Living in Nairobi
A comprehensive guide about living well in Nairobi
Expat living in Nairobi is an exciting experience. The city isn’t just the capital of Kenya, it’s also the “Safari Capital of the World”. While there are lots of opportunities for ecotourism, this isn’t what daily life in Nairobi is about. We introduce culture, healthcare, and schools here.
Life in Nairobi
At a Glance:
- Nairobi offers a plethora of entertaining opportunities thanks to the marvelous nature and the rich Kenyan culture.
- Before departure, it is of crucial importance to get the recommended vaccinations; healthcare should be preferably private.
- Most expat parents chose to go for international schools in Nairobi, of which there are a few.
While living in Nairobi, you will experience everyday life in East Africa’s largest, most modern, and fastest-growing capital city. Nairobi is a study in contrasts; Kenyan society grapples with poverty and inequality in the distribution of wealth and income. For the urban poor, living in Nairobi means dwelling in slums and shantytowns.
However, the city is also home to Kenya’s elite and to the steadily growing middle class with their increasing affluence and leisure time. Tourism is an important source of income for many people living in Nairobi. Thus, there are plenty of amenities to suit everyone’s taste — and wallet. Life in Nairobi includes some surprisingly expensive pastimes, provided you can afford them.
Discover the Marvels of Kenya’s Nature and Culture
For most expats living in Nairobi, planning their “time out” in the city first involves its best-known attraction: the magnificent wildlife that abounds in the Nairobi National Park located on the outskirts of the city. There, you can observe gazelles, buffaloes, and wildebeests against the distant backdrop of high-rise buildings. The Giraffe Centre provides you with the opportunity to get up close and personal with these surprisingly graceful, long-legged creatures.
If you’d rather see baby elephants and tiny rhinoceroses, you should pay a visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Also, the East Africa Natural History Society (aka Nature Kenya) regularly organizes nature walks and bird-watching trips through the Nairobi Arboretum. Nature Kenya is involved in the conservationist movement and in promoting sustainable tourism that benefits the local population.
Of worthy mention are the national efforts being made in Kenya to meet world standards for ecotourism. After the first half of 2016, 109 facilities in Kenya are now eco-rating certified. Thus, environmentally-conscious expats can also find something they like.
If you are interested in cultural tourism, the Bomas of Kenya village is a good starting point. The location preserves and showcases the heritage of Kenya’s various ethnicities, including displays of various traditional villages. It is rather touristy, but it serves as a first impression of life in rural Kenya rather than life in Nairobi.
Furthermore, there are several tour organizers which focus on cultural tourism. They give visitors a glimpse of Kenya’s regions and offer an additional income to Kenyan residents. If you have never been to Eastern Africa, you might want to look into such a tour, which is not only educational for you, but also benefits the local Kenyan community.
Your Hobbies and Leisure Activities in Nairobi
Contemporary life in Kenya is much more multi-faceted than even the best introduction for tourists can show. While you are living in Nairobi, there is plenty for you to discover once you have settled in.
Music lovers could get active themselves, e.g. by joining a choir. Choral music is hugely popular among those living in Nairobi. Becoming a member of a parish choir, for instance, is also a great way to get to know new people. Religion plays an important role in the lives of many Kenyans, and church is a common place to socialize.
The less musically talented will probably prefer other activities to singing. The numerous embassies in Nairobi often host cultural events centering on literature, the fine arts, or movies. Theater-goers living in Nairobi should give the Kenya National Theatre in the Central Business District a try; cinema-enthusiasts should not miss out on the Kenya International Film Festival.
Foodies can take advantage of Nairobi’s variety of local and international cuisine. The art of food in Nairobi is shaped by its cultural melting pot of people and ethnicities. Moreover, it doesn’t have to be expensive to be good. Many expats living in Nairobi seek out the local Kenyan places and let their tongues take a culinary “safari”.
Your Sport and Outdoor Adventure Opportunities
Once you have gotten accustomed to the local climate and altitude, Nairobi offers lots of opportunities for hobby athletes. The many successes of professional runners from East Africa are widely known. However, you needn’t strive to become the next Catherine Ndereba or Paul Tergat to enjoy yourself.
