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Packing Guidance for Kenya

This guidance is designed to describe appropriate clothing, the cultural context where you will be living and working, and the professional expectations of your workplace.

As you decide what to bring, keep in mind there is a 100-pound weight limit on checked baggage.

In general, most items you will need are available in country and locally acquired items are often the best at helping you integrate into your community. However, locally available items may not be the brands, quality, prices, or sizes you are used to. Bringing some key items from home might make your transition to service more comfortable.

This guidance has been compiled by Peace Corps staff and Volunteers and is based on their experience. Use this information as an informal guide as you make your own packing list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect packing list!

This packing guidance is designed to help you think through different categories of items and consider what you might want to bring, considering work expectations, cultural considerations, and your own personal preferences.

Kenya has varied weather throughout the country from the cool highlands, humid coastal regions, and the hot and semi-humid lake region. Specifically in Kisumu, there is abundant sunshine year round. Temperatures range from a minimum of 57°F to 65°F to a maximum of 86°F to 97°F throughout the year. Heaviest rainfall in April and lowest in January. Average annual rainfall ranges from 68 to 76 inches.

Raincoats and umbrellas are available in Kisumu, but may not be the quality you are used to. We recommend bringing a light-weight but breathable rain jacket and/or umbrella and a warm jacket or fleece for chilly rainy season nights.

Peace Corps Kenya provides the following items:

  • Smart phone/tablet: All Peace Corps Volunteers are required to carry a smart phone and or laptop to use for communication, location reporting, and work activity reporting. If you are unable to bring an unlocked smart phone or laptop, Peace Corps Kenya will provide you money to purchase a smart phone and tablet in country that is compatible with Peace Corps Volunteer Reporting and Grants (VRG) system. Depending on the circumstances, Volunteers may be responsible for replacing lost, stolen, or damaged devices.
  • Bicycle: You will receive money in your allowance to purchase a bike and bike helmet depending on your need. You will be required to wear a bike helmet at all times when riding any bike.
  • Mosquito net: Malaria is endemic in Western Kenya and in addition to taking malaria prophylaxis, Peace Corps Volunteers are required to sleep under a mosquito net.
  • Medical kit: Peace Corps Kenya provides all Volunteers with a med kit.
  • Water filter: The tap and/or well water in Kenya is not potable. All Volunteers receive a high quality activated charcoal water filter for water purification at site.
  • Solar lamp: This lamp comes with a small solar panel that can also charge your cell phone.
  • Foot locker: A lockable foot locker will be provided to store your items safely.
  • Library of work related books and novels: The Volunteer Resource Room at the office in Kisumu has a small, but growing, lending library. Volunteers are encouraged to take and share for personal use.
  • Peace Corps Kenya cookbook: Many tried and true recipes using local ingredients.

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take:

  • Pets
  • Weapons
  • Explosives
  • Radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted)
  • Drones
  • Automobiles or motorcycles
  • Flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers
  • Valuables such as precious jewelry or family heirlooms

Drugs

Do not bring any drug that has not been authorized by the Peace Corps for medical purposes without prior consultation with Office of Health Services Pre-Service. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Illicit drugs, including marijuana and related products such as CBD and herbal substances such as kratom, are prohibited during Peace Corps service, even if they are legal in your home of residence. If you use, possess, or distribute illicit drugs, you will be administratively separated from service.

