Nairobi, Kenya Report of what it's like to live there - 03/04/14
Personal Experiences from Nairobi, Kenya
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, I've been in Sao Paulo and Kampala.
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?
Washington, DC - about 24 hours door-to-door.
3. How long have you lived here?
I've been here for a year and a half.
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?
It depends. Nairobi's traffic is just getting worse. The "Ridge", the main housing compound, is about 5 minutes from the Embassy. Stand-alone houses in Runda are huge and also close to the Embassy. Some personnel are in the Westlands area and can face commutes of an hour or more.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Produce is fabulous and very cheap. Meat is of varying quality and very expensive. Chicken is US$7/pound, beef is about US$7/pound, but they do not age beef here, so it tends to be chewy. Fish is pretty fresh and quite good. Household supplies are easy to find and relatively priced.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Salsa and enchilada sauce has been key. Bring cheese in your suitcase as it is expensive here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Mainly South African brands. Restaurants are pretty good here - there is decent Thai, very good Indian food, and some fairly good Italian food. Restaurants are very expensive for what you get, however - the quality of meat here is generally poor, and you will not pay under US$20 for a meal per person.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None, really. Ants and mosquitos, but Nairobi is too high of sea level to have malaria, fortunately.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch and DPO - DPO sometimes arrives in a week!
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
A full-time nanny costs about US$250-300/month. You will likely go through several. There are a lot of stories of people paying a salary for a nanny to "save" her before they arrive, only to get swindled. Don't do this. There are always Kenyans looking for jobs and Americans pay more and honor holidays, so it is easy to find help.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a small, but very smelly, gym. The UN across the street has a very nice gym, but it's fairly pricy.
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?
ATMs are difficult - there have been reports of people having cards scammed, and some reports of people being followed from an ATM and robbed. We cash checks at the Embassy. We use our credit card at restaurants, hotels, and the grocery store and have had no issues. You always want to make sure that the person brings the machine to your table, however.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
None. Matatus - local transportation - are neither safe nor reliable. Many of them do not know how to drive - they will often drive in the middle of the road.
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?
High-clearance vehicle is necessary. Cars are incredibly expensive here, and they get beat up on Kenyan roads. Mechanics are horrible and either will swindle you or tell you they fixed something and not fix it. Ask around as a good mechanic is very hard to find. Beware of car accidents in Kenya - the government passed a law that if you are in an accident and someone dies it is automatically a criminal offense. As an expat, you will assume to be at fault.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, for relatively reasonable prices. The quality varies, and you will definitely want a UPC as the power goes off and on constantly.
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?
Maybe, but the local economy pays poorly so most spouses work at the Embassy or do not work.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
YES. The Westgate attack in September of 2013 has made a major impact - I will be here another year and there is a general sense that terrorist attacks will occur with regularity. In addition, there have been several issues with home invasions (including one colleague whose family was tied up - including the 1-year old child and robbed at noon on a Sunday), and people often get robbed at gunpoint. If you are not out by yourself late at night, you are probably fine, but people in stand-alone houses have to use a safe haven and an alarm.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is decent, but not great. Some women have had babies here and said that the care was good.
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?
Medium - there are a lot of people who burn trash and when you are driving and stuck in horrible traffic, you inhale horrible diesel fumes.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is terrific! I think only one weekend over the past year and a half it rained the entire weekend. Even in the "winter", when it is generally overcast and cooler, there is still sun and you can sometimes go to the pool. It's anywhere from 60-75F the entire year.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We did not have any experiences but have heard that Rosslyn Academy is good for young children, and ISK is well-regarded for younger grades. High school students have struggled.
2. 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?
Some use Montessori, but I have not heard very good things about it. I know a couple of people who have sent their children to the German school pre-school (they have an English option) and they love it.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Size of expat community is huge. The UN has 1500 expats in Nairobi, and the NGO community is also large. Morale is medium-low - security really gets to people after a while. Nairobi is the only post rated critical for both crime and terrorism that is fully accompanied.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's fairly good for all. Families will enjoy the weather and safaris. Singles and couples there is a decent nightlife. Restaurants are OK but pricy for what you get.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Kenyans are fairly tolerant of gays and lesbians, and you can definitely find a good scene.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Tribal prejudice is still a problem here.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Definitely some of the safaris - we have really liked Amboseli and went more than once already.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
You have to get out of Nairobi every few months. Since Westgate, a lot of people stay at home and avoid malls or other common areas and it's necessary to get relief from some of that. The Mount Kenya area is a short drive and very nice.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather in Nairobi is phenomenal and the safaris and beaches are nice.
9. Can you save money?
Only if both you and your spouse work and you do not travel too much.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I had known how expensive it is. I was in Sao Paulo before this, which is also an expensive city, but it is at least developed and you can walk around. The COLA does not make up for the expense of the city and the expense of local and regional travel. I wish I knew how difficult it is to walk around without being paranoid that someone will rob you.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. The security situation is getting worse and the political situation is deteriorating. I would not take a small child to Nairobi unless you are prepared to mainly stay in your house or go to others' houses for your entire tour. Nairobi is expensive, and you do not get much in return for that expense. It is not a particularly nice city and there is not that much to see. After six months you get very bored.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Boots and winter gear.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience and vigilance.