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Moving to Kenya

Initially, the thought of moving to Kenya may conjure images of magical landscapes and rare wildlife for the uninformed expat. However, those that do come to settle in the country will find themselves in one of the most developed and cosmopolitan African nations.

No doubt, Kenya offers some fantastic natural landscapes with the savanna grasslands, lakelands and mountains, while its wealth of national parks and sanctuaries boasts great biodiversity. Expats need not venture out far to experience this, as the capital city of Nairobi is home to the popular Nairobi National Park, while Mombasa affords refreshing coastal views.

Still, this East African country has much more to offer. Nairobi is widely considered as the hub for business and development in eastern Africa and offers an exciting lifestyle. Many expats working in Kenya find themselves employed as highly-paid managers in multinational companies, embassy staff or as development and NGO employees and volunteers.

Kenya is generally a politically stable country with developed healthcare facilities, an improving public transport network and a strong education system that serves the diverse population.

That said, expat life can be insulated from Kenyan society as the fear of crime, particularly in large cities, sometimes cloisters foreigners behind the gates of housing compounds and locked car doors. Those who emerge from behind this curtain of fear can really enjoy the different cultures of Kenya, all of which are famously welcoming and cheerful.

Nonetheless, those moving to Kenya may not find the expat experience as comfortable as in more developed nations, and longing for everyday conveniences and the familiar efficiency of home is a common topic of discussion among foreigners.

On the other side of the coin, many find that the luxuries Kenya has to offer, such as large houses and high expat salaries, make for a higher quality of life than they'd have back home. Overall, whether life in Kenya turns out to be an unwelcome posting or a grand opportunity, all expats will certainly have a truly unique and memorable experience.


Fast facts

Official name: Republic of Kenya

Population: 53.8 million

Capital city: Nairobi

Neighbouring countries: Kenya is bordered by Somalia to the northeast, Ethiopia to the north, South Sudan to the northwest, Uganda to the west, and Tanzania to the south and southwest. 

Geography: Situated on the east coast of central Africa, Kenya has a varied geography. This ranges from low-lying plains in the east of the country to the fertile highlands of central Kenya, home to Africa's second-highest peak, Mount Kenya.

Political system: Unitary presidential constitutional republic

Major religions: Christianity and Islam

Main languages: English and Swahili

Money: The Kenyan Shilling (KES), divided into 100 cents. Expats can open a bank account in Kenya but many prefer to continue using their overseas accounts, especially if they're only in the country for a short period. ATMs are widely available in major cities.

Tipping: Tips are common for most small services, in addition to the standard 10 percent expected in restaurants. 

Time: GMT+3

Electricity: 240 volts, 50Hz. UK-style plugs with three flat blades are used.

Internet domain: .ke

International dialling code: +254

Emergency contacts: 999

Transport and driving: While public transport is available in all of Kenya's big cities, it's not always efficient or safe. The best option is for expats to use a private vehicle and hire a driver who is familiar with the local driving conditions. Driving is on the left-hand side.

Weather in Kenya

Bisected by the equator, Kenya has a mix of climate types, varying according to each area's altitude. The hot and humid coast hosts a tropical climate, while the inland areas are characterised by a temperate inland climate. The north and northeast parts of the country are hot with dry conditions and little rain.

Seasons in Kenya are primarily distinguished by rainfall patterns with no major shift in temperature throughout the year. From March or April to May or June is the 'long rains' season, where downpours are longer and more frequent than in the 'short rains' season from October to December.

 

Embassy contacts for Kenya


Kenyan embassies

  • Kenyan Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 387 6101 

  • Kenyan High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7636 2371

  • Kenyan Emassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 613 6380

  • Kenyan High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 563 1773

  • Kenyan High Commission, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 2 6247 4788

  • Kenyan High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 362 2249


Foreign embassies in Kenya

  • United States Embassy, Nairobi: +254 20 363 6000

  • British High Commission, Nairobi: +254 20 287 3000

  • Canadian High Commission, Nairobi: +254 20 366 3000 

  • Australian High Commission, Nairobi: +254 20 427 7100

  • South African High Commission, Nairobi: +254 20 282 7100

  • Consulate of Ireland, Nairobi: +254 20 513 5300

Public Holidays in Kenya

 

2021

2022

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Good Friday

2 April

15 April

Easter Monday

5 April

18 April

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Idd-ul-Fitr

14 May

11 July

Madaraka Day

1 June

1 June

Moi Day

10 October

10 October

Kenyatta Day

20 October

20 October

Independence Day

12 December

12 December

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

Boxing Day

26 December

26 December

*Islamic holidays are subject to change based on sightings of the moon. If a public holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday becomes a holiday. 

Safety in Kenya

Safety in Kenya is a concern for many residents and new arrivals. Crime is, undeniably, an issue, especially in Kenya’s larger cities of Nairobi and Mombasa. Still, with the necessary precautions and a bit of common sense, expats should be able to live a relatively peaceful day-to-day life in Kenya.

The greatest concern for most expats living in Kenya is safety on the roads. The behaviour of local drivers is often reckless and traffic accidents are common.

Expats who want to go on safari and see and do things in Kenya should be aware of the risks when viewing wildlife, especially on foot. Most visitors to national parks and game reserves encounter no issues, but all should follow the guidance and instructions of the park.

In many cases, expats who are aware of safety issues in Kenya can take the necessary actions to limit the danger and have a comfortable expat experience.


Crime in Kenya

Crime rates are high in Kenya’s major cities such as Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. Expats living in Kenya will usually hire security guards for their homes or opt to live in secure, gated housing complexes. 

Car-jackings, muggings and petty theft also occur on Kenyan city streets. Expats should be vigilant, keep valuables out of sight and avoid carrying large sums of money. It's also best not to walk around the city centre at night, and never accept food or drinks from strangers. Foreigners in Kenya are likely targets for criminals who pose as tour guides and police officers.

Scammers will also engage foreigners in conversation and tell them stories about being a refugee or having sick relatives, simply to get some cash. In most cases, this is more of a nuisance than a real danger, and such individuals will usually give up once they've been given a firm 'no'.


Terrorism in Kenya

There is a risk of terrorism in Kenya. The main threat comes from extremists connected to Al Shabaab, a militant group in Somalia which has issued public threats against Kenya because of its military involvement in Somalia.

Terrorist attacks, including kidnappings, in Kenya are usually indiscriminate and targets may vary from government offices and schools to shopping centres, markets, bars and nightclubs. Places of worship have also been targeted in the past.

Terrorism and piracy are also dangers off the coast of Somalia around the Horn of Africa, so expats interested in sea travel should be aware of the potential threats and not take matters lightly.

Many governments advise their nationals to avoid travelling close to the Kenya-Somalia border, particularly Garissa county, as well as Lamu and Tana River Counties. We urge expats to follow any information and guidance provided by the authorities.


Road safety in Kenya

Driving in Kenya can be dangerous as road conditions and driving standards are poor. Many expat employees will be provided with a company car and a local driver, which is perhaps the safest option when it comes to getting around Kenya. We urge expats to familiarise themselves with what to do in the event of an accident or emergency and be aware of the system of healthcare in Kenya.

Those who decide to drive in Kenya should always do so defensively and be vigilant. Due to the risk of car-jackings, especially in Kenya’s bigger cities, it's essential to have windows and doors locked at all times. Be especially careful when driving outside cities and avoid driving at night as this is when most of Kenya’s road traffic accidents occur.

Be cautious of travelling in long-distance buses at nighttime as there have been several serious accidents involving intercity buses in Kenya. Opt to travel with a reputable bus company as some smaller operations use poorly maintained vehicles, which are often driven recklessly.

