Can I Use US Dollars in Kenya? Answered!

Can I Use US Dollars in Kenya? Answered!


So, can I use US dollars in Kenya? The simple answer is yes. In fact, besides Kenyan money – called Kenya Shilling -the dollar is the second most used currency in Kenya. It is followed by the Pound and the Euro respectively.

The US dollar is the preferred means of payment for fun activities such as Hot Air Balloon Safaris and park entrance fees. Local safari guides, souvenir sellers, and high-end malls and businesses readily accept the USD, Pounds, and Euros for services rendered.

You will be able to use US dollars, pounds, or Euros at Airports and park entry points throughout Kenya. However, we advise our clients to convert some US dollars to Kenya Shillings to foot small bills such as bar bills, meals not included in your Kenya holiday itinerary, and so on.

On the same point, SMEs, especially those located away from tourist destinations, do not accept US dollars. You will have to pay them in Kenyan money.   

Kenya Money – What Currency is Used in Kenya?

The official currency in Kenya is the Kenya shillings, not to be confused with Tanzania or Uganda shillings which are different currencies. The Kenyan shilling is abbreviated as Ksh. The available notes are 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000.

The largest denomination is Ksh. 1000 which is equivalent to approximately $10. Coins are available in denominations of 5, 10, 20, and 40.

Most establishments in cities and big towns such as Nairobi, Mombasa, Maasai Mara, Nakuru, and Kisumu have POS systems that support debit and credit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and more. The same applies to most entry points into game reserves and airports.

Note that these POS occasionally breakdown due to extended power outages or internet connectivity issues and ATMs often run out of cash. So, do not depend entirely on your debit or credit card as a method of payment.

We advise you to carry some cash that you can use to cover such instances; about $150 is okay.

Remember to call your card company and bank and let them know you are traveling to Kenya. Sometimes, e-Wallets and Banks will sometimes decline foreign withdrawals and payments to safeguard your bankroll.

In this article, James, a Veteran Kenya wildlife safari director, shares insider tips on the best way to carry money on your trip to Kenya, the best currency to bring to Kenya, the accepted means of payment in Kenya, and the cost of a Kenya Safari.

What Is the Best Currency to Take to Kenya – USD vs Pound

The US dollar is the best currency to carry when traveling to Kenya. It’s more stable against the Kenya shilling compared to the Pound and the Euro and the easiest to convert into Kenyan money via local Forex bureaus or banks.

The prevailing Kenya Money to US dollar exchange rate is approximately 1$ for Ksh. 100. The Pound and Euro are not exactly unattractive.

Even where service charges are quoted in USD, Pounds and Euros are still accepted. But the pound to Kenya shillings exchange rate is not as consistent as the US dollar to Kenya Shillings exchange rate.

Also, the locals prefer USDs over pounds. They often quote a less favorable rate for the pound and Euro. The forex bureaus that exchange pounds are fewer compared to those that deal with the dollar.

We recommend converting Euros to Kenya shillings or USD.

 The Best Currency to Take to Kenya – When Will You Need to have Kenyan Currency?

It’s important to note that when you travel out of town or away from major tourist destinations, most establishments won’t accept cards or USDs. Below we share a list of instances when you must have Kenyan Money to pay your bills:

1. When Buying Food at the Local Eateries

Most local restaurants will prefer payments in Kenyan shillings. Some will accept credit or debit cards, but will hardly accept dollars. If you want to explore Kenyan local cuisines, carry Kenyan shillings in small denominations.

Notes of 50, 100, 200, and 500 are ideal largely because the food is cheap.

2. When Buying Drinks at Local Bars

If you want to experience the local nightlife, exchange your foreign currency into Kenya Shillings and join Kenyans in a nightclub. Personally, I recommend trying Tusker, Kenya’s flagship beer, and Nyama Choma (charcoal-grilled meat).

We Kenyans don’t turn down legit business. No one will turn you back for not having Kenya Shillings, but it’s best to pay the local currency to avoid inflated prices. Drinking at the local bars is much cheaper than the high-end clubs.

3. When traveling Using the Local Transport

When using matatus (public transport) and trains, you will need to use the Kenya shillings. This sector is informal so the need to use the local currency.

Taxi drivers are flexible, you can pay them using your card, Kenya shillings, or US dollars. And yes, you can use Uber to get around major cities in Kenya.

4. When Shopping

When shopping at the Maasai Market in Nairobi, Marikiti or Old Town in Mombasa, you can use both Kenya shillings or US  dollars. These open-air markets sell genuine souvenirs.

Believe me, a trip to Kenya is not complete until you have purchased a few (or several) beaded necklaces, bracelets, sculptures of the Big Five, and some beautiful paintings. These are the items that will remind you of the adventure you had in our beautiful country.

The prices of items at the market vary from as little as $1 to $200 depending on what you buy. Most of the traders will insist on cash(Kenyan or dollars) or mobile money transactions so be sure to carry Kenyan shillings with you.

