Q about Banking in Nairobi - Foreign ATM Cards in Nairobi


My wife and I are Canadian and are going to be in Nairobi for about 12 months. We're having problems figuring out how we are going to deal with money. We really don't want to be opening a bank account if we can avoid it. How reliable is access to Canadian bank accounts using a Canadian ATM card at an ATM in Nairobi? Is this practical or fraught with issues?

Visa and Master Card ATM machines are all over the place and you should have access to your Canadian account from here to withdraw cash. Please check with your Canadian bank to ensure international transactions are allowed. You might pay a premium on exchange rates and perhaps a fee for every transaction.

I recommend opening a local bank account (you will need a work permit for this), transferring money into it and then using the debit card and cheque book for all dealings in Kenya. Best of luck!

I used my Canadian account for three months in Kenya but it gets a little difficult to do deposits but I also did a great deal of online banking.  I used KCB in Kenya it was one of the only ones that worked for my card status. The fees are expense as it is service charges fees.


I use UK bank cards across Nairobi, and the rest of the country, without any major issues.  So long as your cards are Visa (credit or debit) you should have no problem.

However, from a security point of view I'd also recommend opening a local account.  CAr jackings and kidnappings do happen (although, thankfully, infrequently), and if you are ever in that situation you do not want to have your major banking card with a month's salary (or more) in it.  Reason is this... if you are kidnapped/car jacked the criminals will take you to an ATM and instruct you to withdraw maximum cash you can get.  They'll also look at your balance.  If you have balance of $3000, and you maximum daily withdrawl is $300, they are likely to hold you for 10 days until you have withdrawn all the money.

Therefore, if you have a local account you can do a daily/weekly transfer to ensure you only ever have 1 day's maximum withdrawl amount in the account for which you carry the card.

Sorry to be a harbinger of doom - I have been here for 7 months with absolutely no problems at all - but its always good to be forewarned, and take all precautions to minimise any potential risks to you and your bank balance.

Good luck with everything.  You should join the group 'Nairobi Expat Social (NES)' to meet other expats and do some networking (or just plain drinking and socialising!).  Find the group on facebook, or email me at nairobiexpatsocial[at]gmail.com


I have also successfully used a UK visa debit card in Kenya - Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) being the best.  You should tell your bank that you will be withdrawing in Kenya, to prevent the card being blocked.  Also check out the charges involved/exchange rate as this is another area where you could lose out, especially over the course of a year.

I would recommend opening an account in Kenya - there have been several incidences where the ATM has been unable to communicate with the UK bank = no cash!  The ATM 'ate' my card once - two days to get it back! There is a daily withdrawal limit, so if you need more in an emergency - tough!  You can hold an account in a foreign currency here (but the interest rates are poor).  The interest rates on a Ksh account are far and away better than what I get in the UK. 

Note that banking is not free here (Equity Bank might be).

Re: security, it is an idea to do regular transfers, but note that transferring money out of Kenya attracts a fee of around Ksh 2000 per transfer (KCB's fee). 

The highest risk of robbery etc is always at night. It might be a better idea, if planning to go out, to withdraw cash earlier and then leave your cards at home. 

As long as you are sensible and take precautions, abduction/carjacking is unlikely. I have heard of people being forced to withdraw from an ATM before/after midnight, but have not heard of incidences where people have been held until their accounts have been emptied.

Abductions have been on the rise over the last few months, but these appear to be planned, rather than opportunist and they usually take a family member  - child on way to/from school, for example.  These incidents are still rare and shouldn't put you off coming to this fantastic country.

Hi everyone,

Thanks so much for the advice, it is very helpful! It sounds like ATM cards are pretty reliable but not always so. I guess a follow-up to the ATM card question - for those of you who use UK or Canadian ATM cards with success, do these cards have a "chip" security feature in them or not? I'm just wondering whether Kenyan ATMs will be able to handle the newer security "chip" cards?

I wish we were going to be in a position that we could open a bank account, but unfortunately we won't be. I didn't make this clear before, but we're actually splitting our time about 60-40 between another E. African country and being in Kenya. While the visa's work out just fine for us to do this, we're not actually ever working in Kenya so we can't get a work permit - hence our problem getting access to money. It is all very confusing and a little frustrating. We wish we could just open a Kenyan account, pay the fees, and get it over with.

Anyhow, thanks for all your help!

Hi again, you don't need a work permit to open a bank account in Kenya!  All you need is some ID and a letter of introduction from an existing customer.  I originally opened an account when I was visiting Kenya for a couple of weeks - no problem.

About the cards, mine is the latest tech with 'chip n pin' etc.  I have also used it successfully to pay for goods and services here, as well as to withdraw cash.  Of course with additional charges here and there.

Try HSBC bank. Or do an online search for a bank that will allow you to set up an account from overseas. Or find out what banks are in the country and ask if they allow this.
Banks over have partner banks in various countries so you may be able to open an account in your country and this then makes it easier to open an account overseas.

Please note:  This thread is from 2010, so I expect the person making the enquiry may have been.........and gone!

I would like to open a bank account before my arrival in Kenya is this possible, if so what bank would be recommeded

Hi , You can open an international account with Standard Bank based on the Isle of Man. They will give you debit cards USD, EURO or GBP account. held in a safe financial and highly regulated market. Essentially you can move around the globe and your banking says in one place.

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