Rwanda Immigration and Visa Procedures and Advice

Rwanda Visa and Immigration Tips and Advice

Applying and renewing visas in Rwanda has caused many people I know extreme stress (and even tears in some cases). But in my experience, the process has always been very simple, quick, and straightforward.

The trick is going in prepared with all of the correct documents in good order and with a smile and a bit of patience. Do this and you should have a decent experience. Well, at least as decent as can be expected… I mean, when is an immigration office ever a pleasant place to be? But if you’re rude, catch the immigration people in a bad mood, or have your documents all screwed up then you’ll likely find yourself having an unpleasant experience involving several trips to the office for more unpleasantness.

Each time I need to go to immigration to renew a visa or do something else, I ask lots of questions online in an effort to be prepared so that I can bang everything out it one trip. I’m in the process of renewing my two-year business visa so the experience is fresh in my mind and I thought that sharing some tips and procedures with you might help when the time comes to do fun visa things of your own.

Keep in mind that rules and forms change and this article should not be taken as gospel. But hopefully there are enough links and phone numbers here to help get you on the correct path before you make the trip to the visa offices.

Useful Links & Basic Info

Everything you’ll need to know is listed in detail in this article, but if you just want to dive right in, here are the relevant links and info to get you well on your way.

Rwandan Entry Visa (Tourist Visa)

Since I’ve never had to get one of these (I arrived back before they were required), I have no idea what the process is but you can get all of the juicy details here. This article is more about residence visa stuff, anyway. I can point out that, while you are allowed to arrive on a tourist visa and then transfer it over to a work, business or other type of visa after arrival, this should be done within the first 15 days of arriving.

Figuring Out the Visa and Documents You Need

Head over to the permits page of the Rwandan Immigration and Emigration website where each type of temporary residence visa is listed in the right sidebar. Find the category relevant to you and click for more info and a list of required documents. If you’re hoping to get a business visa, choose ‘G – Specific Trade, Business, and Services‘ and ‘G1 Inside the Region‘ if you’re an East African Community national or ‘G2 Outside the Region‘ if you hold a passport from anywhere else in the world.

If you’re applying for another visa then I don’t have any experience and can’t really tell you which place to go. Browse through the options and keep clicking until you find something that looks right. The visa application form is, as far as I can see, the same for every visa and the only things that change are the fees and the required supporting documents which are listed on each visa’s information page.

Payments

You have to pay for your visa before you actually go in to apply for it and keep the receipt to add to your package of documents. In order to pay, you’ll need to generate a reference number using the Receipt Generation Form that you can choose to print or have emailed or SMS’d to you. The form is quite straightforward though you might have to do a bit of searching in the drop down menus in order to find the correct section.

For visas, in the ‘Service Provider / Aho usaba serivisi‘ section choose ‘DG IE (Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration‘. Another drop down menu will appear below with various self-explanatory choices. To get to a list of the residence visas (where work and business visas will be), choose ‘Residence Permit‘ then ‘Temporary Residence Permits‘. It’s within this last menu that you’ll find the list of all possible residence visas so choose the one you need.

After you’ve chosen the correct visa, pick the currency (I’ve always just chosen francs) and then once you submit the form you’ll be given the option for how you’d like the reference number delivered. This is what you’ll need to make your payment.

You have two options – paying at any Bank of Kigali, or paying at immigration. Paying at the bank is quick and easy, just fill in a deposit form and take your reference number and cash with you. They’ll print out the usual Bank of Kigali receipt and that’s the proof you’ll need.

The second option, if you don’t want to make an extra trip to the bank, is to pay at the office in the immigration complex that’s located to the left of the ID card office. Look for the ‘Mobi Money’ signs. Only cash and MTN Mobile Money are accepted, no credit cards. I tried to pay at this office but failed miserably due to there being something wrong with the connection and nobody seeming to have any clue about how to fix it. Paying here also requires an additional service fee of Rwf 400 for the Rwf 5,000 green card and Rwf 1,600 for my Rwf 100,000 business visa.

While it’s far more convenient to do everything all in one place, keep in mind that the payment office opens at 7am and so does immigration. So if you’re smart and decide to go to immigration at 7am when it opens (to avoid the horrid lines) then you’ll be delayed a bit and the office could fill up while you pay.

Paperwork and Document Requirements

Though the visa application form is the same for every resident visa, the supporting documents are often different. Getting your first work visa is more difficult and requires more supporting documents than does renewing a visa. Some of the documents listed are self-explanatory, but some are a bit more confusing or difficult to get. I’ve created a list of possible requirements and given some advice on obtaining each of them below.

Remember that different visas require different things. The website is very clear about the required documents so make sure to check your visa’s page so you avoid doing silly things like getting an unnecessary police clearance for a business visa renewal like I did.

Colour Passport Photo

No matter which visa you’re applying for, you’ll need a passport photo. There are guys in the alley beside the immigration office who will approach you to ask if you want to get a passport photo done. I used one of these guys many years ago and the photo was accepted but I haven’t tried it recently and I’m not sure what the procedure is. If you’d rather not mess around with a back alley passport photo dude, I’d recommend going to Fotolab which is located at the bottom of the cobblestone road in Kimihurura. They’re professional and will give you international-standard photos. Might as well stock up for any future visa needs or for trips around the region. There’s also a place in town across from Ecole Belge (on the White Horse side) that I’ve used in the past and would recommend.

Completed Application Form

You can get the visa application form here and I’m pretty sure it’s the same for any residence visa you’re applying for. They might have copies at immigration (I’ve never checked) though I’d recommend printing the form before you go there just in case. It can be printed in black and white.

Application Letter

You need to write up a short letter addressed to the ‘Director General of Immigration and Emigration’. I’ve had a friend just write this out by hand on a piece of paper when she was at immigration but if you want to be sure, type something up and print it out before arriving. It just has to specify what visa you’re applying for and be addressed to the Director General. I added a few lines about my business and also a list of all of the documents I was submitting. I left a place to sign it at the bottom and I also stamped it with my business stamp which probably doesn’t hurt if you happen to have a stamp. Rwanda loves stamps.

Curriculum Vitae

Some visas will require this so just whip one up and print it out.

Employment Contract

If you’re applying for a work visa, you should have an employer, and therefore you should have a contract. Bring that along with you.

Copy of NGO/INGO or Company RDB Certificate

I’m not 100% sure what this is but any NGO/INGO or business in Rwanda will have to register and I assume that they’ll want to see that the people you’re going to work for are actually legit. Your employer should be able to provide you with a copy of this document.

Business Registration Certificate

If you’re applying for a business visa then you will have already gone through the (surprisingly simple) process of registering a business at RDB. Once you register, RDB will give you a certificate of registration and this is what’s required for your visa application. I brought my original and a copy with me and they took the copy.

Trading License (Patente)

There’s some extra tax that’s required of all businesses that are registered in Rwanda that, I think, is tied to the district they operate in. I’m afraid I don’t have the details on how to get this because I had my accountant do it for me. I can say that I was supposed to get this thing the moment I registered my business way back in 2013 and I didn’t, so I had to pay some fines to get everything up to speed. I can also say that when I was granted my very first business visa in 2014, immigration didn’t care that I didn’t have this document but I’m not sure if things are more strict now.

If you’re looking for help with this mysterious document (or any accounting services for that matter) I can totally recommend Felix from Jali Partners who can be reached at jalipartners@gmail.com. Getting an accountant has probably been the best money I’ve spent in Rwanda and I’ve been really impressed with their services. Even if you don’t need ongoing accounting help, they’ll consult with you for a good price and help clear up any questions or issues you have.

Notarised Diploma/Degree

I can’t speak for other countries, but I had a copy of my university degree notarised by the Canadian High Commission for a small fee. I think it took a day. I can’t give advice on how to get this done if you’re not Canadian though. I guess ask at your own embassy and if your country doesn’t have an embassy here then I have no idea, sorry. Can anyone help with this?

Work visas require not only that you prove your education but also that your education is sufficient for the job you’re applying for. If you don’t have a teaching degree, for example, they won’t grant a visa as a teacher. It’s a recent crackdown in the past couple of years so keep that in mind if you’re coming here to work for someone else.

Police Clearance

This is the thing that can really screw people because it has to be obtained in person from your home country or a country you’ve lived in for the past six months. If you’ve been in Rwanda for longer than six months then you can try to get the clearance from ‘National Public Prosecution Authority – Department of Criminal Record Clearance Certificate‘ which is located sort of near the Convention Centre. This Canadian Immigration website for some reason has a list of required documents that could be helpful. But I’m not sure that being in Rwanda as a tourist qualifies you to get a police clearance here so, even if you’ve been here for six months already, you might not have any luck.

I got one in Rwanda after living in the country for four years, two years of that on a work visa. I don’t remember the procedure, though, but it’s straightforward. It looks like you can generate the payment reference with the Receipt Generation Form by choosing ‘POLICE (Rwanda National Police)‘ and then ‘Police Crearance‘ (hehe). The fee shows up as zero though… so I’m not sure what’s happening there. Has anyone got a police clearance from Rwanda recently? Advice?

