Cost of Living in Nairobi

Generally speaking, the cost of living in Nairobi is moderate: the 2011 Mercer Cost of Living report ranked it as a mid-range expense location (108 out of 214 cities), and places Nairobi at position 260 out of 300 locations polled.
cost of living in Kenya - kenyan shillingsIt is also worth mentioning that most expats working in Nairobi have very attractive salaries, with employment perks that vary from employer to employer, but which may include allowances that cover multiple major costs.

Employment package perks for expats in Nairobi
  • Housing allowance
  • Transportation – A company car may be provided for official use and limited personal use
  • Medical benefits
  • Education allowance
  • Visa/Permit charges and taxes may be taken care of by employer
All that said, don’t be misled into thinking that expat life in Nairobi is cheap. While it certainly is possible to live sparingly and levy minimal expenses, most Westerners demand certain services and certain standards, and these kinds of amenities will be significantly pricier than their local equivalents.
As is the case with most destinations, an expat’s chief expenses in Nairobi will be accommodation, school fees for the children (if applicable), transport and shopping for food, clothes and other items.
Do note that in Kenya people are accustomed to bargaining for everything, thus the little things can cost less if you know where to go and how to negotiate. That said, many places frequented by expats, like supermarkets, large shops and shopping malls, do not allow room for haggling, and so items in these places tend be highly priced.
Furthermore, even the vendors that do bargain will be reluctant to give foreigners a low price: many locals have adopted the mentality that these individuals are wealthy, and can afford to pay more.

Cost of housing in Kenya

The cost of accommodation in Nairobi depends on location, but for quality accommodation that is commonly taken by expats the monthly charges are as follows:
  • Two- or three-bedroom flat in Nairobi - KES 60,000 to 70,000
  • Townhouse in Nairobi - KES 70,000 to 80,000
  • Townhouse outside Nairobi - KES 50,000 to 70,000
In many cases, employers may offer to shoulder this expense, as well as the required security deposit (usually equivalent to 2 to 3 month’s rent).
Utilities, such as electricity, water and Internet, will probably be the expat’s responsibility, but are not so expensive - probably totalling about KES 10,000 per month. Satellite television will be around KES 5,000.
One accommodation-related expense that expats may not anticipate is provision for security measures. Expats living in gated communities often find that this cost is included in the price of the rent, but if renting a stand-alone townhouse, it most likely will not be.

Cost of getting around in Kenya

Many expats prefer to own a car in Kenya, as it allows for more freedom and encourages more movement in the city. A cheap used car would go for about KES 500,000, with prices increasing according to the make, model and mileage on the vehicle. Hiring a driver is also very affordable, and is worth investigating.
Otherwise, in Kenya, the main public means of transport is the matatu (a 14-seater van/ mini-bus with a fixed or semi-fixed route). Matatu fares are based on the distance to your destination and the time of day, although you can get nearly anywhere in Nairobi via matatu for as much as KES 100 and as little as KES 20 per trip.
Using a matatu is cheap, but these vehicles are often overcrowded and probably below the safety standards of many expats.

Alternatively, taxis are used often, but it is hard to put a price on this service as there is no clear-cut billing method (no metres). Make sure to negotiate a price with the driver before you enter the taxi. Taxi prices between Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Nairobi's CBD are between KES 1,000 and 2,000.

Food costs in Nairobi

Food is generally affordable, but it is cheaper to dine in rather than to eat out. Western-style groceries are available in local cost of food in Kenyasupermarkets, and are affordable, but still more expensive than local brand names.

Expats can expect to budget around KES 6,000 per week for groceries only, which is about KES 25,000 per month (for a family consisting of two adults and two children).
Prices of A Good Meal in a Traditional Restaurant
  • For 1 person, a good meal in a traditional restaurant will cost less than KES 1,000
  • For 1 person, a good meal in an international restaurant (Japanese, Chinese, French) is between 1,500 KES and 1,700 KES.

Healthcare costs in Nairobi

There are plenty of health insurance providers in Nairobi, and usually prices are about KES 30,000 to 40,000 per year for moderate coverage schemes. Furthermore, most expats will have health insurance included in their salary package.

Education costs in Nairobi

Most expats opt to send their children to international schools, which are very expensive. Many of these institutions have a tuition fee of 300,000 KES to 500,000 KES per term. There are three terms in a year.
In addition to this, there may be fees required that cover transport, food and nutrition, registration, PTA (Parent Teacher Association) membership among other supplementary expenses. These extra charges can add up to about 300,000 KES a term.
Again, it’s common for employers to include some form of education allowance in an expat package.

Our Nairobi Expert

OwenWandago's picture
Nairobi, Kenya
Nairobi, Kenya
A writer for City Scape Limited, a relocation and concierge service for expat and local business executives and employees.

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