Visa openness in Africa 2023: some good news for African travellers in Africa

Africa is making progress in its visa openness policies, which bodes well for cross-border travel, ease of movement and trade in 2024 and beyond. The Africa Visa Openness Index 2023, published by the African Union and the African Development Bank, reveals much progress since the seventh edition of the report was published in December 2022.

Openness on visas achieved its highest score in 2023, exceeding levels last seen before the Covid-19 pandemic. The African Visa Openness Index (AVOI) measures the degree to which African countries are open to visitors from other African countries. The visa requirements of each country are analyzed to determine the extent to which countries’ visa policies facilitate travel to their territory.

Over the period 2020-2021, massive border closures by many countries to curb the spread of Covid-19, affected land and air travel, with further restrictions due to screening measures, gathering bans, quarantines and the like, causing a stagnation in 2022.

In 2023, the report’s data show that 50 countries have improved or maintained their 2022 score, with only four countries scoring lower. Since the first report was published in 2016, 36 countries have improved their index score. 42 African countries grant visa-free entry to citizens of at least five other African countries, while 33 countries do so for citizens of at least ten countries. Four countries, compared with three last year, have abolished all visa requirements for African travellers. These are Rwanda, Benin, Gambia and Seychelles.

All key global matrices showed improvements in 2023. In 28% of all intra-African travel scenarios, African citizens do not need a visa (an improvement on 27% in 2022 and 20% in 2016). A visa is still required in 46% of continental travel scenarios – down from 47% in 2022 and 55% in 2016.

“This makes it easier for Africans to visit family, pursue their studies and business activities abroad, and discover Africa as tourists. It also helps realize aspirations for a prosperous and integrated continent where people can develop their potential unhindered by overly restrictive visa regimes in other countries, marking an all-time record in reciprocal visa-free travel privileges,” said Jean-Guy Afrika, Acting Director of the African Development Bank’s Regional Integration Coordination Office.

Highlights of the Africa Visa Openness Index 2023

  • The Visa Openness Index reached its highest level in 2023, slightly surpassing the previous peak of 2020.
  • Africa now boasts four champions (Rwanda, Benin, Gambia and Seychelles): countries that have abolished visas for citizens of all African countries.
  • 24 countries now offer electronic visas, almost three times as many as in 2016.
  • 15 countries improved their score in 2023, 35 maintained their score, and only four scored lower.
  • West African countries remain at the top of the ranking: seven of the continent’s ten best-performing countries are in West Africa.

“As we publish the eighth edition of the Visa Openness Index and assess progress since 2016, we are proud of the complete lifting of travel restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the surpassing of pre-pandemic levels in visa openness,” said Marie-Laure Akin-Olugbade, African Development Bank Vice President for Regional Development, Integration and Service Delivery. “The progress underway in various aspects of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement offers promising prospects for its benefits to soon spread across the continent. The objective is clearer than ever: to promote a highly integrated continent where the free movement of goods, services, capital and people between countries is a reality,” added Ms. Akin-Olugbade.

Rwanda and regional organizations lead the way

Rwanda is emerging as a new champion in 2023, having gradually liberalized its visa regime over the past eight years. In 2016, this landlocked country allowed citizens of almost 90% of African countries to obtain a visa on arrival; citizens of other countries could enter the country without a visa. It then abolished visa fees for African citizens and, in 2023, Rwanda removed all visa requirements for citizens of the entire continent. “This has eased the burden of travel for citizens of 35 African countries who until recently still required a visa,” notes the report. In another positive development, Kenya is reportedly planning to abolish visa requirements for African travellers by the end of 2023.

The report also measures average visa openness within the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) recognized by the African Union, and finds that average visa openness has improved in six of the eight RECs over the past year. The RECs continue to be important drivers of visa openness through regional initiatives to remove barriers to the movement of people.

In this respect, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) achieves the highest regional score. It is here that African citizens enjoy the highest levels of freedom of movement across borders. ECOWAS has taken a progressive stance on visa openness for decades, formalizing it in 1979 with a protocol on the free movement of persons, the right of residence and establishment.

In addition to boasting the highest regional Visa Openness Index score on the continent, ECOWAS also boasts the highest visa waiver reciprocity rate: this corresponds to the rate at which the visa waiver policies of each country within the REC are reciprocated by its member states. In 97% of travel scenarios, citizens can enter another CER country without needing a visa.

RELATED ARTICLE: Rwanda announces Visa-Free Travel for Africans at WTTC Global Summit

What’s next for Africa? Recommendations and solutions

Despite the many improvements, there are still obstacles to overcome. In almost half of all country-to-country travel scenarios (46%), Africans are required to obtain a visa before departure to travel to other African countries. Visa restrictions are particularly pronounced in North and Central Africa. Maintaining the momentum of visa liberalization is essential to realizing the vision of “the Africa we want”. The adoption of liberal visa policies will not only facilitate the fluidity of travel, but will also contribute significantly to improving trade in goods and services, cross-border investment and shared prosperity.

The recommendations focus in particular on the following points

Implement all existing commitments on visa-free travel within the regional economic communities,
Extend visa-free policies to all African Union member states, in stages if necessary (from visa before travel to visa on arrival or visa-free entry; from visa on arrival to visa-free entry).
Streamline and simplify all remaining visa and related cross-border procedures.
Offer African citizens still subject to visa requirements the possibility of obtaining a visa on arrival.

Implement and develop electronic visa systems that use a secure, reliable and mobile-friendly platform, with guaranteed response times, for all Africans who are still required to obtain a visa prior to travel, to alleviate any visa-related burden when traveling.
The African Continental Free Trade Area is a key area where progress on visa openness is essential. “The free movement of people across Africa’s borders is not only an important goal in its own right, it is also essential to continental integration,” the report stresses. With three new African Union member states set to ratify the AfCFTA in 2023, bringing the total to 47 ratifications, the lasting impact of the negotiations, ratification and implementation of the AfCFTA depends to a large extent on the ability of people to cross African borders, unhindered by excessive administrative barriers.

“The growth of trade in goods is closely linked to the liberalization of trade in services, both of which depend on the fluid movement of people across African borders, without excessive bureaucratic obstacles,” said Minata Samaté Cessouma, Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development at the African Union Commission. “We have never been so close to realizing the potential of the AfCFTA for continental integration. The African Union is proud of the progress made by countries in terms of the free movement of people”, she added.

About Africa Visa Openness Index

The Africa Visa Openness Index measures how open African countries are to travellers from other African countries. Published annually since 2016, the index tracks country scores over time to show how national policies are evolving in terms of freedom of movement across Africa.

Download Aperture’s 2023 visa report for Africa here. To find out more, click here.

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