If you go shopping in the supermarkets and local stores. cards and Kenyan money are what you will use to clear the bill.

Kenyan Money – The Accepted Payment Methods

1. Mobile Money – MPesa and Airtel Money

Mobile money outlets (Mpesa and Airtel) are prevalent in Kenya, but they only support the local currency. Rather than putting a lot of cash in your pocket, we suggest you use MPESA.

It’s safer and it’s almost as accepted as cash in hand. Checkthe latest Mpesa charges here.

Important Notes about Using Mpesa in Kenya.

  • You can only load Mpesa using Kenya Shillings. So, you will first need to convert US Dollars to Kenyan money. Luckily, there are lots of Mpesa stores in major towns as well as in rural areas.
  • You must have a Safaricom phone number to use Mpesa services.
  • You will be required to produce your ID or Passport when depositing and withdrawing money using MPesa.
  • MPesa recently integrated with Paypal to allow you to transfer funds from your PayPal wallet to Mpesa.

2. The Best Currency to Take to Kenya – Debit and Credit Cards

When traveling, you pay most bills using your debit or credit card. So, pre-load your prepaid card with enough cash. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express are all accepted in Kenya.

Most big hotels in Kenya readily accept debit and credit cards. Park entrances usually have a POS system where you can pay the entrance fees via your card. However, we recommend that you don’t rely on your card all the time.

The POS system often fails and we suggest you carry some cash on you to cover such incidents.

Tools for Looking Up ATM Machines in Kenya:

  • Visa ATM Locator
  • MasterCard ATM Locations
  • Barclays Bank in Africa

Other modes of payments are eWallets such as Paypal, Skrill, Neteller, and WebMoney which are starting to edge their roots in Kenya, but we barely have businesses that accept them.

3. The Best Currency To Take To Kenya – Dollars and Kenyan Shillings

Cash is widely used in the country when paying bills. Some services are often quoted in dollars and shilling. Services like park entrance fees are quoted in dollars and shillings.

High-end hotels, restaurants, and clubs will take dollars as well. In areas where tourists and foreigners frequent, you can pay for services and goods in dollars.

Can I Use US Dollars in Kenya – Dollar Series not Accepted in Kenya

Please note that due to the number of fakes notes in circulation, no US Dollar bills printed before 2003 are accepted in Kenya. In fact, your safest bet is to carry notes printed after 2006.

Kenya Money to US dollar exchange rate – Where To Exchange Dollars

When exchanging your US dollars for the Kenyan shillings, you can use these two options

Forex Bureaus

You will be able to exchange your dollars for the Kenyan shillings in forex bureaus found in the major towns such as Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru and, Kisumu. Walk down the streets of Nairobi, and you will spot a large number of exchange bureaus in the CBD. Most of them operate from 9 am to 7 pm, but we have a few operating 24 hours.

As a general rule, you will get a better deal from Forex Bureaus if you are looking to exchange a small amount. Customers who want to exchange large sums are better off transacting with a bank.

The three international airports (Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu) have forex bureaus that are open 24 hours. You can exchange your cash immediately after arrival.

Banks

Banks too are ideal for exchanging currency, but their rates are not as favorable as those of bureaus. Kenya has over 40 banks with branches all over the country, so exchanging your dollars shouldn’t be a problem even in the small towns in the country.

Try and carry newer bills as banks are likely to reject older dollar bills.  Banking hours are from 9 am to 3 pm Monday to Friday, and 9 am to 11 am on the first and last Saturday of the month for most banks.

Do not change your money in the black market even if the rates are very attractive. It’s illegal and the risk of being swindled or going to jail is very high

What Can 100 Kenyan Shillings Buy?

You can buy a cup of Kenyan tea or coffee at a local café. Ksh.100 will buy you a trip from Mombasa CBD to Mamba village using a matatu. It buys 2 loaves of bread (each 400gm). Ksh 100 is equivalent to approximately $1.

Kenya Money – How Much Does a Kenya Safari Cost?

The total cost of a Kenya safari depends on several factors including your comfort level, mode of transport, and what you want to do and see while in Kenya. I would advise you to have a budget of $150- $200 a day to cover your daily needs.

This will be money for food, transport and light shopping, exclusive of safaris.  Cheap Kenya Safari goes for as low as $350 per person sharing, Kenya family holidays for as low as $500 per person sharing, and luxury Kenya holidays for $1,200 per person per day.

We always advise our clients that budget travel does not mean cheap, and cheap can be expensive in the long run. Yes, you can get cheap services, but they can be of poor quality and unsafe.

Let’s break down the cost of Kenya safari for you.

Cost of Accommodation in Kenya  

There are a number of accommodations for you to choose from when on holiday in Kenya:

Budget Hotels

Budget hotels are sometimes not the best choice for luxury-oriented travelers,  but if you are on a budget, they will do. You can find a clean room with hot showers for $30 -$60 a night in towns like Mombasa and Nairobi.