Travelling by matatu (the local minibuses) isn't recommended as they're notoriously badly driven and uninsured. There have also been reports of matatus occasionally being hijacked and the passengers being robbed.


Political instability in Kenya

In the past, Kenya has faced considerable flare ups of violence, often as a result of ethnic or political tensions.

While expats are unlikely to be caught up in this type of civil unrest, they're advised to stay away from any political demonstrations or protests that could turn violent. Major protests usually take place during election campaigns, and there have been some incidents of violence during past elections.

Working in Kenya

The economy in Kenya has great potential for growth, benefitting from a skilled and youthful workforce, constantly improving infrastructure and its geographical location as an economic hub in East Africa. Although expats employed in Kenya have well-paid jobs, the reality on the ground can make it difficult to secure employment.

Unemployment levels remain high and poverty is a major challenge to development. Working in Kenya and earning a decent salary to afford the cost of living can prove difficult for expats that have not secured a job before arrival. Still, Kenya has one of the largest economies in sub-Saharan Africa, and expats who do their research on the job market will find a bunch of work opportunities.


Job market in Kenya

Kenya, especially Nairobi, is a major business hub. Several multinational companies have set up their African headquarters and main offices there, including Google, General Electric and Coca-Cola. However, even with the presence of these branches, the country lacks the financial and business draw that encourages the level of immigration found in other, more attractive expat destinations, such as across Western Europe. Most expats who work for these multinational corporations move to Kenya on an intra-company transfer, where they have previously been working for the company in their home country. 
 
Industry sectors most likely to employ foreigners include telecommunications, information- and communication technology, oil and gas, and exploration and production. Tourism, logistics, agriculture, construction and real estate are other key sectors that Kenya’s external investors are interested in. 

Given the diverse presence of expats, many expatriates work for foreign embassies and consulates. The host of international schools also sees teachers coming and going as they travel and experience life in Kenya. 
 
There are also volunteer positions in Kenya with government and NGO organisations. The country is a regional hub for not-for-profit organisations and serves as the administrative centre for the operations of aid organisations in East Africa, especially for matters related to Somalia and Sudan. For this reason, expats working in Kenya could find themselves in volunteering, teaching or development positions, regardless of their skill set.

Entrepreneurial expats may consider running their own company, and expat start-ups are thriving in Kenya. We recommend seeking professional guidance on which sectors allow foreign investment and which do not, as well as additional requirements for starting a business, including minimum start-up capital and the ratio of local Kenyan to foreign shareholders.


Finding a job in Kenya

On the whole, expats rarely show up in Kenya looking for a job but are instead relocated and transferred there or hired from overseas by a company familiar with the immigration and work visa process. These companies usually provide relocation services and support with work permit applications.

As with most job applications, an attractive CV and strong cover letter highlighting relevant qualifications and experience establish a good starting point when searching for a job in Kenya. Online job platforms, such as BrighterMonday, MyJobMag, LinkedIn and PigiaMe, are one of the best ways to find available positions and send out applications. These searches can be done from abroad or while in the country.

Directly searching a company’s website is a good idea for expats with a specific organisation in mind. Expat forums on social media can also be beneficial along with word of mouth. Networking is probably best done from within Kenya or by knowing Kenyans in business and making useful connections.


Work culture in Kenya

English-speaking expats doing business in Kenya should not be too worried about language barriers, as English is widely spoken as a business language. Working hours are typically 8am or 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, although banks often close earlier.

Business culture in Kenya places emphasis on relationships, both personal and professional. We don’t advise rushing work meetings, but instead getting to know business partners and colleagues.

Doing Business in Kenya

If expats are to make a success of doing business in Kenya they'll need to bring a few things to the boardroom table, as it were: patience, respect for cultural differences, tolerance of uncertainty and an ability to build personal relationships with business partners. The country achieved a ranking of 56th out of 190 countries in the World Bank's 2020 Ease of Doing Business Survey. It performed exceptionally well in protecting minority investors (1st) and getting credit (4th), but ranked poorly in starting a business (129th) and registering property (134th).

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, foreigners who've done well working in Kenya have realised there's little that can be done to avoid the corruption and ethnic division that undermine the country's economy. For those who can get through the red tape and pitfalls, Kenya presents a dynamic business opportunity with its desire to expand the IT, e-commerce and telecoms sector and make its mark in today's digital world.

Here are some aspects of business culture to consider when working in Kenya.


Fast facts

Business language

English is most commonly used in business and is one of Kenya's two official languages.

Business hours

8am or 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, though banks often close earlier.

Greetings

A handshake is an appropriate greeting – start with the most senior person in the group and be sure to shake hands with each person present.

Dress

Dress neatly and presentably. Dark formal suits are standard, despite the heat.

Gifts

Gift-giving is a common practice in business. Note that gifts should be small and tasteful. Stationery branded with one's company logo is usually an appropriate choice. Presents are not necessarily expected in business relations, although over holiday seasons such as Christmas a gift basket on behalf of the organisation may be exchanged.

Gender equality

Traditionally, Kenyan culture tends to be patriarchal and the corporate environment does sometimes reflect this. That said, this is slowly changing as the country modernises.


Business culture in Kenya

Business culture in Kenya is governed by harambee, a concept involving mutual assistance, responsibility and community. Harambee also relates to Kenya's group orientation, in contrast to the individualism of Western cultures. Respect for family, community and ancestors is key.

Management style

Kenya is largely a hierarchical society in which deference to seniority is rigid and expected, and in which senior employees will seldom consult with those of lower status. Social standing is important and official titles should be included when introducing or addressing someone.

Communication style 

Blunt statements are best avoided as they may appear rude. Because of this, outright refusal is rare, and this can make it hard to decipher people’s true meaning or intentions. Instead, evasive or subtle remarks may indicate hesitation or disagreement. It's also important that expats control their emotions and avoid displaying anger or using profanities, especially in public settings.

Time

Meetings generally begin on time, although there's little chance of an end time always being adhered to. Spending time on small talk is important – rushing this aspect of a meeting will leave a bad impression. The Kenyan concept of time is traditionally 'fluid', especially for social gatherings, but efficiency and punctuality are valued in business settings.

Business meetings

Tradition and history are greatly respected. Kenyan businesspeople have a low tolerance for risk, and decision makers tend to proceed cautiously, committing only once all information has been considered. This may take a long time and requires patience on the part of the expat businessperson.

Networking 

Business success is closely connected to interpersonal success, so it's vital to invest time in getting to know potential partners and understanding their culture and background. 


Dos and don’ts of business in Kenya

  • Don't rush greetings

  • Do enquire about the health and family of associates

  • Don't get angry or emotional about a business issue.

  • Do maintain a friendly tone at meetings.

  • Don't rush proceedings or decision making

Visas for Kenya

Whether visiting on vacation or looking to settle down for the long term, most travellers will require a visa to enter Kenya. The type of visa one acquires will depend on their reasons for being in the country. 

Countries such as South Africa, Zambia and Botswana don't need to apply for short-term visas, and expats can check the eVisa website for a full list of countries exempted from or eligible to apply for a visa to Kenya.

There are three main options for getting a visa:

  1. Obtaining a visa upon entering the country
  2. Applying for an eVisa online at least seven days before departing
  3. Applying in person at a Kenyan diplomatic mission or embassy 

The latter is not recommended for tourist visas as it takes more time and effort than the other options, which are quick, easy and convenient. The eVisa process is best for short stays, though long-term stays and work permits are best done by contacting the nearest high commission or embassy.

For temporary visits to Kenya, there are three main types of eVisas: single-entry visas, transit visas and courtesy visas. Single-entry visas include visas for tourists, medical reasons, business visits and family visits. 

