Working in Nairobi?
Expat Employment in Nairobi
Fields of Employment
Many expats working in Nairobi are employed as embassy staff or as foreign assignees in multinational companies. Global players like BASF, Google, Heineken, and Toyota send experts and management staff on intra-company transfers to their East African headquarters.
Expatriates may also find employment in certain other fields. At times, this can implicitly depend on their ethnicity and nationality. For instance, the executive staff of a few companies in horticulture, finance, and travel seems like a relic from the colonial period, with upper management still being mostly white Kenyans.
Nairobi’s large South Asian community, on the other hand, could provide business contacts and opportunities for expatriates from India and Pakistan. Indian IT companies are active in Kenya’s flourishing and highly competitive ICT market. Bharti Airtel from New Delhi, the world’s fourth-largest mobile provider, operates in 17 African nations, with almost eight million customers in Kenya alone — making up for 25% of the market.
Expats interested in working here should also consider the chambers of commerce of Kenya’s trading partners as starting points for their job search. The main imports come from the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, UAE), and South and East Asia (China, India, Japan). Leading export partners outside Africa are, among others, the Netherlands, the UK, and the USA. Most leisure tourists arrive from the USA and Europe (Germany, Italy, UK), though increasingly more are coming from Asia and the Middle East. If you know the export business or the tourism industry of these countries really well, your expertise might be welcome.
The Role of IGOs and NGOs in Nairobi
A large number of expatriates work for an IGO or NGO in Nairobi. Kenya serves as the administrative center and base of operations for aid organizations in East Africa, especially for matters related to Somalia and Sudan.
The most important IGO in Nairobi is the United Nations. The UN maintains offices in the CBD and in a large complex in Gigiri, near the Canadian High Commission and the new US embassy. These buildings house aid schemes like the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), the UNHCR (refugee agency), the World Food Programme for Somalia, and the World Health Organization.
The United Nations employs over 3,000 people in Kenya, 2,000 of whom work in Nairobi. About 30% of the UN staff is made up of foreign residents, so around 900 members of Nairobi’s expat community are directly employed by the United Nations, and many more are indirectly affiliated.
Other organizations employ expatriates, too. The World Bank office in Kenya — to cite just one example — was headed by a Dutch national until May 2013 when he was replaced by a new country director from Senegal.
IGOs and NGOs do not only provide jobs to expats and locals alike. They are also a major source of foreign currency for Kenya.
What You Need to Know about Work Permits
Before starting your new job in Nairobi, you need to have a work permit together with your visa. As soon as you have a confirmed job offer, your employer applies directly to the Department of Immigration in Nairobi on your behalf. Apart from providing the necessary documents, you will not be involved much — or at all — in this process. However, you should still know some key facts about work permits for Kenya.
Combined work and resident permits are often called “passes”, and they come in a variety of categories. Class D applies to regular employees, foreign assignees, expats on intra-company transfers, as well as UN aid workers and employees of similar humanitarian organizations. Please note that you always need a work permit for Kenya, even if you want to work as an unpaid intern or volunteer with a local NGO.
When recruiting an expat, the company does not only need to prove that there was no suitable local candidate available for the position, they also have to train a Kenyan employee on the job, so that he or she could theoretically take over when the expat leaves.
Be Ready for Immigration Struggles
Apart from the rules above, there have been a number of proposed and partially implemented changes to Kenya’s immigration laws since Jane Waikenda became the Director of Immigration in 2013 and Gordon Kihalangwa took over the position in 2014. Some of these are beneficial and aim to reduce corruption within the department, others, however, are aimed at hindering immigration to Kenya.
Given the lack of transparency at the moment and a lot of conflicting information (between press-statements and government websites), talking to your closet Kenyan embassy is highly recommended in order to get accurate, up-to-date details.
According to recent changes in Kenya’s immigration laws, no more class A work permits will be issued to people under 35 who earn 24,000 USD a year or less. This should not affect most skilled expatriates moving to Nairobi as expat salaries for Kenya are normally more generous.
It has been suggested that certain kinds of self-employed professionals, e.g. doctors and lawyers, can no longer obtain work permits for Kenya. People with these qualifications need to opt for regular employment or enter a joint venture with Kenyan partners.
Work permits are issued for two years, and may not be renewed; the idea being that the Kenyan trainee then takes over the expat’s job (according to statements made by Waikenda in late 2013). More information on visas and work permits can be found in our Moving to Kenya Country Guide.
As some of the above measures were introduced not too long ago, it remains unclear how serious an impact this will have on expat assignments and general job prospects. Some multinationals and foreign investors have already voiced complaints on the increased difficulty in getting work permits for foreign employees.
If you have any further questions on this topic, contact the nearest Kenyan mission or the Department of Immigration. Enquiries can be made to:
Department of Immigration Services
P. O. Box 30191 – 00100
+254 (0) 20-2222022
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.