This article was first written in March 2021. Since then, many things have changed. I am leaving most of the content as-is, since this entry is a diary of some sort.
Living in Kenya since August 2020 has been a wonderful adventure so far. I’ve finally figured out a routine that keeps me grounded. I feel less like a tourist and more like a resident and I’d love to share more about my day-to-day life here.
Before I dive in, I’d like to say that this post is not a “how-to-relocate” manual – at least not one that you might find useful. However, you might get a sense of what working and living here as a Nigerian expat is like.
Moving to Kenya (for Work)
What's Covered in this Post
Living in Kenya: Moving to Kenya (for Work)
As with many countries, including Nigeria, getting work as a foreigner can be quite difficult and expensive. If one is applying to or being transferred by an organization here, the burden falls on the employer to justify the foreign hire. The employer has to sponsor your work permit, special, and dependent passes where necessary.
The fee for a work permit can be quite steep, so unless there’s a unique value that you’re offering, many companies would not overlook a Kenyan National for a foreign hire. Some might offer employment if the potential employee agrees to cover the fees themselves.
In our cases, we were already employed by our organizations in their Nigerian locations and our work permits in Kenya were sponsored when we got transferred. If your company has an office in another country, getting transferred is one of the easiest (and least costly) ways to move.
Daily Life of a Nigerian in Nairobi
When I think about my daily life in Lagos, it involved commuting to work and to Mark’s place, oftentimes sitting in long traffic, the occasional stop for dinner or suya (grilled meat) at The Place or Bukka Hut, visiting my parents, running errands or hanging out on Saturdays and going to church on Sundays.
In Nairobi, my daily life is not vastly different but there are several changes that have made significant improvements to the overall quality of life. For example, here, electricity is 99% constant (our rental has an inverter for the very rare power cuts), the weather is perfect on most days and WIFI is fast and reliable, making working from home a delight.
My home is a walking distance to my office but I haven’t had to go in due to the pandemic. This means that I haven’t had to deal with daily traffic in Nairobi. The longest time I’ve sat in traffic was on my way to catch the SGR from Nairobi to Mombasa. Even that was nothing compared to the worst of Lagos.
I am only just beginning to figure out where my favourite spots are, I attend church online and on the weekends, we try to plan an outing outside the city. When we aren’t travelling, we arrange calls with our families or just hang out.
Basically, it’s been a much calmer and stress-free life since we moved and except for the construction noises that surround us, the environment is quiet and peaceful. I really do love living here.
Here are a few more things that make me excited about doing so. Some of them might seem basic, but I have lived in Nigeria long enough to feel grateful for the simplest things…
Living in Kenya: These are a Few of My Favourite Things…
The Weather: When we first arrived in Nairobi, it was quite cold but not miserably so. Over time, I have gotten used to the cooler climate and fallen in love with it. Most days are beautifully sunny and cool, some days are hot but not humid but generally, the weather is wonderful.
Edit: I just realized that I didn’t get used to the weather, it just got warmer! Now back to the colder parts of the year and I am freezing!
Things to do in the City: I love that Nairobi has a lot of fun things to do within the city. It is still astounding to me that there is a wildlife park right in the middle of it! We’ve been taking our time to explore the attractions here and it’s been great fun!
M-PESA (Mobile Money): M-PESA is a mobile phone-based money transfer service and practically every individual and business here has it. It is fast, reliable and very convenient. With it, I don’t have to carry cash anywhere.
WIFI: Every month, we pay 3999 Ksh (now 5,200) for unlimited WIFI. As in real unlimited – not the one with a 100 GB cap (looking at you, Spectranet). It is very fast and reliable and that sort of amenity you didn’t know you wanted but absolutely needed.
City Getaways: Perhaps my favourite thing about living in Kenya is the opportunity to travel outside the city of Nairobi. From wildlife safaris to white-sand beaches to hikes in the most gorgeous terrains, there’s everything to love about this beautiful country.
Customer Service: The other day, I had to return an item we bought from Carrefour. I didn’t even realize the mental strain and PTSD I had internalized from shopping in Lagos until I got to the counter. As you might have guessed, that transaction went on smoothly. I got refunded for the item, no questions asked. The packaging had a small tear on the side from when we tried to take the content out and I was so sure that would be a basis for refusal but it was no problem at all. Generally, customer service here has been much better than I have previously experienced.
Timing & Traffic Situations: I am still surprised when I join tours that give a timeline on when we’d arrive at a place and we arrive at the said time! It’s so much easier to plan trips and travel within the country.