Transit visas are only necessary for visitors who have a connecting flight from Kenya to another country within 72 hours and wish to leave the airport. Diplomatic, official and service passport holders will be issued a free courtesy visa to Kenya, provided they hold an official letter documenting their affairs.

Before travelling, we recommend that expats check the required pre-travel vaccinations, including against yellow fever, and other healthcare matters.


Tourist visas for Kenya

Most foreigners require a tourist visa to visit Kenya, though citizens of select countries are allowed visa-free entry. 

Tourist visas are a type of single-entry visa for Kenya. They are valid for three months before travel and may be extended for another three months (90 days). Visitors must normally apply for renewal at the immigration headquarters in Nairobi.

Tourist visas for Kenya generally require a travel itinerary detailing the places to be visited, any hotel bookings or proof of accommodation, a valid passport and a return ticket.


Business visas for Kenya

Similar to tourist visas, business visas are valid for 90 days, with a possible 90-day extension. These are suitable for expats who only plan on staying a few months in the country. Documentation proving the purpose of business must be provided, such as an invitation letter from the appropriate company.


Family visit visas for Kenya

The third type of single-entry visa for Kenya is one for family members. Expats who wish to invite or host family members to join them for a few months can investigate this option. Under this particular type of family visit visa, only one entry is allowed and necessary letters of invitation and visas of the host must be supplied.


Work and residence permits for Kenya

Any non-Kenyan wishing to remain in the country for longer than six months must obtain what is known as a Work/Residence Permit before arriving in Kenya. 

There are multiple classes and categories of work permits and residency options. Expats applying solo will need to do extensive research to find out which class is suitable to them. We recommend contacting the nearest embassy for the most up-to-date information. Additionally, what takes the weight off one’s shoulders is hiring a relocation company to handle the visa, work permit and immigration affairs.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Work Permits for Kenya

Any non-Kenyan wishing to remain in the country for longer than a six-month period needs a work residence permit, usually obtained before arriving. Work permits are often granted for one or two years, with the opportunity for renewal.

Expats hired to work in Kenya are likely to have some level of support from their employer when it comes to arranging their visa and work permit, including covering visa-related costs. Aid agencies in Kenya also assist their volunteers and employees in their visa applications. Expats starting their own business in Kenya must secure licenses and demonstrate earning potential to receive a work and business permit.

Companies in certain sectors are prioritised and allocated more work permits than others, such as telecommunications, information and communication technology, oil and gas, and exploration and production.

The application processing takes time – up to three months – so we encourage expats to start planning as early as possible. The benefit of this is that it gives more time to search for accommodation in Kenya before leaving.

After the work permit has been processed, expats will receive an Alien Card. The Alien Card allows them to register with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) to get a tax number known as a KRA PIN.

There are various classes of work and residency permits to suit each individual's motives for settling in Kenya, covering everyone, from short-term assignees to retirees. The main permits expats require are outlined below, and are for prescribed professions (Class C), employment permits (Class D), and for trade and business (Class G).

There are also permit classes for: prospecting and mining; agriculture and animal husbandry; specific manufacturing; and religious or charitable activities.


Work permits for Kenya

Class C – Prescribed profession permits

Kenya’s immigration regulations class certain jobs as ‘prescribed professions’, which include medical professionals, legal professionals, architects, engineers, accountants and ICT experts.

Prescribed professions are those that require formal registration with a professional body or institute. 

Like with other classes of work permits, it is best that applicants seek guidance from a relocation professional and the nearest embassy. Doing this means expats know exactly which category to apply for and what is needed from them.

Class D – Employment permits

This permit covers those who are moving to Kenya for a specific job for a single employer. This permit is intended for expats who have skills and qualifications that may not be available in the local workforce and that will benefit the country.

Work permit applicants with a job already in place should consider the Class D permit. Applicants may need to submit contractual details and a cover letter signed by them and their employers, as well as their curriculum vitae and professional certificates.

Class G – Specific trade, business or consultancy permits

This permit is issued to those looking to invest in a specific trade or set up a business or consultancy in Kenya. Applicants need extensive documentation for the Class G permit, including specific details on the business or consultancy, such as capital to be invested, articles of associate and certificate of incorporation of the company.


Residence permits for Kenya

Certain work permit holders can apply for permanent residence in Kenya, along with ordinary residents who meet specific criteria and spouses of Kenyan citizens.

Permanent residence for work permit holders

Expats who have held work permits for at least seven years – and have resided continuously in Kenya for three years can apply for permanent residency, labelled as Category B.

Permanent residence for spouses of Kenyan citizens

Spouses of Kenyan nationals who have been married for at least three years are entitled to apply for permanent residency.

Class K – Ordinary residents permits

This type of permit, Class K, is for ‘ordinary residents’ above the age of 35 and is highly exclusive and limited to more wealthy applicants.

Applicants with a guaranteed annual income and those who do not need to take up employment in Kenya may consider this permit. If holders of a Class K permit wish to work they must investigate further options.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Cost of Living in Kenya

Although an expat’s cost of living in Kenya will certainly be lower than in major cities in Europe or North America, it may still be higher than one might expect. Kenya's capital, Nairobi, is ranked 95th out of 209 cities in Mercer's Cost of Living survey for 2020, making it more expensive than Barcelona and Toronto but more affordable than the likes of Berlin and Luxembourg.

New arrivals need to remember that amenities such as private healthcare, international schools and comfortable homes can inflate the cost of living in Kenya tremendously. Expats will also find themselves having to account for additional living expenses they wouldn’t incur back home, such as the cost of clean drinking water and a security guard or driver.

Fortunately, many expats find that their employment contracts cover some of the heftiest expenses. The company may provide an allowance for accommodation, transport and international school fees, for instance. Expats should try their best to negotiate these benefits into their expat packages where possible.


Cost of accommodation in Kenya

Accommodation will likely be the biggest expense for expats living in Kenya. Most expats opt to rent as they have a fixed-term contract and don’t plan on settling in the country long term. Rent in cities such as Nairobi and Mombasa will of course be higher than in rural locations.

Security is a key concern when choosing where to live and this must be factored into the cost of accommodation. Most expats opt to live in a secure, gated community, which can cost as much as property in Europe. Note that rental costs in safe expat areas are much higher.


Cost of food and groceries in Kenya

It often comes as a surprise to new arrivals in Kenya that the cost of food and basic housing products is fairly high. This is because many of these goods are imported and highly taxed.

There are several supermarket chains where shoppers can buy anything from dairy products to mattresses, furniture, alcohol and electronics. Many imported food products such as cheeses, jams, chocolates, oils and pasta can also be found.

The best way to save money on groceries in Kenya is to buy local produce. Because of the country's favourable climate, expats will find that fruit and vegetables sold at local markets are always good quality, and are far cheaper than in a supermarket.


Cost of transport in Kenya

Although public transport in Kenya is incredibly cheap, many expats don't use it as it's usually uncomfortable and inefficient. 

When it comes to getting around Kenya, most expats will hire or buy a car and find a local driver. Buying a car can be expensive, though. Also, for those wanting to travel domestically in Kenya, a four-wheel drive is the best option, but will be more expensive than a regular vehicle.  


Cost of eating out and entertainment in Kenya

There's no shortage of options when it comes to eating out in Kenyan cities. Most Western restaurants are located in expat areas and serve dishes made with imported ingredients, so prices are higher. For expats who are keen to try local Kenyan foods, plenty of establishments can be found selling generous portions for next to nothing.

The nightlife and entertainment scene in Kenya’s big cities is growing, with modern clubs and bars popping up all the time. Entrance fees and drinks can make a night out an expensive endeavour. Expats looking to enjoy a local beer will find there are plenty of small bars throughout Kenya where they can have a drink while watching the sunset.


Cost of healthcare in Kenya

While public health facilities are available, many expats choose private hospitals and clinics. The quality and standard of care are often better in private facilities, but this does come at a cost.

