8 November 2016

M. Cavanagh - Expat in Nairobi, Kenya

M. Cavanagh - Expat in Nairobi, Kenya

We’ve had the chance to talk to M. Cavanagh, 43, an American expat who has moved to Kenya with her husband. Mrs. Cavanagh who has been living there for over a year, now works as a user experience strategist & designer.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: New York.


Q: What made you move out of the USA?

A: Husband’s job opportunity.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: Nairobi, Kenya. Moved for my husband’s work.


Q: How long have you been living in Kenya?

A: I’ve been here just over a year.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I am here with my husband. I would say we are adjusting well. We both grew up as Third Culture Kids and expats, moving around internationally so while it’s different as an adult, it’s not a shock to the system.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I do miss loved ones sometimes. I stay in touch through email, Skype, WhatsApp, and social media.

I don’t get too much homesickness, though. I am immersed enough in life here.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: Kenyan locals have been fairly nice and polite. It’s a very warm and welcoming country. But, it’s also closed. You’ll get along fine with locals. But, you’ll never really be let in. I have made all of two local Kenyan friends. One is married to a man from the UK. The other lived abroad for a long time.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Kenya? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: It was harder than I expected.

As I mentioned, I have only two local Kenyan friends, so most of my friends here are expats. I had to keep at it and really work hard to make friends here among the expats.

A lot of the expats here are transient. Many women are “professional wives” whose lives revolve around their children and husbands. I don’t really connect with them and vice versa. It took a while to meet other professional women and/or women who had independent lives in addition to being a wife and mother.


Q: How does the cost of living in Kenya compared to your home?

A: I can’t really speak to this. It’s so relative. New York is an expensive city. Almost everywhere else is less expensive. Also, there are expat prices and Kenyan prices. That said, I’ll give what I know about the expat prices.

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: About 2USD for café mocha at coffee shop chain.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: You can go as low as 2 USD.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: It varies but it can average around 60USD including appetizer, entrée, desset and wine.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: We get our wine from the UN Duty Free shop, so it’s a bit different. There, you can get a good bottle for 15USD. I don’t smoke.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Kenya?

A: N/A as ours was handled via UN policies


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: Work permits are tough. You need a permit even to do volunteer work. The Kenyan government is cracking down on illegal expat workers – I don’t blame them. The system has been hacked for many years. For an American, it can take about six months to get a two year work visa. You can get a special pass authorizing work in the meantime, and that takes about a month to get. I had my company do all that paperwork. I made it a requirement as to do it yourself is a nightmare.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Kenya is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: As with any place, it depends on your doctor. I highly recommend the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi. I can’t speak to healthcare outside of Nairobi.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in your home or Kenya? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: I have international health care through my husband’s employer. I strongly recommend full and thorough coverage no matter what country you are in – especially if you plan to travel.


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Kenya? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: Most memorable? I would say having my one bedroom Manhattan apartment filled to the brim with boxes and climbing over them to get the bathroom! We used SECOR and AGS Fraser. I had a bad experience with them and would not use them again. Everything got resolved because I stuck at it, but I would not recommend them.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: Making female friends.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Kenya?

A: Positive:

  • Weather
  • Beautiful country with so many wonderful places to explore
  • Access to traveling across Africa
  • Becoming spoiled by the wildlife…oh, another giraffe? That’s nice.


  • The transient nature of many expats. A lot of people move every two years or are only here for even less time. You make new friends and then say goodbye too soon.
  • Shopping is hard. You can’t get everything you could back home, but that’s a given anywhere. The additional quirk in Kenya is that one day the store has what you need and then they won’t have it for months. You become a hoarder.
  • Hard to integrate with locals, even in the work environment.
  • There is some crime and you have to be careful.
  • As a New Yorker, I really miss the ability to walk around. I used to walk everywhere. In Nairobi, you need a car for everything.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: Day or weekend trips to Naivasha. In two hours you are in paradise with everything from mountains, to canyons, to lakes, and game drives.

The coast is amazing. You will be spoiled by the beaches. Diani Beach is the best beach in the entire world. Everything else will disappoint you after you go to a Kenyan beach.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: At some point we’ll go back to New York. We don’t know when. We don’t know if we’ll live in another country prior to going back. We plan to stay in Nairobi for as long as we’re happy, and we’re very happy.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: I can only speak for Nairobi. It will be different for someone in another part of the country. I have a lot of tips…I’d say the most important one is about traffic. It is crazy. Really, really horrendous. So, make sure your commute to work is sane. Otherwise you will be miserable.

Traffic patterns vary area to area, but I’d say that a good starting point in deciding where to live in relation to getting to work is figuring out what side (North or South) of Waiyaki Way you need to be on. You don’t want to cross it every day as a commute!


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Kenya?

A: I like http://africaexpatwivesclub.com/ and https://thekenyancamper.com/