Moving to Nairobi? Our Top 10 Tips for a Smooth Transition

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Nairobi, a vibrant city of 3 million people, has something for everyone. With a projected economic growth rate of 6.9%, Kenya is going places, and Nairobi is at its epicenter.

The city in the sun, as it was once called, is a hub of activity that caters to every interest imaginable. Brimming with clubs, restaurants, business-networking forums, and outdoor activities, you won’t soon run out of ways to stay busy.

Here’s how to not miss a beat of this happening scene.

1. For sanity’s sake, master the art of avoiding traffic.           

Between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., Nairobi takes the shape of a long trail of slow-moving cars. The scene repeats itself between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The only way to avoid getting off to a bad start in the mornings is to get an early one, especially if your commute takes you along Jogoo Road, Mombasa Road, or Ngong Road.

The same is true of evenings. The rule of thumb is to leave before 5:00 p.m. or to stay put until after 6:00 p.m. If working late isn’t your thing, perhaps working out or meeting friends will save you several hours behind the steering wheel.

2. Stay safe with common sense.

Kenya isn’t as dangerous as portrayed internationally. The government has been aggressively tackling terrorism in the country, and Nairobi is safer than many other large cities. However, there are security concerns common to all big cities, particularly petty crime.

Follow a few simple precautions to avoid being a target: Don’t expose your phone in public areas unnecessarily. Avoid crowded areas. If you use public transportation, stay alert at all times. Do not speak to strangers who approach you in need of help: Sometimes the plea is a ploy to lure you into a dangerous situation.

3. Getting around efficiently.

Nairobi has a large number of car owners. However, most people rely on public transportation, either riding the bus or the “matatu” (a minivan). Matatus and buses are the most affordable means of transport. A one-way trip may cost anywhere between Ksh20 and Ksh100  (about US$0.2 to US$1.10).

Motorbikes known as “boda-bodas” are useful for traveling very short distances and avoiding traffic. They are often cheaper than taxis but more expensive than buses or matatus.

Taxis are the most expensive way to travel. Short distances cost roughly Ksh500 (about US$6), and longer distances will cost Ksh1500 (about US$18). For security reasons, it is best to use a taxi that belongs to a known taxi company. If you use an unmarked taxi, make certain you know enough about the driver to be sure of your safety. While taxis are almost indisputably the safest way to travel, there have been incidents where customers have been robbed by the driver.

4. Pick a school.

If you happen to be moving to Kenya with little ones, you’ll want to select a school that matches your personal preferences and budget. Luckily, there are many to choose from.

Public schools are free, but books and other resources are paid for separately. Private schools cost anywhere from Ksh50,000 to Ksh100,000 a term (US$600-US$1200) for tuition and transportation. More exclusive American and British curriculum schools cost upwards of Ksh850,000 (about US$10,000) a year.

5. What it costs to stay afloat.

The cost of living in Kenya varies wildly depending on your personal preferences. With a thrifty lifestyle, one could live on as little as Ksh25,000 shillings (US$400) a month. Upper-middle-class living for a single person starts at Ksh60,000 (US$600) a month. A luxurious lifestyle costs at least Ksh200,000 (US$2,000) a month. Numbeo gives reasonable cost-of-living estimates.

6. Don’t be a lone wolf. Find your niche.

Kenyans are notoriously friendly hosts. If you make the slightest effort to get to know people, they will be quick to take you in. The easiest way to find your social niche is to simply go out and do the things you enjoy doing.

Nairobi Now is your go-to site for all artistic events (concerts, plays, and art exhibits). Hangout has an even broader range of activities to choose from. There are also plenty of Meetup groups that plan hiking trips, nature walks, and other outdoorsy events.

If you’re more career focused, join a professional club, or explore expat groups, such as InterNations.  If all else fails, there’s always a dance club or pub just a stone’s throw away no matter where you are in Nairobi. The award for the area with the most clubs, however, goes to Westlands.

7. It’s wonderfully modern.

While it’s not a perfect city, Nairobi offers many amenities that make adjustment a breeze. Internet is reasonably fast, reliable, and affordable. The supply of water and electricity is steady, though power disruption occurs now and again.

Highways, superhighways, and flyovers place Nairobi well on its way to becoming a highly modernized city. Plus, there is no language barrier to fear as almost everyone speaks fluent English.

8. Don’t get hot and bothered! Pack light.

More often than not, the weather in Kenya is warm and sometimes downright hellish — so pack your summer wear. The hottest months are between December and February, and the coldest month is July. The rainy season starts in late March and continues through mid-May.

9. Make yourself at home.

The real estate market has grown significantly, and you will certainly be spoiled for choice. Furnished apartments and houses are readily available and range from Ksh90,000 per month to well over Ksh300,000 per month (US$1,000 to US$3,500).

If this sounds a bit too steep, not to worry because there are many unfurnished apartments. The cheapest apartments are in Eastlands, a large area that includes estates in Donholm, Buruburu, Umoja, Kayole, Greenfields, Jericho, and many more. In these areas, you can rent a two-bedroom apartment for between Ksh15,000 per month and Ksh30,000 per month (US$250 and US$500).

In upmarket areas, such as Westlands, Kileleshwa, Kilimani, Yaya, Gigiri, and Runda, rent for a two-bedroom apartment runs upwards of Ksh65,000 (US$750) a month.

Rental listings are easy to find online with a simple Google search. For high-end properties, deal directly with a reputable real estate company, such as Hass ConsultKnight Frank, or Lamudi KenyaOLX is a good site for exploring rental rates, while N-Soko Property is great for a wider range of affordable properties. As always, exercise caution whenever you make contact online. Finally, you can just as easily find a property by walking around and asking about vacant apartments.

10. What’s cooking?

Italian, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Thai —  what’s your flavor? Regardless, you will find great options in Nairobi. Visit EatOut, a site dedicated to noteworthy eateries, and you will soon know what’s what. Nairobi also boasts international franchises, such as Subway, KFC, Cold Stone, and Domino’s. More experimental foodies should try Kenyan cuisine at K’Osewe’s in downtown Nairobi.

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