Pros and cons of moving to Nairobi

Expats moving to Nairobi are certainly in for their fair share of contrasting pros and cons. Regardless of the good and the bad, expat life in this East African economic hub will be exciting.


Lifestyle in Nairobi

+ PRO: Relatively integrated society

With the emergence of a large middle-class with disposable income, the expat and local communities are not as segregated as they used to be. Kenyan and expat parents mix openly at kids’ schools, country clubs, bars, shopping centres and local restaurants.

+ PRO: Mild climate

Nairobi enjoys a mild climate throughout the year. The city is at a high altitude, with sunny days and cooler nights. There is a short rainy season before Christmas, and longer rains fall from March to May. November to February is generally warm. No need for central heating or warm coats, ever.

+ PRO: Easily accessible holiday destinations

There are world-famous game parks on Nairobi's doorstep, packed with incredible wildlife. Plus, expats can holiday on the palm-lined, white sand beaches of the warm Indian Ocean. Snorkel on the coral reef or sail, fish and laze in the sun.

+ PRO: Expats lead active social lives

There are lots of restaurants and bars in Nairobi, and a buzzing social scene. There are also plenty of hospitals, and many good-quality private schools. The majority follow the British system, but there are also international schools. Many expats end up settling here because they love it so much.

- CON: Limited shopping opportunities

Clothes, shoes, electrical items, and toy shopping is still best done back home, since they are more costly in Nairobi and there is limited choice. Alternatively, get creative. There are huge second-hand clothes markets that expats often use. While there are food courts in shopping centres, convenience foods and ready-made meals are hard to come by. Expats will need to do most of their cooking from scratch.


Culture Shock in Nairobi

+ PRO: Locals are friendly and English is widely spoken

The Kenyan people are wonderfully friendly and tolerant of visitors. English is the first language spoken here, though most Kenyans are trilingual, using tribal languages and Kiswahili, or even a mixture of all three.

- CON: Expats may take a long time adjusting

Many expats experience culture shock if they don't keep an open mind and aren't receptive to new experiences. Poverty is visible all around and expats may be approached by persistent hawkers. Rather than being fearful, keep smiling and say ‘no thank you’.


Safety and security in Nairobi

- CON: Personal safety is an issue

Security is an issue in Nairobi, with incidents of car-jacking and theft not uncommon. However, if one were to compare crime rates in other large cities around the world, Nairobi wouldn't be significantly worse. Just because an expat moves to Nairobi, does not mean they'll be targeted. Most victims of theft are middle-class or poorer Kenyans who cannot afford good security. 

- CON: Shaky local political situation

Kenyans are highly politicised people. Due to the ongoing fight for fair elections and a better democracy, elections themselves can be fraught with public demonstrations and sometimes accompanying violence.

- CON: Dangerous driving conditions

Poorly maintained roads, heavy lorries that are not roadworthy and speeding public buses make roads dangerous in Kenya. Road accidents are fairly common.


Working in Nairobi

- CON: Corruption affects business

Bureaucracy and corruption is a problem. Many officials expect small bribes as a matter of course to move things along, which makes aspects of doing business difficult.


Cost of living in Nairobi

+ PRO: General expenses are affordable

The fruit and vegetables are delicious: organic, plentiful and cheap. This also applies to many of its meat products. Flowers are grown commercially here too, so roses, lilies and others are inexpensive.

- CON: Holidays are expensive

Holidays and hotels are fairly expensive, but expats can ask for residents’ rates. These may not offer much of a discount, but they allow holidaymakers to pay in the local currency.

- CON: Certain utilities are pricey

Whether living in a gated compound or a self-contained house, many expats are expected to chip in to pay for private security, which can be fairly costly. Electricity is also expensive.


Accommodation in Kenya

+ PRO: Domestic staff are easy to find

Culturally, employing domestic staff is the norm and they can be a great asset to an expat's household.

- CON: Power and water supply issues

There are fairly frequent power cuts, although owning a small generator can be a huge help. Water supply can also be an issue as Kenya often experiences drought. In these situations, expats may need to supplement their water supply by buying water tankers.

Frances Our Expat Expert

Moved to East Africa in 1999 shortly after marrying in the UK. First lived in Tanzania, then Kenya. We now have 3 children and are now very settled, though I do often ask myself, 'when will I go home?'. Follow my blog, Expat Wives Club.

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