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KRA under fire over plan to introduce new taxes on travellers' personal items

A Customs officer checks the luggage of a suspected drug baron at JKIA. [File, Standard]

The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) has come under a barrage of criticism following a post on Monday, October 30, stating that travellers entering or leaving the country will be subjected to tax on any items worth Sh75,000 (USD500) and above.

The post on its official X account which has since been brought down, drew criticism from netizens with many of them terming the move as ‘backward and authoritarian.’

"All goods whether new or used, are subject to taxation. Remember when travelling, you will be allowed to carry personal or household items worth USD500 (Sh75,350) and below. Anything above the amount shall be subject to tax," the now-viral post read.

Reactions

This did not augur well with a section of Kenyans who continued sharing tales of their experiences at JKIA customs.

Tourism Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua recently touched on the harassment of Kenyans and visitors by customs officials at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), suggesting that the vigorous searches on tourists' luggage have had a detrimental effect on the number of tourists flocking to Kenya.

"When our tourists come, when they arrive at KRA customs, their suitcases are opened…their personal belongings are spread on the table in the name of searching for cameras, perfumes, and electronics....and you wonder why they never come back. They are not harassed in Rwanda; do you think Rwanda doesn't collect taxes?" Mutua posed.

George Njoroge, an X user was among those who threw in some advice to travellers intending to go through the JKIA customs desk, to avoid having their personal effects seized.

"Set up your phones, maybe drop a file or two on your laptop. The sheer incompetency and inaction of our government in putting a halt to these cartel operations is disgraceful. Tourists are not cash cows to be exploited. This blatant negligence has reached sickening heights," he posted.

Blogger @themagunga defended travelers, more so tourists arguing that the new directive is tantamount to harassment.

"Harass them at JKIA, make them pay more to enter the parks, and then make it hectic to access said parks with that e-Citizen rigmarole. But at least it will be visa-free," he wrote.

A junior customs official intimated to The Standard that there have been complaints of harassment of travellers jetting in and that some have been forced to leave behind their priced belongings after failing to raise the required tax.

"It's not like we enjoy searching travellers. Some are genuine who fly in with gifts such as electronics and phones for their loved ones, but how do you distinguish a genuine traveller and a businessperson masquerading as a tourist?" a source who sought anonymity posed.

In a quick rejoinder, KRA told The Standard that the laws have existed for years and there is nothing to raise rubbles about. 

Restricted Items

However, on its website, the taxman had listed all restricted items that should be declared to Customs before departing or upon immediate arrival to Kenya.

These include donations into the country which “must be taxed unless exempted by the National Treasury, and provisions of the Fifth Schedule of the East African Community Customs Management Act.”

The Authority maintains that Customs duty should be paid at the port of entry on goods subject to taxation. The imported goods may be liable to Import Duty, Value Added Tax (VAT), and Excise Duty.

"Currency and monetary instruments exceeding USD10,000 or its equivalent MUST be declared at customs at arrival and before departure and any other applicable levies, when the allowable limits are exceeded," KRA says.

Further, all restricted items should be declared at Customs on arrival or departure.  

KRA also stresses that Customs officers are permitted by the law to examine passenger’s luggage and conduct body searches when it is deemed necessary.

Items you should declare before departing Kenya

According to KRA, the following items should be declared before leaving Kenya, if you have the intention of bringing them back;  

•    Cameras and accessories for filming outside the country that you intend to bring back. 
•    Items exported for repair or alterations. 
• Toolboxes you require for repair work abroad and intend to bring back. 
•    Jewellery 
•    Sporting equipment
•    Musical instruments 
•    Any item intended to be returned to Kenya.

Travellers are also required to retain the customs payment advice (Form F147) or the bank receipt they receive until their return.