From cosmopolitan capital Nairobi to the beautiful white, sandy beaches along the Mombasa coast, Kenya has it all. And, as an expat living in Kenya, you can expect to enjoy all this and much more.
Kenya is one of the world’s leading safari destinations, one of the cheapest countries in Africa in terms of cost of living, and consistently ranks as one of the best countries in Africa to become an expat. Here, we’ll explain what living in Kenya is like, and offer a handy guide for expats relocating to Kenya in 2023.
Kenya is a friendly and welcoming country in East Africa that has become a hot-spot for expats from all over the world. While they may come for the warm climate, sandy beaches and cosmopolitan culture (especially in the capital, Nairobi), many find themselves staying for other things – the fresh food and the vibrant atmosphere, to name just a couple. If you too are thinking of relocating to Kenya, you’ll find no shortage of fun, adventure and tranquillity in this rapidly modernising country.
Moving to Kenya is not without its challenges, however. While Kenya is generally stable politically, rising unemployment, high crime rates and inconsistent provision of utilities mean that living in Kenya can often be difficult, even for the most experienced expats.
What is it like to live in Kenya as an expat?
With a population of 55 million people, Kenya is in the top 30 biggest countries in the world. 4.4 million Kenyans live in the bustling capital, Nairobi, which is a trade and financial hub for the whole of East Africa, and the headquarters of many international businesses. A further 1.2 million live in the coastal city and former capital of Mombasa, which is rich in colonial architecture and draws throngs of tourists every year.
Formerly part of British East Africa, the Republic of Kenya achieved its independence in 1963, and has since made a name for itself internationally as a key exporter of the world’s tea, coffee and flowers.
How to become an expat in Kenya
Foreigners thinking of living in Kenya for more than 3 months will need a visa before they arrive in the country. The easiest way to apply is online, via the electronic Foreign Nationals Service (eFNS). You’ll need to create an eCitizen account to apply for an appropriate visa.
If you’re not planning on working in Kenya, a Class K permit, sometimes referred to as a retiree permit, might be suitable. It’s available to expats aged 35 or over, with an annual income of at least £19,000.
How many expats are living in Kenya?
Estimates suggest there are 30,000 British expats living in Kenya, a small number given the country’s large population and vast size. However, a recent survey ranked Nairobi 9th in the world for making expats feel welcome in their new country. The capital came in at 4th globally for helping expats ‘getting settled’ and 4th again for its friendliness and socialising.
Is Kenya safe for expats?
Although burglaries, mugging and carjacking aren’t uncommon in larger cities, expats tend to settle down in safer, suburban neighbourhoods when living in Kenya. Affordable security services also mean that unfortunately, less affluent locals are at higher risk of becoming victims of crime.
Having said that, expats should follow some general rules to stay safe:
- Avoid downtown areas and townships at night
- Be careful not to ‘flash’ expensive jewellery or belongings
- Stay alert when withdrawing money from cash machines
- Keep your car doors locked when driving and don’t open your windows or stop on quiet roads
Terrorist attacks are very likely in Kenya. Incidents in recent years have seen British nationals killed in a shopping mall in 2016 and a hotel complex in Nairobi in 2019.
Extra caution is advised when visiting government or law enforcement buildings and places of worship too. Despite some security precautions, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advise against all but essential travel within 60km of the Somali-border and other potentially unsafe regions.
How is the political situation in Kenya?
Kenya has made significant changes to maintain political stability in recent years. A strong economic recovery in 2021 and declining poverty rates after the pandemic, have given people hope for achieving their target for Kenya Vision 2030, to create a “a globally competitive and prosperous country with a high quality of life by 2030.”
However, inequality, weak private sector investment and the challenges of climate change still plague the country and unrest persists. Months leading up to, and after elections have traditionally been the most turbulent. However, after the August 2022 elections, other than a few hotspots of violence, it was nothing like the 2007 elections where around 1,400 people lost their lives.
What language is spoken in Kenya and do people living in Kenya speak English?
Swahili is the most widely spoken language but that shouldn’t pose a problem for expats living in Kenya. English is the country’s second official language and spoken by most locals in big cities, including Nairobi and Mombasa.
Learning some Swahili, especially if you plan on spending time in rural areas, could prove useful and help expats integrate into life in East Africa. Not that you’d need much help: 78% of expats describe locals as generally friendly, compared to a global average of 69%.
How did Kenya deal with COVID-19?
‘Case fatality rates’ shows the ratio between confirmed deaths and confirmed cases was highest in May 2020, when it reached 6%. By comparison in the UK, our highest ‘case fatality rate’ climbed to 15% in April 2020.
Despite Kenya’s low fatality rate, as of May 8, 2022, only 21% of the Kenyan population received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, whereas 78% of people in the UK had done the same.
Most expats moving to Kenya look for accommodation in Nairobi or Mombasa.
In Nairobi they tend to settle down on the outskirts of the city, in places including Lavington, Karen and Runda. Expats in Mombasa put down roots on Mombasa Island’s north and south coast, the latter usually attracting residents living on a tighter budget.