Work clothing
  • Coverage: Appropriate professional attire for both the education and health sector consists of long pants, long skirts, or long dresses, and shirts/tops that cover the shoulders and upper arms, waist, and lower back. All dresses and skirts should cover the knees, even when sitting. We recommend that you bring at least one nice outfit such as button-down/slacks or blouse/skirt for high-level meetings. Pants are acceptable for women, although many women in rural and professional settings will wear long skirts or dresses.
  • Fabric: Because of the heat in the classroom (for the education sector) and because the health sector often requires biking to satellite work locations, we recommend lightweight, breathable fabrics, provided they are not see-through.
  • Cleanliness: While clothes may have quite a bit of wear and tear due to rough washing, transportation, and manual labor, great care should be taken to be neat, clean, and presentable. Being neat and cleanly dressed is a sign of respect and pride in Kenya. Dirty or ripped clothing is unacceptable in professional and public environments.
  • Tailors: There are also local tailors who can make and copy clothing using local fabric at a reasonable cost.
Leisure and recreational clothing
  • Leisure: Undershirts, tank tops, lightweight T-Shirts, shorts, yoga pants, and leggings are appropriate for sleep and lounging at home.
  • Exercise: It is appropriate to wear shorts and tank-tops for sports and exercise. If shorts are worn for exercise in public, they should be just above the knee (board shorts style) or longer. Sports bras and tight fitting leggings should be covered for public exercise.
  • Swimming: Kenya has many rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and beaches, and provides ample opportunities for swimming. Swimsuits should be modest, such as knee-length board shorts, one-piece swim suits, and modest bikinis.
  • Sun protection: The sun in the dry season can be very strong. Sunscreen is provided in your Peace Corps med kit. If you have a favorite, bring it. We recommend bringing a hat. Sunglasses are available locally, but may not be the quality you are used to and may not offer the same protections such as UV and polarization.
Undergarments

Underwear and bras are available locally, but may be of lower quality than you are used to and may not be easily available in your size. They also tend to wear out more quickly due to rough washing and line drying. We recommend you bring at least a six month supply, if not more.

Shoes are available for purchase in Kisumu and at local markets and come both second hand and new. They are available in a large variety of quality and sizes, but may be difficult at first to locate. We recommend that you use the below guidance to bring at least one pair of each type of shoe you think you will need to get you started. If your feet are larger than size 12 in either men or women, you may consider bringing more than one pair.

  • Education sector: Closed toed shoes are appropriate for the classroom. Lightweight closed toed shoes or sandals are appropriate for higher level work meetings. Tennis shoes and rubber sandals are not appropriate for the classroom.
  • Health sector: The health sector requires frequent biking or walking to satellite work locations. We recommend appropriate footwear such as tennis shoes or durable, fully securing sandals. Lightweight closed toed shoes or sandals are appropriate for higher level work meetings.
  • Shoe polish: The dust, dirt, and mud of unpaved roads and paths is hard on shoes. We recommend that you bring at least one tin of shoe polish of the appropriate color to maintain your shoes and keep them looking sharp. You may also consider waterproofing wax/sealer.
  • Leisure and recreation: We recommend bringing one pair of shoes for your preferred form of recreation, whether it is running, trail running, bicycling, hiking, wading in the water, playing soccer, etc.
  • Rubber slippers: Many Kenyans wear inexpensive rubber or plastic slippers while going about their daily activities and also bathing. These are appropriate for casual public activities such as going to the market or visiting friends in off hours. They are inappropriate for professional settings and important public events such as weddings and funerals, but wearing them when appropriate will help you integrate and prolong the life of your work and leisure footwear. A pair of rubber slippers costs around 200 Kenyan Shillings (KSH) ($1.50)
  • Waterproof shoes: During the rainy season, roads and paths become extremely muddy. Many Kenyans wear rubber boots during the rainy season. Although available locally, they may not be the same sizes (difficult to find larger than men’s 10) and the quality may not be the same as in the US. Although not strictly necessary, you may consider bringing water proof boots or shoes. Keep in mind that it is very warm here, so if you decide to bring rainy season footwear, try to avoid anything with insulation or linings. Keep in mind it should be something you feel comfortable walking or biking in.

You should bring a three-month supply of any prescription and/or over the counter medications you use that are authorized/approved by the Peace Corps.

Note: Prior to service, Peace Corps supplies all volunteers with a medical kit containing basic, over-the-counter medications, as well as multivitamins.

See a detailed list of items included in the medical kit.

The medical unit will replenish prescriptions after the initial three-month training.

If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs (of the current prescription) with you. Contact lens use will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

See additional guidance from the Office of Medical Services.

