Why are you living in Nairobi? If you have a regular 8-5 job, well and good. However, if no employer needs you in some kind of office, then what makes Nairobi your preferred dwelling place?
The Covid-19 pandemic changed everything. People have now realised that there are other affordable and lucrative opportunities, with a mini-exodus from the Kenyan capital an ongoing theme since 2020.
Thousands have moved out of Nairobi and gone on to share their success stories in what can be termed as smaller towns.
Recently, one Kenyan (who makes his living as a freelance writer) took to social media to explain his decision to move out of the city.
"Online writing will only help me if I move out of Nairobi. The little I'm making is all going to basic bills," he explained.
After doing some digging, I realised that his situation was being faced by thousands of other Nairobians who are just earning to pay rent, buy food and pay for transport to and from work.
Personal savings have stagnated over the last 3 years, as every penny is directed towards the ‘basics’.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) Economic Survey 2022 indicated that inflation rose to a four-year high to 6.1%. This translates to an even higher cost of living, especially in Nairobi.
According to the Cost of Living City Ranking 2021 by Mercer, Nairobi was the 21st most expensive city in Africa.
Among the factors accounted for by the survey were; currency fluctuations, cost inflation for goods and services, and instability of accommodation prices.
This is why a proper examination of alternative towns and/or cities in Kenya is important for anyone who is currently overwhelmed by expenses in Nairobi, or just looking to make a fresh start elsewhere.
In 2010, Kenyans enacted a new constitution, which established a system of devolved government with 47 county governments. Now this is where our dreams of making it outside Nairobi lie.
Devolution has led to a rapid increase in money-making opportunities outside the Kenyan capital and some Kenyans are already making a killing out in the countryside.
With this in mind, let’s look at the cost of living across some towns in Kenya in a bid to equip ourselves with the knowledge we’d need if we ever decide to move out of Nairobi.
Let’s start by setting a benchmark. According to KNBS, Nairobi’s lower-income class is represented by households whose spending sits at or below Ksh 46,355 per month while middle-income spenders have expenditures stretching to Ksh184.394 with expenditures beyond the mark representing the upper-income class.
Rent is the most pressing expense -right up there with food, so let’s set a base cost for that as well.
A 2-bedroom apartment in Ruaka currently demands rent ranging from Ksh 30,000- Ksh 45,000, depending on the actual location. Meanwhile, a 2 bedroom apartment in Riverside goes for anywhere between Ksh 75,000 to Ksh 180,000 per month.
In Westlands, a similar sized apartment demands anything from Ksh 55,000 to Ksh 150,000 a month
On the other side of town, the rental demand for a 2 bedroom apartment in Umoja and it’s environs ranges between Ksh 14,000 and 20,000.
For the purposes of this article, let's look at 5 towns/cities, spread across the country namely: Mombasa, Meru, Nakuru, and Nanyuki.
In Diani, the rent for a 2-bedroom house ranges anywhere from Ksh 18,000, to as high as Ksh 120,000. That’s the thing I discovered when looking up apartments to rent in the coastal town, the variety is something else.
From beachfront apartments, to traditional coastal themed houses with swimming pools etc.
In Bamburi, a 2 bedroom house ranges between Ksh20,000 – Ksh 27,000, while a one bedroom in the same area goes for Ksh12,000.
One thing that stood out in the Kenyan coast when it comes to houses is the sheer space and designs of the apartments.
According to expatistan (a website dedicated to advising travellers on the cost of living across cities and towns in the world), the total cost of living is around $483 (Ksh 56,511) in Mombasa.
Utilities cost around $26 (Ksh 3,042) a month, while other costs will be around $286 (Ksh33,462) including markets, transportation, restaurants, and sports and leisure for one-person.
“Mombasa seems false expensive to live in according to the average monthly salary which is $314 (Ksh36,738). You probably need to make more than that to live comfortable in Mombasa,” reads an excerpt from the website.
Meru is a town in eastern Kenya, and the seventh largest urban centre in the country.
Now this is where it gets interesting.
According to the latest property listings in Meru, an executive (spacious) one bedroom house in Milimani area ranges between Ksh 8,000 and Ksh 10,000.
