Nairobi is one of the largest metropolises in East Africa and it serves as the main commercial centre of Kenya. Nairobi has a relatively well developed industrial centre and is home to the Nairobi Stock Exchange (NSE). As such, most expats working in Kenya will find a post in Nairobi, although some may settle for the coastal city of Mombasa, or other smaller cities and towns.
Few expats working in Nairobi relocate without a job offer. Most come under the umbrella of an already negotiated contract, and in some cases, with a lucrative employment package.
To work in Kenya, expats must have a work permit, which companies apply for on behalf of their expat employees. Work permit applications are considered based on merit of the applicant, not on a quota system. However, skilled expats working in Nairobi may have a Kenyan citizen working as an understudy to them, gaining from the foreign employee’s expertise. Expats should not relocate until their permits and visas have been secured.
Job market in Nairobi
Nairobi hosts Kenya’s most diverse job market as the country’s capital city and the East African region’s economic hub. Many large multinationals have established their main offices in Nairobi and work opportunities are available in both small and large businesses.
However, despite the gaps in the labour market, it can be hard to find jobs in Nairobi – for both expats and locals – and the coronavirus pandemic is likely to have a further negative impact, at least in the short term.
Agriculture has traditionally been the driving force of the economy in Kenya, but the industry sector that is causing a lot of buzz is IT. Expats who would like to do business in Kenya should look for opportunities in this sector, as well as telecommunications, logistics and marketing.
As the city grows, construction and real estate jobs in Nairobi abound. There are also volunteer and work opportunities in the conservation-, relief- and development sectors, while start-ups are an option for entrepreneurs looking to run their own business.
Nairobi is home to most foreign consulates in Kenya, and many expats make up embassy staff. Several international schools serve Nairobi’s diverse population and, as such, teaching posts are frequently available.
Finding a job in Nairobi
Most expats are brought to the city on pre-secured contracts or as intra-company transfers. These tend to be the more lucrative positions with decent salaries and employment contracts, such as those including accommodation and transport stipends or assistance. Employing companies will likely assist with work permit and visa applications too, as part of their relocation package.
For others, who haven't secured a job prior to arriving in Nairobi, the job search is likely to be a bit trickier. It's essential to start with a solid CV ensuring qualifications and relevant work experience.
In the past, it has been difficult to find formal job listings online and most post openings have been communicated through word of mouth. However, with the growth in IT and media, job listings abound across multiple online job platforms and classifieds portals, including BrighterMonday, MyJobMag, LinkedIn and PigiaMe.
Still, networking is important and it's advisable to join expat forums and, if possible, visit the country in person and attend meet-ups to get to know other expats in Nairobi.
Work culture in Nairobi
Like elsewhere in Kenya, business hours in Kenya are typically from 8am to 4pm, or 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Expats moving to Nairobi can look forward not only to a cosmopolitan lifestyle but also a work culture that mixes international business attitudes with Kenyan ones. It’s important to understand how things are done in the workplace, that punctuality is important and expected from expats, but business meetings should never be rushed, and building business relationships is fundamental.
►Learn about workplace culture and etiquette with our guide to Doing Business in Kenya
"Somebody recently described Nairobi as ‘being on steroids’ and I think that she was spot on. The speed of how fast the city is developing is breathtaking." Read about the economic climate in Kenya and tips on finding employment in our interview with Frances.
"Unemployment is very high in Kenya, and as such, the government prefers local jobs to go to local applicants. Most expats working in Kenya work for embassies, NGOs, UN agencies, or international media." Read more about working in Nairobi in our interview with Tara.
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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