Kenya’s public transport infrastructure is underdeveloped. Unless one has lots of time on their hands, travelling by train or intercity bus isn't an option. New arrivals will become accustomed to seeing local Kenyans packed into a matatu or using tuk-tuks or motorcycle taxis to get around. Although using these might be an experience, they're generally unsafe or uncomfortable.
Still, there are other options available. For everyday travel, expats mainly drive or hire a local driver who is familiar with the area and Kenyan driving norms. When it comes to travelling nationally, domestic airlines are the most practical way of getting from A to B.
Public transport in Kenya
Expats moving to Kenya will find the public transport infrastructure to be somewhat limited. Long-distance buses serve most destinations, but journeys are slow. Train travel is even more restrictive, with just a few services each week.
Kenya has both local bus services and a large long-distance bus network used by most people who travel within the country. Travelling by bus can be a cost-effective but time-consuming way to get around Kenya.
As bus journeys in Kenya are long and not always comfortable, expats are advised to travel with an established company that has a modern fleet of vehicles, such as Dreamline Express Limited, Coast Bus and Crown Bus. We suggest expats book their ticket in advance, especially for popular routes.
Expats should also purchase first-class tickets wherever possible as these offer larger seats with additional legroom. Of course, premium services come at a higher cost, but with greater comfort, WiFi, electronic screens for music and films and USB ports, they're worth it.
Trains in Kenya have traditionally been more of a tourist attraction than a viable means of transport. However, since 2017, the Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) has transformed train travel in the country.
Known as the Madaraka Express, this new service connects Nairobi and Mombasa, and reduces the previous old rail network journey of over 12 hours to only four and a half hours. Expats travelling from the capital to the coast or vice versa can save time by taking the SGR train.
Economy-class tickets are affordable, being just under the cost of a long-distance bus ticket for the same route. First-class tickets are also available, but at a much higher price.
Matatus are privately-operated minibuses that cover short or medium distances in Kenya. Vehicles are usually meant to hold no more than 20 people, but some drivers will load more passengers into a single matatu.
While travelling by matatu provides a uniquely Kenyan experience with their colourful décor and loud music, it can be risky. Matatus are often driven badly with drivers swerving in and out of traffic to get to their destination quickly and stopping suddenly to pick up passengers at the side of the road.
Matatus are the cheapest way of getting around in Kenya, with prices based on distance travelled. But, due to safety issues, travelling by local buses or car are better options.
Tuk-tuks are three-wheeled motorised taxis that can be found in Kenya’s main cities, especially along the coast. They can carry up to three passengers and are a speedy way to get around town.
There are no set prices, so expats will need to get used to negotiating with the tuk-tuk drivers before starting a journey.
Taxis in Kenya
Taxi cabs are easily available in Kenya's large cities. They can either be hailed on the street or booked in advance. Fares should be negotiated before getting into the cab as meters are often either broken or aren't switched on.
Ride-hailing services such as Uber are also operational in certain parts of Kenya.
Driving in Kenya
Most expats in Kenya get around by car as it gives the freedom and flexibility that public transport does not. Still, driving in Kenya is not for the faint-hearted.
New arrivals will find that many road users drive aggressively and recklessly, so expats are advised to exercise caution when driving and crossing roads in Kenya. Dealing with this traffic is by no means stress-free, and roads in certain areas are often potholed and poorly maintained. So, though driving through Kenya at one’s own pace and taking in the scenery sounds ideal, the poor road infrastructure can make it a challenge.
Those who do decide to drive in Kenya will find that most global car rental companies have branches in Nairobi and Mombasa. There are smaller local rental companies that offer more competitive rates, but these may be less reliable.
Many car rental companies in Kenya offer the option to hire a car with a driver. Expats who are settled in Kenya tend to buy a car and hire a driver, or are provided with both by their employer.
Expats wondering if they can drive on their home country's licence will need to follow up on the latest requirements. Normally, expats can drive in Kenya with their valid foreign driver's licence or an International Driving Permit for up to three months. Those staying longer in the country must obtain a Kenyan driving licence.
Air travel in Kenya
Domestic flights in Kenya are often the fastest way to get around. Kenya Airways is the national airline and offers daily domestic flights between various cities, as well as international flights. While the prices of domestic flights in Kenya fluctuate, they're reasonably priced and online booking is available. Other domestic flight operators include Fly540 and Airkenya Express.
The frequency of these flights varies, and delays and cancellations are common; expats are advised to check with the airline before travelling to the airport. Also, we recommend expats taking domestic flights in Kenya lock their checked-in luggage as items have been reported to have gone missing while in the care of airlines in Kenya.
Cycling in Kenya
A healthy way to get around in Kenya is by bicycle, and expats can buy or rent a bicycle in Kenya or organise shipping to import one from abroad. It’s also easy to join a cycling tour or connect with people in cycling groups through social media.
Avid cyclists can enjoy exercising along fantastic biking paths around mountains and other scenic areas, such as Riverside Park and Karura Forest.
Still, there are safety issues to be aware of. Always be careful, especially when taking unfamiliar routes, and carry enough water. If cycling in major cities, always be wary of traffic as drivers may not be so vigilant.
Walking in Kenya
One of the best ways for expats to familiarise themselves with their new surroundings is by walking, and new arrivals can attend a walking tour in Nairobi. Many people walk to get around in Kenya, but this is not to say that areas are particularly walkable or pedestrian-friendly. Poorly maintained pavements mean foot traffic often enters the roadways, and there are other safety issues such as pickpocketing. We recommend walking in groups and not walking around at night.
Don’t be deterred altogether: expats who lead an active lifestyle are drawn to Kenya because of the many hiking trails. A popular day hike is Mount Longonot, a dormant stratovolcano and Ngong Hills is a picturesque area great for hiking. And, of course, for the daring – and fit – Mount Kenya awaits. Expats can tackle Africa’s second-highest mountain along the Naro Moru Hike and spend the night in one of several campsites on Mount Kenya.