Congratulations! You got the job offer! You scored that coveted internship! Your partners landed a role in Nairobi and you are coming along too! You are about to start your own company in Kenya!
Whatever the reason you are now on your way, your offer is in the bag and your flights are booked. You’ve sorted out your accommodation by finding an amazing resource online *cough cough* and you are now standing in your bedroom, at home, scratching your head, thinking what the flip do I pack??
Nairobi is a funny one because although it’s the capital of a country that is famed for its sunny hot climate, the city is actually 1,795 metres above sea level. This means it can get pretty chilly in the evenings and winter months. In addition, Nairobi has shifting weather patterns flowing in from the Rift Valley, meaning there are wet seasons during the winter months and extremely hot spells in the summer. Therefore you’ll need a good mix of clothes to combat whatever the weather might throw at you. I would write down the rainy seasons which traditionally run May through to August but in recent years and sadly with climate change, the raining has become far more sporadic causing wide spread droughts across Kenya.
In addition, there are so many outdoor and sports activities here and expats often regret not bringing along their rackets, cycling shorts or climbing shoes. Although you can buy these items in Kenya, import duty is extremely high and you’ll be shocked at the price of new items in the malls (I paid $25 for 5 pairs of socks from Woolworths…think of all the cheese you could have bought). With this in mind, I thought I’d compile a list, with the good help of my friend Jane D. a recent expat arrival in the last 6 months who inspired this post after I asked her what she wanted to see on this blog. We agreed it would be great to have a list of of all the things we wished we had brought with us to Nairobi. Hopefully this will help you filter through if you should pack all those scarves or actually stick your beloved horse riding boots in your bag…
Packing for Everyday Life
As mentioned above, Nairobi has alternating weather and not everyday is sunny and clear. Therefore I’d recommend packing some items you may have not considered:
- A good water bottle. Stay hydrated when its hot and remember you can’t drink the tap water here so pack a bottle for your commute to/from work and to have in the office to stay hydrated. I love Sho Water Bottles as they are vacuum sealed keeping drinks super cold and super hot. They have tight seals so no spillages in your backpack either.
- An umbrella and a good water proof coat – it gets really wet in the rainy season (May – August)
- Covered shoes – Nairobi can get very dusty and muddy and the pavements can sort of end at any given moment, so I wouldn’t recommend flip flops when walking around the city. Get good comfy shoes if you are planning to walk to work and leave a spare pair at the office if you don’t want dirty shoes all day.
- Fleeces and Jumpers – it gets chilly during those sundowner drinks or early morning sunrise climbs
- A wireless mouse – Jane D. who inspired this blog recommended a mouse if you are working in an office from a laptop. She suggested this so you don’t get strained using a track pad all day. I recommend buying before you travel as these tend to be expensive in Kenya.
- Remember to pack for your kids too – stores like Babyshop which stock all things baby/toddler are all over Nairobi but are painfully expensive. I bought a colleague a little outfit for her new born baby and it set me back $47…
Packing for Homely Touches
Your new place is exciting but sometimes you want it to have little elements of home too:
- Boardgames/Cards/Uno/Jenga etc. – bring a game from home! It’s a fun way to bond with your flatmates and cards are great for overnight trips up to Naivasha or the coast. Having a specific game from your country it a nice way to bond with your new friends. I played Jenga with a Kenyan colleague during a work trip and it helped bring a work-culture balance to our relationship; We played Kubb, a Scandinavia game at the coast and it was a fun way to be outdoors and get to know others in our group.
- Pictures from Home – I wish I had brought photos of friends/family from home as homesickness can really hit you at anytime! Luckily there are photo print shops everywhere in Nairobi, but sometimes its nice to bring some along. Also photo frames here – insanely expensive ($20 for a frame?!)
- Duvet and Pillow Cases – OMG these are SO expensive in Nairobi, I paid $30 for a basic bed sheet. I recommend packing your own from home or if you can’t fit it, bring your favourite blanket/pillow cases as it’ll save you a bit of cash and again a nice reminder of home
- Candles – I love candles, and they make everything feel really homely. I have found it hard to find nice brands/non sickly smelling in Kenya and I wish I’d packed some from home. If you are reading and have found good ones here please reach out to me! I’d love to buy Made In Kenya candles. N.B. I asked for suggestions and you guys did not disappoint! Langata Link in Karen sell candles made in Nairobi, horay!
