Moving to Kenya?
Expat Housing and Safety in Kenya
Most expats moving to Kenya settle in a major city, especially in Nairobi or Mombasa. Both are important urban centers with significant local economies, large populations (about one million inhabitants in Mombasa and an estimated 3.5 million residents in Nairobi), and stark income inequality.
Under such conditions, it is not particularly surprising that crime rates in certain areas are high. There is also a trend towards strong economic segregation between poor and affluent neighborhoods.
Where Expats in Kenya Live
In green Nairobi — nicknamed “Nairobbery” in the late 1990s when prices and poverty hit a sad record high — plenty of areas are considered slums. Kibera, Mathare, and Korogocho are some of the most infamous.
Kenya’s urban middle class flock to such residential developments as Greenpark or Eastlands, while wealthy expatriates and Nairobi’s local élite prefer quiet suburbs and gated communities. Expats often move to the northwestern and southwestern outskirts of Nairobi, up to 20 km from the central business district. Lavington, Kitisuru, Karen, and Lang’ata are among the most popular areas.
In Kenya’s second largest city, Mombasa, you may note a similar contrast between industrial areas and middle class settlements, between impoverished townships and up-market neighborhoods. Some of the prime residential areas in Mombasa are Kizingo on Mombasa Island, Nyali on the north coast, and Diani Beach, a seaside resort about 35 km south of central Mombasa.
Finding and Renting Accommodation
If you are looking for expat accommodation in Kenya, especially in Nairobi, the following resources will come in handy:
Before you rent a place, check if security costs — e.g. for an intruder alarm or an askari (night guard) — are included in the basic expenses. In addition to home security, your new apartment or townhouse should have a water storage tank and a back-up generator in case of water shortages and power cuts.
You can expect to spend about one third of your budget on housing. Monthly rents in Nairobi for mid-range to upmarket housing range from 60,000 KES to 250,000 KES, depending on the type of accommodation, the number of rooms, the location, and other amenities. Utility costs for water, electricity, and fuel add up to around 10,000 KES per month.
How to Stay Safe in Kenya
As far as your personal safety is concerned, you should be cautious, but there is no reason to become paranoid. On the one hand, pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, burglaries, mugging, “express” kidnapping (with the victim’s credit cards as ransom), and car-jacking are unfortunately not uncommon in Kenya’s larger cities. On the other hand, since expats tend to congregate in suburban areas and are able to afford security services, the less privileged local Kenyans living in slums are actually at far higher risk.
There are some general rules for travelers in Kenya that you should adhere to, though:
- At night, avoid townships, downtown areas, poorly-lit areas, public parks, deserted footpaths, and walks on the beach.
- Don’t wear ostentatious jewelry in public or flash valuable belongings. Be alert when withdrawing cash from an ATM.
- Keep your car doors locked; don’t stop on lonely roads, and don’t open your car windows.
- If you require transportation services, taxis are safer than overland coaches or mini-buses.
- Don’t accept food and drinks from strangers, as they could be drugged.
- If you should become the victim of a robbery, do not protest or resist! Just hand over your valuables.
- When you travel around the country, avoid the northeastern region along the border to Somalia. Somali pirates and militias also operate near Lamu Island and off the northeastern coast. In June and July 2014, numerous people were killed in terror-attacks on several coastal towns near the touristic Lamu Island.
- In the summer and fall of 2012, violent land clashes in the area around Tana River left over 100 people dead. There have also been repeated incidents of cattle raids and interethnic violence, especially in the border regions. Before you travel to rural Kenya, check the news and your embassy website for information on such clashes between impoverished communities.
- Only book safari tours with established agencies and stay at camping grounds, hunting lodges, or coastal bungalows that have their own security staff.
- Terrorist attacks, including in Nairobi and Mombasa, have become more common since late 2011, so be careful around public buildings, commuter buses, and local open-air markets. In September 2013, the Islamist Al-Shabaab militia from Somalia launched a full-scale attack on the popular Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. It’s estimated that 67 people were killed, and a further 175 injured. Among the casualties were at least 18 foreign nationals from several countries. Two years later, during the Garissa University College massacre in 2015, 148 people were killed by Al-Shabaab militants. Please check your embassy or consulate for the latest safety advice on the threat posed by the Al-Shabaab extremists.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.