Nairobi Travel Information
Electrical current is 240 volts, 50Hz. UK-style square three-pin plugs are used.
English is the official language but Swahili is the national language, with 42 ethnic languages spoken.
Travellers should get the latest medical advice on inoculations and malaria prevention at least three weeks prior to departure. A malaria risk exists all year round in Kenya, but more around Mombasa and the lower coastal areas than in Nairobi and on the high central plateau. Immunisation against yellow fever, polio and typhoid are usually recommended. A yellow fever certificate is required by anyone arriving from an infected area. Other risks include diarrheal diseases. Protection against bites from sandflies, mosquitoes and tsetse flies is the best prevention against malaria and dengue fever, as well as other insect-borne diseases, including Rift Valley fever, sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and Chikungunya fever. Two cases of African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) were reported in early 2012 in travellers who had visited the Masai Mara National Reserve. AIDS is a serious problem in Kenya and the necessary precautions should be taken. Water is of variable quality and visitors are advised to drink bottled water. Cholera outbreaks occur frequently, and travellers should take care not to drink contaminated water and be cautious of food prepared by unlicensed roadside vendors. There are good medical facilities in Nairobi and Mombasa but health insurance is essential.
Tipping is not customary in Kenya, however a 10 percent 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. Note that on safari drivers, guides and cooks often rely heavily on tips to get by, but these are discretionary.
There is a high threat from Somali terrorist groups in Kenya and visitors should be vigilant in public places and tourist sites; several bombings have targeted Mombasa, Nairobi and other cities in recent years, most blamed on the Al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab group. Several governments have instituted travel warnings and alerts for parts of Kenya and travellers are advised to read up on the situation and which areas should be avoided before visiting the country.
Nairobi is notorious for robberies and muggings and visitors should be alert at all times, but particularly at night. Visitors should also be vigilant in Mombasa as there have been a number of recent knife attacks on tourists in the main south coast tourist areas of Diani and Ukunda.
There is a serious threat of banditry in the northern areas and travel is only advisable with an armed escort; recent armed attacks in resort areas of northern Kenya near the border of Somalia (especially Lamu Island) have occurred, including the kidnapping of foreign tourists, and several governments have advised against all but essential travel to coastal areas within 150km of the Somalian border, and inland areas within 60km of the border.
Piracy is also a concern off the coast of Kenya. As late as early 2012 there were incidents of attacks and hijackings of private vessels, though there have been no recent reports. Visitors should also take sensible precautions when driving; in particular, landmines have been used in attacks around Moyale, close to the main A2 road south. Vehicles crossing the border at this point should stay on the A2.
The taking of photographs of official buildings and embassies is not advised and could lead to detention. It is illegal to destroy Kenyan currency. The coastal towns are predominantly Muslim and religious customs and sensitivities should be respected, particularly during Ramadan; dress should be conservative away from the beaches and resorts, particularly for women. Homosexuality is against the law. Smoking in public places is illegal, other than in designated smoking areas, and violators will be fined or imprisoned.
Business in Kenya tends to be conducted formally and conservatively, with the appropriate formal attire of a jacket and tie. Patience, cultural sensitivity, tolerance for uncertainty, and the ability to build personal relationships with business associates are all central to successfully doing business in Kenya. Ethnic division and corruption undermine the Kenyan economy, but they are realities in the business world of Kenya. Despite red tape and numerous pitfalls, Kenya is a land of business opportunity and the IT and telecoms sectors are rapidly expanding. The concept of 'harambee' is important in business culture in Kenya: it involves a sense of community, responsibility and mutual assistance. Deference to seniority is important, as is social standing. Use of official titles is key during introductions and greetings.
Terse statements should be avoided and controlling one's emotions is vitally important. While punctuality is key and meetings should begin on time, they often don't end on time. When introducing a new deal, it is important to illustrate respect for tradition and history. Deals generally only close when it is clear that all the possible information has been considered and deliberated upon. Interpersonal relationships add to business success and understanding Kenyan culture and history is a great way of building business contacts. Building a solid business relationship is prioritised over meeting deadlines and closing deals.
English is the language of business. Business hours run from 9am to 5pm on weekdays and dress style should be formal with suits or smart-casual wear. Gifts are important and generally expected. Taking time to greet everyone and enquire about the health of their family will ensure a smooth business meeting. Respect for elders is important and if you are invited to dinner, never begin eating until the eldest member has started. Also, refrain from leaving food on your plate. In introductions, clasping an elder or key business associate's wrist with your other hand while shaking hands conveys respect.
The international access code for Kenya is +254. Hotels usually add a hefty surcharge to their telephone bills; it is less expensive to either call from one of the international phone services, which are available in larger towns, or buy a pre-paid calling card for use in public telephone booths. For international operator-assisted calls dial 0196. All major urban areas are covered by the mobile network; the local mobile phone operators use GSM networks that have roaming agreements with most international mobile phone operators. Internet cafes are widely available in most towns and tourist areas.
Travellers to Kenya over 16 years do not have to pay duty on 227g tobacco or 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars; 1 bottle of alcohol; and 473ml perfume. Prohibited items include fruit, imitation firearms, and children's toys pistols. No plants may be brought into the country without a Plant Import Permit (PIP).
Become our Nairobi Travel Expert
We are looking for contributors for our Nairobi travel guide. If you are a local, a regular traveller to Nairobi or a travel professional with time to contribute and answer occasional forum questions, please contact us.