- Fairy lights – they make everything better. Again hard to find in Kenya except around Christmas and tend to be expensive/poor quality.
- Your favourite cosmetic brands – deodorant, hair gel, shampoo, make up etc. all super expensive in Kenya – do a big stock up of your fave brands before coming out to Kenya.
- Hairdryer/hair straighteners/curlers – expensive and hard to find in Nairobi!
- Power converter – unless you are coming from the UK (we have the same plugs as Kenya) and power cord extenders so you don’t have to buy lots of individual plugs.
- Kitchen items – if you are super into cooking you’ll find the cost of kitchen equipment here silly. If you are coming from the states, pack a decent Cups measuring set and also funny small things I found expensive here: potato peeler/pastry brush etc… but this depends how into cooking you are to be honest…
- If you have kids, pack items like clothes/toys/books etc from home as again hard to find and expensive here as well. Even if they grow out of them quickly it’ll save you hassle in the beginning and there are lots of great charities you can donate to afterwards.
If you forgot something, do not worry. There are of course shops you can go to but the quality and price can be different from home. My top suggestions are: House of Leather (the equivalent of Kenya’s Dollar/Pound Store) in various locations including Kilimani, CBD and Westlands (Kenrail Towers), Mr Price Home: Sarit Centre Westlands and Yaya Centre Kilimani (South African brand – very expensive for bedroom items but has everything under one roof and kitchen things are not too highly priced), Chandarana (mainly sells groceries BUT the Diamond Plaza Parklands branch has an amazing homeware isle that sells plates, cups, baking items etc), Carrefore (Two Rivers and The Hub have good homeware selection that aren’t too pricey). I’d also recommend trawling Nairobi Expat Marketplace on Facebook as Expats leave all the time and sell items from time to time that you may be after. We’ve bought chest of drawers, laundry baskets etc. from here but you’ll need to arrange pick up etc yourself so try to look for people selling items in your area.
N.B. Furniture is insanely expensive here! And also hard to find one centralised store that sells everything like Ikea. I am writing a follow up article about furniture so do not despair, it is possible to find the things you need in Nairobi – you just need patience and a bigger budget than you were expecting…
Packing for the Great Outdoors
Outdoors/Hiking things – if you love the great outdoors then there are endless hikes in Kenya – 1 day, overnight and week long treks you can do from Nairobi and further a field. Also the below items are super handy when you have friends come to stay at your place:
- Sleeping bag, liner, sleeping mat, hiking boots, hiking socks, tent (nothing too fancy, unless you are keen to get up Mount Kenya in which case you can rent these from proper expedition companies), day pack and rucksack and dryliner for rucksack.
- Pick and choose what you like from this list depending on your commitment and love of hiking, but if you are seriously into it then buy these goods in your home country as they are super expensive in Kenya.
- You might want to consider a little cooking camper set and proper Thermos Flasks. Also altitude sickness pills and dehydration sachets if you have a particular favourite brand, may also be worth purchasing whilst abroad.
- Rock Climbing – this is super popular in Nairobi and there is the huge indoor climbing gym, Blue Sky at Diamond Plaza. Climbing shoes are expensive here so consider buying some before you travel if you are keen to get into the sport.
- Again pack for kids!
Packing for Sport
There are loads of after work and weekend activities in Nairobi including golf, tennis, cycling, yoga, rock climbing – both indoors and outdoors etc… and you might be keen to keep up your existing hobby or start a new one! So if you are considering packing your hobby my recommendation is do it:
- Cycling gear – again expensive to get accessories are bikes compared to Europe and USA are expensive. There is a decent bike shop in Yaya Centre but still consider bringing your bike, good cycling shorts/bike pump etc. A friend mentioned than British Airways will treat a bike as a piece of luggage, so if you had 2 piece baggage allowance, you could consider swapping out a bag for a bike.
- Tennis racket/Squash rackets – Nairobi Sport House supplies a good amount but often sells out so consider bringing as lots of Sports Clubs and Vacation homes you can rent on the weekends have courts and its a fun way to socialise.
- Yoga Mat – wish I’d brought one with me! Also great for camping/yoga classes after work and on weekends
- Running trainers – or bring a couple of pairs if you want one for running and one for gym/other sport as they’ll get dirty quick with the dust and the various types of weather Nairobi throws at you. There are Nike and Adidas stores in Nairobi, but again quite pricey. Toi Market (big clothes market on Ngong Road) sell good new and second-hand trainers but it depends how picky you are/bothered to haggle in the sun.
