Kenya Volunteer FAQ

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Kenya Volunteer FAQ: Common questions for volunteer abroad programs - volunteer in Kenya.

Volunteer work in Kenya projects, programs & voluntary work in Kenya with children, schools, hospitals, clinics.

The following are questions and answers the majority of Kenya volunteers have. A Kenya volunteer needs to be aware of issues such as visas, immunizations, malaria and what to expect about the weather.

Volunteers in Africa are concerned about these issues especially if it is their first time to travel and volunteer in Africa and Kenya in particular.

  • Tell me more about Kenya.
  • How is the climate in Kenya?
  • What vaccinations/immunizations are required?
  • Which city/airport do I need to arrive at?
  • I want the Kenya volunteer teaching program. When are school closed in Kenya?
  • What about malaria in Kenya?
  • What if I get sick while volunteering in Kenya?
  • How is the Kenyan food?
  • Is it safe to drink the tap water in Kenya?
  • Is it safe to volunteer in Kenya? Any volunteer abroad safety tips?
  • Is it safe to go shopping in Nairobi?
  • What other safety issues should I be aware of?
  • What clothing is appropriate? Any cultural restrictions?
  • What do I need to pack?
  • What about the electricity supply for laptops, hairdryers etc?
  • Do I need a visa to enter Kenya?
  • What is the Kenya currency?
  • Are credit cards accepted in Kenya?

    Tell me more about Kenya.

    Kenya is in East Africa and its neighbors include Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania. Nairobi is the capital and stands at an altitude of 1,700 meters (5,500 feet). Its population is about 34 million.

    The languages spoken here are English, Kiswahili and about 40 indigenous languages. About 85% of the population is Christian. The remainder comprises of indigenous religions and Muslim. The currency is Kenyan shilling.

    How is the climate in Kenya?

    Kenya lies directly on the equator and elevations vary from sea level at the coast to 7,000+ ft. Generally, the days are warm and pleasant and the nights are cool. Summer clothes are worn throughout the year. In some areas, nights can be chilly. In the northern region, days are quite hot. The coast is hot and humid.

    There are two rainy seasons; the long rains in April and May and the short rains in November and December. The hottest periods are from January to March and August to November. The coldest months are in July and the beginning of August. Average temperatures in Kenya range from 10 Celsius to 35 Celsius.

    What vaccinations/immunizations are required?

    No immunizations are required by law to enter Kenya. If you are traveling from a country where yellow fever is present you will need to take a yellow fever vaccination. Several vaccinations are highly recommended, they include:

  • Yellow Fever
  • Typhoid
  • Hepatitis A & B
  • Polio
  • Diphtheria
  • Tetanus
  • Rabies
  • Meningitis
  • Cholera
  • Tuberculosis

    Contact your doctor several weeks before you travel and seek advice regarding the vaccinations to take.

    Which city/airport do I need to arrive at?

    You will fly into Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO). You will be met on arrival. Flights to Nairobi terminate at Jomo Kenyatta and it is the largest airport in Kenya.

    The airport is 17 km (10.5 miles) to the city centre. If you want some cash upon arrival, banking services, automatic teller machines (ATMs) and 24hr foreign exchange (forex) bureaus are available at the airport.

    Mombassa International Airport in Mombassa is the second largest international airport in Kenya. You will not need to fly there unless you are volunteering in Mombassa.

    I want the Kenya volunteer teaching program. When are school closed in Kenya?

    The schools in Kenya operate on a trimester basis. Classes start in January to March with April being a school holiday month. Schools open again in May to July with August off and then September to November. December is a school holiday month.

    Volunteers who are in Kenya during the school holidays can attend to other projects such as the orphanage, medical or Maasai volunteer program.

    What about malaria in Kenya?

    Make sure your doctor knows you are traveling to Kenya (don't just say Africa) so she can prescribe the right anti-malarial medication. Malaria prevention medication should be taken according to your doctor’s instructions before, during and after a visit to affected areas. Malaria is a serious tropical disease, which is spread by night-biting mosquitoes which transmit a parasite. Avoiding getting bitten is important and usually the most effective means to prevent the disease.

    Long sleeved shirts and trousers should be worn in the evenings and insect repellent can be used in areas with mosquitoes. If the area you are volunteering has mosquitoes, use a mosquito net at night. The most effective are those treated with an insect repellent.

    It is important to treat malaria as soon as symptoms arise. Its symptoms include chills, fevers, headache, nausea and vomiting. If you suspect you have malaria, see a doctor as soon as possible even if you have the treatment for malaria with you so that a correct diagnosis can be made.

    What if I get sick while volunteering in Kenya?

    We recommend that you be adequately insured both with medical and traveler’s insurance. Health care services in Nairobi, Mombassa, Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisumu and other major towns are good and up to date.

    A Flying Doctors Service is available to provide medical evacuation from remote areas to Nairobi hospitals in cases of emergency.

    How is the Kenyan food?

    Foods served during your volunteer period include traditional Kenya foods like ugali and sukuma wiki (corn meal and greens), githeri (maize and beans), irio as well as chapatis. Kenyan meals also consist of other universal dishes such as beef, fish, rice and pasta.

    French fries, burgers, sandwiches etc are available in restaurants and hotels. Breakfast usually consists of bread, eggs and tea. Fruits and vegetables are plenty in Kenya and feature frequently in menu preparations. Kenyan-grown coffee and tea are common beverages. Dessert is generally not served in homes.

    Is it safe to drink the tap water in Kenya?

    It is generally recommended that you drink bottled water during your volunteer stay in Kenya both in Nairobi and whilst upcountry or on a safari. You can buy bottled water from any supermarket and most shops in Kenya.

