Visa openness progress, 2016-2022

Tracking changes in visa openness 2016–2022

Overall, Africans travel more easily within Africa today than they did in 2016. For 27% of all intra-Africa travel, citizens of African countries can now travel visa-free (up from 20% in 2016), while in a further 27% of travel scenarios, a visa can be obtained on arrival (up from 25% in 2016). The number of intra-Africa travel that still requires a visa ahead of departure was 47% of the total in 2022, a marked improvement from 55% in 2016.

Changes since 2019 (the year prior to the pandemic) have been more muted: the permission to travel visa-free has increased only a little, and a visa ahead of travel is required by slightly more countries today than during the first year of the pandemic (2020). Since 2016, however, all metrics have improved, even if only a little in recent years.

These gains notwithstanding, real room for freeing the movement of people remains. And now is the time: the AfCFTA negotiations are nearing completion, and progress is being made in other areas that will do much to further integrate Africa and raise African’s incomes. This includes liberalizing trade in services, addressing non-tariff barriers, and further implementing trade facilitation measures on the continent.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a marked impact on business and the freedom to travel. But 2022 saw an accelerated return to international travel and visa openness in Africa, reversing the downward trend of 2021 and bringing average visa openness to a level similar to that of 2020. As a whole, the continent’s visa regimes are more liberal today than they have been in any year since 2016.

Part of the success is due to e-visas. 15 countries have added an e-visa since 2016; eight of those countries are among 2022’s top 20 performers. Visas on arrival are also playing a role. Three countries—Burundi, Djibouti, and Ethiopia— undertook wholesale changes to their visa regime and moved from a general “visa required” policy to visas on arrival. All three had ranked among Africa’s lowest performers in 2021, and moved into the top 20 in 2022.

Today, all of the AVOI’s top 20 performers offer visa-free access or a visa on arrival to the nationals of some African countries, if not most or all of them. These countries have gradually moved away from requiring visitors of other African countries to obtain a visa before travelling.

"The coming into play of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will definitely improve intra-African trade and tourism. If we see ourselves as one big market, then we would be able to create the relevant connections where we have one country trading with another as a united front to provide a service to the international traveller."

Maggie Kaunda, Managing Director, Zambia Airports

Between 2016 and 2022 AVOI scores have trended upward

36 countries improved or maintained their AVOI score and 9 of the 2021 top 20 countries improved their AVOI score.

More countries offered an eVisa

13 of the countries that made the most progress on the AVOI from 2016–2021 offer an eVisa.

Lower-income countries made progress

Over 80% of countries that made the most progress are low-income or lower-middle-income countries.

"If we want to accelerate Africa's development, build a better business environment and achieve free movement of goods, people, services and capital, it is essential that we have a common vision to strengthen the institutional capacity of regional economic communities and regulate and harmonize policy frameworks between countries." 

Jean-Guy Afrika, Acting Director, Regional Integration Coordination Office, African Development Bank

Who climbed the most?

A few countries stand out as having significantly opened their visa regime between 2016 and 2022. Often, this caused them to climb significantly in the AVOI rankings. Overall, fewer countries now require visitors to obtain a visa and more countries have introduced visa-free entry (or expanded the number of countries to which they extend visa-free entry). In addition, more countries than before now offer a visa on arrival or an e-visa.

The largest nominal increase in score since 2016 was achieved by Ethiopia (East Africa), which now figures among the continent’s top 20 performers (17th). Ethiopia thus regained much of the AVOI ranking that it lost in 2021 under the pandemic. Benin made the second-largest strides, notwithstanding that it started from a higher base, and is now one of Africa’s three best performers: it allows Africans from every country on the continent to enter visa-free. Only Seychelles and The Gambia do likewise.

The largest visa openness improvements over 2016– 2022 were recorded by West African countries, four of which are among the continent’s top five (Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, and The Gambia) and six of which are among the continent’s top 10 (adding Senegal and Sierra Leone).

A sizeable number of Southern African countries have also improved significantly: Angola, Malawi, Namibia, São Tomé and Principe, and Zimbabwe. In North Africa, Tunisia is among the countries having most improved.

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