There are practical things that come to mind when you ‘re planning your relocation to Nairobi or when you are already living here. I picked out a few questions many people ask me right of the bat when they hear about Nairobi. Let me give you my experience on a few of these.
Is it safe?
When I came to Nairobi first in 2009 shortly before we got married the advise from extend family and family friends was to be very cautious at all times. Drive with the windows up, don’t stop for anyone, don’t walk anywhere. Now here in all fairness I can see where it came from. It stems from the time 15 years ago when Nairobi was nicknames Nairobbery on the lists ranking it among the top 5 most dangerous cities in the world.
Many things have changed from those days. There is still crime (show me a place where there isn’t) and home invasions and car-jacking do happen but for daily life I drive everywhere, walk everywhere and talk to everyone. Some areas are absolutely safe for any person to go at any time of the day and evening. Westlands, Parklands,Lavington, Runda, Muthaiga, Gigiri and even down town has an active night-life that is quite accessible. Many more but this is where I generally move about.
Can I drive in Nairobi?
Traffic is a mess, it really is, and it is only getting more crowded on the road with more people having access to cars and the city constantly sprawling. When it comes to safety on the road I find that in the last 5 years it has cleaned up quite a bit, roads have been greatly improved, police presence is better organized and laws are enforced a little more. It still is required to be on the ball at all times. Overlapping, a term I had never heard in a traffic context before I moved to Kenya, is a common thing. Vehicles overtaking and showing up on your lane, cars taking side walks and the famous way of Matatus creating a third lane where there are two. You do not need a driver in Nairobi if you have a bit of experience.
What is there in Down town Nairobi?
Just called Town among the locals used to be a business centre mostly, heavily shrouded in smog and exhaust fumes. This has changed for the better and it features great coffee places, nice shopping experiences, Masai markets, tailors, you name it, it’s there. One way to find your way around is to join one of the Facebook shopping groups like Kilimani Mums (there are a bunch of these) and you can look for what is it you need or just browse the latest, get in touch with the buyers and make your way to town to see and buy. The best way to go there is by Matatu – the local privately owned taxi vans seating 11- since parking alone, like in cities the world over, is a lengthy and frustrating activity.
Is there any public transport and safe taxis?
The Matatu, get you anywhere faster than anyone, except maybe for the BodaBoda (motorbikes), due to their aggressive driving style. When ever I see a Matatu as a party in an accident I am quite surprised. Even though they take a few risks, the drivers are very skilled in doing so. On safety with Matatus, I wouldn’t get on a Matatu that is empty except for the driver and the tout or after dark. An article on a Kenyan Newspaper a few years back was outlining a few stories of Matatus in deplorable technical state doing routes at night due to the lack of government control in these hours.
Uber getting into Nairobi has sparked a few similar initiatives like LittleCabs (a Safaricom company) and TaxiChapchap
Can I get a cellphone plan in Kenya?
Can you!? O yes! If you are from Canada like me you are so going to love the cellphone plans in Nairobi. Kenya had, and maybe still has, the highest cellphone density in the world and it’s affordable. It’s pay as you go, reliable, affordable and everywhere available. Currently my phone usage is 10 USD at the most, mostly it’s more like 7 USD. I use a lot of data but even calling is very cheap. Phone credit can be bought in every store and on every corner at a kiosk. Even during busy traffic street vendors come by with Airtel and Safaricom phone credit. The one thing I never knew existed is the cell phone with opportunity for two SIM cards. Two lines, one phone.
Can I work in Kenya?
Kenyas immigration policies are detailed and lengthy. For spouses of locals it can be a long wait before they get a Residence permit particularly if you are male. Visitors that fall in love with the country and like to extend their stay can expect to have an even harder time getting any permits. Also take note that for unpaid volunteer work one needs a permit. There are opportunities for temporary work permits but that would make this answer too lengthy. Kenya is fast forwarding to one of the most convenient places to get your documents. The government wasn’t joking around when they said it would all be online because it is. When I needed to renew my papers last year I was in for a 2 hours of wait till I had my finger prints done. Now there is a neat ticket machine, following the numbers and smooth transition. 30 minutes after getting in, I was out with my receipt for my card to pick up 6 weeks later.
Can I find affordable places to go away for the weekend?
I know right, the prices of accommodation in Kenya can be quite hefty. And for a while when I was not a resident it blew me away to go somewhere. Every time after park fees (clocking in at 40-90 USD) there was a 200 USD a night hotel. But it doesn’t have to be that way. KWS has some superb bandas and houses in pristine locations. (Yep indeed a post is following) KWS places are hard to book around long weekends but you can get them if you are early. They are clean, have care takers and rangers close by to help you out and the great thing…..you are sometimes alone in the wild without tons of other tourist using their camera flash on wildlife at night (Noooooo! Don’t do that please) Here is a link http://www.kws.go.ke/where-to-stay. KWS will sort you out, their systems are organized and fast.