Kenya Basics

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The Basics

Time: Local time is GMT +3.

Electricity: Electrical current is 240 volts, 50Hz. UK-style square three-pin plugs are used.

Money: The unit of currency is the Kenyan Shilling (KES), which is divided into 100 cents. It is not advisable to take Kenyan Shillings out of the country, as they are difficult to exchange elsewhere. Foreign currency can be changed at banks, bureaux de change and hotels. It's easiest to exchange US Dollars, Pounds Sterling or Euros. Street exchange merchants should be avoided as they are operating illegally. Opening hours vary according to bank, but generally banks in Kenya are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm and on the first and last Saturday of the month. Banks and bureaux de change at the international airport stay open 24 hours. International credit cards are accepted in the larger hotels and stores, and some camps and lodges. ATMs are widely available in Nairobi and other major towns.

Currency Exchange Rates

KES100.00 = USD 0.98GBP 0.76CAD 1.27AUD 1.43ZAR 14.21EUR 0.88NZD 1.54
Note: These rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.

Language: English is the official language but Swahili is the national language, with 42 ethnic languages spoken.

Entry requirements for Americans: US citizens must have a passport valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Kenya. A visa is required and can be obtained on arrival for up to a maximum of three months, which in turn can be extended by three months.

Entry requirements for UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Kenya. A visa can be obtained for a maximum stay of 3 months. Passports must contain at least one unused visa page.

Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Kenya. A visa is required and can be obtained on arrival for up to a maximum stay of three months. Extensions of an additional three months are possible.

Entry requirements for Australians: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Kenya. A visa is required and can be obtained on arrival for up to a maximum of three months. Extensions of an additional three months are possible.

Entry requirements for South Africans: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Kenya. A visa is not required for stays of up to 30 days.

Entry requirements for New Zealanders: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Kenya. A visa is required and can be obtained on arrival for up to a maximum of three months. Extensions of up to three months are possible.

Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Kenya. A visa is required and obtainable on arrival for up to a maximum of three months. Extentions up to an additional three months are possible.

Passport/Visa Note: All foreign passengers to Kenya must hold proof of sufficient funds (at least USD 500) to cover their stay in the country, return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. Most foreign nationals require a visa, and some foreign nationals can obtain visas on arrival in Kenya, provided that (i) their passport is in good condition, and (ii) they have at least one blank page in their passport for the visa endorsement. The visa fee is payable in USD, GBP or EUR, cash only. On-arrival visas are valid for three months. It is also possible to obtain an e-visa prior to departure for Kenya. A valid, 90 day, multiple entry/re-entry "East African Tourist Visa" issued by Rwanda or Uganda will suffice, provided the passanger in posession of the document has previously entered the country that first issued the visa. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Kenya, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

Travel Health: Travellers should get the latest medical advice on inoculations and malaria prevention at least three weeks prior to departure. A malaria risk exists all year round in Kenya, but more so around Mombasa and the lower coastal areas than in Nairobi and on the high central plateau. Immunisation against yellow fever, polio, and typhoid are usually recommended. A yellow fever certificate is required by anyone arriving from an infected area. Other risks include diarrheal diseases. Protection against bites from sandflies, mosquitoes, and tsetse flies is the best prevention against malaria and dengue fever, as well as other insect-borne diseases, including Rift Valley fever, sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis, and Chikungunya fever. Water is of variable quality and visitors are advised to drink bottled water. There are good medical facilities in Nairobi and Mombasa but health insurance is always advised.

Tipping: Tipping is not customary in Kenya. However, a 10 percent service charge may be added to the bill in more upmarket restaurants. Otherwise, small change in local currency may be offered to taxi drivers, porters, and waiters. Note that on safari the drivers, guides and cooks often rely heavily on tips to get by, but these are discretionary.

Safety Information: There is a threat from Somali terrorist groups in Kenya and visitors should be vigilant in public places and tourist sites. Several bombings have targeted Mombasa, Nairobi, and other cities in recent years, most blamed on the Al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab group. Several governments have instituted travel warnings and alerts for parts of Kenya and travellers are advised to read up on the situation and which areas should be avoided before visiting the country. Nairobi is notorious for robberies and muggings, and visitors should be alert at all times, but particularly at night. Visitors should also be vigilant in Mombasa, especially in the main south coast tourist areas of Diani and Ukunda. There is a serious threat of banditry in the northern areas and travel is only advisable with an armed escort. Recent armed attacks in resort areas of northern Kenya near the border of Somalia (especially Lamu Island) have occurred, including the kidnapping of foreign tourists. Several governments have advised against all but essential travel to coastal areas within 150km of the Somalian border, and inland areas within 60km of the border. Piracy has also been a concern off the coast of Kenya. There have previously been incidents of attacks and hijackings of private vessels, though there have been no recent reports. Visitors should also take sensible precautions when driving. In particular, landmines have been used in attacks around Moyale, close to the main A2 road south. Vehicles crossing the border at this point should stay on the A2.

Local Customs: The taking of photographs of official buildings and embassies is not advised and could lead to detention. The coastal towns are predominantly Muslim and religious customs and sensitivities should be respected, particularly during Ramadan. Dress should be conservative away from the beaches and resorts, particularly for women. Homosexuality is against the law. Smoking in public places is illegal, other than in designated smoking areas, and violators will be fined or imprisoned.

Business: Business in Kenya tends to be conducted formally and conservatively, with the appropriate formal attire of a jacket and tie. Patience, cultural sensitivity, tolerance for uncertainty, and the ability to build personal relationships with business associates are all central to successfully doing business in Kenya. Ethnic division and corruption undermine the Kenyan economy, but they are realities in the business world of Kenya. Despite red tape and numerous pitfalls, Kenya is a land of business opportunity and the IT and telecoms sectors are rapidly expanding. The concept of harambee is important in business culture in Kenya: it involves a sense of community, responsibility, and mutual assistance. Deference to seniority is important, as is social standing. Use of official titles is key during introductions and greetings. Terse statements should be avoided and controlling one's emotions is vitally important. While punctuality is key and meetings should begin on time, they often don't end on time. When introducing a new deal, it is important to illustrate respect for tradition and history. Deals generally only close when it is clear that all the possible information has been considered and deliberated upon. Interpersonal relationships add to business success, and understanding Kenyan culture and history is a great way of building business contacts. Building a solid business relationship is prioritised over meeting deadlines and closing deals. English is the language of business. Business hours run from 9am to 5pm on weekdays and dress style should be formal with suits or smart-casual wear. Gifts are important and generally expected. Taking time to greet everyone and enquire about the health of their family will ensure a smooth business meeting. Respect for elders is important and if you are invited to dinner, never begin eating until the eldest member has started. Also, refrain from leaving food on your plate. In introductions, clasping an elder or key business associate's wrist with your other hand while shaking hands conveys respect.

Communications: The international access code for Kenya is +254. Area codes are also in use. Purchasing a local SIM card is simple and most hotels, restaurants, and cafes in tourist areas offer free wifi access.

Duty Free: Travellers to Kenya over 16 years do not have to pay duty on 250g tobacco products; 1 bottle of alcohol; and 500ml perfume. Prohibited items include fruit, imitation firearms, and children's toys pistols. No plants may be brought into the country without a Plant Import Permit (PIP).