- Again if you have kids, consider bringing the kids version of all of the above as well kids swimming things, inflatable arm bands etc.
Top recommended hikes: Ngong Hills (day hike, 1 hr from Nairobi), Mt. Longonot (day or overnight hike, 2 hr from Nairobi, on way to Naivasha), Mt. Suswa Mt. Kenya (3 – 5 days, depending on your fitness, tour group etc.) I love the Kenyan Camper blog, he has great advice and experience on all things hiking in Kenya.
I guarantee within the first month or so of living in Nairobi, you’ll be on a plane heading to the coast. Kenya has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and you’ve got your pick of Diani, Malindi, Watamu, Kilifi and Lamu to choose from all within an hour from Nairobi JKIA or Wilson Airport. So if you are beach person, consider these:
- PROPER suncream – it is so flipping expensive here and you can pay $40 for a tube that would cost you $5 back home. Stock up and get good brands!
- PROPER aftersun – you silly foreigner declaring “I never burn!” to your weekend group and then proceeding to fry yourself, not realising how hot that Kenyan sun can be. Your skin will love you for bringing good aftersun care…
- Bite cream and mosquito repellant – mozzies will attack you attack you at the coast and malaria is a concern here so make sure you prevent them and look after your skin post bite. Arrange for malaria pills ideally before you travel to Nairobi but if you don’t have time, you can get them at most chemists in large towns across Kenya.
- A good sun hat/cap – also expensive and hard to find in Nairobi. You can get quite the range in Toi Market but if you can’t be bothered to haggle then its better to have packed a nice variety and style you love
- Swim suits/bikinis – also tricky to find good ones in Nairobi. Do not recommend buying second hand anywhere in the world…
- Inflatables – c’mon, that stunning Airbnb you found isn’t going to look good on Instagram with your new fun friends unless you are riding a giant pink flamingo. Also they are great fun for lounging in. Also recommend packing a beach ball for a quick game of water polo or volley ball on the beach! My partner bought one of those blow up tube beach loungers (they are hard to blow up but fun as a group to work out the best technique) that turn into a sea float. It’s been great for lazing on the Watamu or Kilifi Creeks or on the white sands of Diani.
- Flip flops/loose clothes as it gets HOT in the winter months (November – February) at the coast and maybe a jumper or zip hoody for the evenings (July/August).
- Beach sport shoes: if you are into scuba diving or kite surfing then consider packing items for these sports as they are mega popular in Kenya and getting these items here are expensive and in short supply as well.
- Snorkels! I WISH I had brought this with me to Kenya. Great fun for seeing what lies beneath the sea during swims in the Indian Ocean.
- Again if you have kids, pack for them too – they’ll love all the fun things you can do at the sea, and a bucket and spade is enjoyable for them (and adults too…)
Top Tip: Do not cry if you forget your beach wrap. You will end up buying a Kikoy (a type of Kenyan towel wrap) from a friendly beach seller and it will become part of you. Some are even towel lined for that extra luxury dry factor.
Sadly due to lack of reliable postal service and high import duty, Amazon and other delivery services are not widely available. If you are desperate for something and can’t get out the house then you can try Jumia Online which is Kenya’s equivalent to Amazon or Ali Baba. You can also try Masoko, owned by Safaricom, another online shopping website. Both will deliver at home or to your office.
Note, if you are coming to work for an Embassy or NGO you may benefit from free shipping to your work address from retailers in your home country but check before you travel to see if this is available from your employer. You may also be benefiting from your company paying for shipping in which case bring furniture! Furniture is so expensive in Kenya and time consuming to buy as there is no centralised Ikea type store. I am writing a follow up article about furniture as I found the first 6 months so frustrating trying to find the type of furniture I wanted.
Those are my top packing tips and remember this isn’t an exclusive list and is geared heavily towards my own western-UK experience. However, do keep in mind a hobby you love that you want to keep up or something you want to try when you come to Kenya. Packing it in your suitcase means you are ready to go when you arrive and it isn’t time consuming and expensive to find once you are settled in.
If you are struggling to find something in Nairobi or wondering if its easily source-able then contact me here, leave a comment or drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve become a seasoned expert in shopping here and also crying in the supermarket when I can’t find things like tinfoil…So don’t worry, it happens to everyone – especially me!