    The most common water-borne diseases in Kenya are typhoid, cholera and dysentery. Other less common ones include gastroenteritis, amoebiasis and dysentery.

    Is it safe to volunteer in Kenya? Any volunteer abroad safety tips?

    Kenya is one of the safest countries in Africa. We ensure you are placed in safe environment and you will be very well looked after while volunteering in Kenya. The Kenyan people are very warm and friendly towards foreigners.

    However, it is essential to take simple precautions and other volunteer abroad safety tips. Do not carry your valuables around. Take a copy of your passport and visas to carry with you. Leave your passport, credit cards, debit cards and other valuables such as cameras and laptops at home.

    Is it safe to go shopping in Nairobi?

    Nairobi is a major metropolitan area and the largest city in Kenya. Like any big city, it has criminal elements. Common criminal incidents involve snatching of purses, watches and jewellery.

    It is safe to shop in most sections of the city. We shall recommend and guide you regarding appropriate areas to shop and visit during your volunteer orientation and training. While out, do not wear any expensive clothing and jewellery; leave all your jewellery at home. Avoid dark alleys and take a taxi at night.

    What other safety issues should I be aware of?

    There is poverty in Kenya. You are likely to be viewed as very rich. You will probably attract souvenir hawkers as well as street children and beggars in smaller towns. Be sure to take some precautions such as:

  • Leave your passport, credit cards and debit cards in the room provided by your home stay host. Only carry a copy of your passport and little cash when going about your duties.
  • Do not walk on your own at night in the major cities.
  • Do not wear jewelery.
  • Do not carry a lot of camera equipment.
  • Wear a money belt that fits under your clothes.
  • Always avoid alleys/back streets.
  • Avoid using your ipod except in your room, at the restaurants or at the project during your break. An ipod in the streets may attract undue attention. You need to be aware of your surroundings at all times when walking, using public transport etc.
  • Avoid talking and walking with strangers.

    More safety issues will be discussed at your orientation.

    What clothing is appropriate? Any cultural restrictions?

    Bring along some comfortable, casual and semi-casual clothing: sweat shirts, shorts, jeans, skirts and any other clothing that you would ordinarily wear. Include warm clothing for nights, especially if you volunteer in July and August. Avoid flashy items. When out in the community, it is good to follow local etiquette. Female volunteers need to wear pants and/or long skirts. Dressing in Nairobi is quite liberal. However, approach it with cultural sensitivity in mind and you will be fine. Please ask when you are not sure what is and is not appropriate.

    Footwear can be hiking boots, old sports shoes or open-toed sandals.

    What do I need to pack?

    Volunteers need to bring their own towels, face towels and other personal effects. Volunteers are responsible for their own laundry.

    It is safe to bring your laptop, cameras, video cameras, hair dryers, shavers and other electrical products.

    Other suggested items:

  • Malaria tablets; consult your doctor for suggestions
  • Adapter plugs and converters for electrical appliances
  • Good walking shoes (running/tennis shoes are fine) and sandals
  • Moisturizing cream and suntan lotion
  • Insect repellent (e.g. Tabard, Rid, Jungle Juice, OFF, etc.)
  • Basic medical kit (e.g. aspirins, plasters, Immodium, antiseptic cream, and Anti-histamine cream, etc.)
  • Remember your visas, tickets, passports, money, etc.

    What about the electricity supply for laptops, hairdryers etc?

    Before traveling to Kenya, you need to know the type of electric plug and socket in your destination and also the voltage of the electric power, the frequency (Hertz) and any special requirements like fuses or earth connections that may interfere with the use of your equipment.

    The electricity supply in Kenya is 220/240 volts/50 Hz (240V 50 Hz D & G). The electric sockets are three-pin square (British-type).

    Remember that simple adapters do not convert voltage or frequency. Incorrect use may keep you from using your equipment, damage it and even cause personal injuries. Using a plug adapter just changes the shape of the prongs. Countries with different voltages and frequencies may use similar plugs. Check to need if you need a power converter and not simply a plug adapter.

    Do I need a visa to enter Kenya?

    Most visitors to Kenya need to obtain a visa including Europeans, Americans and nationals from Commonwealth countries such as New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and the UK. Volunteers need to obtain a tourist visa to enter Kenya. Visas are valid for three months from the date of entry and can be purchased upon arrival at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.

    You can also get a visa before you travel from Kenyan diplomatic missions overseas. You should apply well in advance, especially if you are doing it by mail.

    Click here to get the address of the Kenyan Embassy or Kenya High Commission in your country.

    A single-entry Kenya visa costs USD50 and a multiple entry visa USD100. Tourist visas can be extended for a further three month period.

    If you are planning on visiting just Kenya, a single-entry visa is all you need. If your travel plans include visiting Uganda or Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro or visit the Serengeti, then you will need a multiple-entry visa if you wish to re-enter Kenya again.

    What is the Kenya currency?

    The currency in Kenya is the Kenyan Shilling. The shilling comprises 100 cents. Coins are in denominations of 50c, 1, 5, 10, 20 and 40 shillings. Bank notes are in denominations of 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 shillings.

    Importation of foreign currency is unlimited and does not have to be declared on arrival.

    The value of the shilling fluctuates. Check the value of the shilling with a currency converter just before you go. Do not change too much money at one time and use the banks not the money changers.

    Are credit cards accepted in Kenya?

    Major credit cards such as MasterCard and Visa are accepted. American Express, Discover, Solo, Switch and Diners Club are often not accepted. ATMs will mostly accept MasterCard, Visa and Visa Electron cards.

    Major credit cards are accepted at supermarkets and expensive restaurants and hotels. However, it is advisable to carry some cash.

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