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Kenya: Where to live

If you’re hoping to relocate to Kenya but not sure where to live, our helpful guide to the main cities could help.

Nairobi is the most popular destination for expats, mainly because most major companies are based there. The congestion on the roads can be horrendous, and as well as horns blaring, there’s a lot of hand gesticulation as well as shouting — a veritable cacophony. The city has a population of 4.410 million (March 2018) and is still growing. There are days when it feels as if the whole of that number are all out on the streets at the same time — Nairobi is a vibrant city. As well as expats from all corners of the world, representatives of all Kenyan ethnic groups have made Nairobi their home. However, this is a city of contrasts as 22% of the residents of Nairobi also live in abject poverty.

Most expats tend to live in the Karen or Westlands areas. Westlands is more diverse, and the United Nations is based there, and Karen is a bit more conservative and is populated by those families who’ve lived in Nairobi for many years.

The capital is also popular because of its cultural life and the numerous activities on offer. Western-style shopping malls can be found in the suburbs of Westlands and Gigiri. But if you only stick with the familiar you’ll be depriving yourself of the wonderful Kenyan occupation of haggling. No one ever pays the given price at one of the numerous markets, and if language is a problem, just hold up your fingers and stick to your price.

When the kids are bored, bundle them into the car and head out to the Marine Park at Malindi. It takes about nine hours to drive this distance from Nairobi, so you might be better off catching a plane for an hour’s flight between the two destinations. Malindi also boasts the added attractions of a snake park and a crocodile farm — perfect attractions for any age group.

The world-famous David Sheldrake baby Elephant and Rhino Trust is only a 50-minute drive from Nairobi. Here you can admire the work carried out by the trust in rescuing baby elephants that have become orphaned because of poaching.

You’ll be able to enjoy a huge range of food in Nairobi, including all of your favourites from back home, but part of the fun of living in a new destination is to savour some local tastes. Look out for ugali, a type of maize porridge that accompanies a local stew or a bowl of vegetables. Coconut rice is a popular accompaniment with a fish dish — just let its delicate aromas waft over the plate before you tuck in, it’s delicious. Kenyan stew is made from beef, goat or any other beast that’s to hand, combined with peppers, peas and potatoes and then the fabulous Kenyan mchuzi mix is added. Made from garlic, paprika cumin, coriander, fennel and cumin this delicious concoction is spicy and flavoursome.

Coastal living, Mombasa

With its tropical climate and beautiful beaches, Mombasa is Kenya’s 2nd city and is a magnet for expats. About 1.3 million live in Mombasa. Situated on the Indian Ocean and with an enviable tropical climate, and boasting miles of sandy beaches, this city can resemble heaven on earth. Energy, mining, the oil industry and manufacturing are just a few of the reasons behind Mombasa’s popularity. The tourism industry is another alternative for those looking to settle here. Life is slower here than in Nairobi, but this doesn’t mean that it’s any quieter.

Most expats tend to live on Mombasa Island, the city’s premier location. South Coast, North Coast and Mombasa mainland are all popular with the expat community. North Coast has a multitude of schools, banks and shops. South Coast is popular with those living on a budget. Anyone looking for work in Mombasa should consult job websites including Careers 24 and Brighter Monday.

Mombasa has a diverse population, but expats should be aware that dress is more conservative here as the city is predominantly Muslim. Women should cover their shoulders and not wander around the town in swimwear. As driving can be risky here, accidents are frequent, so it’s best that you hire a local driver to take you around Mombasa.

There’s plenty to do in the city, from running in a triathlon, enjoying the November carnival, or visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site of Fort Jesus. The Fort dates back to the 16th century and is renowned for its Arabic inscriptions, Swahili decorations and European graffiti. Built by the Portuguese and facing the Indian Ocean, you’ll be able to admire Omani jewellery, Chinese porcelain and finds from 42 sunken warships.

Nairobi and Mombasa are the cities with the highest number of work opportunities for expats and are the most popular. Kisumu is Kenya’s third largest city, and its atmosphere is far more laid back than that of either Mombasa or Nairobi. The town has an airport with good connections between Nairobi and the rest of Kenya.

Expats do work outside of these cities, especially if they are employed by a non-governmental organisation (NGO), where they might end up in a very remote region. Contact your embassy if you have any doubts about your work location and they’ll be able to help you.

Once you know where you’d like to live, the next step is finding a home. Read our article on renting and buying in Kenya.

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