Nairobi, Kenya Report of what it's like to live there - 08/28/21
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?
Yes and no. I moved around a lot internationally as a child, but this was my first expatriate experience as an adult.
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?
New York, New York. Nairobi is quite different, yet it has the same energy. If you don't like one, you won't like the other.
It was hard to get home. Two 8-hour flights with a transfer in Europe.
3. How long have you lived here?
We were there for four years.
4. What years did you live here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Husband's work with UN.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There are all kinds of housing from stand-alone houses, to compounds, to apartments, to villas.
The commute is a huge deal as traffic is a nightmare. Basically, find out where you will work and then make sure to live on that side of Waiyaki Way, the major highway that more or less splits Nairobi.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get produce for cheap at the local markets...if you can send your house help to get it. Otherwise, you will be charged the "mzungu" price. We paid a lot for food, but that was also to ensure quality. Household supplies were expensive, and I say this as someone from Manhattan.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
For grocery - none. For household - mesh laundry bags, bandaids, Neosporin, anything home-gym related, extra computer peripherals, and cables.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a lot of options. You can get pizza, really amazing Italian food, great Indian food, some Middle Eastern, and some Japanese. You can get good seafood in Nairobi. A couple okay Mexican places opened too.
Depending on where you live, delivery can be easy or practically impossible. It all depends on proximity.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Termites will fly in every rainy season. Other than that, no.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
There is no home mail delivery. If you are not with an embassy, forget about getting mail. You can send mail, but getting it is a hassle.
You will need to create a PO Box. This is easy enough. However, you'll find a lot of your mail stolen. Don't get packages sent via mail. For important things, we used DHL to have sent to my husband's office. FedEx got lost a lot. DHL was on the ball.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help (labor in general) is cheap. You can find nannies, housekeepers, cooks, gardeners, and people who do a combination of those roles. You can also get a driver.
When we left, we were paying our housekeeper 22,000 KSH (220 USD) per month.
You are also required to pay into NSSF, the Kenyan social securty system. Many people don't (and get away with it). We did as it was the law and also the right thing to do.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Fitness is expensive - similar to NY prices. There are lots of gyms, barre studios, yoga studios, pilates, and CrossFit. There are also a lot of private personal trainers who come to your home. Mountain biking is also big. Some people do road cycling, but I would not recommend that.
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?
Yes to both....but people use Mpesa most of the time. It's mobile money on your phone. It's safe and easy.
A lot of people (house help, drivers, delivery, etc.) prefer it to cash.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English and Swahili are the two national languages. Learning a little Swahili helps, but you don't need it.
I never took classes so I can't help with this one.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Nairobi is not a city that is in any way helpful for people with mobility issues.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Most people will find a regular private taxi/driver and use that person. There are no city taxis. Random guys on the street are not trustworthy. The buses are private. They're called matatus. Use them at your own risk.
There are also guys on motorbikes that drive people around. They're called boda boda. Use them at your own risk. Bring your own helmet.
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?
Don't take a car, buy it there.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, it's available. Our service was great and rivalled any western nation in terms of speed and reliability. Getting installed was a pain, which is pretty much the same experience anywhere.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Use a local provider. Saraficom is the big one in Kenya. We used them and liked them.
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?
Yes, there are great vets, but you have to seek them out. There are a lot of vets who aren't good. Same goes for kennels.
I didn't bring our dogs to Kenya - we got them in Kenya. So I can't speak about import. Although, I know my friend did not need to quarantine his dog when coming from the EU.
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?
This is important: YOU MUST HAVE WORK AUTHORIZATION FOR VOLUNTEERING.
A lot of people have been skirting the employment rules and the government has been cracking down on it. This goes for volunteering and for paid employment.
What do spouses do? I worked in the private sector in tech. I was able to find work easily enough, both in Kenya and remotely. However, it all depends on your industry and specialty. Not a lot of people do what I do. Most of the spouses I met had a hard time finding work.