Additional guidance for Peace Corps/Kenya
  • Toiletries: Most toiletries (such as shampoo and conditioner for a variety of hair types, toothpaste and toothbrushes, deodorant, soap, razors, etc.) can be found locally in Kisumu. If you have favorites, bring a good supply as they may not be available in country.
  • Menstrual products: Pads and tampons are generally available in Kisumu, but may not be found in your site. The Medical unit will provide volunteers who menstruate an extra amount in their monthly living allowance to purchase feminine hygiene products. They will provide reusable menstrual cups on request.
Personal devices

Peace Corps Kenya encourages Volunteers to bring laptops, external hard drives, flash drives, tablets, smart phones or other devices, but will give Trainees funds to purchase a smart phone and tablet if necessary. These devices and the shared office computers are adequate for all work and reporting requirements. There are repair shops in Kisumu, but may be unreliable and expensive. If you chose to bring a personal device, we recommend bringing used or inexpensive ones. Smart phones must be unlocked and able to take a Kenya SIM card.

Voltage

Kenya runs on 220v. Most phone and laptop chargers are compatible with both 120v (US standard) and 220v. Electronics sold in Kenya are 220v compatible. Make sure in advance of bringing any electronics from the US that they are compatible with 220v. Electronics that are only 120v compatible may burn out, catch fire, or damage the battery if they are plugged into 220v. Small travel voltage converters are available for purchase online, but are generally low amperage and will not support high amperage electronics such as hair dryers or kitchen appliances. Plug converters are widely available.

Power surges

The electrical grid in Kenya is can be unreliable with frequent power outages, power surges, or mixed sources of electricity, such as diesel generators. Because of this, we recommend using a surge protector when plugging in your electronics. Surge protector multi plugs are available in Kisumu, but may be more expensive than what is available in the US. Before buying a surge protector, make sure that it is 220v compatible.

Access and reliability

Access to electricity varies greatly at Volunteer sites. Some Volunteers will have electricity in their homes, others may have to rely on pay for service charging booth in their community, while others may have to travel to their nearest road town to recharge devices. Many Volunteers find extra batteries, battery extenders, and/or solar chargers very useful for keeping phones and other small devices charged.

All Volunteers will be provided a solar lamp that can also charge a cellphone. Candles, flashlights, and rechargeable LED strips are widely available in Kisumu.

Outlets

Outlets in Kenya use both the square three prong plug, as well as the round two prong (more European). Plug adapters and power strips are available for purchase in Kisumu, but are sometimes low quality and may present a fire hazard if they fit poorly. We recommend bringing at least one high quality adapter or adapter set that is compatible with US, French, and UK plugs/outlets.

Based on your interests and personal preferences there may be additional items you will want to consider bringing with you. Below is a description of the common activities Volunteers engage in and what different Volunteers have said they enjoy having that might be more difficult to find in-country. Note: these items are not required or even recommended, but they might be nice to have.

Arts and crafts: Supplies are available in larger cities in Kenya, but are expensive. Doing crafts can be an excellent hobby and way to bond with community members and students. If there is an art or craft that is near and dear to you, you may want to consider bringing some supplies.

Books: The Peace Corps Kenya Volunteer Resource Center has a small lending library of novels and educational text books that are available to Volunteers. Some Volunteers prefer e-readers to paper books due to the weight of transport, but in some sites it can be difficult to charge e-readers.

Camping: There are many camping opportunities available in Kenya, although they are not as developed as traditional camp grounds would be in the US. For those who enjoy camping, you may want to consider bringing a rainfly, a sleeping pad, high quality hand pump water filter, and a lightweight sleep sack. Consider additional camping gear based on what you would normally use. Keep in mind that you are prohibited from bringing fuels or other flammable materials.

Cooking: Many Volunteers find comfort and connection in cooking for themselves and others. Traditional Kenyan kitchens are very different from kitchens in the United States. Cooking is typically done in pots rather than pans, food is cut while being held in the hand rather than on cutting boards, and meals are heated over charcoal, wood fires, or gas burners rather than stove tops – although most Volunteers use a two burner gas range similar to a stove top. For Volunteers who love to cook, many items are available but if you have a favorite knife, or other cooking utensil, bring it! Quality items are available, but expensive.

Food: Traditional Kenyan cuisine consists primarily of ugali (maize meal) with beans, vegetables, fish or meat. See Living Conditions for additional detail.

