Nairobi, Kenya Report of what it's like to live there - 04/30/21
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?
No, but my first living long-term in a developing country. I have lived in Rome, London, and spent a few months in Windhoek.
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?
Boston, MA. You usually have to go through Europe or the Middle East. My favorite route is through Amsterdam.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
6 years (recently moved away).
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My relationship, but I worked for USAID, then an NGO.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
I did not have Embassy housing. My partner and I rented a big beautiful apartment in Westlands, 20 minutes from the Embassy with no traffic, but a good 45 minutes most weekday mornings ($1000 rent/month unfurnished).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local produce is cheap, plentiful, varied, and delicious. There are avocados year-round. During my time in Nairobi some Kenyan farms started producing blueberries and my life was complete. :) Basics like rice, sugar, beans, etc are often local and cheap. Imported food can be very expensive. But more and more is produced in the local economy. While I lived there 3 different producers started producing IPAs and other good beers, where before there was only lager. I don't really understand the posts about how expensive food is in Nairobi. I just moved to West Africa, and it is a whole different world out here. Everything is imported from Europe, and I routinely spend 3 or 4 times as much on groceries here as I did in Nairobi.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a lot of choice. Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Lebanese, nyama choma joints (grilled meat places), Italian, etc. There are a number of excellent cafes that serve wonderful Italian-style coffee.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I did not have DPO. I could have gotten a post office box, but I never bothered. It would have been expensive and pretty uncertain to send anything beyond a letter.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We employed someone to clean our apartment 3x a week for the entire time we lived there. We also employed a cook to come once a week (there are just two of us). There are unfortunately too many people looking for work, so the average cost of these services is very cheap.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are a couple of gyms in Westlands, and a few by the Embassy, also several in other parts of the city. Some of them are more basic and others are huge and high-end. There is a Cross-fit right behind the Embassy. I'd say on average they are more expensive than gyms in the US.
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?
Fairly widely accepted and safe to use, but I limited my use to big hotels and nice restaurants to limit the risk. ATMs are common, they are generally safe, but be careful about being seen to take out lots of cash and then walk into a dark/quiet area - I have heard of people getting robbed.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You don't need Kiswahili, but it's nice to learn some phrases. The Embassy teacher is awesome. I've taken other lessons too which were good and affordable.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I'm sure it depends on the disability. There are few sidewalks, but I've noticed that most malls have ramps, elevators, and electric doors, that would make navigating them easier.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are a number of rideshare apps now up and running in NBO. Uber and Bold work well and are very cheap. It's also good to get to know some taxi drivers.
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?
Something with high clearance for the potholes and the giant bumps on the road.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, it's quite good and I don't remember waiting long for installation. Customer service is MUCH better than in the US! We paid about $60/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Get Safaricom. It works well, is reasonable, and then you can also get an mPesa account, the mobile money that everyone uses. Extremely convenient.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Other posters have already talked about crime. It is real, be careful.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I used the locally available medical system my entire 6 years and I think it's quite good. And certainly it is more accessible (if you have some resources) than equivalent services in the US - there is very little wait time most of the time. I mostly went to Aga Khan hospital for doctor appointments and minor issues. A doctor appointment is usually around $40.
3. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is the best I have ever lived in. In the 70s or 80s and sunny most of the time. Cool at night. Not humid. "Winter" can be a little depressing as it can be gray for a long time, but it's not that cold. During rainy season it rains part of the day or night, usually not all day all the time.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large and varied. There is a big UN post here, and also there are quite a lot of expats that aren't part of the development/foreign affairs crowd (business, tech startups, etc). I'd say morale is good, people love Kenya and many stay long-term.
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?
Many fun bars and restaurants; live music venues; local sport-related groups (like running groups (Urban Swaras), cycling groups (Baiskeli Adventures), hiking groups)
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I wanted to answer this question above all. I am in a same-sex relationship. I moved to Nairobi to be with my Kenyan partner. For privileged people like ourselves, it is not particularly hard to be gay in Nairobi. There is a queer scene, there has even been a little LGBT film festival for the past several years. We know many queer Kenyans, a lot of them artists. For the most part, everyone lives their lives. It is true that you have to be discreet. It is not a good idea to kiss your partner on the street, etc. (honestly, I don't think Kenyans like that even between hetero couples - PDA isn't done). It is not against the law to BE gay. You will not be jailed because someone says you are gay, but same-sex sexual behavior is criminalized (i.e. they have to catch you in the act). And there is not much social acceptance among the general population. So this makes the lives of many less-privileged people living with less privacy very challenging. The issue has not been as politicized in Kenya as it has been in Uganda or Tanzania. There are some high-profile homophobes (notably, the culture minister, who likes to ban films with queer content, etc) but it's not discussed that much on the national stage. If you want to learn more about gay life in Nairobi, I have some recommendations on art/culture you can check out: the Afroqueer podcast; the artist collective The Nest, which made a beautiful documentary called Stories of Our Lives; the film Rafiki, which went to Cannes. Those are about Kenyan queer people. For expats, you'll be fine. You won't find the gay scene that you will in many US cities, but you will not be unsafe.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
As is true everywhere, there are gender inequities. I don't think that expat women necessarily encounter more sexism or harassment in NBO than in other places. I did not find street harassment - at least of expats - to be a big issue.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
So many wonderful trips in Kenya and in the region. Go to Lamu if you can. Maasai Mara is all that.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There is a thriving art scene in the region and you can find wonderful pieces of original art at affordable prices. A number of good galleries in the city. Also: fabrics, jewelry, leather bags, handicrafts.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Films: Nairobi Half Life, Kati Kati, Rafiki (by and about Kenyans)
Books: The In-Between World of Vikram Lall, How to Write about Africa by Binyavanga Wainaina, Unbowed by Wangari Maathai