The best way to find accommodation is to enlist the help of an estate agent. Once you check that they’re registered with the Estate Agents Registration Board, the local experts can advise you on safe neighbourhoods, commuting to work and areas with good schools, to make the process easier.
Can expats buy property in Kenya?
Buying a property when relocating to Kenya has its drawbacks. Expats aren’t allowed to own freeholds and leases last a maximum of 99 years, with no option to extend. Brits can buy land for commercial reasons but not to generate rental income. As a result, most expats choose to rent a property.
If you decide to buy a home, you can expect to pay stamp duty between 2-4% of the cost of the property, legal fees (1.5%), a banker’s cheque charge (Ksh600/£4) and to register the sale (Ksh600/£4). The process can take as little as 3 months to complete.
Top expat tips for living in Kenya
- • Ensure you have all essential documents and visas in place before departure
- • If you move with your kids, early application for school places is advisable
- • Have up to three months’ rent available upfront to secure a rental property
- • Look at life insurance and health cover that reflect your location needs. We have been supporting expats with international insurance for almost 30 years now
- • Stay healthy and immerse yourself in the culture
To work in Kenya, you’ll need to apply for an appropriate visa. The process can take up to 3 months so bear that in mind in your plans. Once expats have created an eCitizen account they typically apply for one of the following permits:
- Class C – only available to expats working in ‘prescribed professions’ e.g. medicine, engineering, accounting
- Class D – covers expats moving to Kenya for a specific job with a single employer
- Class G – is meant for expats looking to set up a business in Kenya or invest in a trade
Expat salary in Kenya
The average salary for a person working in Kenya is around GBP £1,120 a month. Expats employed by international businesses are usually paid more than locals and low living costs make living in Kenya very affordable.
The cost of living in Kenya is one of its main attractions for expats. Ranked the 145th most expensive city out of 209, Nairobi is more affordable than other big cities on the continent including Cairo (137th) and Doha (130) and around the globe.
Banking and finance in Kenya
Expats should find it straightforward to open a bank account in Kenya, especially in Nairobi, the largest financial centre in East Africa. However, you might have to wait until you’ve packed your things and flown over, as you will need to provide proof of a Kenyan address. You’ll also need a proof of ID and a reference from an employer.
If you’ve signed the paperwork for a home in Kenya and have secured a job there too, you may be able to start an application for a bank account online. Banks have different application processes but most will ask you to visit them in-branch to finish setting up your account.
Bank branches typically open from 9am-3pm, Monday-Friday, and close at midday on Saturdays, closing on Sundays. Some of the biggest banks in Kenya include:
Life expectancy in Kenya is a disappointingly low 67 years old, placing it 151st in World Bank’s global rankings. Maternal and infant mortality rates are high, and statistics show that in 2019, almost 53 people per 100,000, died from unsafe water sources. The good news is that the statistic is on a downward curve.
While there’s a shortage of doctors in the country, most expats avoid the public health care system and use private clinics and hospitals, where hygiene standards are higher and treatment is paid for by health insurance.
If you’re ever in a medical emergency you can contact 999 for help, where English-speaking operators will answer your call. It’s always advised to the carry contact details for your nearest UK embassy.
The British High Commission in Nairobi is located at Upper Hill Road and can be contacted on +254 (0) 20 287 3000 and +254 (0) 20 2844 000, as well as by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Culture and customs in Kenya
Culture and customs in Kenya can vary greatly by region. Mombasa and other coastal areas are predominantly Muslim and residents are expected to dress modestly, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.
Public displays of homosexuality are illegal throughout the country and could lead to a spell in prison. The same punishment applies when smoking in public places, though a fine may be issued, instead. It’s also essential that you carry ID, some police officers may ask to see original documents rather than copies.
Despite some strict rules Kenya is an increasingly forward thinking country. Kenya Vision 2030 aims to transform Kenya into “a newly-industrialising, middle income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens in a clean and secure environment“. The ambitious plans have helped to create a growing sense of optimism among locals.
Before moving to Kenya, make sure you check the following:
- ☐ Have you researched places you’d like to live?
- ☐ If you’ve found an apartment or house you’d like to rent, have you contacted the landlord and made an offer?
- ☐ Have you received a job offer from a Kenyan employer?
- ☐ Have you started your application for your visa?
- ☐ Do you have the proof of income or proof of savings required to apply for a visa?
- ☐ Have you taken out international health insurance before moving to Kenya?
- ☐ Have you looked into other forms of health insurance to support your life in Kenya, such as life insurance and income protection?
- ☐ Do you know which bank account you want to apply for?
- ☐ Do you have all the paperwork necessary to complete your application for a bank account?
- ☐ Have you looked into the cost of relocation? If you’re bringing your own furniture from home, have you received a reliable quote from a shipping company?
- ☐ Have you looked into schooling for your children?
Before you go…
Moving to another country can be challenging, but you can ensure peace of mind by making sure you have the right international health insurance.
For 30 years, we have helped expats like you move and settle into their new lives overseas, with the peace of mind of knowing their families are covered by a comprehensive and flexible health insurance policy.
Speak to us today to find out more about how international health insurance could benefit you and your family – and good luck moving to Kenya!