Expats are highly recommended to arrange health insurance for themselves and their families as, without it, private healthcare costs can add up quickly.


Cost of education in Kenya

Of course, families moving to Kenya from abroad will have much to think about regarding education. Although public schooling is free, they will likely prefer the standard of education through private or international schools. International school fees can be exorbitant and so parents must decide if it is worth the cost.

Fortunately, private schools offer some financial relief as they allow for better quality of resources and teaching at a lower rate than international schools, although fees do vary between schools.


Cost of living in Kenya chart

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Nairobi in April 2021.

Accommodation (monthly)

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

KSH 105,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

KSH 50,000 

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

KSH 47,000

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

KSH 20,000

Shopping

Eggs (dozen)

KSH 160

Milk (1 litre)

KSH 100

Rice (1kg)

KSH 155

Loaf of white bread

KSH 50

Chicken breasts (1kg)

KSH 670

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

KSH 300

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

KSH 650

Coca-Cola (330ml)

KSH 50

Cappuccino 

KSH 280

Bottle of local beer 

KSH 250

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

KSH 3,500

Utilities

Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute)

KSH 3.40

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

KSH 6,000

Domestic cleaner (per hour)

KSH 460

Basic utilities (per month for small apartment)

KSH 4,700

Transport

Taxi rate (per kilometre)

KSH 200

Public transport fare in the city centre

KSH 100

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

KSH 110

Culture Shock in Kenya

As such a vibrant and diverse country, culture shock in Kenya can come in many different forms. Some new arrivals find living in Kenya so difficult to adjust to that they tend to live entirely enclosed within an expat circle, rarely straying from their compounds. This tends to further intensify one's sense of isolation.

Others may not find the culture differences intimidating. Instead, they are inspired by the friendly and open nature of Kenyans who generally adopt a welcoming and helpful attitude towards foreigners. There are also expat groups in the large cities such as Nairobi and Mombasa which help facilitate the assimilation process. These organisations arrange social gatherings including lunch dates and sporting events. Expats should contact their embassy or consulate to find out more about local expat clubs.

New arrivals to Kenya will likely face various forms of culture shock and there may be lifestyle differences in Nairobi compared to Mombasa and other coastal towns, as well as elsewhere in the country.

There are multiple ethnic groups (the well known Maasai people being one) and religions in the country. So, those interested in local and traditional cultural practices will find much to learn. Whatever the aspect of culture shock faced, expats will settle in quicker by being patient and open to learning and understanding the way things are done.


Inequality in Kenya

Many expats living in Kenya find themselves within the upper-middle class of Kenyan society. They're privy to nice houses, shopping at modern malls and driving comfortable cars. This does make the expat experience relatively insulated, although the lives of ordinary Kenyans remain noticeable.

New arrivals are often shocked at the disparity between the haves and have-nots. Wealthy Kenyans drive luxury vehicles, own palatial homes and operate with an abundance of resources. There is also a growing middle class that enjoys a comfortable but modest lifestyle.

Still, a large proportion of Kenyans live below the poverty line, visible in rural areas and cities alike. The poor live in densely populated communities in and around cities, lacking essential resources such as proper clean water, sanitation, electricity and educational facilities. This stark inequality can be a cause for culture shock and cannot be ignored.

Provided this, expats living in Kenya find that one of the biggest luxuries afforded to them is being in a position to hire domestic help. Expats from North America or Western Europe, in particular, having household help will be a treat they're not used to. In Kenya, most middle- and upper-class families have some form of domestic help.


Language barrier in Kenya

English-speaking expats will be relieved to find that they won’t struggle with a language barrier in Kenya. English is one of the country's two official languages, and while Swahili is the first language of many Kenyans, there's widespread English proficiency, particularly in cities. There is also the possibility of locals knowing three languages, as many speak an additional region-specific language.

When doing business, making friends or going about one's day, the reduced language barrier makes expat adjustment to life in Kenya much smoother. Despite this, we encourage expats to learn at least some basic greetings in Swahili.


Traffic and road conditions in Kenya

Expats in Kenya will soon get used to sitting in traffic and being surrounded by hawkers, who sell everything from newspapers and magazines to car accessories. Maps, phone chargers, toys, bananas, sunglasses and art are just a few of the things on offer. While the constant pressure to buy things can be annoying, expats will soon learn to tolerate these vendors and gently encourage them to move on.

Public transport options in Kenya are somewhat limited. Driving in Kenya isn't always easy, so expats are advised to hire a local driver, but those who opt to get behind the wheel should drive defensively at all times. 


Corruption and bureaucracy in Kenya

The economic disparities in Kenya are symptoms of a bigger problem. Corruption and mismanagement of public funds have long been a problem, and expats may come across instances of solicited bribery even in their day-to-day lives.

When dealing with visas, work permits, paperwork and driving licences, expats are sure to find the inevitable delays extremely frustrating. It's often necessary to hire a qualified agent to deal with matters such as these. Achieving the desired results is sometimes impossible without their help.

Accommodation in Kenya

Expats moving to Kenya, especially those who are unsure of what to expect by relocating to an African country, will be pleasantly surprised by the range and quality of accommodation available. European expats, in particular, can look forward to finding accommodation that's more spacious than anything they'd be able to find back home.

Though many expats buy property in Kenya, those only staying a short while are more likely to rent. Regardless of buying or renting, we recommend that expats do their research on all relevant leasing and property law.


Types of accommodation in Kenya

Most expats initially opt for renting a property in Kenya. There's a wide spectrum of properties available, from standalone houses on big plots located away from city centres to garden cottages, as well as maisonettes and villas. Downtown apartment blocks and housing units in townhouse complexes are also available and are popular types of accommodation in Nairobi.

Freestanding houses

Freestanding houses are typically considered by expat families relocating to Kenya, either to rent or buy. Kids and expats who are horticulture enthusiasts can appreciate the large gardens and plot sizes of this type of accommodation – but a heavy price tag is normally attached, adding to the cost of living. Some freestanding homes may be simple or small bungalows while others are more luxurious and modern multi-storey buildings.

Apartment blocks

As with most major world cities, apartments abound in Kenya’s large urban areas, with both high-rise apartment blocks and secure smaller flats and townhouses. Apartments generally suit young and single expats who hope to rent short term. They are also less maintenance than a house, with apartment managers handling the general upkeep. 

Gated complexes and estates

Gated complexes or estates are one of the most common types of expat accommodation in Kenya. Safe and securely walled in, these shared complexes offer houses and flats, as well as shared amenities and facilities such as swimming pools. Accommodation in these estates is common among expats and is often arranged by an employing company or organisation who owns some of the houses.

Furnished vs unfurnished

Accommodation in Kenya comes with varying levels of furnishings. Some property types, such as apartments, are more likely to come fully furnished, which is quite popular, though pricey. Still, most properties across the country are semi-furnished or unfurnished. 

Shipping furniture to Kenya can be a lengthy, costly and maddening process, so it's often far easier to purchase furniture once settled in the country. However, this approach also has its shortcomings as imported furniture is notoriously expensive and locally made articles vary widely in quality. The bottom line is that furnishing a house is another budgetary factor that demands serious consideration.


Finding accommodation in Kenya

Expats looking for accommodation in Kenya should refer to online property portals, such as Property24, BuyRentKenya and PigiaMe. These will give a rough rundown of areas and suburbs and prices, acting as a platform for beginning the search. This can easily be done long before leaving one’s home country, helping potential expats plan out their budget.

Social media platforms and listings in local newspapers are also useful resources.

Real estate agents, however, are an even more helpful resource when hunting for a place to stay in Kenya. Well informed about the market, they can present expats with a bouquet of options to match their desires and financial requirements. They will also oversee the leasing process, which unburdens expats of much of the paperwork associated with relocating.


