interviews – tell us about your expat experience!
answers will help inform and guide new and prospective expats in your city or
country – and your responses will be published on Expat Arrivals.
are you originally from? A: The UK
are you living now (city + country)? A: Nairobi,
Q: When did
you move here? A: 2003 but
moved to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania first as a newlywed in 1999
Q: Did you
move here alone or with a spouse/family? A: I moved
to East Africa with my then new husband. Now we have 3 daughters aged 15, 13
Q: Why did
you move; what do you do? A: My
husband grew up in Mombasa and he yearned to come back to Kenya. We met in
London and when he heard of a job opening in East Africa, he leapt at it. I
thought, why not?
Q: What do
you enjoy most about your host city? How would you rate the quality of life
compared to your home country? A: Nairobi
is changing so fast. It’s an exciting place to live and there are huge
opportunities here. I would say that we have made sacrifices and taken risks by
living out here, but we now have a very good quality of life which is possibly
better than the one that we could have built in the UK over the same amount of
negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Family mostly. I used to miss the shopping
but you can buy so much here now and a slightly restricted choice (of clothes,
food and going out) has never been a bad thing for me as it put the brakes on
my potential spending.
Q: What are
the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did
you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: The level of security (or perceived insecurity)
comes as a shock to most people. There is a distinct lack of decent public
transport and so therefore your independence is limited. In this way, it is
different from living in a ‘developed’ capital city. We all live in our cars
and think a little bit when going out at night (although the night life is
there and is fun). Most people hire a night watchman to guard your home while
you are sleeping and you might employ a full time gardener to be home during
the day. The hiring of a night watchman is uncomfortable for me and something
that I will never get used to.
the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: What is expensive is the cost of hiring
private security guards, subscribing to emergency response services etc. We
also buy drinking water. Food and utilities are more expensive than back home,
however, the weather is mild year round so you obviously save on heating your
home as it is unnecessary. Frankly, there is also less to spend your money on
as compared to back home, so fewer temptations. The clement weather means that
there is no need to change our wardrobe for the seasons and the good news is
that the coffee here is second to none and a cappuccino is cheap! There are
some really good coffee houses. Eating out, though not cheap, tends to be
cheaper than the equivalent back home.
would you rate the public transport? What are the different options? Do you
need to own a car?
Public transport system in Nairobi consists only of minibuses (matatus) and
buses that the majority have to rely on to get around. The vehicles are poorly
maintained, drive dangerously and I would not recommend using them, so having
access to a car is extremely important. However, since all cars are imported,
purchasing a car locally is extremely expensive. Second hand cars can cost double the amount you might pay back home.
would you rate the healthcare in your city? Have you had any particularly
good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any
hospitals you would recommend? A: Healthcare in Nairobi is pretty good. There are
some very good private hospitals, The Aga Khan, Nairobi Hospital and Gertrude’s
Garden (childrens’ ) Hospital are all good and, as a family, we have had
various healthcare issues here that have been dealt with well. It is easy to
get ‘same day’ appointments and the charges for consultations and medicines are
not too high. Having said that, for any major health issue, ‘emergency
repatriation’ is definitely recommended for your private healthcare insurance.
Q: What are
the biggest safety issues facing expats living in your host city or country?
Are there any areas expats should avoid? A: People are fearful of the reputation that
‘Nairobbery’ has, but on arrival, most are taken aback by how friendly and
welcoming the city is. In fact, I don’t know of a city that it more friendly
than Nairobi. Everyone will greet you with a smile, a joke, a laugh and most
expats love it and end up living here for a long time or extending their
posting. In my view, Nairobi is very far from the ‘hardship posting’ that some
international organisations refer to it as – so in expat circles Nairobi is a ‘best
be honest, the friendly and relaxed vibe of the city sometimes lulls you into a
false sense of security. As with any capital, just be aware of your
surroundings, keep your bags close when sitting in restaurants etc, don’t leave
valuables lying around, don’t get into unmarked vehicles (ask your taxi driver
for ID), keep doors locked when driving etc. As an expat, you are a target but
the irony is that the Kenyan middle classes are much more prone to petty cons,
scams and home break-ins as they do not have the big cars, private home
security and higher profile that the expats have.