I can't comment on salary scales. It varies.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
YOU MUST HAVE WORK AUTHORIZATION FOR VOLUNTEERING.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
People in Nairobi tend to dress nice. Women are fashionable. There are nightclubs and nice restaurants. There are balls and galas.
Bring some nice clothes. Pack your heels. You'll wear them.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Nairobi is safe yet not. Keep your windows up when you drive.
If you're in a house, you will want to make sure you have adequate security:
- a good, solid wall as a fence,
- razor wire on the fence,
- electric fence,
- electric security alarm system; and
- a contract with a security company such as KK or G4S.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria when you upcountry or to the coast. You can get good care. Aga Khan, MP Shah, and Columbia Clinic are all great.
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?
It's generally good. In more urban areas, it might not be great, like in Westlands. That's an issue of cars, trucks, and dust, but it's not horrible. It's not like Manila or Delhi.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
A lot of people have issues with the milk. Be careful about what milk you buy as it can be diluted with all sorts of things.
You won't find much in the way of lactose-free or gluten-free. There are some health food shops, but the selection of items is small.
Environment...it's a dusty country. Keep that in mind. Other than that, you'll have to see how you react to the flora.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
No, nothing like that.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Nairobi has the best weather in the whole world. Lots of sun. Around 70-80 year-round. There are two rainy seasons, but it's not raining nonstop during those times. It might rain every day, but never for the whole day.
August is the cold month. It's gray. It's around 50-60 degrees, but that's as cold as it will get.
You don't need air conditioning in Nairobi.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I don't have kids, but I do know that there are a ton of great international schools.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
From what I have heard, The Nations and ISK are the best 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. There are a lot of options, but I don't have kids so I can't speak to this.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There is a huge expat community. You're kind of forced to stay in the expat bubble. Kenyans don't want you to integrate. In my four years there I had one Kenyan friend - she was married to an expat.
Morale...hard to say. It all depends. Embassy people stick together, as in within their own embassies. There's a huge German community and they are a lot of fun. I didn't meet many Americans.
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?
If you don't have kids, it can be hard. I had to put in a lot of effort to make friends. Having a dog helps. You can meet people through dog groups or even just from the regulars you see walking in Karua or Aborteum. CrossFit is a nice community.
There are various groups...French Speakers, Spanish Language Speakers, AWA...I didn't do much with any of them.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
If you're single, young, and looking for a good time, then Nairobi is the place for you. It's also good for Peter Pan types. But, if you're single and not than much into the nightlife anymore and/or want to meet someone or make friends...it can be hard.
It's a great place for families. For couple, it depends. If you don't have kids, you have to really work it to make friends.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Locals don't want to be your friend. If you're LGBT, you will have a hard time. When we left, there was a growing animosity toward expats in general, especially diplomats.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Nairobi is not a safe place for LGBT expats. Homosexuality isn't illegal, but homosexual acts are. Homophobia is rampant.
I'm hetero and I found it jarring. The bigotry and aggression toward gay people are out in the open.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Kenya is a very sexist country.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Safari and the Kenyan coast and access to nature.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Kite surfing in Diani
Weekends in Naivasha
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Kikoy and Kitenge fabrics, beaded jewelry, and shuka blankets. There are also a lot of fantastic woven blankets.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Great weather, multi-cultural, great food, and the tech hub of Africa.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I had access to information to help me set up life. It was trial and error and a very bumpy road.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Maybe. For us, a big part of why we left had to do with targeted security concerns tied to my husband's job. It would be a very specific security concern. As for the practicalities, it would be easier to set things up a second time.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Electronics other than computers, TV, and phone. Heavy winter clothes like cashmere.
4. But don't forget your:
Wool socks, fleece, vaccination card (this is not a good place for an anti-vaxxer), and sunscreen.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
A woman I know just wrote a book that would have been so helpful when I first moved to Kenya: The Expat Guide to Living in Nairobi.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Overall, I loved my time in Kenya. It got to be too much for reasons that would not affect most people. Kenya will always have a place in my heart.