Renting accommodation in Kenya

Accommodation in Kenya can be costly, and expats may be responsible for financing these premises themselves, without the assistance of an employer. This makes rental accommodation a significant monthly expense. Expats working in Kenya are advised to negotiate that their employment contract contains at least some kind of provision for a housing stipend, which is common practice in the country.

Leases

New arrivals looking to rent in Kenya must be aware of the tenancy laws and what a rental contract entails, including the fine print. We recommend expat tenants scrutinise their lease and enlist the services of a real estate agent or a specialist familiar with property law in Kenya. These professionals understand property law and note subtle details in the terms and conditions of a lease.

Expats staying short term may prefer a tenancy agreement that is flexible and normally ranges between three months and two years. Foreign residents staying longer can negotiate to extend and renew their lease.

Although leases and tenancy agreements in Kenya are largely in the landlord’s favour, there are restrictions on rent increments. Landlords cannot increase the amount charged within the first 12 months that a tenant has rented the property nor within 12 months of their previous rental increase.

Deposits

Deposits in Kenya often equate to three months’ rent, though some landlords may only ask for one month's rent. This amount may be used to cover property and furniture damages caused by a tenant, although landlords are responsible for general repairs and basic wear and tear.

Deposits are refundable after the end date of the lease. Laws regarding deposits are unclear, and tenants who terminate a lease early may still need to wait till the end date on their original agreement to receive their deposit refund. If an expat wishes to terminate their lease early, they must give enough notice; similarly, landlords cannot evict their tenants without giving notice.

Utilities

Utility bills are not usually included in rental prices and are at an additional cost to tenants. Expats should be prepared to pay for their electricity and the internet.

Home safety and security costs

Home safety is a concern in Kenya, as it would be in any country with such social inequality. Most expat accommodation in Kenya has security measures in place or, if not, they can easily be installed. A typical security package will include stationed guards or night watchmen, motion-sense outdoor lighting, burglar bars on the windows, panic buttons and night-time intruder alarms. This may seem overwhelming at first, however, with these measures in place, many tenants report that they feel safe in their homes in Kenya.

Safer still are townhouse complexes. Known as gated communities or estates, access to individual units is controlled by security guards at a boom gate, which is only opened to allow residents and their visitors to come and go.

Note that expats renting a private standalone house may bear the brunt of these costs unless it is included in an employment contract. In gated estates, security systems may be included as part of the rent.

Healthcare in Kenya

The quality and availability of healthcare in Kenya vary tremendously, depending on location, choice of hospital and need for treatment. In general, expats find healthcare throughout Kenya to be below European standards. We advise foreigners to look at private healthcare options and to look into the speciality areas of each hospital, as these are usually better than public facilities.

As is the case elsewhere in the world, private healthcare in Kenya is considerably more expensive than the country's public healthcare. Most expats are willing to pay a higher price in exchange for better quality healthcare with shorter waiting times.


Public healthcare in Kenya

There are several different types and levels of public medical facilities in Kenya, all of which work on a system of escalating referrals, depending on the problem.

For those not on private healthcare, government-run dispensaries are the first port of call. KEMSA (Kenya Medical Supplies Authority) is the state-run organisation that supplies most of the medical equipment and medication to these dispensaries. These facilities are run and managed by nurses and provide the most basic outpatient services for simple illnesses such as the colds and flu, skin conditions and the initial treatment of malaria.

If the nurses at the dispensary cannot deal with a problem, the patient will be referred to a health centre. Government-run health centres are run and managed by a clinical officer. Health centres in Nairobi provide primary care and focus mainly on preventative care such as vaccinations. They tend to fall short when it comes to curative treatment, though.

Complicated cases may be referred upwards to a government district or provincial hospital.


Private healthcare in Kenya

Most expats prefer to use private healthcare facilities in Kenya. Though the cost is much higher than treatment at public facilities, the quality of service tends to be better and doctors are often more experienced. The hygiene levels and quality of equipment are much improved in comparison.

Kenya has an extensive network of private healthcare facilities, from small local clinics to large hospitals. There are several private hospitals and medical clinics in Nairobi and Mombasa.

Private healthcare is good, with small but modern health facilities and well-trained medical staff. Day-to-day treatment can be surprisingly affordable but, to admit patients without insurance to a private hospital, a heavy deposit is required. We highly recommend expats settling in Kenya invest in private health insurance so that they are covered for more complex procedures and expensive evacuations.

For any serious operations, some expats look outside the country for help. South Africa is widely considered as having the best medical facilities on the continent and is the usual destination for emergency medical evacuation.


Health insurance in Kenya

Kenya's public healthcare system operates with contributions from two types of social security services, the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) and the National Social Security Scheme (NSSF). The NHIF is largely targeted at Kenyan citizens over the age of 18, though all citizens and expatriates working in Kenya must make monthly contributions to this, deducted from their salary.

Though expats are eligible to take advantage of the NHIF, most opt for private healthcare which requires a greater and more comprehensive insurance policy.

Though not compulsory by law, private health insurance comes strongly recommended for expats in Kenya. Without it, healthcare costs are just as expensive as in Western countries, and covering the costs for emergency care – and especially medical evacuation – out of pocket can be impossible.

Often, employers relocating expats to Kenya will provide insurance. But if not, suitable coverage should normally be organised before arriving. When taking out health insurance in Kenya, expats must be aware of the terms of their coverage. A comprehensive policy is best.


Pharmacies and medicine in Kenya

Pharmacies in Kenya are also referred to as chemists and expats can easily find these in any major town or city.

The best pharmacies are often attached to hospitals. There are also several trustworthy pharmacy chains in Kenya, the branches of which can be spotted in almost any town centre or shopping mall in Kenya. Some pharmacies in large cities operate 24-hours, but it's best to check opening hours.

Most generic medicines are easy to find at Kenyan pharmacies. Even though many medications are imported to Kenya, they are generally cheaper than in many other expat destinations. Still, it is best to have an insurance policy that covers all medication expenses.

Expats suffering from chronic illnesses or those who need prescription medication should try to bring a supply with them, as well as copies of the prescription and generic names of the drugs.


Health hazards and vaccinations in Kenya

We encourage expats to visit a healthcare practitioner for information on which vaccinations are needed before moving to Kenya. Immunisation against yellow fever, polio, rabies, hepatitis A and typhoid are often recommended, along with the upkeep of standard vaccinations such as measles, mumps and rubella.

Malaria, cholera and dengue fever are health risks in Kenya. Preventing bites from disease-bearing insects is the best protection against many dangerous illnesses, including malaria and dengue fever. It's suggested that residents sleep under mosquito nets and make use of insect repellent. Expats moving to Kenya should also consider taking a course of anti-malarial tablets.

On top of general safety concerns, water quality in Kenya is variable. So, residents are advised not to drink water directly from the tap unless they have a pathogen- and bacteria-killing water filter. It's also best to be cautious of food prepared by unlicensed roadside vendors.


Emergency medical services in Kenya

The standard of emergency medical services in Kenya varies. In cities such as Nairobi and Mombasa, the level of emergency medical services is not excellent but is passable, with Kenya Red Cross and St John Ambulance Kenya providing emergency medical care to those in need. In rural areas, emergency health services are poor to non-existent.

Private hospitals in Kenyan cities often have a small fleet of ambulances that are sent out to assist patients.

In the event of an emergency, expats can call:

  • Fire and ambulance services: 999
  • Police hotline: 999, 112, or 911

In many cases, it is faster to get a patient to the nearest hospital in a private vehicle as waiting times for ambulances in Kenya are long. The largest Accident and Emergency departments in Nairobi are Nairobi Hospital and the Aga Khan University Hospital.

