- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Kenya Guide (PDF)
Safety in Kenya is a concern for many residents and new arrivals. Crime is, undeniably, an issue, especially in Kenya’s larger cities of Nairobi and Mombasa. Still, with the necessary precautions and a bit of common sense, expats should be able to live a relatively peaceful day-to-day life in Kenya.
The greatest concern for most expats living in Kenya is safety on the roads. The behaviour of local drivers is often reckless and traffic accidents are common.
Expats who want to go on safari and see and do things in Kenya should be aware of the risks when viewing wildlife, especially on foot. Most visitors to national parks and game reserves encounter no issues, but all should follow the guidance and instructions of the park.
In many cases, expats who are aware of safety issues in Kenya can take the necessary actions to limit the danger and have a comfortable expat experience.
Crime in Kenya
Crime rates are high in Kenya’s major cities such as Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. Expats living in Kenya will usually hire security guards for their homes or opt to live in secure, gated housing complexes.
Car-jackings, muggings and petty theft also occur on Kenyan city streets. Expats should be vigilant, keep valuables out of sight and avoid carrying large sums of money. It's also best not to walk around the city centre at night, and never accept food or drinks from strangers. Foreigners in Kenya are likely targets for criminals who pose as tour guides and police officers.
Scammers will also engage foreigners in conversation and tell them stories about being a refugee or having sick relatives, simply to get some cash. In most cases, this is more of a nuisance than a real danger, and such individuals will usually give up once they've been given a firm 'no'.
Terrorism in Kenya
There is a risk of terrorism in Kenya. The main threat comes from extremists connected to Al Shabaab, a militant group in Somalia which has issued public threats against Kenya because of its military involvement in Somalia.
Terrorist attacks, including kidnappings, in Kenya are usually indiscriminate and targets may vary from government offices and schools to shopping centres, markets, bars and nightclubs. Places of worship have also been targeted in the past.
Terrorism and piracy are also dangers off the coast of Somalia around the Horn of Africa, so expats interested in sea travel should be aware of the potential threats and not take matters lightly.
Many governments advise their nationals to avoid travelling close to the Kenya-Somalia border, particularly Garissa county, as well as Lamu and Tana River Counties. We urge expats to follow any information and guidance provided by the authorities.
Road safety in Kenya
Driving in Kenya can be dangerous as road conditions and driving standards are poor. Many expat employees will be provided with a company car and a local driver, which is perhaps the safest option when it comes to getting around Kenya. We urge expats to familiarise themselves with what to do in the event of an accident or emergency and be aware of the system of healthcare in Kenya.
Those who decide to drive in Kenya should always do so defensively and be vigilant. Due to the risk of car-jackings, especially in Kenya’s bigger cities, it's essential to have windows and doors locked at all times. Be especially careful when driving outside cities and avoid driving at night as this is when most of Kenya’s road traffic accidents occur.
Be cautious of travelling in long-distance buses at nighttime as there have been several serious accidents involving intercity buses in Kenya. Opt to travel with a reputable bus company as some smaller operations use poorly maintained vehicles, which are often driven recklessly.
Travelling by matatu (the local minibuses) isn't recommended as they're notoriously badly driven and uninsured. There have also been reports of matatus occasionally being hijacked and the passengers being robbed.
Political instability in Kenya
In the past, Kenya has faced considerable flare ups of violence, often as a result of ethnic or political tensions.
While expats are unlikely to be caught up in this type of civil unrest, they're advised to stay away from any political demonstrations or protests that could turn violent. Major protests usually take place during election campaigns, and there have been some incidents of violence during past elections.
►Learn about Kenyan cultural nuances on the Culture Shock in Kenya page
"As an expat, you are a target but the irony is that the Kenyan middle classes are much more prone to petty cons, scams and home break-ins as they do not have the big cars, private home security and higher profile that the expats have." Read our interview with Frances for advice on road safety and security in Kenya.
"Like any big city, there are opportunistic thieves who will take advantage of you if you walk alone at night, or in insecure neighbourhoods. Our policy is to follow the lead of the local population – if you don’t see Kenyans walking at night, don’t walk at night." Read more in our interview with Tara, an American expat.
Are you an expat living in Kenya?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Kenya. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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