My quadcopter is always my go-to equipment when I want to document memorable adventures with the glamorous aerial photos and videos drone cameras can take.
Throughout my travels, I have experienced varying regulations from country to country, with some not allowing drone use entirely.
Is Kenya one of them? Let’s find out.
You can bring an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) or drone to Kenya if you’re a Kenyan citizen, resident, or company registered in a Kenyan county or national government. But some restrictions exist under the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA).
For a foreigner, it’s prohibited to bring a drone to Kenya. However, you can lease drones after acquiring a 30-day permit.
If you plan to fly a drone in Kenyan airspace, you should enlighten yourself with the rules and regulations before you take off.
Owning and operating a drone in Kenya
According to KCAA, you can only bring a drone to Kenya if you’re a Kenyan citizen. Foreigners are not allowed but can lease one locally with a permit. They must follow KCAA regulations, such as keeping off airports, parks, and other sensitive installations.
Furthermore, there are qualifications set for drone pilots and rules they should follow when flying a UAS.
There was a ban on the use of drones before March 2020, but it was lifted after the Kenyan parliament passed the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Regulations 2020.
Even though flying is allowed, the rules for importing and using drones are challenging.
This is understandable since the rules are still new. However, there’s hope the Kenyan government will loosen some regulations to allow easy importation and let foreigners bring drones to Kenya.
What are the general rules for drone flying in Kenya?
Kenya categorizes Unmanned Aircraft System operations into three different categories:
- Category A (Low risk): A drone of this category can be operated with little to no threat to people, property, or manned aircraft. Here, you’ll need a registration and permit and follow the rules and regulations. These drones are mostly for personal or recreational purposes.
- Category B (medium risk/regulated lower risk). The public, property, and manned aviation are all at medium risk from operations falling under this category. Foreigners use this category and are expected to pay a fee of Sh2,500 daily. Pilots flying drones in this operation category should have Remote Aircraft Operators Certificate (ROC).
- Category C (high risk/regulated): The safety of people, property, and manned aviation are highly in danger from this operations category. The pilot should obtain a ROC for them to operate in category C.
You will need to follow some general rules if you’re looking to enjoy some aerial views in Kenya. As mentioned above, you will first need to lease a drone if you are a foreigner and apply for a permit.
Here are some basic regulations for drones and drone pilots you should keep in mind:
- Without the authority’s permission, no one should operate a UAS.
- Do not operate a drone at more than 400m above ground level.
- You should not fly a UAS within 50 meters of any structure, vessel, vehicle, or structure that is not part of your operation (except with authorization).
- A drone operator should be at least 18 years old.
- Operate the drone within visual line-of-sight at all times. Do not use aided visuals such as binoculars or First-person view (FPV).
- Do not operate your drone in non-Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC), such as when the weather is poor.
- Never use a drone at night.
- Do not operate a drone near an airport. Ensure a 7-kilometer distance for category A and B aerodromes and 10 kilometers for category C, D, E, and F.
- You should never reproduce, process, share, or publish any information you get from areas beyond the prescribed scope of operation.
- Avoid flying over places of worship, schools, hospitals, prisons, and crime scenes unless you have permission from the authorities.
- Do not fly across the international border.
- You shall not operate a UAS recklessly, such as endangering other aircraft or people or flying the craft in restricted and dangerous areas.
- Do not fly an Unmanned Aircraft System over high-tension cables, air navigation services, and military installations.
- Drone pilots should have a safety management system that includes safety risk management, safety policy and objectives, safety assurance, and promotion.
- An Unmanned Aircraft System operator should not use an imaging device to survey privately owned or any other property without the owner’s authority.
- Every Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) registered in Kenya must have an identifying plate etched, stamped, or engraved with its registration identifier.
The authority, in collaboration with the Cabinet Secretary, may explicitly forbid the deployment of drone operations in any given situation for the country’s security.
Do you need permission to use a drone in Kenya?
KCAA is the agency in place to ensure that drones are flown safely for the security of the nation. UAS can pose significant safety and security challenges, thus the need for the government to control and manage them.
You agree to abide by the KCAA rules and regulations by getting a permit. This helps keep everyone safe while still preventing potential accidents.
What will customs do if you bring a drone to Kenya?
Customs will confiscate your drone if you try to bring it to Kenya. Chances are high that you might not get the drone back by the time you leave due to bureaucratic delays.
However, you can start the process of getting it back early once the time to leave the country approaches.
Additionally, if your drone remains in customs custody for over 7 days, they may start to charge you a daily storage fee.
Finally, remember that it’s illegal for foreigners to bring drones into Kenya, so don’t be tempted to hide a drone in your luggage. You don’t want to have issues and be on the wrong side of the Kenyan government.
For Kenyan nationals, bringing a drone to Kenya without informing KCAA could cause it to be confiscated by customs.