Q: How do
you rate the standard of housing in the city? What different options are
available for expats? A: Having lived in Nairobi for the past 13
years, the housing market has changed radically. Expats used to be able to
expect to rent a self contained former colonial style bungalow or house with a
sizeable garden but due to the radical rise in land values, the norm is now
more apartment living or for families, town house dwellings (clusters of 10 or
so 4-5 bed town houses on a shared plot). Rents are also expensive, so be
prepared. Apartments cost upwards of 100,000 Kenya shillings per month ($1,000)
and larger town houses with gardens can cost 280,000-350,000 Kenya shillings
areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in? A: There are
so many great suburbs and nowadays, most have satellite local shopping centres
providing services, restaurants, cinemas etc. There are also some very good
schools around the city. When moving to Nairobi, do bear in mind where you workplace
is and try to live fairly near or at least, work out your best route to work.
Also consider location of schools for your kids. Rush hour traffic is world
famously bad and the last thing you want is a crazy commute if possible.
·Lavington – getting more built up but still some nice family
·Kileleshwa,Kilimani – younger crowd, more apartments.
·Karen, Langata – far out of town but many commute from here to
the industrial area and the new ‘Southern Bypass’ that runs through Karen means
that you can get into Westlands via a circuitous route, avoiding traffic.
Benefits are larger houses and gardens/more space.
·Runda, Gigiri, Muthaiga – northern suburbs near the UN
headquarters and embassies
·Westlands – this used to be the ‘going out’ centre with lots of shops
and restaurants but increasingly there are major office developments here. Many
apartments and/or smaller town house options.
·Kitisuru, Spring Valley, Lower Kabete – Western suburbs with
good access to Westlands
people and making friends
tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination
against particular religions or women etc.?
A: As I mentioned before, people in Kenya are
completely charming. The society is fairly conservative and old fashioned in
many ways (conservative dress and old fashioned manners), so it is important to
stay respectful and make an effort to fit in. Most conversations should start
with ‘how are you’ rather than demanding immediately what you want. People respond
best to politeness and a smile is always appreciated.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting
new people? A: To be honest, it is not
all that easy to meet other people. If you live in a town house complex, then
you may meet neighbours. Kids of school going age are always going to help you
but there is not a cohesive ‘expat scene’ but instead it is mixed. Your
neighbours will be Kenyans and expats mixed together, which I think is a good
Q: Have you
made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice
would you give to new expats looking to make friends? Any social/expat groups
you can recommend? A: I have a mix of friends. Mostly expats like
me who have been living here long term and some local Kenyans (both Indian and
Kenyan), both sets of friends have mostly come to me via the school network.
Many make friends through work if it is a foreign organisation with a group of
expat employees. Quite a few of my expat friends have moved on, which is always
sad. I mainly keep busy through working on various freelance contracts. You can
also make friends through local health clubs and activities. There’s a good
website called Kenyabuzz, which has listings of clubs etc.
Q: Did you
have a problem getting a visa or work permit? Did you tackle the visa process
yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant? A: Getting a work permit is a bit of a nightmare
to be honest and very costly. You are looking at spending around 300,000 Kenya
shillings ($3,000) for a 2 year permit (for an investor’s permit for freelance
work, or an ‘A’ permit for full time employment). The official fee is just over
200,000 Kenya shillings and the processing fee is another 100,000. I used an
immigration consultant and most of these are accountants or lawyers. There are
a number of hoops to jump through when applying for a work permit (such as
providing original education certificates etc) and the process can take upwards
of 3 months. Plus a positive outcome of getting a permit is by no means guaranteed.
the economic climate like in the city? Do you have any tips for expats looking
to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: Somebody recently described Nairobi as ‘being on
steroids’ and I think that she was spot on. The speed of how fast the city is
developing is breathtaking. There has been a building boom for the past 10
years and infrastructure is struggling to keep up. We have had Obama visit
Nairobi in July 2015 and the Pope is due here this month (November 2015). This
high profile attention is testament to the growing importance of, not just
Nairobi as a hub, but East Africa on the world stage.
