25 August 2016

Shruti A. Patel - Expat in Nairobi, Kenya

Shruti A. Patel - Expat in Nairobi, Kenya

We’ve had the chance to talk to Shruti A. Patel, 29, a German expat who has moved to Kenya with her husband’s family. Mrs. Patel who has been living there for 22 years, now works as a publishing consultant.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: I am from Frankfurt, Germany.


Q: What made you move out of Germany?

A: I moved for love and had never looked back since.


Q: Where are you living now?

A: Nairobi, Kenya


Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: My husband whom I met in London wanted to move back to his home country and asked me if I wanted to join him. It wasn’t an easy decision, and many friends and family members advised me against it; mainly due to security concerns. However, I don’t regret moving here. Kenya is a beautiful country and Nairobi life is much more comfortable than one would think at first.


Q: How long have you been living in Kenya?

A: Three years.


Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in Kenya?

A: Although I have been in Kenya for just over three years now, I am still adapting to it daily. I suppose the most difficult part I struggle with is the reputation Nairobi has (after all, it has been dubbed “Nairobbery”) and still going about the routines of my daily life. I get daily security alerts on What’sApp and yet I feel there is a general state of insecurity.


Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance were particularly difficult in Kenya? What was your experience with these?

A: Immigration laws have been undergoing quite a few changes since the recent government came to power in early 2013. The easiest way to get a work permit is through your employer. They should also be able to sort out your international health insurance. As Kenya is very popular with international organisations and NGOs, a plethora of insurances is accepted here. Healthcare is quite decent, too, with most doctors holding foreign degrees. However, should you be coming to Kenya as an expat spouse you will probably be on a dependency pass and then try to find a job in Kenya. Changing your permit from dependency to your own work permit involves quite a bit of paperwork but isn’t an impossible task. You can always go down the consultancy route and buy your own work permit.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? How are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I moved in with my husband’s family in the first year, mainly for the support. I could look for a job, learn to drive in Nairobi and attend a few language classes while the household was magically running itself around me. We soon decided to move out and now live in an expat friendly apartment block; “expat friendly “ being the added security facilities as well as the holy grail of security endorsement in Nairobi – “UN approved housing”! I suppose that’s one thing you want to look out for when apartment hunting. Nairobi life is probably one of the most comfortable as virtually everyone has household help: from nannies and maids to drivers, cooks and gardeners. Often enough, one can “inherit” a departing expat’s house, car and household help.


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

A: Finding friends has been remarkably easy here. Granted I had my husband’s friends as a good and supportive base around me, but I also met new people at work, my language classes, the gym and the many parties & BBQs that someone always seems to be having in Nairobi. The expat circle is big, and there are networking circles one can join; we have Toastmasters, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Rotary Club, Lions Club as well as regional institutes like Goethe Institute, Alliance Francaise and Instituto Italiano who all host regular cultural events. Remember, you are by far not the only one looking for a friend; Nairobi has a steady in- and outflow of relocating expatriates. Depending on where you work, you can easily make friends with non-expatriates, too.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: There are so many things you will miss in Kenya, especially when it comes to retail therapy; almost everything is imported, and prices are super steep here, but that’s a big blessing in disguise. Our weekends are filled with exploring the countryside, going hiking and camping, enjoying cooking everything from scratch and having friends over for a karoga (Kenyan version of a BBQ). You can’t really walk about town or take a stroll through City Park, but you can take your 4x4 for a ride out and enjoy the wild. Or you can just simply stay in, cook up a feast and have a pool party every weekend. It’s been worth our while to invest in a 4x4 and accommodation with a large entertaining space.


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

A: Living in Kenya as an expatriate is quite expensive, especially housing and entertainment.

However, food and beverages fall between the regular Western price range.

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A: A cup of coffee at a popular coffee place costs around Ksh 200 (USD 2.25)

  • How much is a meal in a decent restaurant?

A: A meal at a decent restaurant costs around Ksh 2,500 (US$ 28) per head

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: A meal at an expensive place can be anything from Ksh 5,000 onwards per person (US$ 56)

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

A: A pack of local cigarettes are Ksh 140 (US$ 1.60)

 It won’t come to a surprise that services are fairly affordable.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: Kenyans are one of friendliest people I have come across. Nairobi is a very cosmopolitan city irrespective of it hosting many NGO headquarters. Western culture is part of everyday life in Nairobi and has filtered through to music, art, clothing, style, design and even lifestyle. As the literacy rate is quite high in Kenya (total adult literacy rate is measured at 72.2%) you will find that most people speak English. This makes such an impact on your daily life as an expatriate as you can choose to engage with anyone and everyone around you. Although learning Kiswahili is essential, you don’t miss out interacting with Kenyans should you not manage to pick up the language during your time here.


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

A: Work life is great as you are thrown into the deep end of things and get to work on exciting projects. From a specialist in my field, I have become an all-rounder in almost everything related to my work. I feel I am constantly challenged to take on more work and have substantially beefed up my CV. On the downside are Nairobi’s notorious traffic jams, poor infrastructure and the generally slower pace which can be quite frustrating at times.


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

A: I have learned to appreciate home a lot more now that I live in Nairobi. It’s the small things that I miss the most. I find myself carrying back food with me whenever I travel to enjoy a bit of home in Nairobi.


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

A: We want to move away at some point, but haven’t decided when. Until then, we are enjoying life and work here.


Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: I struggle with the law enforcement here. I certainly don’t feel safe around the, and I don’t think I ever will. Whether it is a traffic offence you didn’t commit or a robbery that you want to report, police in Kenya cannot be trusted and will most certainly ask you for a bribe.


Q: What tips can you give other expats living in that country?

A: Take life in Nairobi with a pinch of salt and let go off things that don’t work perfectly. In a nutshell, Nairobi is a great place for expatriate families with children or even senior expatriates looking for a semi-retirement situation, while young or single expatriates may find that Nairobi’s entertainment scene lags behind many other cities, including other African cities. Commuting is a problem, too, as the local public transport is not very well developed.


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

A: Nairobi relies a lot on word-of-mouth and local community boards, but most have at least a Facebook version, too. I find Nairobi Expats Marketplace a great place to get started, find some household items and get some great tips by expats on day-to-day problems. You can always check out my blog on life in Nairobi, too. J