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Safety in Nairobi

Nairobi, “the Green City in the Sun”, is the political, economic, and cultural heart of East Africa. The InterNations Expat Guide on moving to Nairobi introduces expatriates to the ever-growing metropolis. In addition to a city profile, we provide you with tips on housing and safety.
Many people in Nairobi hire a private security guard or “askari”.

Although Nairobi often gets a bad rap for lack of safety, the situation is not as dire as some travel warnings and tourist guides make it seem. Most offenses are property crimes. This does not come as a surprise in a metropolis where the gap between the haves and have-nots is huge. Actually, poorer Kenyans who can’t afford personal security are more likely to fall prey to criminals than those with burglar alarms and their own driver.

However, new expats should take the time to become acquainted with the usual safety tips. Hopefully, the advice won’t make you paranoid, but rather serve as a guide until you have settled in. When you are familiar with your new surroundings and feel more at ease, you can judge for yourself which rules make sense in your specific circumstances.

Personal experiences in Nairobi can be vastly different. Some tourists lose all their cash and credit cards to pickpockets. On the other hand, aid workers visiting Nairobi’s shantytowns report meeting impoverished families who want to treat them to dinner in recompense for the medical care they received. Generally speaking, you are much more likely to meet friendly people in Kenya than get involved in sticky situations.

How to Be Safe in Your Home

  • Don’t choose a house in an isolated location.
  • Your home shouldn’t look too ostentatious: Lavish wealth on display attracts burglars.
  • Hire a reputable security company that provides 24/7 service.
  • Your house should have an alarm system, barred windows, sturdy doors, and quality locks.
  • One fortified room should serve as a “panic room” for all family members in case of a burglary. The panic button must be located in this room.
  • The premises should have good lighting, an intruder alarm, and a locked main gate.
  • Even at home, it makes sense to store your valuables and important documents in a safe.
  • Take the time to get to know your domestic staff (e.g. your maid, your night guard, and your driver), your neighbors and their staff.
  • Don’t just let strangers into your home, and have a protocol for answering phone calls and receiving visitors.
  • When you hire domestic help, ask them for references and a copy of their ID. Follow up on their references, if necessary.
  • Lay down clear and fair rules of employment at the outset, pay a decent wage, and treat everyone politely.
  • If you have to dismiss a staff member for some reason, do it at once and give them an appropriate amount of cash as severance pay. If you part on bad terms, you may consider changing the locks.

How to Be Safe When Out and About

  • When you are out and about in Nairobi, keep to the main streets. Don’t go into back alleys, footpaths, or unfamiliar areas — especially not after dark or if you are on your own.
  • Avoid shantytowns (unless you are a doctor or aid worker), and don’t linger in the area around bus stations in central Nairobi.
  • In general, you should not walk in downtown Nairobi at night.
  • Stay alert and act confident, even if you should be lost.
  • Avoid beggars, pan-handlers, and street-children, if possible. This may feel particularly heartless, but in many cases, they may not even get to keep the money you give them.
  • Don’t carry too much cash, don’t wear expensive jewelry, and leave your passport at home.
  • Be aware of your surroundings when withdrawing money from ATMs.
  • Check your credit card statements carefully and report suspected fraud at once.
  • If you take the car, keep the doors locked, and only lower the window by a couple of inches for some fresh air.
  • Install a car alarm.
  • Don’t stop on the road (except for an official police roadblock), and don’t give lifts to strangers.
  • Ask any person who claims to be a policeman for their official ID.
  • Take public transport rather than walk at night or in unfamiliar areas, and opt for a taxi rather than buses or matutus.

What to Do in Case of an Emergency

  • If you should ever become the victim of a thief, burglar, or carjacker, don’t resist! Just hand over your valuables instead.
  • If you are involved in an accident, call the police immediately and wait until they arrive.
  • The general emergency number is 999. Additionally, make sure you also know the number of your nearest police station.
  • Register with your embassy as soon as you arrive. The bombing of the US embassy took place over 15 years ago, and the post-electoral violence in 2007 was a shock to a previously stable country. However, the sudden, drastic, and bloody attack by armed Al-Shabaab militia fighters on Westgate Shopping Mall in September 2013 showed that terrorism can take Nairobi by surprise. Please always check with your embassy on the current risk level of terrorist attacks, and don't forget about the registration. If there is any major incident, the consulate will know you may need their help or can at least contact your loved ones back home.
  • Regardless of whether or not you are registered, knowing your embassy’s contact details is highly recommended.

With all that advice, your expat life in Nairobi shouldn’t be too troublesome. If you need information on preparing for your move, especially on visas and permits, check out the guide on moving to Kenya.


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