01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: Cost of living for Expats in Nairobi/Kenya 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Cost of living for Expats in Nairobi/Kenya

Have been travelling!! Travelling within Kenya but it's remarkable because it's the first time I've been out of Nairobi since New Year - shock horror! Off again tomorrow!  Will be back to updating the blog regularly next week and telling you all about it.
In the meantime, here's a 'Cost of Living' piece I wrote for the Kenya section of a website Expat Arrivals - (see sidebar for link).  Sorry it's a bit formal, just thought it might be interesting for anyone scouting about for information prior to moving here to Kenya.   -I got a bit carried away, as usual!  Apologies in advance to any other blog readers for whom this post is not relevant - Normally I'm picking your brains for information! 

Cost of Living for Expats in Kenya

There is a common misconception that living in poverty stricken Africa must be dirt cheap. Though there are many living in substandard conditions on very low incomes, this image has largely been fuelled by the international media. On arrival you will be surprised to find that there is a burgeoning middle class here. Many capital cities in Africa have glittering shopping malls with cinemas and restaurants dotted in amongst the street hustle and honestly, this is where many expats mingling with wealthier Africans, will find themselves.

Xpatulator ranks the cost of living in Kenya as comparatively low amongst other international countries with Nairobi sitting at 260 out of the 300 locations calculated; However, I think that, since most expats live in the capital, this figure is misleading. If you were to eek out a simple existence in the countryside where there is little to buy then life in Kenya would be cheap but this is rarely the case.

Nairobi is the capital and largest city of Kenya. It is also considered regional capital of East Africa which means that several international companies and organisations are based here. Due to the comparatively good healthcare, schools and shopping in Nairobi, you even find expats consultants basing their families here while they travel to work on projects in comparatively riskier countries in the region, such as Somalia and Sudan.

If you are employed in the tourism industry or farming (tea/coffee/vegetables/flowers) then you might be based outside the capital however these expats are more the exceptions rather than the rule.

Local Economy

There is some local manufacturing (clothing, building materials, processed food, beverages and cigarettes) but the economy is fairly heavily reliant on tourism and rain-fed agriculture. A combination of frequent periods of drought, followed invariably by equally devastating flood and foreign office travel advisories due to a fairly precarious political situation, mean that the economy is vulnerable to cycles of boom and bust.

The Telecommunications industry is also very strong in Kenya, having undergone a rapid period of expansion. Kenya is a world leader in new telecom technologies such as telephone banking. The majority of Kenyans own a mobile phone.

Another undeniably large sector of the local economy is occupied by the Aid industry and this is growing. Many Donor headquarters have been moved from Northern Africa or South Africa to Kenya because it is more strategically placed for the distribution of aid to the continent. To give you an example, there are 9,000 employees at the UN headquarters in Gigiri, Nairobi.

As well as the UN, many of foreign embassies have large aid missions whose sole purpose is the distribution of foreign aid funding, ie. DFID (UK), USAID, DANIDA. Historically many of these consultants were based out in the field but now consultants tend to be based in the capital making trips out into the field from time to time.

Cost of Living

Accommodation would typically cost a third of an expat salary. Food is relatively cheaper to buy than more developed countries, as long as you are ready to buy local where possible and don’t get too carried away buying imported goods. The cost of eating-out also compares favourably against other capital cities. Clothes and shoes are expensive to buy unless you are willing to shop at the city’s numerous second hand markets.

It’s worth noting that when analysing your salary, you should bear in mind that there are some expenses that would not be incurred in the Western world.


Most households/apartments (including many Kenyan ones) employ night security/guards. If you are living in a town house complex/apartments/gated community, security costs are often rolled into your rent. If you are living in a house within a separate compound, then you must pay for your own security. With back-up support, panic buttons plus the cost of one or two guards, security can cost up to 500 UK pounds per month, this might equate to say a maximum of 10% of your salary.

(I find that employing night watchmen is hard.  If you are interested in this topic then put in a search on this blog and you'll find endless posts on 'our ex-night watchman/askari')

Public Transport (or lack of)

Most expats would not commonly use the public transport system which comprises exclusively of buses and mini-buses (matatus) in varying states of un-roadworthy-ness. There is no city tube and the country’s rail system is in tatters.

The answer? Everyone owns a car (many are four wheel drive) and as a result the city is almost in gridlock. Cars are horribly expensive to buy since they are all imported. Unless you are tax exempt (ie an embassy or aid worker) then an import duty of 25% is levied on the value of every car brought in, on top of that there is another 16% VAT charged. Cars of more than seven years old are not allowed to be imported into the country.

(see previous post on Matatu Culture by using Blogger Search function at top of this page)


A handful of Nairobi hospitals (Aga Khan, Nairobi Hospital, Gertrude’s Garden) offer almost world class private healthcare which is comparatively cheap. The Government subsidised Kenyatta Hospital has a less impressive record. Without the long waiting lists of the UK NHS service or the crippling cost of USA medical care, then Nairobi offers something of the best of both worlds. You actually get medical tourists arriving here. However, as a precaution, many expats take out fairly costly comprehensive medical insurance that allows them to be repatriated to their home country in the event of accident or terminal disease.

(see previous post entitled 'Plastic Surgery in Kenya' - if it's at all reassuring, I have also had my appendix out and a baby here in Nairobi!)

School Fees

International and upper end private schools in Kenya where pupils are mixed, (ie. Expat/White, Kenyan and Asian) charge fees that are only slightly less than those of UK private schools and can add up to over 25% of your salary if you have two or more children.  It’s worth calculating how much you will need to spend on school fees before being posted to Kenya. Occasionally expat packages will cover school fees but this kind of deal is getting increasingly rare.

(Check out the Africaexpatwivesclub.forumotion.com forum (direct link on sidebard of blog) for more info on Nairobi schools.)

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