Nairobi, Kenya Report of what it's like to live there - 12/13/12
Personal Experiences from Nairobi, Kenya
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
It's a long way to the east coast of the US. It's about 8 hours to Europe for a connection (we usually fly through Zurich, but also sometimes Amsterdam) and then about 10 hours to the US. With layovers, it's easily a 24 hour ordeal.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. Government and lived in Nairobi for two years, a third expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is the best thing about Kenya after the weather. Very spacious single family homes, townhouses, and apartments, located on or off-compound. Most come with servants quarters for live-in staff. All have fireplaces that are the main source of heating in the cold months -- no A/C or central heating here. Everything grows in Kenya, so the gardens get to be lush and fragrant. I love my house and garden and will definitely be what I miss most when I leave post. It's really made all the difference in what could otherwise be a very dirty, stressful environment.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can find everything you need either through local supermarkets or the Commissary. Orange juice though, can be expensive, as I guess all the oranges have to be imported. One thing I've learned is to buy a couple of whatever it is when you're at Nakumatt because restocking can be iffy at best, and you can go months without seeing that same thing again in stock. Grocery prices are comparable to those in Washington, DC.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Since it was our first time living in Africa we shipped everything we could possibly ever potentially need when we came.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is no American fast food except KFC. We're very lucky with the restaurant options in Nairobi, especially compared to other African cities. You can find almost any cuisine, but the quality can vary. Art Caffe is our go-to. You can find pretty much anything you're craving, from pizza to pasta to paninis and burgers and milkshakes. And they have a good brunch. There are actually lots of brunch places around Nairobi, often in lovely gardens. This was a pleasant surprise for us. Lots of good Indian food and Thai food. Italian is okay; there are several Italian places and they try. There are very good Ethiopian options, okay Lebanese, nice micro-breweries and bistros, and very limited options for Latin food (one Mexican restaurant and a Cuban-ish place). For meat, well, Kenyans like their meat very bland. There are some restaurants that market themselves as Brazilian or Argentinian steakhouses, but don't be fooled. It's better to stay at home and just cook meat yourself.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Flying termites after it rains in October. No malarial mosquitoes at this altitude.
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?
Very reasonable. We pay about US$150/month for a housekeeper who comes 3x/week. We pay $50/month for a gardener/car washer who comes 2x/week.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, several. The UN gym is pretty good.
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?
Many people don't use cards here because of high risk of fraud or identity theft, but I use my American ATM and credit cards regularly and have never had a problem. I usually take some cash out of the ATM every week, since cards aren't accepted everywhere.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. It's a very Christian country, with sizeable Muslim and Hindu communities. There's a synagogue downtown.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There's Zuku and DSTV with large offerings of English language programming. Both are affordable.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. Everyone speaks English. They might not understand your accent, but that can go both ways.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There is no infrastructure at all to accommodate people with disabilities. There are no sidewalks, frequently no elevators. At the airport, there are several bathrooms where you have to climb up 5-6 steps to get into them, with no ramp option.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Not safe. Embassy personnel are not allowed to use public transport.
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?
Right hand drive SUV. You need 4WD. Get a grill on it too, b/c you WILL get nicked at some point.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Up to 8MB, but it really only operates up to 2MB. Service can be very spotty during peak hours, but is otherwise good enough for video Skype.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Safaricom is the most reliable provider, but even then can be iffy. Calls to the U.S. are very cheap.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Not really, at least not at the salary levels that you had at home. The Kenyan workforce is generally well-educated and unemployment is very high, so jobs go to well-qualified Kenyans before they go to expats.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
At work you can wear what you would wear in the US. In public, maybe dress a little modestly because you may get looks -- especially outside of Nairobi (but not at the coast) -- if you wear shorts.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
So many security concerns. Car-jackings, robbery, everyday driving, al-shabaab, tribal clashes; you name it, it's a security concern here. Luckily, most of these -- except car jackings -- aren't targeted at foreigners.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Surprisingly good. For after-hours emergencies, we've gone to the Nairobi Hospital and it was very nice and modern and clean.
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?
Bad. Fuel quality is below international standards and this means that there's a lot of black smoke coming out of the million or so cars in Nairobi. Plus, everyone burns wood or garbage for heat. There's dust everywhere.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather is probably the best thing about Nairobi. June-August is cloudy and rainy, but the rest of the year makes up for it.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We haven't used one, but there are a few, and they are one of the big draws for bidding here. People seem to love ISK.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Enormous, as Nairobi is the East African hub for many of the international organizations, including the UN. Almost every country has Embassy representation and there are tons of expats working on microfinance and NGOs.
2. Morale among expats:
Mixed. Some people love it, others not so much. Everyone has their days when they are Nairobi'ed out, whether it's because of the terrible traffic jams or just the general inefficiency and ridiculousness of everything in Kenya.
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?
You can find anything and everything here.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, for all. Singles have lots of places to go out and drink and dance, lots of cultural activities, and a HUGE expat community. The same for couples. It's really what you make of it. You can be out every night or cuddling at home. At the embassy, there are mostly families with kids; again, I think, because of the schools.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Absolutely. Non-African expats get charged a huge foreigner's tax trying to buy things on the informal local market and it takes a lot of negotiation to get things down to a reasonable (still crazy compared to the real value) price. Kenyans think we're all made of money, I guess. Gender less so, but still you can tell it's not really equal between the sexes.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Lots of safari, weekends at the Indian Ocean, trips to Zanzibar, swimming with whale sharks.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Safari in Nairobi Nation Park, adopt a baby elephant at the elephant orphanage, hike Mt. Longonot, take a walking safari on Crescent Island, feed giraffes at the Giraffe Center. Nairobi also has an IMAX and several 3D movie theatres.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Masks, fabrics. There are some up and coming local modern artists. You can buy their work or commission something rather than spend a lot of money on Afri-crap.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather is amazing. Never too hot, sometimes bordering on cold, due to the high altitude. Kenya is a top destination for safari, and there are endless things to explore in the country and its neighbors -- if you have the time and patience.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, but you blow it all flying to the Seychelles, Zanzibar, or Cape Town. Intra-Africa travel is surprisingly expensive.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. It's been very, very frustrating and stressful living here (culturally), despite all the wonderful tourist opportunities. I don't think my family is cut out for sub-Saharan Africa.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Heavy winter coats.
3. But don't forget your:
Patience (Africa always seems to win), sun-screen, snorkeling gear, favorite toiletry products.