  • Seasoning: The main spices in Kenya are curry, chili, and salt. Dry and fresh herbs (basil, rosemary, thyme) can be found in larger supermarkets; some Volunteers choose to bring an assortment of dried spices for a taste of home.
  • Snacks and supplements: High-nutrition snack foods such as granola or protein bars can be difficult to find or are expensive, but many volunteers supplement their diets with locally available peanuts and peanut butter. Snacks like chips, cookies, and crackers are widely available. There is a health food store in Kisumu, but items can be quite expensive.
  • Coffee: Kenya is a coffee growing country and has numerous brands of ground coffee. Coffee presses can be purchased at the larger supermarkets in Kisumu. Instant coffee is widely available.

Gardening: Many Volunteers take up gardening as a physical outlet and to produce herbs and vegetables that are harder to come by in rural and regional settings.

  • Greens: Sukumu Wiki (a spinach/kale type plant) is the most common leafy green in Kenya cuisine. Lettuce is also available in larger markets.
  • Herbs: Herbs such as mint, parsley, cilantro, ginger, and green onions are common in most markets. Oregano, dill, turmeric, and sage grow well in the Kenyan climate, but are harder to find in the local markets.
  • Vegetables: Numerous fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, and pumpkin are available seasonally.
  • Seeds: Seeds are sold in most agricultural stores, but may have low germination rates. If augmenting your diet with home-grown goods appeals to you, consider bringing a selection of seeds.
  • Tools: Most gardening implements are available locally, but hand trowels, pocket knives, and clippers can be hard to find.

Games: Scrabble, monopoly, and chess are locally available in Kisumu at larger markets such as GAME and Carrefour. Other games such as cards, Uno, Settlers of Catan, or other card or board games can be fun and engaging ways of connecting to your community. Just no gambling!

Gifts: While by no means required, a small gift can be a nice way to make early connections with host families and community members. Calendars of American scenes, coffee table books, pictures of yourself in the US, and small knickknacks are very much appreciated.

Hair: Salons and barbers (Kinyozi) in Kenya specialize in African hair and hair products are readily available. Outside of Kisumu, it may be difficult to find salons and barbers who have experience with hair from other parts of the world. For those Volunteers who do not use local salons and barbers, some seek haircuts from fellow volunteers, while others choose to groom themselves. You may consider rechargeable clippers/trimmers, hair cutting scissors, and/or razors.

Holiday Decorations: Being away from family and friends can be difficult around holiday time. Bring decorations to decorate your house or to share with your community, an excellent way to achieve Goal 2 activities!

Household goods: You will be provided pillows, bedsheets, towels, but the comfort and quality may be far below what is available in the United States. Consider packing any “can’t do without” household item, e.g., Coffee press or Melita filter with paper filters.

Music: Many Volunteers who play a musical instrument find comfort and connection by bringing an instrument with them to Kenya. Please be aware that the climate can be very hard on musical instruments and they may be attractive to theft. If you consider bringing a musical instrument please do not bring something of high monetary or sentimental value. Many Volunteers enjoy having a small, portable Bluetooth speaker to play music in their home and with community members. Please see the section above on Electricity before selecting a rechargeable speaker.

Personal items: Showing photos of your home and family can be an excellent way to connect with your new community and work partners. Consider bringing a small photo album with prints as internet connectivity is not always reliable. Consider bringing other sentimental or personal items that help keep you grounded and connected to your sense of home and self, but please do not bring anything that you could not live without in case of loss or damage.

Photography: Many Volunteers take excellent photos on their smart phones. For more avid photographers, consider bringing your camera equipment, but understand that it may present a temptation to theft. Please consider how you intend to use your camera equipment, especially when taking photos of people. “Extractive” photography is highly discouraged by Peace Corps Kenya and can create conflict when photos are taken without the subject’s consent. Please seek consent before photographing others.

Sports: Kenyans love sports! Primarily football (soccer), but also basketball, and other team sports. Sports can be a great way to connect with your community and students. Footballs and basketballs are available locally, but other types of sports equipment can be harder to find, such as Frisbees, baseballs/gloves, badminton, etc.

Travel: Peace Corps Kenya recommends that you secure checked baggage during international flights with TSA-approved locks. You may also consider bringing lockable cables for securing bags to the top of vehicles while using local transportation. Other items you may consider are a backpack, small mouthed water bottle (easier to drink from on bumpy roads), and a debit or credit card if you intend to travel outside of Kenya.