This is a follow up post on the one tip i posted, others in the diaspora contributed some useful tips for traveling to Kenya and Africa in general. (Thank you!) This post is to meant to highlight their contributions.
Lets start with the obvious: Make sure your passport hasn’t expired. Contact the Kenya Embassy, there are 3 locations, DC, LA and NY. A family member went to the NY office, where the staff was courteous and expedient in providing them with the travel documents they needed! This is unlike the passport blues of last year in DC. Way to go guys!
If you will be going through Britain, Magaidi has a tip for you:
…for those transiting through London, you might want to call the British Consulate, moreso for those changing Airports (eg. Flying into Heathrow and departing from Gatwick) in order to get a temporary VISA. This could save you inconveniences and delays once you get there.
Credit cards and cash? Input on this came from several bloggers. Ssembonge said
Amex is only accepted in the US and in establishments worldwide that cater for business travelers. In the US, some places donâ??t accept Amex.
If going to Kenya carry cash, which can be easily exchanged at the numerous bureaus. You get a better deal in downtown than in tourist hotel and banks. If you have a huge amount you can negotiate the exchange rate up front if you convert it all at once. Since many establishments accept Visa/MC, I usually end up returning with my dollars.
EGM added -
The one thing about using cards is the length of time it takes to process transactions. As late as October this year I saw a payment I made at Java way back in January get posted. Most of the transactions were posted within a week of making them, but about 5 or so took almost 5 months on average to post. So this time I will try and use cash everywhere, resorting to the card only as a last option.
Kikuyu Moja representing Deutschland and ‘Old World’ KT’s chimed in regarding credit cards that have worked just fine…
…my Maestro debit card and Master Card work perfectly well with Barclays.
E-Nyce (could you kindly give me a link to your blog?) – pointed out a very handy tip that Kudrinketh shared over on Bankelele’s . The handy tip from Kudrinketh is:
For all diaspora investors who will be sending tons of money home for IPO investment,i have a money saving tip.DO NOT USE MONEYGRAM OR WESTERN UNION.
I have been preaching this for years yet people still burn money through these sharks.here’s how you send money home for free,with the best rate.Bank of America(BOA) and Barclays bank have an agreement whereby one can use either bank’s ATM for free.so what i do is open a BOA acct in U.S,send the debit card home and whenever i want to send money i simply deposit money in my BOA acct and instruct the recipient to withdraw cash from Barclays ATM.No fees,you get market exchange rates,no hassle,you can get money 24/7.I have been doing this since 1998 and i can say I’ve saved a ton of money
Another money saving tip,y’all know how most banks charge foreign transaction(2-3%) fees when you use your credit card when you travel abroad.well,Capital One credit card waives this fee so you can swipe you card anywhere in the world without extra penalty.
And from Whispering Inn:
Carry only two cards â?? one debit card for cash and one credit card for purchases. Leave all your other cards behind.
The best option, though, is to open a separate checking account with your bank, transfer a maximum of $1,500 (or however much youâ??re gonna need for the entire trip) into the account, get one of those debit cards that also function as a credit card attached to it, and carry/use ONLY that one card during your travel. Its safer and easier to keep track of your spending. Leave all your other cards behind.
Iâ??ve also found American Express TCs (Travellers Cheques) to be very convenient.
Write and keep the phone numbers of your bank, VISA/MC, and Amex in a separate pocket from your wallet â?? in case you lose your wallet.
Keep receipts of all transactions and pore over your statement when you return or online everyday if you have a secure computer. Easier to catch unauthorized transactions.
Iâ??ve found Barclays bank foreign currency counter at Queensway branch the most helpful.
He also added that if you travel to kenya more than twice a year, just keep an account there and use cash from it when there. I second his recommendation to use Barclays, the service i received was pretty good.
PHONES & ACCESORIES
From Ntwiga are two awesome tips, he has a splitter for his laptop btw, that’s another tip you can check out over at his blog.
- sign up for Skype/Vonage or some other internet service for $10-19 or so a month with a new number and forward your calls from your regular number to your new internet service number. Get a head set with a mike and you can then use any PC in Kenya to make calls to the US/rest of the world for free or stupidly low rates. I used this service to call my credit card companyâ??s 800 number for free when they decided to freeze my account.
- buy a cheap used 900Mhz GSM phone like a Nokia 6100/6610 on eBay, take it with you and use it there. Good phones are expensive in Kenya. For comparison purposes, a 6610/6100 costs maybe $40 (Kshs 3500) on ebay vs. $110 (Kshs 8500) in Kenya. A â??crackberryâ? 7100 costs $80 on eBay (Kshs 7000) vs. atleast $250 (Kshs 18000) in Kenya. You can use the phone to check email, blog or even hook up a laptop to the net via GPRS.
For how to connect to the internet using GPRS, we hop on over back to Kikuyu Moja’s post on this.
In order to use GPRS with Safaricom, all you have to do (as a prepaid customer!!!) is to send an empty short message (SMS) to 4777. Thatâ??s it!
They will then shortly afterwards send you a confirmation sms and the settings for your GPRS capable (!) phone which you will be asked to save and activate using the following PIN: â??1234â??. Simple as that.
If the settings canâ??t be received for whatever reason, but your phone is able to do GPRS, then try the following settings for Safaricom:
Do check his site for more on GPRS in Kenya. What i can add for US KT’s – when looking for the data cable that you will need to use with your Quad band/GSM capable phone, buy it from ebay or amazon.com. Radioshack and Best buy are packaging the cable with software and inflating the price, you could have gotten it for $12 but with the software bundl its now $50.
- do not buy power adapters (plastic thingies that allow US cords to plug into Kenyan sockets) in the US – even assuming you can easily find them, theyâ??re cheaper in Kenya! Although JKE aka kikuyumoja might have better perspective on the quality of these. They work fine for me. YMMVâ?¦
I second this, the one i took last year burnt out in no time (Jensen), found a decently priced one at walmart $20 for Travelwise international converter set. Lets see if it holds up.
- wanna buy inexpensive gifts for the folks in the Motherland? Go to Walmart if you have â??em, or better a 99-cents store, to stock up on plenty of low-cost goodies.
- if youâ??re taking a laptop, load up as much music as you can on it. Not only good to have some comfort-food for yourself, others will be interested in hearing different music. Believe-it-or-not, I got so many Kenyan friends hooked on Trip-Hop and Nu-Soul, sounds they had never heard before. Funny, considering that these genres are heavily influenced by African rhythms.
I think that’s all for now, for those in the US, if you have Time Warner Cable and get BET Jams, saturday nights starting at 11:00PM eastern, you can watch great African videos, from the Soweto Gospel choir, Fela Kuti, Lingala and more. The program is called Soul Of Africa – Cool stuff.