    Nuff said.

  68. It’s not just LDCs where one should always have some cash.
    Payment networks, or your bank’s, do go down – we have both ends happen in the UK in the last year.

  69. Hilarious post Ben yes i had the same issue once in the Dominican republic, arrived with no cash, they had no atm so let me through to departures with no immigration so i could ” negotiate ” some cash out from a local bar in the airport. Ha ha . I amazingly got cash without being ripped off, was let back in to arrivals and paid my way in with USD 🙂

  70. About 20 years ago I visited Cambodia to see Angkor, and during my 4 day stay I never had to use anything but $USD. However, when leaving I had to pay the exit tax. It was less than the $20 I handed them, and got the change back in riel. No duty free at the airport and no place to spend it. Probably have it still somewhere.

  71. Mishaps happen once in a while. I experienced a similar issue in Nigeria a few years back. Similarly, I was very tired as it was part of my tour to run six marathons in six days back-to-back on six continents. Clearly, the quantity of cash in my pocket was not a priority, although it should have been. However, it was part of the fun and I completed my goal 🙂

  72. You should be making a big deal of this. Presumably Kenya does not want to be known as a backward country but they are doing their level best to build that reputation by not accepting cards at the airport. First impressions matter.

  73. A cute thing happened to me and my friend when we landed in Kenya. A man asked us if we had a visa, and when we said no, he took us to the head of the line to buy our visa. (We did have American dollars, at that time (2004) it was well-known they needed dollars and euros.) I thought that was really sweet because the line was really long but I have no idea why he singled us out. He didn’t ask us for a kickback, he just kind faded back into the crowd. And the other Americans in our group did take a while to get through the line… It was just one of those lucky things.

  74. Dear Lucky, from now on I will skip all the articles and come straight to the comments because apparently the travel experts are all down here. PS you may not known this, but you should always carry cash when you travel.

  75. I actually second @Arthur’s comment, but in a less sarcastic way. I enjoy your blog for entertainment, but can’t say that learn much or anything new from it. I do enjoy the comments though.

  76. “I’m sure some will say “well this is on you for not bringing cash.””

    Yep, that’s what I’d say. This is basic stuff.

    That said, you aren’t the first. I saw some people in Madagascar at 2 am trying to negotiate their way in without any cash. They didn’t speak Malagasy or French, and it did not look like it was going well.

  77. A couple of years ago when Turkey had visa on arrival (on a more recent trip you had to get the Turkish visa in advance), Singapore Airlines would not let us rely on getting a visa on arrival. They wanted to see a paper print out of the visa before they would check us in, so we ended up racing around looking for a printer. It was Changi, but it was late so there was only one option (fortunately).

  78. To be very blunt, this shows how naive you are and it also show how unprepared you were. You can’t fault them or their system for your unpreparedness.

    There are other articles that I recall people commenting the same sort of thing. It is 100% about managing your expectations and being prepared for the situation to come.

    US, Europe, and other developed places you could do completely with a card without a problem, but let’s keep in mind this is Africa, where cash, especially Dollar is still king. Consider this, if you were African, you would likely not be able to exchange your home country’s currency in the neighbor country’s currency. And consider this that at least your base currency is Dollars because in some African countries Dollars is only accepted for visa on arrival (VOA) – others also accept Pounds and Euros.

    Kenya is not the only county to offer VOA and not the only country to have a cash only system. Even if you were told you could use a card, may be the system is down or you should just be prepared in case. The other side question is what card you’d use because you don’t know how it would be processed…

    Then take China, for another example where local mobile payments are king.

  79. Vietnam…it isn’t VOA, you have to apply in advance but you also have to have cash for the fee in Hanoi. And the ATMs don’t work. Don’t depend on technology working to get a visa.

  80. Nairobi is a frequent destination for me and I have seen progress in getting through the cues for immigration and customs. The eVisa process is straight forward enough and predictable. The time from touch down to getting curbside can range from 25 minutes to 2 hours- the difference being the number of flights that concurrently contribute to a capacity crowd. Long cues tagged together with flight fatique induces frustration. I curb mine by reflecting on the blessings of a safe journey.

