Nairobi, Kenya Report of what it's like to live there - 08/26/12
Personal Experiences from Nairobi, Kenya
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Washington DC. About 16 hours total air travel time. Most connections are through London or Amsterdam, which have about 2 flights per day.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. Embassy and has been living in Nairobi for one year, a first expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There are apartments, stand-alone houses, and compound houses (townhouses and single-family). There are 2-3 compounds and more on the way. Stand-alone houses tend to be larger and have yards. Compound houses usually have 3-4 bedrooms, and some are on 1/4 acre lots. Most houses are relatively near the embassy, a 5 to 30 minute commute by car. Some of the housing furthest away may be phased out.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Fresh produce is widely available in-season, and is very cheap. For example, tomatoes are 70 shillings per kilo (at the inflated ex-pat prices). Nakumatt is a Walmart-type store where many of the dairy, dry goods, and household items can be found. It can get pricey (especially imported items), but most things can be found. Olive oil is $12/liter, milk $4 for 3 liters, and cheese is expensive. Good linens and sheets are expensive! Meat costs about the same as in the US but is of lower quality.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We're really glad we brought our mattresses, cookwear and kitchen appliances, clothes and shoes for our child, and dvd's and sports/camping equipment (thanks to the other post reports). Wish we had the KitchenAid mixer -- we do lots more cooking here. Do stock up on toys/birthday gifts for the kid's friends. Toys are very expensive. Also bring a few simple household/auto tools. Medicine (cold medicine, pain-killers) is expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
KFC is now here (in a few shopping malls) at $7-$10 per person. A wide-range of dining options are available: Thai, Mexican, Ethiopian, Italian, Japanese, Kenyan, plus coffee shops and frozen yogurt. Thin-crust pizza is about $9. The famous Carnivore restaurant starts at about $40. Art Caffe is by far and away our favorite for consistent food quality and service. Entrees cost $7-12, and they have the best bread in town.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants and other bugs are around, but they are not a terrible problem. You need to wear mosquito repellent if it's been raining.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Plentiful and cheap. US$250 per month gets you a full-time housekeeper who may or may not cook. A full-time driver costs about the same, gardeners cost about half of that (depending on skill level).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, at the U.S. Embassy or the UN. UN has an olympic-size outdoor heated pool, soccer fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, ample workout facilities, aerobics/yoga/dance classes, kids' playground, and cafe. Membership can be pricy, but day passes ($12) are available. Rosslyn Academy track is open for use, and lots of people walk/jog at Karura Forest.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Don't. Their use is becoming increasingly common, but I wouldn't risk it. Skimming is common and so are power outages. The embassy has an ATM. Credit cards might be useful as backup, but I wouldn't plan on it.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Lots of options, including some expat churches.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Lots of newspapers. We use AFN for TV. DSTV is about $100/month.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is an official language. Kiswahili is widely-spoken but rarely necessary.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Outside of the USG housing and the embassy one would have major difficulties. Some of the newer malls have elevators, but this is a small concession. Safari vans do not have lifts. There are few sidewalks and fewer well-maintained sidewalks. This is Africa. How much more do I need to say?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are not cheap, although there are a couple of RSO-approved companies with pre-negotiated rates. Rates are similar to what you'd pay in DC. There is supposedly a train to Mombasa. It takes about 19 hours for what a car might do in 6, so this is a not a viable option. USG personnel are not permitted to take buses (matutus).
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
SUV, high-clearance, tinted-windows. Toyota, Subaru, Range Rover, and Nissan are the most common brands. Seriously, get an SUV with a good suspension, new tires (from the US), and consider importing the car from Japan, because Kenyan roads rapidly depreciate a car and generate lots of squeaks.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Widely available, costs $50 to $150. Reliability can be an issue.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cheap and easy to get. Most people get one for their kids for security reasons.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
There are some in expat organizations and some in the local community. Most people who are really looking find something.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Same as DC for work. Kenyan professional women dress modestly by American-standards.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
YES, it's a major factor in life here. Everyday concerns are: car-jackings, robberies, identity theft, mugging, and home invasions. Terrorism is a threat here, and there are active al Qaeda branches here and in neighboring Somalia. It has gotten worse since Kenya sent troops into Somalia. All USG houses have private security provided.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Reasonably basic, and emergency care is available. For major health issues you should have a great doctor recommendation or go out of country.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Moderate: variable between good and unhealthy. Lots of people warm themselves by burning trash along the side of the road. Cooking is done with charcoal, and there are zero emissions controls. However, there is frequent rain to clean out the air and lots of plants and flowers -- it sometimes smells nice.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Great, but people still manage to complain.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are a lot of great options: International, French, German, British. We send our child to Rosslyn Academy, an international Christian school, and really love it. It's within walking distance to our house, has small class sizes (about 12-20 kids in elementary) and a nurturing environment. Families are involved with their kids, and there is a good mix of Kenyan and missionary kids (US and Korean) from 35 different countries. Kids from this school tend to suffer less from the "diplo-brat" syndrome.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Yes, ample pre-school choices -- including at Rosslyn Academy. Mostly, though, people get nannies for daycare.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, mostly through the UN. They have week-long holiday camps at school breaks or during the summer for a reasonable price (4,000 ksh to 5,000 ksh per week). ISK holds a few weeks of sports camps in June.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large, very large. UN, missionaries, NGOs, embassies, etc. Nairobi is a regional hub for most organizations.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Lots of restaurants, active CLO, there are some highly social people here.
3. Morale among expats:
People who are prepared to live in a developing country do very well here. There are of amenities and things to do. Security, the road conditions, and Kenyan driving can wear on you.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's big enough and nice enough that everyone seems to find their niche. There are night-life options and lots of other expats around, as well as family-friendly activities.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I haven't heard of any problems.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Within Kenyan society, yes, but less so in Nairobi. There has been progress since the election violence in 2008, but it's not completely resolved. This doesn't have a major impact on us, but the gardener won't listen to my wife.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
SAFARI! Nothing compares to the experience of seeing elephants or lions in the wild -- or camping under the African sky. Plus there is hiking up a nearby volcano in the Rift Valley and rock climbing.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The village market has a good selection of average/mediocre restaurants with good outdoor ambiance -- and many have kid's play areas.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Handmade beads and glasswork, leather and wood crafts.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Great weather! 50's to 70's every day. "Winter" is basically 3 degrees cooler than "summer," with swimming year-round. The safaris are worth the awful roads. There is good camping, and cheap resident rates for the game parks ($6-$12 per person plus car). We hear good things about the beaches, too. Good city sites to experience for you and your visitors from the States include the elephant orphanage, Kenyan tribal dance shows, handicraft making, etc. The U.S. Embassy is conveniently located near shopping, movie theater, and malls.
11. Can you save money?
Yes! If you can't save money living rent-free with private school paid for, then you never will. Weekend safaris are expensive -- lodges/hotels easily cost $1000 for a couple/small family, but don't do it every weekend. Air travel (anywhere) is expensive.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes! (As if we had a choice?) It has been a great experience -- it's what you make of it.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Driver's manual--there are no rules.
3. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, flip-flops, outdoor equipment (sports, hiking, camping, rock-cimbing), fleece jacket.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
If you're interested look into the Sheldricks, the Leakeys, and Karen Bixen.