Education and Schools in Kenya

Education is highly valued in Kenya, with many families making huge sacrifices to send their children to school. The education system has undergone significant changes over time, and many public, private and international schools are available for expats.

Public primary and secondary schools in Kenya are free of charge, but the lack of funding in many schools means a shortage of qualified teachers and limited resources, particularly in rural or impoverished areas. While there are some good government schools in Kenya, especially in major cities, most expats rather opt to enrol their children in private or international schools, which tend to be less disruptive to a child’s education, especially if they're only in Kenya for a short time.

Read on for a breakdown of the education system, nurseries, homeschooling, tutors and special needs learning support in Kenya.


Public schools in Kenya

The standard Kenyan education system consists of eight years of primary school, four years of secondary school and four years of university education. 

With the introduction of this system, public school students who complete their primary education receive the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and those that complete their secondary schooling receive the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE).

There are no fees for primary and secondary education but additional expenses such as uniforms, lunches and stationery are usually required. 

Kenyan education is split into:

  • Kindergarten: ages 4 to 5
  • Primary school: ages 6 to 14
  • Secondary school (academic or technical and trade schools): ages 14 to 18
  • University: ages 18 and above

After primary school, high performing students can attend national secondary schools, though provincial schools are also available. At secondary level, students can attend an academic school or a technical and trade school. 

Academic schools offer a broad scope of subjects grouped into languages, sciences, applied sciences, humanities, creative arts and technical subjects. Kenyan public schools have varying capacities, impacting their resources and what subjects they offer. Still, the core subjects are English, Kiswahili and maths. The language of instruction is English, though Swahili is taken as a compulsory subject throughout primary and secondary schools.

Technical secondary schools give students a more practical approach to learning, preparing them for the workforce. Regardless of the type of school (academic or technical), all secondary school graduates are eligible for university, depending on their grades.


Private schools in Kenya

Private schools in Kenya are a good option, especially for expats from the UK as their systems are similar. The standard of education at Kenya's private schools is superior to its public schools, mainly because of additional funding. Costs vary from one school to another, but basic private education is still cheaper than sending a child to an international school.

Private schools have greater flexibility in the choice of curriculum. Some have religious affiliations and many schools follow Kenya’s national curriculum. International schools are a type of private school and these follow curricula from around the world.


International schools in Kenya

There is a good range of international schools in Kenya, especially in the capital, Nairobi. Expats living in Kenya will find many schools that follow the British curriculum, partially because of the country's historical links with the UK.

To accommodate the growing expat community, there are also schools offering the globally recognised International Baccalaureate or the curricula of countries such as France, Germany, Sweden, America and the Netherlands.

The standard of education in international schools in Kenya is high, with qualified and experienced teachers and greater attention paid to students. Students also have the opportunity to participate in a wide assortment of extra-curricular activities, including sports, drama and music. 

On the downside, fees tend to be expensive. On top of basic school fees, expat parents will need to budget for extra expenses such as textbooks, stationery, school uniforms and field trips. Some schools also provide a boarding option, which again comes at an additional cost.

Expats working in Kenya who want to send their child to an international school should budget accordingly and try to negotiate an allowance for school fees into their employment package.


Nurseries in Kenya

Expat parents with young children in Kenya will discover a large pool of nurseries and kindergartens to select from, especially in large cities, such as Nairobi and Mombasa. 

Early education is widely agreed to be fundamental for a child's development. Some nurseries and childcare centres are attached to larger international schools and many follow a Montessori-style approach, though bear in mind that some come with heavy fees.

Overall, one of the largest factors determining which nursery to select is its location and its proximity to an expat's accommodation and/or workplace. Nurseries are also great spaces for parents to meet and make friends other expats and parents.


Homeschooling in Kenya

Kenyan law is not clear regarding homeschooling and there is no standard process on how to go about it. Still, this hasn’t stopped determined parents. More and more families believe the mainstream education system is not suited to them and is either under-resourced on the one end or prohibitively expensive on the other.

Social media is one of the best ways to reach out to the homeschooling community in Kenya. Social activities for kids can be organised through these, and parents can find the necessary information and network easily.

Parents can choose a curriculum that works best for them, and some may register their children to take a national or international exam, often at an international or private school to be under the school’s invigilation.


Tutors in Kenya

Whether children are homeschooled or attend a mainstream school in Kenya, extra classes may be desired – especially during exam time. There are several online platforms for finding a tutor in Kenya, including TeacherOn and PigiaMe.

As education systems are evolving worldwide, online learning is increasingly popular, and in some cases necessary, so many tutors may offer services in person and online too.


Special needs education in Kenya

Kenya’s private and international schools are more likely than public schools to provide inclusive support for children with disabilities. Special needs education is not well integrated with the public school system due to a lack of funding and support services.

Children with disabilities have a right to accessible and free basic education in Kenya, and there are schools dedicated to children with distinct needs and disabilities. Embassies also provide lists of recommended schools integrating and including students with learning or physical disabilities.

Expats moving to Kenya should research the private and international school options and contact them directly for information on the standard of services available. This may come in various forms, such as additional learning support sessions or specialised devices adapted for students with hearing or visual problems.

Transport and Driving in Kenya

Kenya’s public transport infrastructure is underdeveloped. Unless one has lots of time on their hands, travelling by train or intercity bus isn't an option. New arrivals will become accustomed to seeing local Kenyans packed into a matatu or using tuk-tuks or motorcycle taxis to get around. Although using these might be an experience, they're generally unsafe or uncomfortable.

Still, there are other options available. For everyday travel, expats mainly drive or hire a local driver who is familiar with the area and Kenyan driving norms. When it comes to travelling nationally, domestic airlines are the most practical way of getting from A to B.


Public transport in Kenya

Expats moving to Kenya will find the public transport infrastructure to be somewhat limited. Long-distance buses serve most destinations, but journeys are slow. Train travel is even more restrictive, with just a few services to even the main destinations each week.

Buses

Kenya has both local bus services and a large long-distance bus network used by most people who travel within the country. Travelling by bus can be a cost-effective but time-consuming way to get around Kenya.

As bus journeys in Kenya are long and not always comfortable, expats are advised to travel with an established company that has a modern fleet of vehicles, such as Dreamline Express Limited, Coast Bus and Crown Bus. We suggest expats book their ticket in advance, especially for popular routes.

Expats should also purchase first-class tickets wherever possible as these offer larger seats with additional legroom. Of course, premium services come at a higher cost, but with greater comfort, WiFi, electronic screens for music and films and USB ports, they're worth it.

Trains

Trains in Kenya have traditionally been more of a tourist attraction than a viable means of transport. However, since 2017, the Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) has transformed train travel in the country.

Known as the Madaraka Express, this new service connects Nairobi and Mombasa, and reduces the previous old rail network journey of over 12 hours to only four and a half hours. Expats travelling from the capital to the coast or vice versa can save time by taking the SGR train.

Economy-class tickets are affordable, being just under the cost of a long-distance bus ticket for the same route. First-class tickets are also available, but at a much higher price.

Matatus

Matatus are privately-operated minibuses that cover short or medium distances in Kenya. Vehicles are usually meant to hold no more than 20 people, but some drivers will load more passengers into a single matatu.

While travelling by matatu provides a uniquely Kenyan experience with their colourful décor and loud music, it can be risky. Matatus are often driven badly with drivers swerving in and out of traffic to get to their destination quickly and stopping suddenly to pick up passengers at the side of the road.

Matatus are the cheapest way of getting around in Kenya, with prices based on distance travelled. But, due to safety issues, travelling by local buses or car are better options.

