Kenya is a land of extremes: of safari and sea, the second-highest mountain in Africa and the longest rift on earth, of snowy peaks and tropical equatorial rainforests. Much like its geography, life in Kenya is equally diverse, rich juxtaposed with poor, cheap goods sitting alongside expensive brands. But, what is the cost of living in Nairobi?
As a general rule of thumb, if it can be made in Kenya, it is cheap, and if it’s imported, it is expensive. Fruit, veg, local meat, staff are very reasonable. Holidays, wine, eating out, imported goods, electronics, clothes are all expensive. But this is Africa, and so the cost of living for a month in Kenya is far from black and white. It depends on who you are and what your requirements are.
Many Kenyans get by on as little as 300 USD a month or less, but they live below the poverty line. They reside in one-room homes, often sharing the room with a whole family; they eat locally grown products: tomatoes, onions, and a green called sukumawiki. Clothes come from Mutumba. These are markets held all over Kenya where second-hand clothes are sold or donated by the wealthy countries to Kenya; they are then purchased in batches and sold on market stalls, thus creating a livelihood for many and cheap clothing for others.
On the twist of the cost of living in Nairobi is that some Kenyans are obscenely wealthy. Owners of vast tracts of land which allow them to operate hotels or safari companies that can charge tourists up to 10,000 USD a night. These people may own several houses all over the world, drive around in half million-dollar cars, and wear the finest, most expensive designer clothes.
The expats in Kenya sit in the middle; fat packages often include housing, schools, flights, and cars, leaving their salaries for drinking, dancing and holidays. But we aren’t the landowners, we are the merry-makers, and we sit firmly in our place in the hierarchy of wealth in Kenya.
To discuss the cost of living in Kenya, I’m going to share how much my social circle spend, which is roughly the price range a tourist to Kenya would expect to pay.
Cost of Accommodation in Nairobi
The cost of renting a house within a decent expat area in Nairobi such as Karen, Westlands, Lavington, or Gigiri is as follows:
Large 4/5 bed house Karen area with security, garden, and possibly a pool $3500 pcm
Medium 2/3 bed house Karen area with garden $2000
Apartment (1 bedroom) Karen area: $700 pcm
Apartment (1 bedroom) in city centre $800 pcm
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in city centre $2000
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Karen area $1500
Cost of Utilities in Nairobi
Another thing to consider about the cost of living in Nairobi is the cost of utilities. The cost of utilities in Kenya depends on how large your house is. Expat homes are usually large; they run electric fences, swimming pools, and quarters for staff, so electricity, so if you plan to rent a palace, be sure that you have deep pockets. For running a medium-sized three bedroom home, you can expect to pay:
Electricity: $150 pcm
Water: $100 pcm
DSTV Premium package: $80
Ultimate Security (armed response team) :$100 pcm
Mobile phone: buy data bundle 1 month (5G or 34000 sec or 5100 SMS): $15 pcm
Internet (60 Mbps or More, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL): $50 pcm
Cost of Schools in Nairobi
The cost of sending a child to school in Kenya depends on your expectations for schooling. A local Kenyan school can be as little as 100 USD a month, but as an international expat to Kenya, you may prefer to send your child to an international school with a curriculum similar to that of your home country.
· The cost of schools in Kenya are as follows:
· Cost of one child at an International school in pre-K (The Banda School) USD 900 pcm
· Cost of one child at an International school in primary (The Banda School) USD 1500 pcm
· Cost of one child at an International school in secondary (Hillcrest) USD 2000 pcm
· Cost of one child at a local school in pre-K (Nairobi Academy) USD 350 pcm
· Cost of one child at a local school in primary (Nairobi Academy) USD 600 pcm
· Cost of one child at a local school in secondary (Nairobi Academy) USD 750 pcm
How Much do Restaurants and Food Cost in Nairobi?
Eating out can contribute a lot to the cost of living in Nairobi. Restaurants range from local Nyama Choma joints to fabulous 5-star fine dining establishments. You can eat in local restaurants for just a couple of dollars, but unlike the street food in Asia, you will sacrifice on both taste and quality. The high-end dining restaurants offer excellent food – on average, a starter ranges from $8 – $15, a main from $15 – 30, and a bottle of wine from $30 -$70.