It’s more likely that you’ll need an original police clearance letter from your home country. Immigration officials are picky about this document and it can really screw people over who don’t think about getting it before they arrive. The procedure for getting a police clearance will vary drastically depending on where you’re getting it from. In Ontario, Canada, I had to go to some dodgy office in Niagara Falls for them to take my finger prints and snap a photo and then the document was sent to me several weeks later. My clearance letter, though original, was in black and white and looked like crap and immigration really didn’t like this. They eventually accepted it, but my employer at the time had to argue my case. Keep that in mind and if your clearance letter looks in any way shady, try to get some other letter or official-looking stamp or something to vouch for it.

Happily, police clearance letters aren’t be required for renewals. Which I wish someone would have told me before I got my police clearance letter here. Ah well.

Copy of Foreigner ID (Green Card)

If you’re renewing a visa that means you’ve already been a resident in Rwanda for some time which means you should already have a green card. If you have a card, take a copy and add it to your collection of documents. If you don’t have a card, the procedure for getting one is easy.

The Foreigner ID card office is located three offices to the left of the visa office and is marked with a  sign that says ‘Diplomatic Passport General Inquiries‘. You can get the one-page application form at the office and fill it out in a couple of minutes. Along with that you’ll need proof of the Rwf 5,000 payment (see the ‘Payments’ information above), your passport, and a colour passport photo with a white background that they can glue on for you.

The office hasn’t ever been super busy any of the times I’ve visited and each person takes about 10 minutes to process so it moves along pretty quickly. But to be totally safe, get there right at 7am when they open and you’ll probably be the only one there. After your application is entered into the computer, you’ll be asked to sit for a photo and they’ll take your thumbprints as well. You should get an SMS three days later asking you to collect your card from the same office that you applied.

If you’re applying for the green card at the same time as your visa, go to the green card office first and afterward they’ll give you back your application form and proof of payment to include in the visa application process. The visa people will pass the form back to the green card people afterward and they’ll get in touch.

Submitting Your Visa Application

Once you figure out which visa you need, pay, and get all of your documents in order it’s time to head to the immigration office located in Kacyiru not far from the US Embassy. Motos will know either place so just ask for ‘immigration’ (try with a French accent if they don’t get it at first’ or ‘Embassy American’ which is nearby. If you get taken to immigration, they’ll likely drop you off behind the building as motos aren’t supposed to stop on the main road in front. Just walk up the path and you’ll see the building on your immediate left.

The immigration offices have moved slightly to the right after the building was renovated fairly recently. If you’re looking at the building from the sidewalk, the offices you need are towards the right side. The visa office is to the far right, the green card office is three or four doors to the left, and the payment office is the next office to the left which is through a section of the building on the opposite side.

The immigration office is open from 7am to 5pm only. The afternoon is reserved for visa collections. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get there right as they’re opening. I was there last week just before they opened and there were four people waiting. After having to venture to the bank and for coffee I returned at around 9am to find a line of 15 people extending outside of the office. With the size of the office I’d guess there were an additional 30 people inside, at least. Though there’s a very good ticket number system in place, it can in no way make waiting for 45 people before you into a tolerable situation. Do yourself a favour and get there when it opens.

Once you’re there things should be straightforward. Take a number from the number machine thing, take a seat, wait for your number to show up, and then plop down in front of your friendly immigration officer. Be nice, smile, and be patient. These are people you don’t want to make enemies with. Having a buddy in immigration will make your life much easier if complications arise so be on your best behaviour, even if things get frustrating.

Hand over your pile of documents, answer any questions they have, and then wait and hope for the best. They say they’ll get in touch in three business days but in my experience it can take a bit longer.

Collecting Your Completed Visa

After submitting all of my paperwork I was given a receipt and immediately sent an email with a tracking number on it. I dropped my visa stuff off on a Friday and the immigration dude told me it would be ready by Wednesday. If you don’t hear back from them you can give them a call at 0786 792 106.

Hours for collection are between 1:30 and 4:30pm from Monday to Friday. The fact that collection is only possible from the middle of the day might wreak havoc with the ‘get there early to avoid the line’ strategy and mean that you’ll have to wait much, much longer. I’ll let you know this week when I attempt to collect it.

Office or Workplace Visits

Some visas will require a visit from immigration staff to your office or workplace and you’ll get a call from immigration to set up a time. They don’t seem to like to come if it’s raining and they also don’t seem to like to tell you this, so make sure to get their phone number so you can confirm their visit on the same day.

CEPGL

This magical little paper grants Rwandan residents access to DR Congo and Burundi for the paltry sum of Rwf 10,000 and very little hassle. Check out this article I’ve already written about Applying for Your CEPGL for Burundi and the DRC for all the info you’ll need but keep in mind that the office location may have changed since I wrote it (though it will still be somewhere within the immigration complex).

Summary

That’s all she wrote! Hopefully this post will act as a checklist for future trips to immigration so that you can save yourself multiple trips. If you know anything on here isn’t accurate, please send an email to kirsty@livinginkigali.com and I’ll make sue to fix it.

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About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.