Organizations like the Hash House Harriers running club unite Kenyans and expats for social runs and races. Nairobi’s private country clubs host the wealthier residents when they indulge in disciplines like horse-riding, polo, or golf. As far as spectator sports are concerned, football and horse-racing are obvious favorites.
If you venture beyond Nairobi’s city limits, you can go hiking and diving. Mount Kenya — visible from the capital on clear days — is a wonderful destination for nature lovers, trekkers, and mountain-climbers. Africa’s second-highest peak is a Kenyan national park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The Chogoria Route up and down the mountain features some particularly spectacular scenery.
Alternatively, you can head for the Kenyan coast. Diani Beach, Kenya’s busiest resort, and more off-the-beaten-track locations like Wasini Island and Funzi Island are ideal for sunbathing, snorkeling, diving, and bird watching. If you need a break from bustling life in Nairobi, a trip to the Indian Ocean is well worth it.
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Healthcare in Nairobi
Immunizations and Common Diseases in Kenya
Depending on where you come from, living in Nairobi can pose some unfamiliar health risks. Before departing for Kenya, you should talk to a specialist for travel health and tropical medicine about common diseases.
It’s also important to get as many recommended immunizations as possible. In addition to booster shots for DPT, MMR, polio, and the flu, you should also be vaccinated against typhoid fever, hepatitis A and B, meningitis, and rabies. Immunization against yellow fever is only necessary for people who want to spend some time outside Nairobi in higher-risk areas; however, if you are entering Kenya from an at-risk country, e.g. Uganda, you may be required to prove you’ve been vaccinated.
When it comes to widespread diseases, Nairobi fortunately has a fairly low malaria risk. Nonetheless, you should learn how to prevent insect bites. Flies and mosquitoes are carriers of sleeping sickness, dengue fever, and leishmaniasis (painful skin sores). Moreover, bathing in rivers and lakes is not a good idea. Parasites living in inland waters may cause illnesses like snail fever and river blindness. Chlorinated pools and the ocean are perfectly safe, though.
While infectious diseases like Ebola, Rift Valley Fever, and anthrax only occur in isolated cases outside Nairobi, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are sadly common. Expats often sign up with organizations like the Blood Care Foundation to have a safe donor in the event of a blood transfusion.
Of Crucial Importance: Your Medical Travel Kit
Despite the health risks listed above, the most widespread afflictions among expatriates in Kenya are heatstroke, exhaustion — and diarrhea. For this reason, it’s helpful to bring along a first-aid travel kit. Pharmacies in Nairobi are well-stocked, but in the beginning, it can be reassuring to have some useful meds close at hand.
Your basic kit should include:
- your prescription medication
- anti-malarial drugs
- iodine tablets
- anti-diarrhea pills
- hand sanitizer
- paracetamol or aspirin
- anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen
- anti-bacterial ointments
- insect repellants
- oral rehydration salts
- anti-histamines (for people suffering from allergies)
- medication for altitude sickness (for trekkers and hikers)
For a comprehensive travel kit recommendation, see the CDC Health Travel Packing List.
What to Expect from Medical Care in Nairobi
The quality standards of medical facilities in Kenya vary wildly. Generally speaking, healthcare in larger cities is vastly superior to the countryside. Hospitals and clinics in Nairobi are better than those in other towns, even in Mombasa, and the private sector should always be preferred to public care, as Kenya’s public healthcare sector is woefully underfunded.
Those who can afford private insurance, however, have access to quality facilities. Only in complicated cases is it necessary to go to a South African hospital for treatment or to return home. Therefore, you should make sure to get a private healthcare plan for yourself and your family which covers costs for emergency evacuation, travel insurance, and repatriation, too.
What to Do in Case of Emergency in Nairobi
In case you have an accident or suddenly fall ill during your time in Nairobi, it’s important to know the local emergency numbers. The fire and ambulance services can be reached on 999. Here are some other useful contacts to keep in mind:
- +254 (0) 20-604767 (tourist helpline)
- +254 (0) 20-225685 (Nairobi Central Police Station)
- +254 (0) 20-6993000 (AMREF “Flying Doctors” Emergency)
- +254 (0) 20-2210000 (St John’s Ambulance Emergency)
Moreover, you should know the phone numbers of the nearest police station, your private security service, and the nearest private hospital.
