I wrote this for an Expat website called 'ExpatArrivals.com'. Let me know if you think the following is fair or if I missed anything out!
The Kenyan people are wonderfully friendly, charming and tolerant of visitors.
English is the first language spoken here, though most Kenyans are trilingual, using tribal languages and Kiswahili or a mixture of all three!
With the emergence of a large middle class with disposable income, the expat and local community are not as segregated as they used to be. Kenyan and expat parents mix up at kids’ schools, country clubs, bars, shopping centres and local restaurants.
Nairobi enjoys a year round clement climate with temperatures ranging from around 17-25c. Nairobi is high altitude with sunny days and cooler nights. There is a short rainy season before Christmas and longer rains fall from March to May. November to February is generally warm. No need for central heating or warm coats, ever! Kids can play outside all year round.
There are world famous game parks on your doorstep packed with incredible wildlife. Plus you can holiday on the palm lined, white sand beaches of the warm Indian Ocean. Snorkel on the coral reef, sail, fish and laze in the sun.
Though sophisticated shopping centres are plentiful, there is far less emphasis on being fashionable or having the latest gadgets than in the West. Expats often shop at the famous huge second hand clothes markets, ‘mitumba’. With unchanging weather you need fewer clothes. The fruit and vegetables you buy here are delicious, organic, plentiful and cheap. So is fillet steak! Flowers are grown commercially here too, so roses, lilies etc are inexpensive.
7. Social Life
Nairobi is the regional hub of East Africa. There are lots of restaurants and bars in Nairobi and a buzzing social scene. There are also plenty of hospitals, many good quality private schools (the majority follow the British system, but there are also international schools). Many expats end up settling here because they love it so much.
There is a theory that Nairobi has a micro-economy that stays strong even when the rest of the world is experiencing a downturn.
9. Domestic Staff
Domestic staff are easy to find, friendly and can be a great asset to your household. Culturally, employing domestic staff is the norm. Expats enjoy a reputation of being the best employers!
10. Your Contribution
By employing domestic staff, getting involved in local charities, spending money here, you are doing your bit to contribute and understand a developing country.
Security is an issue in Nairobi, with incidents of car-jacking and theft not uncommon. However, Nairobi has a bad reputation that is hard to shake. If one were to compare crime rates in other large cities around the world, then I believe that Nairobi would not be significantly worse. Note: The majority of victims of theft are middle class or poorer Kenyans who cannot afford good security. Just because you move to Nairobi, does not mean that it’s going to happen to you. Many people spend five to ten happy years here without experiencing a single incident!
2. Culture Shock
You may experience culture shock unless you keep an open mind and receptive to new experiences. Poverty is visible all around you. You may be approached by gently persistent hawkers. Rather than being fearful, keep smiling and say ‘no thank you’ if you don’t want to buy.
3. Local Politics
The political situation remains shaky in Kenya. Kenyans are highly politicized people. Due to the ongoing fight for fair elections and a better democracy, elections themselves can be fraught, with public demonstrations and sometimes accompanying violence.
Poorly maintained roads, heavy Lorries that are not roadworthy and speeding public buses make roads dangerous in Kenya with major accidents often taking place on fast routes crisscrossing the country. Road accidents are sadly fairly common.
Bureaucracy and corruption is a problem. Many officials do expect small bribes as a matter of course to move things along, which makes aspects of doing business difficult.
6. Cost of Private Security
Whether living in a gated compound or self contained house, you will be chipping in to pay for private security, which can be fairly costly.
7. Cost of Holidays
Holidays and hotels are fairly expensive. Do ask for residents’ rates, but even these don’t offer you much of a discount. Instead they allow you to pay in local currency.
8. Electricity and Water problems
Electricity is expensive and there are fairly frequent power cuts, though owning a small generator can be a huge help. Water supply can also be an issue. Kenya often experiences drought. In these situations you may find you need to supplement your water supply by buying in water tankers.
9. Limited retail opportunities
Clothes, shoes, electrical items and toy shopping is still best done back home since locally they are more costly and there is less choice. Alternatively get creative! There are huge second hand clothes markets that expats often use.
10. Convenience foods
Though there are food courts in shopping centres, convenience foods and ready-made meals are hard to come by. You will need to do most of your cooking from scratch.