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Kenya: Social Security and Cost of Living

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.
The cost of living in Nairobi can be cheaper for expats than in other global hotspots.

The first social security legislation was introduced in Kenya when it was still a British colony, with a law insuring laborers against work injuries. Once Kenya became independent in 1963, the new government built a slightly more comprehensive social security framework, which culminated in the creation of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) in 1965. As of 2014, the NSSF is not only a Provident Fund, but also a Pension Fund.

In Case of Work Injuries

Nowadays, most workers and employees in Kenya are insured against accidents and occupational diseases. Certain groups are exempt from coverage: casual workers, laborers in family businesses, the self-employed and non-manual employees earning more than 4,000 KES per month. The contributions for this insurance plan are all paid by the employer, and those affected by work injuries receive up to 240,000 KES in temporary or permanent benefits.

An Overview of Pensions and Sick Leave Regulations

All Kenyan employees are automatically part of the national plan for old-age pensions and disability benefits; self-employed persons, traders, and farmers may voluntarily register. There is an additional pension fund for civil servants and public-sector employees managed by the Ministry of Finance.

How much those insured with the NSSF have to pay depends on their monthly wages. It is usually five to six percent of the wage in social security contributions, and their employer adds another five to six percent. Voluntary contributions to the pension plan are possible. Members can top up their accounts with 200 KES to 140,000 KES as often as they like.

Once a Kenyan employee has reached the age of 60 and no longer has any sort of insured employment, he or she will receive an old-age pension. If they have paid at least three years of contributions, they will get a partial lump sum of these contributions plus interest, and an annuity for the remainder of their life.

In addition to accident compensation and old-age pension, Kenya has sickness and maternity benefits as well. People contributing to this scheme receive up to three months of their full earnings when they are on sick leave or maternity leave. Moreover, they profit from nearly 400,000 KES in annual refunds for medical treatment at public hospitals.

Different Regulations for Expats in Kenya

Expatriates should note that the abovementioned regulations either exclude them explicitly or that the benefits tend to be rather low. To provide for your own retirement, as well as for accidents or illnesses, you have to take care of it yourself. If you can prove such arrangements and are working in Kenya for less than three years, you, as an expat, are exempt from the social security program.

Nevertheless, you should check with your employer whether the company provides insurance for occupational health risks to the entire staff. Most employers also offer their foreign assignees a private health insurance plan as part of the job contract. Here it is important to read the small print and find out, for example, if your insurance policy covers pre-existing conditions, requires you to make co-payments, includes coverage for your dependent family members, etc.

Kenya does not have any bilateral social security agreements. So, even if you were indeed interested in drawing your (very meager) pension from your time in Kenya once you have returned home, this is legally not possible. In order to provide for your retirement years while working abroad, you should keep contributing to your national pension fund at home, have a private pension plan — or both. Get in touch with your bank and your social security office well before leaving for Kenya.

Cost of Living in Kenya

If you have to cover private healthcare yourself and/or want to lay aside some money for your pension fund, you should consider these factors in your budget calculations. Fortunately, Kenya is cheaper than most other African countries or expat hotspots on other continents. In the Mercer Cost of Living Survey 2015, Nairobi ranked as #104 out of 207 global destinations. As such, it is less expensive than, for example, Chicago or Vienna, but you have to take some local particularities into account.

You’ll spend at least one third of your budget on upmarket accommodation, and you may want to hire an extra security service if that’s not already included in your rent. While local produce is really cheap, imported food and consumer products can be rather costly. For families with kids, tuition fees for international schools take the biggest chunk out of the budget. Sometimes, employers cover at least part of your children’s education expenses, but the days of the all-perks-included expat package are probably over. And don’t forget that all bonuses and benefits in kind (such as company housing) are subject to income tax under Kenyan law.

 

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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