Expats moving to Nairobi will discover that there are both advantages and disadvantages of living in the Kenyan capital. Regardless of the good and the bad, expat life in this East African economic hub is nothing if not exciting. Here's our round-up of pros and cons of living in Nairobi.
Lifestyle in Nairobi
+ PRO: Relatively integrated expat and local society
Given the emergence of a large middle-class with disposable income and the fact that Kenyans are known to have a friendly and hospitable culture, the expat and local communities are quite integrated. Kenyan and expat parents mix freely at kids’ schools, country clubs, bars, shopping centres and local restaurants.
+ PRO: Pleasant weather
Nairobi enjoys a mild climate throughout the year and doesn't experience any extremes. The city is at a high altitude, with sunny days and cooler nights. No need for central heating or warm coats, ever. And thanks to the cool evenings, there are fewer mosquitos and a lower risk of malaria in Nairobi. Still, it's necessary to take similar precautions against malaria as elsewhere in the country.
+ PRO: Easily accessible holiday destinations
There are world-famous game parks right on Nairobi's doorstep, packed with incredible wildlife and scenery. Plus, the palm-lined, white sand beaches of the warm Indian Ocean make for lovely getaways. Expats will be able to 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 and a buzzing social scene in Nairobi. Many expats end up settling here because they love it so much.
- CON: Limited shopping opportunities
Clothes, shoes, electrical items and toy shopping are still best done back home since these are all 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 lingua franca here, though most Kenyans are trilingual, speaking English, Swahili and an additional regional language too. This means that language barriers are greatly reduced, making doing business and going about one's day much easier.
- 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, expats aren't necessarily targeted in Nairobi. Most victims of theft are middle-class or poorer Kenyans who cannot afford good security.
- 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. Expats are therefore advised not to drive themselves but rather to hire a local driver who can better navigate these dangers.
Working in Nairobi
- CON: Corruption affects business
Bureaucracy and corruption are rife in Nairobi. 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
Kenya's 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: 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 Nairobi
+ PRO: Domestic staff are easy to find and affordable
Culturally, employing domestic staff is the norm and they can be a great asset to an expat's household. This may not be something that new arrivals are used to, but likely something they will soon accept.
- CON: Power and water supply issues
There are fairly frequent power cuts, although owning a small generator can be a huge help. Extensive blackouts are not fun, so it's important to be as prepared as possible, such as by carrying a portable phone charger. 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.
► Find out more about what to See and Do in Nairobi
"My advice to expats moving to Kenya would be really to prepare for some adjusting. Learn about the Kenyan culture." Read more about the ups and downs of life in Nairobi in our interview with Jerry, an expat from Canada.
"Because of the wonderful climate, veggies and fruits are very tasty and fresh, which is hard to find these days in developed countries." Read Zeynep's interview for more insights into the pros and cons of living in Nairobi.
Are you an expat living in Nairobi?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Nairobi. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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