As if my visa application troubles were not enough, there was drama at the border in Mombassa, with an official declaring my visa to Kenya invalid, leading to 90 minutes of apprehension and utter frustration in a stifling hot immigration hall at Moi International Airport.
My Invalid Kenya Visa…And A Tip Request
When I applied for my Kenyan visa, I chose a transit visa. The requirements for a transit visa are that you must 1.) transit Kenya into a third country and 2.) remain in Kenya for less than 72 hours.
I would be in Mombassa for a bit more than 48 hours before continuing to Johannesburg, South Africa via Nairobi. At $21, transit visas are $30 cheaper than tourist visas, but I chose transit not to save the money but because I thought it might be issued more quickly than a tourist visa.
When I arrived in Mombassa I was chewed out by a man in a yellow safety vest for taking a picture of the aircraft, which may have been a good indicator of what was to come.
Downstairs, the air was dead in the arrivals hall and the heat already stifling, even though it was not even 8:00 am yet. I waited in line for my turn; the line moved very slowly (it seemed to take about five minutes to process each arriving guest).
Finally, I reached the front. A man wearing a “Kenya Aerotech” reflective vest took my passport. Let’s call him Joseph. He saw that I had a transit visa and said, “When your next flight?” I told him that it was in two days and presented him with the itinerary, which I had printed.
He then said, “This not transit. You vacation here.” I responded that I entered from Germany and am continuing to South Africa and staying less than three days, per the terms of the transit visa.
He smiled, shook his head, and said, “Nope. No good. You holiday here. No transit.”
Oh, that smile…
Next, he said, “Visa no good. Go get a tourist visa.”
“From where?” I asked. He shrugged. Then he signaled for me to have a seat in the corner and let everyone else through first.
So for the next hour I sat and waited as every last passenger on my Eurowings flight was processed into Kenya.
Finally, the arrivals hall was empty. During this time, I tried to reach out to my friends who were waiting for me at the hotel, but the signal was horrible inside the terminal (one bar, and only intermittently) and there was no wi-fi.
Joseph finally came over to me and wanted to ensure I was really booked at the Severin Sea Lodge. Of course, my data was working painfully slowly, but I did manage to look up the hotel’s telephone number while I was waiting. I gave him the number and he called the hotel, ostensibly to verify I was a registered guest there due to check in that day and only stay for two days.
He called again.
I finally reached my friend via SMS and he told me that he was literally standing at the front desk of the hotel and the phone never rang. So I got Joe’s number and gave it to my friend, who gave it to the hotel. They called him, he answered, and after a brief conversation, he motioned for me to come back to an immigration desk where he stamped me into Kenya.
But want to know why this was all just a scam? Because after stamping me in, he walked with me to the baggage claim area, where there was a Lufthansa agent waiting with my bag. She thought I was going onto Addis Ababa, but I explained to her I would just be stopping here. I feared that would arouse Joe’s suspicions even further, but he did not seem to mind.
And then came the request.
“Do you have a tip for me?”
I laughed. He laughed. I told him to come take a selfie with me. He was happy to do so. The Lufthansa/Eurowings ground handling agent joined us.
And yes, I gave him a $5 tip, once I was already stamped in. This
bribe gift was my welcome to Kenya. He told me that he would see me on Thursday to make sure I left his country (he said it in a good-natured way) and to message him if I wanted to hang out (seriously).
I was never really scared – I’m used to this sort of thing by now. But still, it was not the way I wanted to start my trip to Kenya and it was all so pointless. All just a pathetic display of “see, I have authority over you.” I went along for the ride and if I had to go to Addis and Cairo, I would have. Thankfully, it did not come to that.
Kenya is a great nation and I will return sooner rather than later. But this sort of welcome was unwelcome.