A comparison of food prices is below – Kenya has no McDonalds so we can’t do the standard McDonalds comparison but the price of a Burger King Whopper, which would be seen as an extravagant meal out to most Kenyans, is USD 7.50 compared to USD 4.00 in the United States.
Imported Beer (0.33-litre bottle): $ 2.50
Cappuccino (regular): $2.50
Small bottle of water: $.40
Milk 1 litre: $1.00
Loaf of Fresh White Bread: $1.00
Eggs (12): $2.00
Local Cheese: $8.00
Chicken Breasts (500g): $6.50
Apples (1kg): $3.00
Bottle of Wine (Cheap): $.12.00
Medical Expenses in Nairobi
There are lots of ways to get sick in Kenya, especially if you are new here, and medical expenses can have a big impact on the cost of living in Nairobi. The water can cause tummy upsets, matatus (buses) are a law unto themselves, and let’s not get started on what wants to eat you on safari. The first rule of coming to Kenya is to get medical insurance. You can opt for a hospital only cover, which ranges from 2000 USD for a family of 5 a year to all bells and whistles BUPA extravaganza, which covers you for everything but will set a family of 5 back 25,000 USD a year.
Hospital costs can be exorbitant, and I strongly recommend you are covered for the hospital, but day to day medical expenses are manageable.
Visit the doctors: $ 40
Dental check-up and clean $50
Cost of antibiotics: $20
Basic blood test $20
Transport Around Nairobi
The cities in Kenya don’t have trams or subways like many other cities. They rely on a network of buses called matatus. These graffitied vehicles are driven by maniac drivers with a death wish and so usually only used by locals. There is no timetable, people hop on and off seemingly at will, and after three years here, I am yet to figure where a bus stop is or what destination a matatu is headed too. The matatus are very cheap, but an even cheaper option is the Boda Boda (motorbike taxis), which will run you short distances and which you can flag down in the street.
Expats and tourists usually hire a driver or buy their own car to get around the cities. A driver with a car can be hired for as little as 30 USD a day, and it is worth every penny to save the stress of driving yourself around.
Long-distance the best way to travel is by a tour guide, your own car or plane. Kenya has a decent network of well-run airplanes that fly between the major cities. Flights rarely cost more than USD 50 – 70 one way. There is also the brand new, clean, and cheap SGR train, which goes from Nairobi to Mombasa, stopping at various destinations in between – a very good option for travelling to the coast and only costs $10 second class or $30 for first class.
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Vacationing in Kenya
There are two ways to vacation in Kenya: Safari or the seaside and both can be done cheaply or expensively. Kenya has some of the best safari destinations in the world: the Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo, Ol Pejeta, and Mount Kenya, and within these parks are lodges that cost from 200 USD for a basic tented camp to 10,000 USD a night for all-inclusive utter luxury.
You can also choose to camp, which will set you back just USD 10 a night. Cheap, fun, and hair raising scary.
The Kenyan coast is the stuff tropical dreams are made of, white sand beaches stretching to the turquoise sea, palm trees bending under the weight of coconuts and camels meandering through flowering bushes. Accommodation is expensive there though, so the beaches are never too full. A night in a 5-star hotel can set you back 500 USD per person, but most people choose to rent villas. A large villa on the beach that could fit two families ranges around USD 400 a night. The villas usually come with a full complement of staff, including a cook.
The accommodation may set you back a bit but reaching the coast is cheap using the airlines or trains. With a cook as part of your package, your biggest expenditure will be supermarket bills, and fresh fish bought daily from the fishermen on your beach.
Entertainment in Nairobi
What you do in you leisure time can have a big impact on the cost of living in Nairobi, but here isn’t loads to do in the way of entertainment here. There are a couple of big malls but with few recognizable brands. There are a few cinemas and some restaurants. In Nairobi, there is now a trampoline park and a soft play, but just a couple in the whole city. There are no real concert venues, not much in the way of international sports that you can watch. Kenyan’s keep it simple; they go out to eat, or BBQ at home or go on safari.
Fitness Club 1 hour class: $ 10
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend): $6.50
Cinema, International Release: $7
Soft Play: $ 5
Trampoline Park: $10
This post was written by Nadine Murphy who writes for The Expat Mummy, a Kenyan focused travel and expat blog. Her aim is to help travelers to Kenya find their way around this stunning but utterly confusing country, and to highlight both popular and off the beaten path destinations. You can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.