Moving to Nairobi ? Read about what expat life is really like there

Moving to Nairobi? Or ever wondered about the lifestyle in Kenya for expats? I got in touch with Kenya based writer Nadine for more.

Nadine is a blogger, travel writer and mother of three. Here she shares her ultimate guide to anyone considering a move to the Kenyan capital.

Nadine Murphy

Nairobi lifestyle 

When we moved from Cape Town to Nairobi we laughingly said that it was moving from Africa lite to real Africa, but the description couldn’t be more apt. While Nairobi is the third largest economy in Africa and is opening some great five-star restaurants and hotels, in most ways it still feels like a developing city.

The streets are frenetic with traffic jams and there are no road rules. There are cows and baboons in the road. People sell food and clothes and woven baskets along the streets, even in the city centre. Life on the streets feels harsh, rushed and gritty. In everything else it’s almost painfully slow.

We are used to frequent power cuts, water shortages, blocked roads and a small range of foods in the shops.

However this paints a negative picture of a city I love dearly. It’s a city alive with energy, culture and unusual sightings. Just today on the way to the shops I drove past a giraffe, a warthog and a huge troop of baboons. No one bats an eyelid. These crazy adventures are what makes life here in Nairobi amazing.

Nairobi

As with all cities it depends on the areas.

Western expats tend to stick to specific parts of the city and in those areas it’s generally safe. I don’t feel afraid going to the shops in the CBD (central business district) or walking in villages in the day, but I’d be cautious at night.

At home we have electric fences, bars on windows and night guards. However this is partly a throwback to a former time when it really was unsafe to live here.

What any person visiting Nairobi must remember is that you probably have more money than the majority of residents. Just 2.9% of people living in Kenya earn over 1000 USD per month. What’s more, things aren’t cheap here, which means most people live below the poverty line.

So I’d say don’t flash your cash, be sensitive to other people’s situations and think how tempting your iPhone or shiny rings may be to someone that can’t feed their children.

Where do most expats live in Nairobi?

Western expats live in about five fairly specific areas. There are also areas where Indian, Chinese and local African countries gather.

I always feel that as much as we want to experience the world, like attracts like, and so we gather together in our homogenous huddles. It’s sad but true.

Western expats are usually sent here by big companies or NGOs on large, well paid expat packets. This means they experience a standard of living which is above what most Kenyans can afford. They tend to live in large 5-bedroom houses, often with big gardens, sometimes with pools. They send their children to very good and very expensive international schools and travel to idyllic safari camps or beachside villas. It’s a great life for the well paid expat.

Nairobi house

How much money do you need to live in Kenya? What is the cost of living like? 

In general a big family home in an expat area will cost from 3000-4000 USD per month. Meanwhile, a one-bedroom inner city apartment in a good area will cost around 1000 USD per month.

Cars are very expensive and you will pay thousands of dollars for a 20-year-old heap of junk (which is what i own!).

Schools are also very expensive. Our kids’ primary day school costs 5000 USD per child per term. There are cheaper alternatives if you send your kids to a local school but they will be on a Kenyan system rather than one that might better complement where you come from i.e. British or American syllabus.

A bottle of wine in a restaurant costs about 12 USD, a burger king meal around 10 USD, a loaf of bread around 1 USD.

Is there anything expats won’t be able to find in Nairobi? 

If you are moving from a western country such as the UK or US then you will find most basic essentials here, including medicine, clothing and food. You’ll find everything if you shop in places such as Carrefour, or HPS or KPS malls, but you won’t find lots of variety.

There are limited clothes shops – just two large scale retailers LC Waikiki and Woolworths. The makeup and beauty brands you can get here cost a fortune.

IT items are hugely expensive and alcohol is too.

I always shop for clothes, beauty stuff and electronics back home and bring it with me. I also buy kids toys in advance even for school parties. If in doubt, stock up.

Nairobi at night

The pros and cons about life in Nairobi

The lifestyle in Nairobi is wonderful. I have made lots of friends in the very welcoming community. I have never had a better social life. I love the outdoors lifestyle. I appreciate the temperate climate that means you can drink wine on your patio most of the year. It’s great how a one-hour flight can take you to a dream beach or a five-hour drive you take you to the best safari in the world.

Negatives are a lack of consumer goods, the hodge podge way things are managed: constant road repairs, failing internet and frequent power outages.

Plus, living in an expat community has its good and bad parts. It’s great for making friends, bad if you don’t want to bump into your nasty neighbour or kids’ teacher every time you go to pick up a pint of milk.

Is Nairobi a good place to live? 

I love Nairobi. I love it so much I’m thinking about making a permanent life here.

On top of the friends, the animals, the natural beauty of Kenya, I love that it’s one of the last places in the world that feels free. There is no nanny state here. We live wild and free and let our kids fly around the car on safari and swim beyond the reef at the coast.

Living in Nairobi

Things to know before moving to Nairobi

I wish I had brought more furniture for my house from home. The stuff here is crazy expensive or horrible.

I wish I’d negotiated more flights home within our package as I miss my family so much.

Yet nothing about this move was bad. I’m very glad we took the opportunity as a family to move here.

safari near Nairobi

Nadine blogs at Live Travel Kenya. Follow her for more advice and insights into life in Kenya, including cost of living, expat lifestyle & safari travel. 

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