Keep in mind that importing or exporting drones from Kenya can be done with the approval of the KCAA. You can do this through their portal before you fly into the country.
The process of getting back your drone is exhausting. First, you’ll visit the KCAA offices to explain why you came with a drone. Then, you have to apply for registration and approval from the aviation authority.
All Unmanned Aircraft System operators must show proof of training to have a valid license. Failing to do this, you risk a jail term or hefty fines.
What do I risk by flying a drone illegally in Kenya?
Flying a UAS in Kenya without authorization might lead to fines, land you in a Kenyan prison, or both. The fine amount and length of imprisonment highly depend on the severity of the infringement.
For example, illegal use of a drone can lead to a fine of at least Ksh. 2 million and a jail term of not less than six months.
It’s best to leave your drone back at home and lease one once you arrive in Kenya. There will certainly be an excellent choice for you to provide you with the thrilling experience you’re looking forward to.
How to retrieve my drone at Kenyan airport customs?
As mentioned earlier, to avoid your drone being confiscated at the airport by customs officials, it’s better to leave it behind. However, there are some situations where it’s impossible to leave the UAS behind. For instance, if you’re traveling to multiple nations that allow drones before visiting Kenya.
In this case, it’s advisable to plan your trip to avoid inconveniences with your drone.
- First, refrain from smuggling your drone in since this could result in major legal issues. Instead, inform the customs officers that you have a drone. Tell them you’re aware of the drone restrictions in the country and explain why you have it.
- Your drone will be left with the customs, who might refer you to the RCAA for clearance.
- Begin the process of getting your drone early enough to give time for the completion of relevant procedures and clearance.
- Follow up the process by calling customs or RCAA to ensure no delays will happen when you’re flying out.
How much is a temporary drone permit?
The Kenyan drone permit issued to travelers costs Sh20,000. In addition to the license, you should also get an airworthiness certificate that costs Sh5,000.
You might also incur some other charges for service and certifications.
How do you get a permit to fly a drone in Kenya?
This applies to Kenyan nationals wanting to gain permission to fly a drone in Kenya.
Application for a drone permit and registration can be made online through the KCAA website. Once your application is approved, you’ll receive your permit and be all set to fly your drone in Kenya.
Just follow all the rules and regulations (link) set forth by the KCAA, and you’ll be good to go.
Since the process can be slow, apply for the drone a few weeks before you plan to use it. The following documents should accompany your application:
- Identification document (passport).
- A clear color photograph of the drone and its serial number.
- Copy of drone pilot license.
- Safety management system documentation.
How to register a drone in Kenya?
Again, this only applies to Kenyan nationals, as foreigners can not bring a drone into Kenya.
The first thing is to fill out the online registration form. You’ll need to provide your personal contact, type, and drone model. You’ll also need to pay a registration fee of Kenya shillings (Kshs) 3,000 (about $30) for the certificate of registration and the same amount for its copy.
The initial fee for a Remote Air Operator Certificate (ROC) for:
- Commercial purposes: Kshs 80,000 (about $800).
- Renewal: Kshs 50,000 (about $500).
- Any amendments: Kshs 5,000 (about $50).
Here are all the other major costs for Unmanned Aircraft Systems operations in Kenya. You’ll also need these documents:
- Identification documents
- A clear photo of the UAS
- Police clearance certificate
- Circuit diagram of the UAS (if applicable)
- Company registration document (if it’s for commercial purposes)
- Type Certificate of the UAS (if applicable)
Are drones allowed in the Maasai Mara National Reserve?
The Masai Mara National Reserve is among Kenya’s unique and popular tourist destinations. It’s located in the South Western part of Kenya. Thousands of people travel to the Mara yearly to see the great wildlife that calls this place home.
The Mara is home to lions, elephants, zebras, and iconic wildebeests that migrate yearly from the Serengeti National Park in neighboring Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in breathtaking numbers. It’s the perfect place to go on a safari.
You may be tempted to visit the Mara with your drone. Bad news! Drones are not allowed in the park.
Generally, drones are not allowed in animal parks and reserves in Kenya. That’s because drones cause panic and stress in animals. It can also lead to accidents that could otherwise be avoided.
Amazing places to fly drones in Kenya include:
- The Great Rift Valley (excluding the parks and protected areas)
- The sandy beaches of Mombasa (a coastal town on the Indian Ocean)
- The great city of Nairobi (one of the iconic cities of Africa)
- The mountainous terrains of Mount Kenya (the second tallest mountain in Africa)
Understanding every provision is the best way to be on the positive side of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Regulations 2020. Good research is an excellent way to start, and I have given you a head start.
If you need more information or clarifications for special situations, be sure to contact the KCAA at +254 020 6827470-5 or +254 728 606 570. You can also email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems Regulations (link)
Training Fees & Fines For Drones Operations (link)
Manual of Implementing Standards (link)
Costs for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (link)