  81. I have been trying to complete my Kenyan evisa for the last 48 hours. When it gets to the payment part, it never will process the card. I’ve tried multiple credit cards. To those of you who have said it is an easy process: I apparently hit it on the wrong week. I will just have to join the line in country BUT will make sure I have an assortment of money on me.

  82. “… BUT will make sure I have an assortment of money on me”.

    You can pay in US$ or KSH… I imagine that US$ will be easier for you to have prior to arrival.

    On a side note, I am a UK passport holder who travels on a weekly basis. I have seen comments here about the extraordinarily long waiting times at immigration entering Kenya.

    Last week I travelled to the united states (Los Angeles) and was in line for **3 hours** at immigration!!! I asked the very polite officer I eventually reached if this is normal. The answer, “Yup, always 2-3 hours here”. I asked for advice on what to do when travelling with my elderly mother who although fit as a fiddle in her mid-seventies, cannot stand for long periods. The answer, “order a wheelchair. she may not need it but it’s the only way to get through this line any quicker”.

    The longest I have waited at NBO for immigration is 45 mins… let’s have a reality check here before we complain about ‘foreign’ airports.

  83. Hi I wondered if could ask your advice in a kind of crisis situation – since you have experience of Nairobi airport. My son is travelling to Kenya today and had his wallet stolen at Heathrow. he therefore has neither cash or cards to pay the visa- if I send him Western Union transfer would he be able to access this from the immigration area. ? or is there a way travel insurance could help in any way? thank you in advance

  84. Hello, I am so sorry to hear this happened. Three solutions come to mind. 1. I had a quick look and Western Union have an office in the arrivals hall of Unit 2. I’m not sure how old your son is or how good he is at dealing with people in authority, but we have always found Kenyan immigration officers to be very helpful. If he was to explain what had happened at Heathrow and say that you have sent money to Unit 2 arrivals at Western Union that he can pick up, they may well have someone it’s escort him there to pick up the money and then come back to pick up the visa. 2. I trust that he has filled out the application form online on the citizen portal?. Does he have a copy of this with him? If so many people use this and it is accepted as visa. I believe the immigration service have a system whereby if there’s a problem with an application it shows up on their system, if there is not what they simply accept the person. 3. The other thing that you could do is contact Kenya airways by the telephone, the manager in the UK is called Bruce Watson and the reservations manager is Mr Patni. He may be able to assist you. I hope that has been helpful and hope it doesn’t cause too much stress for your son.

  85. Those of you recommending getting an evisa for Kenya in advance are sadly mistaken. I am going to Kenya at the end of August and applied on 27th July along with my husband. The website says a processing time of 2 business days. My husband got his visa after 6 days and mine is still “pending” after 12 days. The contact telephone numbers are useless and they don’t answer emails. See threads on tripadvisor.
    Sadly I suppose I will have to take some US$ but with the current value of GBP it is going to be very expensive. I have never before had to take US$ with me and have traveled to many undeveloped countries without problems.

  86. When i was in Kosovo, last year I had hundreds of USD in cash, but the taxi driver refused to accept it and only wanted Euros. He finally agreed to USD but wanted 2 USD for 1 EUR. The lesson is dont rely on US dollars, also carry Euros.

  87. Has anyone had a current problem completing the Kenya government e-Visa application found on the Embassy website? I have been on twice and when I get to the section asking for a phone number for a hotel , friend, etc. the system keeps giving me an error message stating the response has to be a number. I’ve put in the publihed hotel number as well as a colleague’s and it keeps telling me the digits are not numbers (but they are). I even researched phone number of wiki and that hasn’t helped. I’m at a loss. Any suggestions?

  88. Hi Deb,
    I wouldn’t bother with the evisa for Kenya. See my post of 8th August. I never got the visa and my application had been pending for 39 days. I got one at the airport without any trouble. I told the immigration officer my on line application had been pending for 39 days and she just laughed. I think it happens all the time.

  89. Really struggling to use the Kenya eVisa website (and I’m a software developer). Broken links, pages that take forever to load and then timeout, and to top it all off there’s no SSL encryption when submitting forms. God knows who built it but it’s a pretty amateur effort. I think I’ll buy a visa at the airport when I get there.

  90. Laos. Won’t make the mistake of not having crisp US bills again. Escorted to ATM at gunpoint and charged double for paying with their currency. This was about 5 years ago.

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