Most hospitals in Nairobi have their own ambulance service for the accidents and emergencies department. The hospitals feature outpatient care, consultation hours with resident doctors, dental clinics, pharmacies, and several specialist wards as well. Nairobi’s private hospitals cover most important medical fields, like cardiology, dermatology, obstetrics and gynecology, oncology, ophthalmology, urology, etc. You can find a list of private clinics below.
- Aga Khan University Hospital Nairobi (Parklands)
- Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital (Muthaiga, several outpatient clinics, e.g. in Lavington)
- Karen Hospital (Karen, outpatient clinics e.g. in Nyeri and Nakuru)
- M.P. Shah Hospital (Westlands/Parklands)
- Nairobi Hospital (Upper Hill, outpatient clinics in Gigiri and Galleria)
- Nairobi Women’s Hospital (Hurlingham, several outpatient clinics)
Education for Expats in Nairobi
Education Options for Expat Children
Unfortunately, many public schools in Kenya suffer from a lack of funding and a shortage of highly qualified teaching staff. Thus, both expats and wealthy Kenyans frequently opt for private schooling or international schools. To be fair, one should add that most Kenyan families value their kids’ education very highly. They often make big sacrifices to send their children to a good school. Kenya has some extremely competitive government schools, where the local students with the best academic results go after primary education.
However, for expat kids who move a lot or will return to their home country soon, it’s probably easier to attend a school with an academic system that’s more widely recognized abroad than the Kenyan one. Furthermore, international schools often include a kindergarten and pre-school classes (sometimes even a nursery) for younger kids. If you need daycare for an infant or toddler, though, it may be best to ask other expat parents to personally recommend a nanny.
If you spend a lot of time traveling outside Nairobi, you might want to check out the boarding options that quite a few schools in Kenya provide. However, boarding schools, as well as private day schools, are rather expensive. Make sure to take tuition fees into account when you are planning your expat budget. It’s worth asking your employer if the company provides a school allowance. If they do, they should transfer the money directly to the school. If you get the allowance first, it might be taxed under Kenyan law.
The Many International Schools in Nairobi
- Braeburn runs several private schools in Nairobi, e.g. on Gitanga Road and in Garden Estate. They mostly follow the English curriculum, and students take IGCSE as well as A-level examinations.
- Deutsche Schule Nairobi caters to German-language expatriate families in the Kenyan capital. It has a German curriculum, and the medium of instruction is also German. The school is located on Limuru Road, opposite the Village Market shopping mall, and is within easy reach of Gigiri, Kitisuru, and Muthaiga.
- GEMS Cambridge International School is an institution for English-speaking students in Karen. It offers the IGCSE exams, as well as British-style A-levels for graduates.
- Hillcrest International School in Karen is mostly modeled after the British National Curriculum. The language in the classroom is English, and students can take IGCSE examinations.
- The International School of Kenya is one of the few schools in the country that offer the IB diploma. Expat children in Nyari and Githathuru live particularly close to this school.
- Expat parents in Nairobi who’d like their kids to receive a Christian education can choose among several international schools: Rosslyn Academy is located in Runda Estate and follows a US curriculum. Rusinga School in Lavington and West Nairobi School in Karen are also private Christian schools, which follow the English and the US-American curriculum, respectively.
- In addition to the English-language schools listed above, there are a few more British-style schools in Nairobi. In rural towns like Gilgil or Nakuru, you can find similar boarding schools as well.
For non-English-speaking expat families, there is a variety of third-country schools apart from the aforementioned German School of Nairobi:
- The Netherlands School Society is a Dutch primary school situated off Ngong Road, on a small side street leading to Riara Road.
- There is a Japanese school (website in Japanese only) in Karengata too.
- The Lycée Denis Diderot (website in French only) in Upper Hill, next to the smart Yaya Shopping Centre, caters to the Francophone residents.
- The Swedish School (website mostly in Swedish only) in Kileleshwa accepts students from all Scandinavian countries.
Before you move, ask your embassy in Nairobi which schools your compatriots prefer for their kids.
For more information on living in Nairobi and all of Kenya, especially on local transportation, please read our Relocation Guide to life in Kenya.
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