A 3 bedroom house in the same area goes for Ksh 24,000. Some of the properties pictured on leading property agent websites are just stunning.
Food is relatively cheap in Meru as the town is located on the windward side of Mount Kenya.
For instance, data from the Agriculture ministry, a kilogram of dried maize retails at Ksh50 in Gakoromone market, Meru. The same quantity of dried maize retails at Ksh110 in Nairobi.
Agriculture is the backbone of the country’s economy. Coupled with devolution, the town is ranked among the fastest growing in the country.
Going by the rental rates in the area, even raking in 40K a month could leave you with enough to stash aside for a rainy day, and still live in a house that brings you pride.
Also, traffic snarl ups in such towns is a foreign term. There is even a brand new bypass road that makes sure you never get stuck in traffic.
Known for its beautiful scenery including lakes, animal parks, rocks, waterfalls among others, the recently crowned city is located in Rift Valley.
The city is a good place to settle in since rental homes are fairly cheap.
As per listed properties, a one-bedroom house demands an average of Ksh10,000 in rent. You can also get a three-bedroom maisonette at Ksh22,000, or a bungalow (complete with a compound and SQ) at Ksh42,000.
It is a city full of opportunities in business and it’s also a tourist hub for Kenya’s South Rift region. Nakuru is also a city of academic excellence with investments in both public and private schools.
As for food prices, a kilo of dry maize (white) currently retails at Ksh55. Agriculture is the main economic activity in this area, making food relatively cheaper as compared to Nairobi.
Nanyuki is part of the Laikipia Plateau which stretches from the slopes of the snow-capped Mt Kenya to the rim of the Great Rift Valley in the south.
Fun fact; The name Nanyuki comes from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nanyukie which translates to “River of Blood”.
During the rainy season, Nanyuki River would turn red as a result of red soil being washed down from the slopes of Mt Kenya.
Okay, now as for living near the river of blood, rental asking prices are quite affordable compared to what you’d get for a similar amount in Nairobi.
A four-bedroom bungalow (own gate and compound) demands an average of Ksh45,000 in monthly rent. one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments average at Ksh10000 and Ksh18,000 respectively.
Evidently, Nanyuki’s growth in real estate and the hospitality sectors is interlinked with more and more people seeking to not only own a piece of the town but live there as well.
If you are a writer (like the guy who triggered this entire article in his pursuit of a place to live outside Nairobi), very few places quench the artistic soul in the way Nanyuki does. The scenery in this town and its environs is breathtakingly beautiful.
Food is also cheaper than in Nairobi, with Meru town just an hour or so away via the scenic Timau route.
When Covid-19 peaked, a shift happened in Kenyans’ lifestyles. The serenity in the villages and rural areas became more appealing to Nairobians.
As seen in the comparisons above, there are countless alternatives for anyone looking to start afresh by moving out of the city, with the possibility of saving on rent, food and transport quite appealing.
Following job losses and the boredom of living in cramped, tiny apartments during the lockdowns, some city dwellers packed their belongings and relocated to less crowded towns with spacious houses and greenery, as well as new opportunities.
Their first hand accounts/stories have encouraged even more city dwellers to venture upcountry, which has become a sort of trend now.
In a country where living in the city elevates one’s social class, moving out isn’t as popular but then again, this should be a personal decision as at the end of the day, you are your own pilot.
The biggest challenge to moving out of a city you’ve lived in for most of your adult life would probably be disconnecting with friends.
However, in this day and age of technology, out of sight doesn’t necessarily mean out of mind.
Moving your entire household to a far away town can also prove to be somewhat of a challenge, but still doable with movers clamouring for clients all over the city.
If living in Nairobi is causing you sleepless nights in terms of expenses, and you have no obligations to report to a physical office each morning, then what is really keeping you there?
Majority of the city’s over five million residents simply live from hand to mouth, often earning a living from casual and contractual jobs.
There are many inspiring stories of people who were brave enough to leave Nairobi and its good attractions, or who were forced to do so by circumstances.
The list is growing as Kenyans begin to understand the math behind earnings and living expenses.