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Expatriate Experience

Expatriates in Kenya

The number of  expatriates in Kenya continues to grow but what does the term really mean anyway? The use of the word expatriate has different meanings to different people and its usage has changed a lot over recent years. An expatriate often abbreviated to 'expat' is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a  country  and  culture  other  than  that  of  the  person's  upbringing  or  legal  residence. In  certain  cases,  the word expatriate has specific implications for tax status and treatment and is seen as a sign of wealth and status.

While the number of expatriate migrants and officials from different embassies in Kenya today is hard to estimate, the number of cultural and educational institutions catering to their needs is a strong indicator of their presence. Around the capital, Nairobi, and elsewhere in the country, special institutions such as the German School, the Swedish School, the French School, the International School of Kenya and a handful of  British and  American preparatory schools  offer  different international  curriculums  for the children  of expatriates,  foreign migrants,  and  Kenyan  families  that  can  afford  it.  The  French  Cultural  Center  and Italian  Cultural  Center  offer  language  courses, art  exhibits,  performances,  and  other  activities  for  their nationals  as  well  as  Kenyans  in  Nairobi  and  at  different  branches around the  country.  Various  cultural festivals are also held in Kenya by numerous  embassies/chancellors to bring together people of different ethnicities and cultures.

Expatriates  working  in  Kenya  tend  to  be  either  highly  paid  managers  of  multinational  companies  like BASF, Coca Cola, PWC, or generally employees of NGOs like the UN, World Bank, Red Cross etc.  

When it comes to housing, expats from these companies generally look for houses which are completed to international  standards  and with  added  amenities.  To  some  extent  this  includes  basketball courts  and jogging  tracks.  This  therefore  demands  provision  of more  lavish  housing  facilities.  To  cash  in  on  this, developers and entrepreneurs  are putting  up  the  high-end  apartments  as  a market  response  to  the demand  for  luxury apartments  which  has  been influenced  by  expatriates  of  multinationals  that  are  choosing to  set  up  their regional or Africa offices in Nairobi. A good example would be The Le’mac apartments, a project for luxurious homes which targets wealthy home buyers  and  office renters, and  expatriates  on short  visits  to  Nairobi. It is  touted to be the tallest residential building in Nairobi.

An important  consideration  is  that  most  expat  accommodation  in  Kenya  is unfurnished.  Shipping furniture to Kenya can be a lengthy, expensive and maddening process, so it's often far easier to purchase furniture once settled in the country. However, this approach has its shortcomings as imported furniture is notoriously expensive and locally-made articles vary wildly in quality. The bottom line is that furnishing a house is another budgetary factor that demands serious consideration.

For the  expats  with  a generous  salary or a huge housing allowance,  there are a  few  options  in Nairobi’s most  exclusive  areas.  These include  neighborhoods  of Karen and Langata, simply  known  as  Karengata, offering high-class housing developments and plenty of amenities to well-to-do Kenyans and expatriates. Karen boasts  a private hospital, several  international schools, an upmarket shopping center, a golf  club, and close proximity to the beautiful Ngong Hills. 

However, the area  is  somewhat  isolated. Owning  a car is  essential for Karen residents. Langata, east of Karen, is slightly closer to the city center. This does not mean it’s full of urban hustle-bustle, though. On the  contrary,  it  houses  Nairobi’s  popular  Giraffe  Centre,  the Bomas  of  Kenya  tourist  village,  and  the entrance to the impressive Nairobi National Park.

Another  suburb  favored by the staff members of  various  embassies  and  UN  offices  is  Gigiri.  It includes the United Nations Complex, as well as the diplomatic missions of Canada and the United States. Owing to the heavy expat presence, several international schools and large shopping malls are within easy reach for those living in Gigiri.

Muthaiga, commonly known as the ‘Beverly Hills of Nairobi’  may be even more fashionable than Gigiri or Karengata .It is the home of well-heeled Kenyans, diplomats, and other expats. It is also home to two high-end  country  clubs.  Expats  with  kids  also appreciate  easy  access  to  some  international  schools especially the German School of Nairobi and Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital.

With reference  to ‘suitable’  posh  neighborhoods,  Riverside,Kileleshwa,  Lavington,  and  Loresho  offer great  comfort  and  luxury, are slightly more  affordable,  and  all  provide  access  to  private  clinics,  smart shopping facilities, and selected international schools.

Those  who prefer  a  busier  lifestyle  might  opt  for  neighborhoods  like  Hurlingham,  Kilimani,  or  parts  of Westlands. Westlands however, is becoming more and more of a business district, but the parts leading to Spring Valley still enjoy quiet residential streets.

If  you prefer  self-contained  neighborhoods,  perhaps  with  a  quasi-rural  flair,  Runda  and  Ridgeways  are good options. The Runda Estate is Kenya’s largest gated community, with top-notch security and a very active residents’ association. Ridgeways, on the other hand, is situated mostly within the Karura Forest. It is  the  former  home  of  Kenya’s  colonial  elite,  but  now  houses  wealthy  kenyan  residents and  well-paid diplomatic staff. Its main attraction is the luxurious Windsor Golf Club.

With regards to home security, most expat accommodation in Kenya has security measures in place or, if not,  they  can  easily  be installed.  A  typical  security  package  will include  stationed  guards  or night watchmen, motion-sensored outdoor lighting, burglar bars on the windows, panic buttons, and night-time intruder  alarms.  With these  measures  in  place,  many  expats  report  that  they  feel safe in  their  homes  in Kenya. Safer still are townhouse complexes. Known as  gated  communities, access to  individual units  is controlled by security  guards  at a boom  gate,  which  is  only  opened to allow residents  and  their  visitors come and go.

According to research there is high demand for out-of-hotel accommodation by business travelers and the number of business travelers is expected to increase as more expatriates come to Kenya, drawn by recent discoveries  of natural  resources  in  the  East  African  region. This article  helps  navigate briefly  through some  of  the  most  preferred  addresses  by expats  and  also  shine  a  light  on  areas  of potential  growth  for developers and entrepreneurs.