Advice to A Foreigner Moving to Nairobi, Kenya

Having lived in Nairobi for some good time, I can confidently say that Nairobi is a very decent place to stay. Everyone who comes here says there’s an upbeat spirit in the city. So for someone who is moving to this beautiful capital, first of all, be prepared to make some beautiful memories. Here are some of the concrete tips that I believe may be of much help to you.

1. You are likely to land at the Jomo Kenyatta International airport. You will need $50 €/40/ £ 30in cash to pay for a visa upon arrival. Once you have passed the passport control and got your luggage, you’ll find several ATMs where you can withdraw cash with your Visa/Mastercard. Then, right outside the airport building, before the pickup area, there is a cafe where you can get water and WiFi to tell everyone you made it to Kenya safely and to get a cab.

2. Install Uber. Saves you the price negotiation and conn taxis who are about to overcharge you. When you just land, it will save you paying 3 times the price from the airport, because you are tired and just want to get in a cab and get it over with. Use the WiFi from cafe from point (2) to call one. There is a good chance the cab driver will ask you where it is, even though you entered the address. Please don’t try to guess, just ask them to follow the map in the app.

3. Consider giving Boda-Boda a chance. Those are bikes you hail off the street and negotiate the price, but it’s so much fun. It’s also pretty dangerous because of reckless drivers, so have that in mind too.

4. Get an M-Pesa account, and deposit a high amount there, and bring your passport (not any other ID) to do it. Later on, every time you’ll want to add the money you’ll need to show your passport (or Kenyan National ID). Other foreign IDs like drivers license don’t work.

5. Get a mosquito net or a plug-in mosquito repeller on your day one. Otherwise, even with windows closed, you’ll get bitten, and who wants closed windows with such great air in Nairobi? Bring one from home if you won’t feel like going to the supermarket on day 1. You’d love a peaceful sleep on your first night after a long flight.

6. Know your address. Make sure to find the location on Google Maps before you moved. You’ll need to put it as the destination address when you hail the cab from the airport. Pretty much all those apps are based on Google Maps to make sure that your address is there and it’s correct.

7. Plan your accommodation in advance. Not just the 4 walls, but also make sure you’ll have utilities set up: electricity (if the tenant before you didn’t pay – you will have a bad time)Power shortages though infrequent are a norm. Don’t be surprised. If you can get housing with generator service the better, have internet ( I recommend WIFI because data in our country is very expensive), water tank (for water outages) and a water filter set up in the kitchen, as tap water isn’t recommended for drinking. If this is not set up in advance – take in mind that utility providers take time to arrive and sometimes reschedule last minute. If it’s possible to have things arranged before you come, even at the price of a few days of you paying and not using – do it.
If you are moving into a house that already has people – make sure they know your arrival time, and that you have their number. If someone needs to meet you there – call them from the airport cafe.

Life in Nairobi

1. Be patient. Things here have their own pace. The cab driver will finish his conversation before hitting the road, the passport control staff will take people from the side of the queue even if you are next in line, the event you are attending is likely to start later than the mentioned hour, and the person with whom you have a meeting with is fairly likely to be late. A kindle is a great way to be good with that.

2. Enjoy the amazing nature. You won’t get many chances in your life to be 45 min drive away from so many animals, make sure to visit them. There are many other places in Kenya to visit as well – the coast, the Masai Mara, Hell’s Gate, and many more.

3. Try local food. Maybe during your first few days, you’d like to stick to cafes and chains just to be on the safe side, but at some point, you have to try Ugali, Nyama Choma, Chapati and Kenyan tea.  Here are some of the Best Nyama Choma Joints In Nairobi.

4. Learn culture. It comes with amazing music, language; Kiswahili (it is structured in a way that makes lots of sense) and style (for both men and women). Go to music events and get some Masai items like sandals, it’s so colourful and happy.

5. Learn history. Take a day to the Nairobi National Museum. You will learn a lot about the history of Kenya, understand why some things are the way they are. You can also see archaeological items from different ages. Believe me, it’s mind-blowing.

6.  Stay warm.  Remember this is the southern hemisphere, meaning July-August are the coldest and rainiest months, and January-February is summertime. Daylight hours are around 6:30am-6: 30 pm year round.

7. There is IMAX in Nairobi, get there and watch some amazing latest movies in 3D.

8. There is online food delivery for lazy days. You can use yum or Jumia Food for that. Allow about 1h for delivery, and make sure your address is as detailed as possible. You are most likely to pay with M-Pesa /cash, as most places don’t accept cards yet. Check out some of the Best Online Food Delivery Companies in Nairobi

9. Learn about the 42 tribes that make Kenya. This is such an interesting dynamic, and there is so much to learn. This will also help you understand some things here better. If you get invited to spend some time in a traditional village – go for it!

10. Check out the different meetups. From the talk by political activists to tech-related events. There is so much going on that is unique to the continent, and you can be part of it.

11. The Kenyan online community ( Twitter and Facebook )  is very vibrant. Follow locals on your Social media accounts. It will be fun and you might make friends especially from KOT; Kenyans on Twitter.

12. Shopping: You can get everything you’d want within the many shopping malls in Nairobi e.g Garden City and Two Rivers.

13. It’s a political season here. Expect posters everywhere. A huge part of Kenyans’ social interactions is dominated by political conversations. You’d make quick friends if you took interest in our politics.

14. Security: Varies depending on the neighbourhood. Get to know the secure times to be up and about in your neighbourhood. Also, always have situational awareness and be alert especially within the CBD. Pickpockets are quite skilled here. Please do not make calls while crossing the road. If you must, stop in a quiet place and do so.

15. Entertainment: There are many clubs and entertainment spots everywhere within the city. Check out some of the Best Nightclubs In Nairobi here.

16. Visit the Nairobi National Park, Orphanage, Museum, Giraffe Centre…you have lots to choose from. The game drive is highly recommended. Again I recommend Trippy GO Tours for this. You can check some of the best places to spend a weekend in Nairobi here.

17.  NOBODY says HAKUNA MATATA in Nairobi (:  That was just a phrase popularized by Disney, and apparently, for some weird reason, gets non-African foreigners buzzing. That phrase has never really picked up in Kenya.

18. If you’re coming for work, I hope your organization is taking care of getting you a work permit. Until the permit is actually issued, be aware that you risk being arrested and/or deported. This happens rarely, but sometimes it does. See e.g. the recent deportation of advisors to the opposition during the run-up to the election.

20. Kileleshwa has very good houses, and the neighbourhood is calm with easy access to the city. Most of the Middle class lives here. Lavington mainly for the upper-class residents. Karen is also beautiful and most expatriates live there. It’s quite far from CBD compared to the other locations. For cheaper houses relative to the above areas and still within the city, try Kilimani and Ngong roadhouses.

Most important – be positive and open-minded. Regardless of where you come from, things are always different in a new country. Take the time to talk to people and make friendships. This is an amazing place with warm and friendly and interesting people.

Victor Matara

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