- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Kenya Guide (PDF)
Any non-Kenyan wishing to remain in the country for longer than a six-month period needs a work residence permit, usually obtained before arriving. Work permits are often granted for one or two years, with the opportunity for renewal.
Expats hired to work in Kenya are likely to have some level of support from their employer when it comes to arranging their visa and work permit, including covering visa-related costs. Aid agencies in Kenya also assist their volunteers and employees in their visa applications. Expats starting their own business in Kenya must secure licenses and demonstrate earning potential to receive a work and business permit.
Companies in certain sectors are prioritised and allocated more work permits than others, such as telecommunications, information and communication technology, oil and gas, and exploration and production.
The application processing takes time – up to three months – so we encourage expats to start planning as early as possible. The benefit of this is that it gives more time to search for accommodation in Kenya before leaving.
After the work permit has been processed, expats will receive an Alien Card. The Alien Card allows them to register with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) to get a tax number known as a KRA PIN.
There are various classes of work and residency permits to suit each individual's motives for settling in Kenya, covering everyone, from short-term assignees to retirees. The main permits expats require are outlined below, and are for prescribed professions (Class C), employment permits (Class D), and for trade and business (Class G).
There are also permit classes for: prospecting and mining; agriculture and animal husbandry; specific manufacturing; and religious or charitable activities.
Work permits for Kenya
Class C – Prescribed profession permits
Kenya’s immigration regulations class certain jobs as ‘prescribed professions’, which include medical professionals, legal professionals, architects, engineers, accountants and ICT experts.
Prescribed professions are those that require formal registration with a professional body or institute.
Like with other classes of work permits, it is best that applicants seek guidance from a relocation professional and the nearest embassy. Doing this means expats know exactly which category to apply for and what is needed from them.
Class D – Employment permits
This permit covers those who are moving to Kenya for a specific job for a single employer. This permit is intended for expats who have skills and qualifications that may not be available in the local workforce and that will benefit the country.
Work permit applicants with a job already in place should consider the Class D permit. Applicants may need to submit contractual details and a cover letter signed by them and their employers, as well as their curriculum vitae and professional certificates.
Class G – Specific trade, business or consultancy permits
This permit is issued to those looking to invest in a specific trade or set up a business or consultancy in Kenya. Applicants need extensive documentation for the Class G permit, including specific details on the business or consultancy, such as capital to be invested, articles of associate and certificate of incorporation of the company.
Residence permits for Kenya
Certain work permit holders can apply for permanent residence in Kenya, along with ordinary residents who meet specific criteria and spouses of Kenyan citizens.
Permanent residence for work permit holders
Expats who have held work permits for at least seven years – and have resided continuously in Kenya for three years can apply for permanent residency, labelled as Category B.
Permanent residence for spouses of Kenyan citizens
Spouses of Kenyan nationals who have been married for at least three years are entitled to apply for permanent residency.
Class K – Ordinary residents permits
This type of permit, Class K, is for ‘ordinary residents’ above the age of 35 and is highly exclusive and limited to more wealthy applicants.
Applicants with a guaranteed annual income and those who do not need to take up employment in Kenya may consider this permit. If holders of a Class K permit wish to work they must investigate further options.
*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.
►Department of Immigration Services electronic portal: fns.immigration.go.ke
►Read more on Visas for Kenya
"I used an immigration consultant and most of these are accountants or lawyers. There are a number of hoops to jump through when applying for a work permit (such as providing original education certificates etc.) and the process can take upwards of three months." Get first-hand advice on work permits for Kenya in our interview with Frances.
Are you an expat living in Kenya?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Kenya. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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