The Nairobi Food Scene: I haven’t explored much of the Kenyan cuisine. We’ve mostly made our dishes or eaten out. There are several lovely restaurants here and eating out is something I’ve come to enjoy immensely. I just need to remember to keep our early retirement plans in mind!
My Favourite Restaurants in Nairobi So Far:
- Talisman: Restaurant in Karen
- Tin Roof Café: Restaurant in Karen & Langata
- About Thyme: Restaurant in Westlands
- Honey & Dough: Restaurant in Westlands
- Java House / Artcaffe Coffee & Bakery: Coffee houses around Kenya that I love to visit for their Cookies & Cream Milkshake
- Ankole Grill
- Kitchenette Bistro and Pot of Jollof: I have had Nigerian dishes from Mama Ashanti (possibly the most popular West African Restaurant here) and La Palanka (I do not recommend) but Kitchenette Bistro stands out as the most authentic Nigerian food place for me.
- Wok on Wheels: an affordable Chinese restaurant we often order from.
PS: Uber Eats, Glovo and Jumia Foods are the services we use to order food or groceries.
Cost of Living in Kenya (Nairobi) vs Lagos – Based on When I first moved to Nairobi from Nigeria
I find the cost of living in Nairobi to be significantly higher than in Lagos. This survey conducted in 2020 by Mercer does not support this thought. It ranks Lagos as the 18th most expensive city for expats to live in and Nairobi as the 95th. The ranking is based on factors such as currency fluctuations, inflation and instability of accommodation prices.
I guess it makes sense to feel like the cost of living in Lagos is less than in Nairobi, after all, I was not an expat there, I had more insights into local businesses and I lived with my family until I got married. In any case, here are some price details to put the cost of living here into perspective.
|Average Amount in Kenyan Shillings
(₦1 = 0.29 /-)
|Rent (2 Bedroom Apartment in Westlands) i.e. VI, Lekki equivalent
|90,000 – 200,000 pm
|Transportation Costs: Uber/Taxify rides
|~50/- per km
|Mobile Phone Data Bundle (600 mins+12GB+Whatsapp+2000 SMS)
Several things here are much more pricey than in Lagos. For example, buying a car is ridiculously expensive. The good thing is that most vehicles have good resale value, especially if you take care of them. Generally, locally made or grown products are cheap while anything that’s imported is pricey.
Update 2024: This is no longer the case. Friends and family in Nigeria tell me that the cost of living in Nigeria has become exponentially higher.
Living in Kenya: What I Miss About Nigeria
Apart from my family and friends, the thing I miss most about Nigeria is the food. I miss the mid-range restaurant options. In Lagos, you have the ‘mama-put joints’ on the side of the road and the high-end restaurants in Victoria Island, Lekki and Ikoyi but right there in the middle, you have the ‘The Place’ and ‘Bukka-Hut’ type restaurants that serve great Nigerian foods at a reasonable price, in a nice clean environment. I miss that.
I miss Sooyah Bistro’s suya, Tastee Fried Chicken’s doughnuts, Mr Bigg’s meat pie and chicken and the small chops stalls outside my church… sigh
I also miss being able to drive and the freedom that comes with such mobility. Kenyans drive on the left and I don’t think I’ll ever get confident enough to navigate the roads.
I am still settling into life in Kenya. I still don’t know where to braid my hair or where I can buy (Nigerian) yams from. I struggle with my identity and purpose sometimes, I am trying to make new friends here but realizing that I am too introverted to sustain real-life friendships and I am too content with Mark’s company. It is at times like this, that I miss the forwardness and intentionality of Nigerians…
I am still struggling to learn to speak Swahili fluently. I feel like it would greatly improve my experience here but it’s not been as easy to learn as I envisioned and I have not been very motivated since everyone speaks English.
Nevertheless, living in Kenya has been so much better than I ever imagined. I’m glad we moved here and I’m looking forward to all the wonderful adventures the country has to offer!
Update on hair salon: I finally got out of the house and walked down the street to a hair salon close by. The funny thing is that I’ve passed by this place so many times and yes, there is a giant sign outside it – which I have also seen multiple times. It just didn’t stick until Mark mentioned it again. Anyway, until I find somewhere cheaper, this one would be my go-to.
Are you a Nigerian living in Kenya? I have a serious question for you. Where can I buy yams from?!
For my other readers: what else would you like to know about living in Kenya? Let me know in the comment section below!