Nairobi is a bustling city, and getting around can be a challenge due to the limited information available on the existing public transport system. There is some public transport in operation in the city, but due to insufficient infrastructure and a general disregard for traffic rules, the situation can get chaotic.
Modes of public transport in Nairobi include matatus (shared minibus taxis), buses and trains. In general, expats don't use public transport in Nairobi because of poor safety records.
Driving in Nairobi can be dangerous too, and some expats prefer to hire a local driver who knows the area well and can negotiate the sometimes reckless driving habits of others in the city. Another possible solution is to use a ride-hailing app or local cab company.
Public transport in Nairobi
As in any major metropolitan city, expats who choose to use public transport in Nairobi should be aware of their surroundings and keep an eye on their belongings at all times.
Matatus in Kenya are shared minibus taxis that can transport several people at one time. While the network of matatus is somewhat informal, they do cover a wide geographical area, operating in much of greater Nairobi and its suburbs.
Though travelling by matatu is not recommended, and expats who do decide to use them should be aware of the unruly and chaotic conduct of the drivers. Matatus are also frequently overloaded.
Several bus companies offer services in Nairobi, providing a good alternative to matatus. Bus routes in Nairobi converge in the city centre. There are a few terminals in the city, which serve as drop-off and pick-up points for passengers, and some bus stops and routes are indicated on Google Maps.
Expats should be aware that some bus companies in Nairobi are highly unreliable. Drivers may openly disregard traffic laws, making the journey dangerous for passengers. Besides, while bus fares are cheap, inner-city traffic often makes this a slow form of transport.
Long-distance, inter-city buses also run frequently providing transport across Kenya. Expats can choose from several operators, and buying a first-class ticket secures a more comfortable seat, sometimes with USB charger ports and electronic screens for watching films.
The Nairobi Commuter Rail Service runs between the city centre and outlying areas, including Ruiru, Kikuyu, Embakasi and Syokimau. It may be of use as a means of travel in Nairobi between home and work, but can be unreliable and uncomfortable.
The new Madaraka Express along the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) has connected Mombasa and Nairobi for a much faster commute, reducing the journey between these two large cities to only four and a half hours. Whether travelling for work or a weekend break, this train is a great option.
Taxis in Nairobi
Expats or travellers who are only in the city for a short time and do not have a company car will find that taxis are the most convenient and perhaps the safest way to travel around Nairobi. Taxis can be easily found near international hotels, at most tourist sites, in the city centre and near shopping malls. Expats should be aware that if there is no meter visible, they should agree upon a fare before getting into the taxi.
Ride-hailing applications such as Uber are also available in Nairobi.
Driving in Nairobi
Many expats choose to hire a local driver with experience of local road conditions as they are better placed to anticipate the erratic behaviour of Kenyan road users. Bad driving habits are ubiquitous among local drivers and indeed many companies hiring expats will provide them with a car and a driver.
Kenyans drive on the left-hand side of the road. For new arrivals who choose to drive in Nairobi, a GPS is a good idea, given the lack of road signs. As a general rule, it's best to avoid taking shortcuts. Rather, stick to the main roads as some parts of the city can be dangerous. Expats who do decide to drive in Nairobi should do so defensively and be as wary as possible.
International car rental agencies operate in Nairobi and expats who stay long term often buy a car. Note that a foreign driving licence and International Driving Permit may only be valid for three months, thereafter, a Kenyan driving licence should be obtained.
Walking and cycling in Nairobi
Nairobi has been called a 'walking city' in that most residents walk wherever they need to go, be it to their place of work, back home, to friends and family or a market or shopping centre. That said, walking in Nairobi city centre can be chaotic, especially with the unruly and disorderly road traffic.
Expats are advised not to walk or cycle in and around the suburbs of Nairobi alone or at night, due to various safety issues. Those that do choose to walk or cycle should be aware that there are high risks involved and should exercise special caution.
In 2018, a free bike-sharing scheme was introduced by the United Nations. Expats can find bike-sharing programmes and cycling groups easily, and there are several Facebook groups for cyclists in Nairobi.
However, there are still safety concerns to consider as well as a general lack of cycling infrastructure, meaning that cyclists will likely have to share the road with motorists.
►Madaraka Express (online booking): metickets.krc.co.ke
►For more on bike-sharing: bikeshare.c4dlab.ac.ke
►Find out about the city's economy by reading our guide on Working in Nairobi
"Public transport system in Nairobi consists only of minibuses (matatus) and buses that the majority have to rely on to get around. The vehicles are poorly maintained, drive dangerously and I wouldn’t recommend using them, so having access to a car is extremely important." Find out about transport and buying a car in Kenya by reading our interview with Frances.
"Local transport is plentiful in Nairobi, as are taxis. Cars are good to have, but fuel is expensive and traffic is usually a problem." Read more in our interview with Jerry Riley, a Canadian expat.
Are you an expat living in Nairobi?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Nairobi. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
I have relocated to Kenya in 2012 with my husband and two kids. Enjoying the beautiful weather and laid back lifestyle here in Kenya. After working for big corporations, decided to become a life coach and started my practice recently. I am also a blogger, who loves to write and read.
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