When moving to Nairobi, expatriates often do not know where to start looking for housing. Nairobi is a sprawling city, and it does not always have the best reputation — the nickname “Nairobbery” from the 1990s comes to mind. As a rule of thumb, affluent residential areas are more likely to be found in the western part of the city.
In the east, you’ll mostly find Nairobi’s industrial sites or lower-income residential areas like Eastleigh. Locals have dubbed the latter “Little Mogadishu”, due to the many Somali migrants and refugees among its residents. However, even upscale neighborhoods may be close to densely populated slums, where many people subsist on an income of a dollar per day.
Unfortunately, it’s beyond the scope of this guide to cover all Nairobi neighborhoods where expats decide to settle. But we will introduce some of the best-known below.
If you have a generous salary or a huge housing allowance, you might opt for Nairobi’s most exclusive areas. The neighborhoods of Karen and Langata, southwest of central Nairobi, have some high-class housing developments. Together, the two residential districts are simply known as “Karengata”, offering plenty of amenities to well-to-do Kenyans and expatriates.
Karen boasts a private hospital, several international schools, an upmarket shopping center, a golf club, and close proximity to the beautiful Ngong Hills. However, the area is somewhat isolated. Owning a car is essential for Karen residents. Langata, east of Karen, is slightly closer to the city center. This does not mean it’s full of urban hustle-bustle, though. On the contrary, it houses Nairobi’s popular Giraffe Centre, the Bomas of Kenya tourist village, and the entrance to the impressive Nairobi National Park.
The suburb of Gigiri is a particular favorite among the staff members of various embassies and UN offices. It includes the United Nations Complex, as well as the diplomatic missions of Canada and the United States. The latter was built after the devastating Al-Quaeda attack on the old US embassy in 1998. Owing to the heavy expat presence, several international schools and large shopping malls are within easy reach for those living in Gigiri.
Muthaiga may be even more fashionable than Gigiri or “Karengata” — it’s called the “Beverly Hills of Nairobi” for a reason. The home of well-heeled Kenyans, diplomats, and other expats is also home to two high-end country clubs. Expats with kids appreciate easy access to some international schools (especially the German School of Nairobi) and Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital.
If you prefer self-contained neighborhoods, perhaps with a quasi-rural flair, you should give Runda or Ridgeways a try. The former includes the Runda Estate, Kenya’s largest gated community, with top-notch security and a very active residents’ association.
Ridgeways, on the other hand, is situated mostly within the Karura Forest. Former home of Kenya’s colonial elite, it now houses wealthy Kenyan residents and well-paid diplomatic staff. Now as then, its main attraction is the luxurious Windsor Golf Club.
Obviously, not everybody can — or wants to — live in Nairobi’s poshest neighborhoods. If you are looking for something comfortable, but slightly more affordable, you should focus your housing search on different residential districts. For instance, Brookside, Kileleshwa, Lavington, and Loresho all provide access to private clinics, smart shopping facilities, and selected international schools.
Those who prefer a busier lifestyle might rather go for neighborhoods like Hurlingham, Kilimani, or parts of Westlands. While the former two are characterized by expat residents and upper-middle-class Kenyans, the latter has traditionally been the heart of Nairobi’s South Asian community. Even Aga Khan IV spent some of his childhood there. Westlands is becoming more and more of a business district, but the parts leading to Spring Valley still enjoy quiet residential streets.
If you already have temporary accommodation in Nairobi, you can tap into some local resources while hunting for a permanent home. Don’t forget to check the notice boards at upscale shopping malls like Yaya Centre or Village Market. Even in the internet era, departing expats or Kenyans on the move may advertise their housing there. Furthermore, the Homes Kenya magazine is a lifestyle and property publication targeting well-off customers.
Of course, you can start your housing search in Nairobi online. Well-known real estate agents include:
Unfortunately, housing is among the most expensive items in the expat budget. A townhouse or villa in Nairobi’s exclusive suburbs can easily cost around 150,000 to 350,000 Kenyan shillings per month. Even if your accommodation is less luxurious, you should calculate one third of your budget for housing costs. If your employer doesn’t offer you a housing allowance, it literally pays to renegotiate.
Once you find some offers for rentals in Nairobi, check if utilities and security are already included in the monthly expenses — we go into detail concerning safety and security measures in the last part of this guide. Below, you can find a list of Nairobi’s usual utility providers for water, electricity, etc.:
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