Tuk-tuks

Tuk-tuks are three-wheeled motorised taxis that can be found in Kenya’s main cities, especially along the coast. They can carry up to three passengers and are a speedy way to get around town.

There are no set prices, so expats will need to get used to negotiating with the tuk-tuk drivers before starting a journey.


Taxis in Kenya

Taxi cabs are easily available in Kenya's large cities. They can either be hailed on the street or booked in advance. Fares should be negotiated before getting into the cab as meters are often either broken or aren't switched on.

Ride-hailing services such as Uber are also operational in certain parts of Kenya.


Driving in Kenya

Most expats in Kenya get around by car as it gives the freedom and flexibility that public transport does not. Still, driving in Kenya is not for the faint-hearted.

New arrivals will find that many road users drive aggressively and recklessly, so expats are advised to exercise caution when driving and crossing roads in Kenya. Dealing with this traffic is by no means stress-free, and roads in certain areas are often potholed and poorly maintained. So, though driving through Kenya at one’s own pace and taking in the scenery sounds ideal, the poor road infrastructure can make it a challenge.

Those who do decide to drive in Kenya will find that most global car rental companies have branches in Nairobi and Mombasa. There are smaller local rental companies that offer more competitive rates, but these may be less reliable.

Many car rental companies in Kenya offer the option to hire a car with a driver. Expats who are settled in Kenya tend to buy a car and hire a driver, or are provided with both by their employer.

Expats wondering if they can drive on their home country's licence will need to follow up on the latest requirements. Normally, expats can drive in Kenya with their valid foreign driver's licence or an International Driving Permit for up to three months. Those staying longer in the country must obtain a Kenyan driving licence.


Air travel in Kenya

Domestic flights in Kenya are often the fastest way to get around. Kenya Airways is the national airline and offers daily domestic flights between various cities, as well as international flights. While the prices of domestic flights in Kenya fluctuate, they're reasonably priced and online booking is available. Other domestic flight operators include Fly540 and Airkenya Express.

The frequency of these flights varies, and delays and cancellations are common; expats are advised to check with the airline before travelling to the airport. Also, we recommend expats taking domestic flights in Kenya lock their checked-in luggage as items have been reported to have gone missing while in the care of airlines in Kenya.


Cycling in Kenya

A healthy way to get around in Kenya is by bicycle, and expats can buy or rent a bicycle in Kenya or organise shipping to import one from abroad. It’s also easy to join a cycling tour or connect with people in cycling groups through social media.

Avid cyclists can enjoy exercising along fantastic biking paths around mountains and other scenic areas, such as Riverside Park and Karura Forest. 

Still, there are safety issues to be aware of. Always be careful, especially when taking unfamiliar routes, and carry enough water. If cycling in major cities, always be wary of traffic as drivers may not be so vigilant.


Walking in Kenya

One of the best ways to get familiar with one’s new surroundings is by walking, and new arrivals can attend a walking tour in Nairobi. Many people walk to get around in Kenya, but this is not to say that areas are particularly walkable or pedestrian-friendly. Poorly maintained pavements mean foot traffic often enters the roadways, and there are other safety issues such as pickpocketing. We recommend walking in groups and not walking around at night.

Don’t be deterred altogether: expats who lead an active lifestyle are drawn to Kenya because of the many hiking trails. A popular day hike is Mount Longonot, a dormant stratovolcano and Ngong Hills is a picturesque area great for hiking. And, of course, for the daring – and fit – Mount Kenya awaits. Expats can tackle Africa’s second-highest mountain along the Naro Moru Hike and spend the night in one of several campsites on Mount Kenya.

Shipping and Removals in Kenya

Shipping to Kenya by air, sea or land can be a long and expensive process. It may be cheaper and more efficient to check smaller items as excess luggage as certain concessions may be granted, though prices differ from airline to airline. Expats must decide whether they’d like to ship their household items to Kenya and what form this shipment should take.

Expats looking for accommodation in Kenya may prefer to find a property that is already fully furnished, rather than go through the hassle of shipping and removals. That said, turnkey homes are more expensive than unfurnished properties and more difficult to find so, either way, costs will be incurred. 

Shipping and duty costs for Kenya sometimes make it cheaper to buy items after arriving. Most furniture, household goods and electronics are inexpensive and readily available. It’s up to the expat if they choose to import their personal effects and household goods from abroad or buy them in Kenya.

New arrivals that opt for shipping and removals to Kenya should be aware of customs regulations, and we recommend enlisting the services of a professional moving or relocation company.


Customs and import duties in Kenya

All items imported into Kenya, whether by airline freight or shipping, must be cleared through KRA (Kenya Revenue Authority) customs officials on arrival and the appropriate import taxes must be paid. Customs duties are assessed based on the value of the item, determined by customs officials. Generally, the more expensive the item, the higher the duty.

Although all goods are subject to customs duty, passengers fit into different 'passenger categories' which determines the concessions they are entitled to. For example, Category A passengers are Kenyan residents who have resided outside of Kenya for an extended time. They may be entitled to duty-free imports or reduced taxes on clothing apparel, personal and household items, and one motor vehicle. There are also specific regulations and entitlements for tourists and visitors staying in Kenya for up to three months (Category B), as well as other Kenyan residents (Category C).

For most passengers, there is a general concession of USD 500 for household goods and items used for personal use, though this amount is subject to change.
 
Some classifications of items must be declared, while there are restrictions on others and some be altogether prohibited. Currency exceeding USD 10,000 must be declared at the port of entry, as well as items intended for resale or business purposes. Among the restricted items are animal traps capable of killing or capturing game animals as well as drones. Motor vehicles over eight years of age are not allowed to be imported into Kenya.

In a move towards environmental protection, plastic bags have also been banned in Kenya. This must be noted by expats wishing to import products into Kenya as well as any traveller visiting the country.

The list of both restricted and prohibited items extends further, however, it is subject to change. We recommend that expats hire a relocation company familiar with up-to-date regulations and equipped with the latest technology and resources to ensure a swift and seamless process.


Shipping pets to Kenya

Kenya does not quarantine dogs and cats moving with their owners, provided that all stipulated conditions are met with regards to required documentation, vaccination and microchipping. Generally, pets must be accompanying a passenger on board. Pets must also have the relevant pet passport as identification and be accompanied by a health certificate from an authorised vet. 

For more details on bringing a furry family member into Kenya, expats are advised to contact a company that specialises in pet relocations.

Frequently Asked Questions about Kenya

With so much to plan and consider, expats moving to Kenya are sure to have a few queries and concerns about their destination. Below we try to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about Kenya.

Do I need a car in Kenya? 

Yes. Expats will need a car to get around as public transport in Kenya is limited and sometimes unsafe. It's advisable to invest in a reliable vehicle as a broken-down car can present its own safety problems. An alternative is to hire a vehicle from a rental agency. That said, there are several ways of getting around in Kenya, and the fairly new train connecting Nairobi and Mombasa, called the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), is great for trips between these two cities.

Are there reliable internet service providers in Kenya?

Yes, Kenya has reliable internet, much to the relief of expats. There are many competing internet providers in Kenya and access shouldn't be a problem in the major cities.

Is my house going to be safe?

In terms of accommodation in Kenya, many expats live in gated communities and compounds. These are usually safe and often have dedicated security guards. Those living in freestanding homes will largely be responsible for their own security arrangements, and should make sure their budget can accommodate the cost of round-the-clock security measures.

While security systems and guards may be an element of culture shock for some, they can make both locals and new arrivals feel more secure in their homes. We recommend expats familiarise themselves with the main safety concerns in Kenya.

What is the healthcare like in Kenya?

The standard of healthcare in Kenya varies. Expats generally opt for private hospitals which generally offer a much higher standard of facilities than their public counterpart. We recommend expats invest in health insurance which includes cover for potential repatriation for more complicated medical procedures.

