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 is nothing if not exciting. Here's a round-up of what to expect when moving to Kenya's capital.

Lifestyle in Nairobi

+ PRO: Relatively integrated expat and local society

Given the emergence of a large middle-class with disposable income and 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 due to the cool evenings, there's no mosquitos and no malaria.

+ 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 a lovely getaway. 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 Swahili and an additional regional language too.

- 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, just because an expat moves to Nairobi, does not necessarily mean they'll be targeted. 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 a problem 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 Kenya

+ 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.

- 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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