Kenya Cost of Living: Expatriate Cultural Tips, Risk Rating, Tipping and More…

Kenya cost of living


Kenya is a country of diversity, where within its borders are you will find the rich savannahs where big game roam, where cultures are unchanged by the modern world, pristine beaches and coral reefs stretch the coastline, equatorial forests and mighty snow-capped mountains can be found in contrast to the searing deserts and cool highlands.

Kenya can be found in the Eastern part of Africa, bordering the Indian Ocean, between Somalia and Tanzania.

And although known for its African Safari Tourism, if you are travelling there or deciding to become an expat, here are some pointers on safety and culture.

  • Kenya’s overall risk rating is MEDIUM
  • It is HIGH for Nairobi, as well as the Northern Districts of the Rift Valley (north-west of Isiolo), North-Eastern districts (north-east of Isiolo), Coastal areas (north of Malindi) and North-Eastern provinces.
  • EXTREME TRAVEL RISKS  are issued for the remote border regions with Somalia in the North-Eastern province.
  • Road safety, crime and terrorism are the greatest risks to foreigners, while violent and petty crime poses the most significant security risk in urban centres, especially the capital Nairobi, where local police protection is inadequate.
  • The risk of unrest increases during national political events, including elections and national referenda and these threats increase when they are spontaneous or orchestrated and lead to rioting.
  • When there is political unrest security crackdowns become heavy handed, there are vigilante roadblocks and possible increases in opportunistic crime. Foreigners are likely to be at risk of exposure to incidental violence.
  • Inter-communal unrest can be triggered by political developments related to the status of Islam in Kenyan society. Al Shabab, the Somalia-based Islamist terrorist group, has threatened attacks against Kenya.
  • Concerning is the capacity of the security forces to deal with terrorist threats, despite the authorities’ close co-operation with international anti-terrorism efforts.

General Tips

  • Introductions in Kenya are formal, eye contact is an important way to establish trust and staring is not considered rude.
  • Pointing and counting on fingers can be considered impolite.
  • Ask permission before photographing Kenyans and do not photograph the military, police, official buildings or embassies, as you may be detained.
  • Smoking in public places is illegal, other than in designated smoking areas, violators may be fined or imprisoned.
  • Before and after eating a meal, people are expected to wash their hands in a bowl located to the left of the table.
  • Use the right hand or both hands when receiving or giving an item to another person, the use of the left hand alone is considered rude.
  • Kenya does not have any strict dress code, but the coastal regions have a significant Muslim population and modest dress is advised, particularly in Mombasa. Women do not wear sleeveless dresses or blouses and shorts are only worn by children, elderly men and tourists.
  • Public displays of affection are considered unacceptable.
  • Homosexual activity is punishable with up to 14 years in prison. Homosexual personnel are advised to exercise discretion to avoid any unwanted attention or even deportation, though they are unlikely to be imprisoned.
  • Kenyans are proud of their national products, such as food and local meats, as well as their cultural heritage.

Business Tips

  • Business in Kenya tends to be conducted formally and conservatively.
  • Business dress is formal, lightweight suits are most commonly worn, with a jacket and tie.
  • Handshakes are the customary form of greeting upon both business introductions and departures.
  • Offices and businesses generally close at least an hour for lunch.
  • Make appointments in advance.
  • Punctuality is important, even though your host may be late.
  • The pace of business may be slow, be patient and expect delays.
  • Most business is conducted in English and business cards are customarily exchanged.


  • Female travellers should be alert to the increased risks and adopt sensible security precautions as a routine measure, due to the high level of abduction and rape.
  • The majority of attacks are conducted at night against lone female travellers in dark streets and beach areas, unauthorised taxis or in the vicinity of nightlife areas. Remain vigilant in such areas and endeavour to book your taxis through the hotel or a trusted local third party.
  • Female travellers are advised to prioritise security concerns when selecting accommodation. Lone females relocating for the medium-to-long term should reside in a secure complex where possible.
  • Adopt sensible pedestrian security measures; avoid walking unattended in isolated areas and desist from walking outside of secure locations after dark.
  • Avoid giving away personal information to unfamiliar people, including full name, contact details and any address where you might be staying, visiting or working.
  • Be particularly alert in restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Never leave a drink unattended or accept drinks from strangers.

Tipping is not customary in Kenya, however a 10% service charge may be added to the bill in more upmarket restaurants. Otherwise small change in local currency may be offered to taxi drivers, porters and waiters. However, on safari, drivers, guides and cooks often rely heavily on tips, but these are discretionary.

Working Week

  • Business hours Monday to Friday :09.00 to 13.00 and 14.00 to 17.00
  • Some businesses close on Fridays and Saturdays
  • Banking hours Monday-Friday: 09.00-15.00 provides up-to-date cost of living data for over 700 locations worldwide, employers and employees can calculate how much is needed to earn in another location to have a similar spending power. Steven McManus is a Remuneration and Benefits Consultant and founder of

About Xpatulator is a website that provides international cost of living information and calculators that can help you determine cost of living indexes, cost of living allowances, salary purchasing power and international assignment packages to compensate for cost of living, hardship, and exchange rate differences.
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