Nairobi, Kenya Report of what it's like to live there - 08/24/23
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?
I’ve been posted in South America, Southeast Asia, the Subcontinent, and the Middle East. I’ve also lived in Europe and North Africa.
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. Flight path is typically from DC to Frankfurt or Paris, then to Nairobi. There are also options through Dubai and Qatar but may not be Fly America compliant.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The US Embassy is trying to consolidate housing for security purposes, and many families live in one of two government compounds that are close to the Embassy. The older compound is primarily townhomes and single family homes, and the recently completed compound is primarily apartments with a few townhomes. It seems that most families were less than pleased to move from single family residences into apartments. The apartments are modern and have things like air conditioning and screens on the windows (which the remaining single family homes in the housing pool do not) but it has been a struggle to find ways to provide privacy and quiet when people are basically on top of each other.
I lived in a single family home on a small compound and thankfully did not have to move, but had my fair share of housing issues. Not having mosquito screens or air conditioning was a huge problem. The master bedroom had a ceiling fan in the center of it, which prevented installation of a mosquito net around the bed. I literally slept every night covered in DEET and with a fan blowing on my face to try to keep the mosquitos away. It wasn’t until I left Kenya that I realized how poorly I had slept for the 2.5 years I was there. One was not allowed to have more than one mosquito screen installed per room on any single family homes.
In addition to the mosquito problem, my house routinely ran out of water and would simultaneously flood. No number of requests solved the issue in my opinion. Management and facilities local staff were pleasant, but whenever major repairs or upgrades needed to be done, the landlord would not be accountable to get it done, and they wouldn’t do it themselves.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get nearly everything locally, and the Embassy commissary has a good selection of other items. I didn’t have to ship much food or supplies from the US, except for specific sensitive skin laundry detergent and things like bread flour.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I could get most things locally.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Delivery is great through Uber Eats or Jumia. Sometimes they mess up orders but mostly it’s convenient and gets to you within an hour. The only downside is that there are basically no late night delivery options from restaurants, so you have to order early.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants! Nairobi is basically built on an ant hill so it’s a constant battle. We also had tons of mosquitos. Outside in our yard we occasionally had snakes of different varieties and monkeys coming through the yard to steal fruit.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO/Pouch. It could be slow at times but usually we’d get things within three weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Great household help and inexpensive when compared to the US. Most people employ nannies and housekeepers; some also have gardeners and drivers.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are a couple of good gyms around town but I just used the Embassy’s.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Yes, credit cards are widely accepted but mPesa (mobile money transfer) is even more ubiquitous. Every vendo takes MPesa, and it’s super convenient to set up through Safaricom. Once it’s set up, you don’t really need to carry cash for anything. I would used credit cards for big purchases or grocery store runs but MPesa for almost everything else, to include paying household staff and my internet bill.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Most people speak English
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, most places are not built with accessibility in kind.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Matatus (mini buses) are erratic and not safe, and are not allowed for US Mission personnel. Uber is available for taxis, though it can be a bit of a pain because drivers will confirm pick up then cancel or demand an up charge.
2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?
SUV with high clearance! Between unmarked speed bumps (which are everywhere), potholes, crumbling roads, flooding, and whenever you might want to go out of town, no other car would hold up.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet options are limited and expensive. We paid $200 a month for spotty internet from Zuku. Customer service from them was basically nonexistent.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I kept my phone and got a local SIM card. The main options are Safaricom or Airtel. Easy to use and keep data and minutes topped up.
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?
Most spouses either work remotely or at the Embassy. I don’t think local salaries would be competitive for US workers.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots of options: we worked with a local orphanage but you can find opportunities through the CLO or other expats.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business or business casual, with local fabrics and patterns also available in a variety of options (shirts, dresses, skirts, etc)
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This post is rated high for crime and terrorism, and on occasion, such events do occur. It’s best to just follow the same security and safety procedures you would in any major city.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
They say there isn’t malaria in Nairobi so we don’t typically take anti-malarials unless you go elsewhere in country. The elevation (over 5,000 feet) can take some adjusting and I’d suggest getting rehydration salts or using bottled water, instead of using water from the Embassy-provided distillers for drinking, as that water never seems to hydrate. Separately, food borne illnesses are common (salmonella, e. Coli, etc) and they can happen even at nice restaurants.
Medical care is okay. You can get a consult and tests of all varieties done pretty cheaply at MP Shah or Aga Khan, but you have to wait for a long time to be seen and usually have to follow up more than once to get your results. Plan to be at the hospital for 4-6 hours on average.
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?
Air quality was generally okay.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Nairobi is basically in perpetual spring so yes, people with seasonal allergies can have a bit of a rough time. For food allergies, you have to be very specific and emphatic when ordering at a restaurant to avoid allergens.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It’s in the southern hemisphere so June-Sept are the coolest months. The rainy seasons have shifted due to climate change so it can be hard to predict. Most of the time though, weather is the best part of Nairobi: cool in the mornings and a high of upper 70s to mid 80s.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Lots of school options. A lot of people send their kids to the International School Kenya, but there are a lot of other choices as well. We weren’t super thrilled with ISK due to its lack of emphasis on academics, but the campus was beautiful and the kids generally seemed happy there.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Depends on the school and the level of need.
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?
Preschools are available and vary in terms of cost and structure. We enrolled our 3 year old in a local preschool but only for a semester, as the school threw in hidden fees and she didn’t seem to be getting much out of the school. Other parents have sent their kids to other preschools that they seemed to like more, but none stood out as exceptional.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Mostly through the schools though private lessons for virtually anything are cheap and easily available (gymnastics, tennis, swimming, etc).
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge expat presence from diplomatic missions, the UN, and people who have just moved and stayed in Nairobi. Morale varies - it seemed relatively low at the US Mission but I can’t speak for others.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
People host sundowners at their residences or meet for dinner/drinks at different restaurants.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Mostly seemed like a family post but single people generally seemed to have a good social circle.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Local people are friendly but I didn’t find any local friends here.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No, the country has proposed very strict anti-LGBTQ legislation and it’s a very conservative country.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, inter-ethnic and tribal prejudices have led to violence
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
It was relatively easy to live here, but the community did not seem welcoming of diverse people. We took one trip in country, to Baobab Resort in Diani, and it was terrible (overpriced and underwhelming). I had lived in Kenya before this tour so I had already done the safaris and most experiences that people do while posted here. Other than those kinds of trips, there isn’t much to do. However, there are good daily outdoor options like Karura Forest for biking, running, or hiking.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Not much is hidden, all the expands will tell you all the fun spots they like to go to and you’ll see them there basically every weekend.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Carvings and beaded items similar to other East African countries.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It’s not easy to get to or to fly to other places. However, the weather is fantastic and it’s easy to find good, fresh produce and basically any other kind of food. It’s also nice to have green space in the middle of the city and to be able to go on a mini-safari / see animals close by.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
There are lots of good things about it but I think 2.5 years was enough for me.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
expectations of timeliness.
3. But don't forget your: