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Working in Kenya

Working in Kenya provides you with the opportunity to participate in East Africa’s “economic growth engine” and conquer a few challenges along the way. Our introduction to work in Kenya presents its economy, social security issues, cost of living, and etiquette tips for expats.
Coffee is one of Kenya’s main exports and an important source of income for many people working in Kenya.

At a Glance:

  • Most of Kenya’s GDP is produced by the second and third sector, with tourism, banking, and IT key industries. Kenya might also have a future in oil production.
  • With the National Social Security Fund, a certain social security net exists; however, expats are often not included.
  • The cost of living in Kenya is not very high, but accommodation tends to be pricey.
  • When doing business in Kenya, it is important to take local etiquette into consideration, from the typically vertical office hierarchies to the importance of small talk.


By working in Kenya, you will contribute to one of East Africa’s bigger economies. The country has a Gross Domestic Product larger than that of Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda combined. In 2015, the Kenyan economy grew by a respectable 5.8% and it is expected to further grow by 6.2% in 2017.

The government is currently planning to transform the nation from its present status as a developing country and emerging market into a middle-income country within the next two decades. Such an increase in general economic growth, average income, and standard of living would benefit everyone living in Kenya. However, Kenya faces a number of obstacles to overcome if it wants to achieve this ambitious goal — but more on that below.

Kenya’s Economy: A Future in Oil?

When it comes to natural resources, Kenya’s assets are abundant wildlife and arable land. The Kenyan highlands in particular are a fertile agricultural region. In spring 2012, the Kenyan government announced that oil reserves had been discovered in northern Kenya. More recently, oil was also discovered offshore. So far, it remains unclear what effect these discoveries will have on the people living and working in Kenya, but the country could become an oil producing nation as early as 2017 — three years sooner than originally estimated by the IMF.

At last measure, the overwhelming majority of the Kenyan labor force was working in Kenya’s agricultural sector. Much of the work remains at subsistence level, but Kenya has a flourishing agribusiness as well. Farmers and cattle herders produce corn, wheat, sugarcane, and rice, as well as fruit, beef, dairy, hides, and skins. Above all, coffee, tea, and flowers are among Kenya’s most important international exports.

There Is Not Only Tourism and Agriculture in Kenya

Although many residents are currently employed in agriculture, the primary sector creates less than a third of the GDP. The remaining 70% is generated by the laborers and employees working in Kenya’s manufacturing industries and service sector.

In addition to vehicle assembly, cement production, and small-scale consumer goods (e.g. textiles, furniture, food and drinks), Kenya’s industrial activity also focuses on the petrochemical sector. Oil is imported, refined or used for petroleum-based products, which are then re-exported. However, in 2013, the Kenyan government announced that the only oil refinery in East Africa was too heavily subsidized and might have to close sooner rather than later.

In any case, manufacturing is not nearly as significant as the service sector. Kenya is the East African hub for finance, tourism, and communication technology. Due to its breathtakingly beautiful scenery, Kenya is a popular holiday destination for visitors from Europe (especially Germany, Italy, and the UK), India, other African states, North America, and increasingly the UAE and China.

In 2010, the number of tourists reached an all-time high, and in 2011 increased even more — a boon for everyone working in Kenya’s hospitality industry. Unfortunately, recent terror-attacks by the Somali Islamic extremist group Al-Shabab in 2013 and 2014 have shattered foreign confidence in the safety of Kenyan tourist destinations and put the tourism industry — which is responsible for about 10% of Kenya’s GDP — under threat. A reduction in the number of expats working in Kenya would also negatively affect the country.

Apart from tourism and banking, it is information and communication technology that will shape Kenya’s economic future. In 2010, an estimated four million Kenyans were online. Barely three years later, in early 2013, this number had increased to over 16 million, and over 30 million people had cell phone subscriptions as well. With the global rise of smartphones and the mobile internet, these figures predict a boom for those working in Kenya’s IT/CT business.

An Ambitious Plan for a Safer Future

To keep profiting from its strategic location in East Africa, its natural assets, and human resources, Kenya has to address several problems that hamper its economic development. Fortunately, the presidential elections in March 2013 did not threaten the internal peace again, in contrast to the violent unrest in 2007/2008.

Kenya has made some progress by beginning to change the entire nation’s administrative structure, breaking up seven provinces into 47 smaller ones. This project requires lots of time, energy, and red tape. Beyond such political challenges, the Kenyan government needs to combat inflation, help diversify Kenya’s exports, continue to support its well-developed private sector, increase transparency, decrease corruption, improve the national infrastructure, and encourage the education and employment of the Kenyan people.

Your Work Opportunities in Kenya

New infrastructure projects may also open up opportunities for international investors and expats interested in working in Kenya. To build roads and transport hubs, tap new energy sources, and create a better communications network, Kenya needs the expertise of its university graduates, as well as more foreign specialists working in Kenya.

Community development projects always require skilled expats and volunteers in areas such as: education, protection of African wildlife, management of international foreign aid and national government grants, and employment training of local Kenyans from impoverished communities in new work skills. Remember, though to volunteer or work in Kenya, most expats need a permit.

Many expatriates are employed by the community, regional, and continental headquarters of IGOs and NGOs (the UN, the World Bank, the Red Cross, etc.) or by the Nairobi branches of multi-nationals like BASF, Coca Cola, or PWC. With projected growth rates of five to six percent in the near future, there is going to be a demand for highly qualified people working in Kenya.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Mario Rimardi

"Wish I had discovered InterNations before I relocated to Kenya. It's really helpful on both a private and a professional level. "

Caroline Hayes

"Expats on InterNations gave us valuable hints for finding an appropriate school in Nairobi for our two children."

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