Do I need a visa to travel to Kenya?

Whether an expat needs a visa or not depends both on their country of citizenship and how long they plan on staying in Kenya. Countries such as South Africa, Zambia and Botswana don't need to apply for short-term visas. Citizens from several countries can obtain a visa on arrival at their port of entry, and others may easily apply online or through the nearest embassy. To work in Kenya, expats will need a relevant work permit.

What are schools like in Kenya?

Schools in Kenya deliver a high standard of education, and expats who can afford it generally opt for private and international schools that follow an international curriculum. It's important to research these schools in advance and make budget allowances for related school fees.

Is it expensive to live in Kenya?

An expat's expenses really depend on where they settle in Kenya and their lifestyle preferences. Expats will likely move to Nairobi, the capital city, where the cost of living is higher than elsewhere, with particularly high accommodation costs. While it's not as expensive as many European expat destinations, don't be fooled into thinking everything is cheap. Still, lucrative employment packages generally make up for high costs, and it's easy to find discounts to save money. We recommend budgeting and negotiating with employees for particular benefits.

Articles about Kenya

Banking, Money and Taxes in Kenya

Opening a bank account is obviously a priority for most expats relocating to Kenya. Fortunately, banking in Kenya is easy and efficient, and banks can be found in most major towns and cities. Although the process is straightforward, expats will need a copy of their contract of employment and proof of a local address to open the account. 


Money in Kenya

The official currency in Kenya is the Kenyan Shilling (KES), which is subdivided into 100 cents.

  • Notes: KES 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000

  • Coins: 50 cents (rarely used), KES 1, 5, 10, 20

When moving to Kenya, expats will have to exchange currency for the local shillings. Money can be exchanged upon arriving in international airports, in bureaux de change and certain banks in major cities. Some hotels may offer local currency, but the rate may not be so favourable.


Banking in Kenya

Many large international banks have branches in Nairobi or have a partnership with a local bank. This can make transferring money between a home country and Kenya easier. Expats using their home banks should just inform them of their relocation.

The largest banks are Absa Bank Kenya and Standard Chartered Kenya, which are international, and KCB Bank Kenya, Co-operative Bank of Kenya and Equity Bank Kenya, which are local. All banks follow the guidelines and management issued by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK).

It's useful to have cash on hand in Kenya. Bank card payments are common, especially with Visa and Mastercard, although some areas, markets and shops only accept cash payments.

Banking hours in Kenya are mainly from 9am to 3pm, Monday to Friday, though some banks may open earlier and close later. Banks may close earlier, around midday, on Saturdays and close on Sundays.

Opening a bank account

When opening a bank account in Kenya, one of the main things to look out for is account fees. We suggest visiting different banking websites and researching their services and account types to check if a fixed monthly amount is charged or an individual fee for each transaction.

After finding a suitable bank, visit the nearest branch in person and they will assist to set up the account. Processing the necessary documents shouldn't take long, and within a day or so, the account should be activated.

Opening an account at any of Kenya's banks is straightforward, though required documents vary across different banking institutions. It's important to check if a KRA (Kenya Revenue Authority) pin or tax number is needed, or if a local phone number is enough. 

Expats will generally need to present identification, such as their passport, along with proof of Kenyan address. This can be a utility bill or similar statement that shows the expat's name and address.

Credit cards and ATMs

ATMs are easily found in Kenya's big cities and several banks have effective online banking services. Restaurants and shopping malls in major cities will have credit card facilities, but charges can be high. It is often better to pay with a local debit card or in cash.


Taxes in Kenya

Expats should be aware of the tax implications when working in Kenya. Kenya Revenue Authority manages all tax-related matters in the country and their website is comprehensive, offering several online services and tax guides. Still, for expats not clued up on accounting and tax processes, it’s best to enlist the services of tax specialists. As tax regulations are subject to change, these specialists will be familiar with the latest guidelines.

Income tax is on a graduated scale based on how much one earns. The rate varies at 5 percent increments from 10 to 30 percent for the highest earnings. Non-cash benefits also tend to be taxed. Expat employees regularly receive a generous employment package and have benefits such as housing, utilities, furniture, a company car and school fees of dependants. 

One of the main questions that expats have regarding tax in their host country is what it means to be considered a resident for tax purposes. In Kenya, this includes anyone with a permanent home in the country as well as those without a permanent home, but being present for at least 183 days in one tax year. It also includes residents without a permanent home, but who have resided in Kenya during the tax year and previous two years for at least 122 days a year. 

Expats considered residents for tax purposes are liable to tax on income generated both in Kenya and abroad. Non-residents are only taxed on income earned in and derived from Kenya.

Kenya has double-taxation treaties with several countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Germany and the United Arab Emirates. Expats must find out if their home country is a party to a double-taxation agreement, which exempts them from certain taxes abroad.

Getting a tax number

Expats working in Kenya and considered residents for tax purposes should obtain a tax number or KRA PIN.

Once an expat's work permit has been processed, they will receive what is called an Alien Card. This will allow them to register with the KRA and obtain a KRA PIN. Visiting the KRA website, expats will easily find instructions and an online form. They will need to provide their Alien ID card, basic information and company details. After this has been processed, expats will get their tax number.

This number can be used when filing self-assessment tax returns, due at the end of June each year. While employers are responsible for deducting from their employees’ incomes for tax, employees must submit these tax returns. For this, we recommend asking for support from a tax advisor.

Expat Experiences in Kenya

When considering a move to a new country, there is nothing more useful than hearing real life stories and experiences from other expats who have lived there. We'd love to hear about your expat experiences. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Kenya and would like to share your story.


Nadine, the British 'expat mummy' of three, made the move from Cape Town to Nairobi with her family in 2017. Despite the struggles of being a foreigner, Nadine appreciates the warmth of Kenyan culture. Enjoying writing, red wine and adventure, Nadine blogs extensively about expat parenting and general life in Kenya. Read about her expat life in Kenya.

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Seasoned expat Tara Wambugu moved to Kenya with her husband and baby daughter in 2011. Now, more than four years later, they still call Nairobi home and Tara blogs about her experiences raising a family in this bustling African city. Find out more about her expat life in Kenya.

Jerry is a Canadian expat living in Kenya. He arrived in the Kenyan capital city of Nairobi in 2010 and is loving the opportunities Kenya provides for him to pursue his professional photography business. Learn more about expat life in Jerry's expat interview.

Asia is a Polish expat who initially moved to Kenya for an internship position in 2007. She now lives in Mombasa and has worked in the tourism and real estate industries over the past few years. Asia finds the locals friendly and loves the fact that she is a five-minute walk from the beach. Read more about her expat life in Kenya.

Asia - A Polish expat in Kenya

Zeynep is a Turkish expat who moved to Kenya with her husband and two children in 2012. They moved to the capital, Nairobi, due to her husband’s job. Although she misses the daily comforts of home, Zeynep enjoys the weather and quiet surroundings of her new home in Nairobi. Read more about her expat experience in Kenya.

Zeynep - a Turkish expat living in Kenya

Rajeev Kalita is an Indian expat living in Kenya. He moved to the town of Kisumu to pursue a career as a Branch Sales Manager for Crown Paints Kenya Ltd. He enjoys the calm and peaceful nature of Kisumu, which is located on the banks of Lake Victoria, and offers some great advice about weekend breaks from the city. Read more about his expat experience in Kenya.

Rajeev Kalita - An Indian expat in Kenya

Frances Woodhams is a British expat who has made East Africa her home over the past 11 years, and now lives in Nairobi. She's found that life here is nothing like that suggested by Out of Africa or White Mischief. Read about the mostly pleasant realities of life in Kenya in her account of expat life in Kenya.