Hostels

Hostels are few and not always available. They are cheap and offer decent accommodation for those backpackers. In Nairobi, Manyatta Backpackers is a great place to stay.

It is near the city and a few minutes cab ride to the Nairobi National Park and the Giraffe Centre. In Mombasa, Tulia Backpackers is an ideal location to stay. Expect to pay $20 – $40 per night.

Serviced Apartments

The cost of a serviced apartment can range from $35 to $250 depending on the location of the house, size, and season- you will pay more during the peak season. A three-bedroom serviced apartment a few meters from Diani

Beach goes for $100-250 in the peak season while the same sized apartment in Mombasa town costs $70-$150 during the off-peak-season.

High- end Hotels

Kenya has many 4 and 5 stars hotels scattered across all the major tourist destinations in the county. You will receive excellent services but at a premium price.

Expect to pay over $100 a night should you choose that level of comfort. In the Maasai Mara, the Cottars Safari Camp is the place to stay if you want a luxurious experience during your safari.

Can I Use US Dollars in Kenya? – Cost of Transport in Kenya

You have a lot of choices when traveling around the country. You can use either public transport or taxis to get to various destinations.

Taxis

Traveling around Nairobi and Mombasa is quite easy thanks to mobile apps like Uber, Taxify, and Little Cab; all of which can be paid using cards, in shillings, and dollars. Taxify and Little Cabs are local cab-hailing apps that you can download on your Android and IOS phones.

In some areas, only local taxis operate. They are no metered so the fee will be determined by the driver. They can be quite expensive especially on long rides.

The drivers are paid using the local currency, the shilling. A ride can cost anywhere from $5 and above depending on the distance traveled.

Matatus (Public Transport)

Save your money and use public transport (matatu) during the day and take cabs at night. If you want to experience the local transportation, (ultimate Kenyan experience), take a matatu from one location to the other.

Matatus cover every part of the country, and for this, you will need local currency. A ride can cost as little as $1 to as much as $20 depending on the distance. City Hoppa and Kenya Bus Service buses ply all routes in the capital Nairobi and are reliable.

Car Rental

If you plan on renting a car for the duration of your stay, a car rental will cost you anywhere from $40-$100 daily and will depend on the size and type of vehicle. An independent safari for two people with a rental car and a driver will cost you $80-120.

If you are traveling as a group or family, opt for a minibus, it will save you money by sharing game drives with other travelers.

Train

A trip from Nairobi to Mombasa using the SGR train will set you back 30 bucks and take only four hours. Make sure to book the train in advance as it fills up very quickly.

Flights

Flights are expensive but will save you time on the road. Check out for deals from Jambojet and Fly 540. A local flight from Nairobi to Mombasa will cost $70.

The best Currency to Take to Kenya- Cost of Food in Kenya

Local restaurants may or may not accept credit and debit cards, so have to cash with all the time. A two-course meal will be charged at $10-20 in a local joint and $40-70 in a top-end restaurant.

A plate of ugali (cornmeal staple) and nyama choma ( barbeques beef) will set you back $3. If you are traveling as a group, order your name choma in Kilos. For 1Kg of nyama choma and ugali you will pay $10 – $15. A one-liter bottle of drinking water goes for $0.5.

Street food is common in the towns but is careful where you eat. It’s really cheap so with a budget of $2, that a full meal. A large pizza at Pizza Inn (a local pizza chain) will average $20.

If you choose to stay in a  serviced apartment, groceries worth $50 will feed a family of 4 for five days. Fruits, vegetables, meats, and drinking water are affordably priced and can be found in the local stores.

Kenyan Money – The Cost of Nightlife in Kenya

Kenya has a vibrant nightlife which you should discover. Tusker (beer) is Kenya’s most famous local beer, and a bottle goes for between $1.7 and $4 depending on the hotel or lodge of your choice.

A glass of Kenyan wine goes for about $4. Kenyans love a good party so join in the fun in the local bars and taste the local brews.  

High-end bars and clubs stock a melange of other beers (local and international) and whiskey, rum, and a host of alcoholic drinks that you will not find anywhere else in the world.

Expect to pay entrance fees that can go as high as $20 especially if the club is hosting a local performer, musician or band for the night. You will find the same tusker being sold for $6 and wine going for $8 a glass in these establishments.

We hope we have answered your question. Yes, you can use your US dollars in Kenya when on a camping safari to pay for services and goods, but at some point, you will need the local shilling to get the basic services afforded to you.

Your dollars will get you more value for your money in our country. Please contact us if you have more questions and we’ll be happy to help you plan an educative, memorable, and immersive adventure in our beautiful country.

Book a skype date with us as we help you navigate through all the hurdles when planning and budgeting for your holiday. We are born and raised in Kenya so we know all the sweet spots to take you for a great experience when you come visiting.

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