Re: Looking for a job. I would try Linkedin and there
are local employment agencies. Keep your eyes on relevant websites etc.
Q: How does
the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing
business in the city/country? A: The work ethic in Nairobi is fairly strong.
Most people will get up at around 5am and be in the office early. They then
knock off at 5pm in order to battle the traffic home. You will find that many
Kenyans have a ‘side hustle’ business as well as their 8am-5pm job. This is a
nation of entrepreneurs.
Q: Did your
spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home? Do you think there
are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse? A: Many people have problems adjusting due to
the reduction in independence you might feel, especially as a trailing spouse.
You can’t just jump on a train to get out of town, or ride a subway to cross
town. You are bound to getting around by car which can be time consuming and
frustrating. There are incidences of muggings even in quieter neighbourhoods,
so many people do not walk or jog around the streets near their home without
thinking twice. It’s unusual to see an expat walk down to their local shops;
you are more likely to drive to a secure mall. It’s hard for teenagers as
Nairobi city life can be the most restrictive for them in some ways. Many rely
on private drivers to get them around and going out at night is perceived to be
more dangerous than back home, so parents will worry.
Q: Did your
children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children
during the move? A: All our kids were born here in East Africa so
that is a tricky question, having said that, life for younger kids is great.
First of all, parents of small children can enjoy the benefits of employing a
full time nanny or ayah. This is the
norm, not just for expats but for most working and upper class Kenyans too. The
climate is such that kids can play outside every day, year round. As the kids
get older, they can enjoy the benefit of some very good private kindergartens
and primary schools with lots of great outdoor sports on offer. The field
narrows a bit when you get to secondary level but there are still good options.
Q: What are
the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: The main
private schools that expats choose in Kenya follow the British Curriculum and
these schools are members of the IAPS (Independent association of preparatory
schools). There are also a couple of
schools that follow the US/International curriculum (International School
Kenya/ISK, Rosslyn Ridge, West Nairobi School). There are also Montessori and
Waldorf primary schools as well as a dedicated French and a German school in
Main Options for Primary (many have
·Peponi Prep - feeder kindergarten located
nearby is Kabete Kindergarten. Located on Lower Kabete Road not far from
·Kenton College - no feeder kindergarten but
many kids go to Kensington Kindergarten nearby. Located in Kileleshwa, (near
·Braeburn School - with kindergarten
·The Banda - with feeder kindergarten on same
campus, located in Langata (good for a commute to the industrial area/airport
·Hillcrest - with feeder kindergarten on same
campus, located in Karen.
·Brookhouse - also in Langata.
·Pembroke House boarding school, located 2 hours out of Nairobi but is a
popular boarding prep school with horse riding etc.
Main Options for Secondary
Braeburn and Braeburn Garden City
St Andrews Turi (boarding, located 3 hours from Nairobi)
Q: Is there
any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals? A: Take the plunge as the benefits are huge.
What I love about East Africa is that you are free to give anything a go
without so many of the formal restrictions of the Western World. For me, living
overseas gave me the opportunity to explore writing and editing as a career,
without having to have much in the way of formal training. Take a lead from the
Kenyans around you and flex your entrepreneurship muscle. Enjoy the fact that
you are living in a space in the developing world that is, in some ways, more
sophisticated an environment than back home. Kenyans are well educated and
speak a minimum of 3 languages. There is a lot to learn.
Corruption is endemic Kenya’s major institutions, which
is a problem for the country but there is a huge swathe of Kenyan middle class
who are moving forward at a great speed in spite of this.