Money and Costs
Budget: Less than US$100
- Hostel or budget hotel: US$15–50
- Camping: from US$20
- Eat in local restaurants: US$2–5
- Travel by matatu (minibus): US$1–5
- Share wildlife drives with other travellers: US$20–40
- Double room in midrange hotel: US$75–150
- Independent safari with car rental (two people): US$75–100 per day
- Full board in lodges: US$150–250
Top end: More than US$250
- Double room in top-end hotel: from US$200
- lunch and dinner in top-end restaurant: US$30–40
- No-expenses-spared safari in luxury tented camps: from US$600
Kenyan shilling (KSh)
As a general rule, bargaining is expected in markets and street stalls, especially those that sell handicrafts aimed at tourists. It is sometimes possible to negotiate a discount for taxis (especially if chartered for a set period) and accommodation (depending on the season), but this varies from one place to the next. Most other prices are usually fixed.
All banks change US dollars, euros and UK pounds into Kenyan shillings. ATMs can be found in medium-sized towns, so bring cash and a debit or credit card.
Virtually all banks in Kenya now have ATMs, most of which accept international credit and debit cards. Barclays Bank has easily the most reliable machines for international withdrawals, with ATMs in most larger Kenyan towns. Standard Chartered and Kenya Commercial Bank are also good options. Whichever bank you use, the international data link still goes down occasionally, so don’t rely on being able to withdraw money whenever you need it, and always keep a reasonable amount of cash on hand.
With deregulation, the black market has almost vanished, and the handful of money changers who still wander the streets offering ‘good rates’ are usually involved in scams. The exception is at land border crossings, where money changers are often the only option (or will try and convince you that they are). Most offer reasonable rates, although you should be careful not to get short-changed or scammed during any transaction.
The unit of currency is the Kenyan shilling (KSh), which is made up of 100 cents. Notes in circulation are KSh1000, 500, 200, 100, 50 and 20, and there are also coins of KSh40, 20, 10, five and one. Locally the shilling is commonly known as a ‘bob’, after the old English term for a one-shilling coin. The shilling has been relatively stable over the last few years, maintaining fairly constant rates against the US dollar, euro and UK pound.
While most major currencies can be exchanged in Nairobi and Mombasa, once away from these two centres you’ll run into problems with currencies other than US dollars, UK pounds and euros.
Credit cards are becoming increasingly popular. Visa and MasterCard are now widely accepted in midrange and top-end hotels, top-end restaurants and some shops.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
The best places to change money are foreign exchange or ‘forex’ bureaus, which can be found everywhere and usually don’t charge commission. The rates for the main bureaus in Nairobi are published in the Daily Nation newspaper.
M-Pesa Kenyans swear by M-Pesa, a quick and easy way of transferring money via mobile networks.
Western Union Western Union Postbank, a branch of the Kenyan Post Office, is the regional agent for Western Union, the global money-transfer company. Using its service is an easy way (if the phones are working) of receiving money in Kenya. Senders should contact Western Union to find the location of their nearest agency. Handily, the sender pays all the charges and there’s a Postbank in most towns, often in the post office or close by.
- Hotel porters Tips expected in upmarket hotels (from KSh200).
- Restaurants Service charge of 10% often added to the bill plus 16% VAT and 2% catering levy.
- Taxi drivers As fares are negotiated in advance, no need to tip unless they provide you with exceptional service.
- Tour guides, safari drivers & cooks Gratuity is expected at the end of your tour/trip. Count on around US$10 to US$15 per day per group.
Travellers cheques are next to useless in Kenya – very few banks or foreign exchange bureaus accept them and those that do, do so reluctantly and charge high commissions.
US Dollar Tricks
- When getting US currency to take to Kenya, make sure you get US$100 bills manufactured in 2006 or later. Most banks and just about all businesses simply won't accept those that were printed earlier.
- If changing money at a foreign exchange bureau or other moneychanger, watch out for differing small-bill (US$10) and large-bill (US$100) rates; the larger bills usually get the better exchange rates.