Nairobi, Kenya Report of what it's like to live there - 12/19/11
Personal Experiences from Nairobi, Kenya
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
20+ hours - we like KLM
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
A mix of compounds, stand alone homes and apartments. Commute time can be 10-45 minutes depending on traffic and where you live. Be advised - most people ask to live on Rosslyn Ridge, which can house about 1/5 of Embassy/AID families, so adjust your expectation that you can ask for and receive Rosslyn Ridge. We are in a different compound that we like better for its location and because we really like our neighbors, but there are people that are super bitter about not being on Rosslyn Ridge. Housing is at a premium here - if you arrive during peak season you may be in temps for awhile. Sorry to say, but no one seems to be minding the store at GSO housing, so I'd try to keep in touch as much as possible. The 2011 rotation was atrocious and I heard some stories that would have put me back on a plane, quite frankly.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
I don't find groceries, etc. to be that exorbitantly expensive, but I haven't lived in the States for some time. Anything imported will cost you $.Chicken is expensive, steak is not. Gas is hugely expensive as are the AEA stores (commissary).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Not too much, but here's what I'd recommend - ship sporting goods, kids toys, shoes, clothes, tolietries and plan to order all of those things online when you need them. You can find lots more than you expect in the grocery store and there's always the overpriced commissary when you're desperate.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Fast food - KFC, which is nothing special. Otherwise, Java House, Art Caffe, Zen Garden and other Asian restaurants, Lord Errol's. Prices vary, but it's not cheap to eat out.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Surprisingly, quite a bit at Healthy U, the health food/organic store.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Nothing too out of the ordinary - ants are an issue.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Readily available and affordable. Average salaries for a nanny or a housekeeper are $16KSH-20KSH.Be wary of someone that asks for more than that unless they have a ton of experience.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a decent gym, the UN has a gym and there are commercial gyms available.
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?
We use Barclay's or Standard Bank ATMs with no problems. I've used my credit card at Nakumatt in a pinch, but overall I would not use a credit card anywhere.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
DSTV = $70/month, excluding initial installaion.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English will get you by just fine.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
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?
Ah, vehicles. I agree with the previous poster - import from Japan - Toyota, Mitsubishi, Subaru. Land Rovers are popular, but hard and expensive to maintain. If you do decide to buy at post I would not buy anything that had been in Kenya more than two years. Labor may be cheap, but it also may not be skilled. And you can't just up and sell your car - the Kenyan bureaucracy has a whole procedure if you want to sell a car before the end of your tour.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We have ResNet and it's good when it works - $60/month
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You need one. Buy it here, there or in between, but you must have one. You can get good 3G plans so if you can bring an unlocked iPhone or Android phone that's nice.
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?
No, but work closely with GSO.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Yes, ask the CLO
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?
Yes, with NGOs. Just don't let them send you off to Somalia.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual. Short shorts and miniskirts are not the norm.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. This is a critical crime/terrorism threat post, but I think most people like to overlook that. Carjackings and armed robberies are common and terrorist threats do exist.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I have to disagree with the previous poster - I have found the Embassy health unit to be a poorly managed mess with excellent cargeivers once you get through the doors, but getting an appointment seems to be a definite challenge. Basic and diagnostic care can be done here, but I wouldn't go farther than that. I've had two incorrect lab tests ordered for me by local doctors.
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?
Good, but the Kenyans burn trash
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Nice, but I think there's more rain than most people have described. July-September is rainy and cool. December-March/April are really nice.
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 at ISK or Rosslyn Academy, but people are satisfied with those schools.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
No experience with this, but there are services.
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?
Lots of preschools available. ISK has a very expensive ($7k+) pre-K.Shop around and be prepared to go to interviews. The schools want to see you before they admit your kid. Local prices are about $3k per year. My child is in a local preschool and I have really liked that experience for her.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. Through the school or private. Some programs will come to you if you have enough kids and enough room. It can take a bit of time to ferret these out, but I've been pleasantly surprised by what's available for kids.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Varies. Generally good, but Embassy ineffeciencies take their toll as does the crime, the traffic and general Nairobi BS.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
House parties, restaurants, clubs for the younger set.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
For families, yes, singles and couples, probably. If you are a bit adventurous and want to travel around Kenya, I think it's probably a good place for all. My tolerance for driving around Kenya is low, but I find it a good place with small children.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Probably not the best.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, tribal issues mainly.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The vacations, friends we've made and the availability of household help
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Pick up a guide book - in Nairobi, there's not much new to discover. Outside Nairobi, there is lots to explore.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Lots of local and regional crafts and travel.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The Masai Mara and other safari destinations, the Kenyan coast, getting a taste of "real" Africa, but not too much.
11. Can you save money?
I think so.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, I would, but I admit that saving money is a part of it. You can find friends here and you may find them in the Embassy, but this is not some homey little African post. That said, we have made some good friends and there are great people here. The Kenyans are by and large nice people, hard working and honest. I am enjoying getting to know them.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Down coat and boots.
3. But don't forget your:
Patience. I think the living here is pleasant enough, but the Embassy has a long way to go. Dealing with the place on a daily basis through work is just a beat down. The RSO's office is a complete joke for a critical crime/terror threat post. Our RSO in our safe post before this had us more secure than these clowns and getting them to care is impossible - excuse after excuse after excuse. Blame the victim seems to be the official motto. Housing is another mystery of inefficiency with more excuses and lies than one would think possible (and that's not from my personal experience - we actually really like our housing).State seems to treat Nairobi like some unimportant African backwater and you definitely feel the pinch.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
Nairobi is a large, chaotic African city and living here can be challenging. My personal opinion is that you simply must venture outside what the Embassy has to offer and make other friends/acquaintances to keep yourself sane.