Suggestions for Fulbrighters and others living abroad

Jen and I put together a list of suggestions and “things we wished we had known.” It is specific to our experience as Fulbrighters in Kenya, but anyone studying or living abroad might find it useful.

Money and Finance

  1. Set aside about 15% of the total grant value for taxes.
  2. Set up wire-transfer paperwork at your home bank prior to departure. You’ll need to sign it in person, so you can’t do it once you leave. The Fulbright money will be deposited in your US bank and you will want to transfer it to your Kenyan bank. Your US ATM card will work here, but you get socked with foreign withdrawal fees each time.
  3. Discuss with your US bank and credit card company your travel plans and banking needs. We told our bank and credit card that we were moving to Kenya, but they blocked our card anyway. Very frustrating – but they say it is standard procedure to prevent fraud. It didn’t seem like there was anything more we could do to prevent being blocked – so be prepared!
  4. Set up a local bank account. Wire transfers are a very common form of payment here, especially for school tuition. You need to have a reference from someone you know that already has an account with that bank. Ask someone you work with or your host.
  5. Bring enough cash/travelers checks to last for a few weeks (especially if your debit/credit card is blocked).

Communication and Gadgets

  1. Buy a cell phone. Your US phone will not work here. My phone has a “tethering” feature so I can connect it to my laptop and use it as my internet connection.
  2. Set up M-Pesa account (mobile money through cell phone). Ask your local bank about their mobile banking features. That way you can transfer money from your bank account to M-Pesa through your phone, then buy airtime and internet data bundles.
  3. Bring a step down transformer (or two) for your electronics. We blew out the travel adapter on day 1. We purchased a step-down transformer from a local electronics store, but it was expensive (about $80 if I remember correctly). The transformer has a fuse and hopefully protects a bit against power surges (very common).
  4. We shipped our printer/scanner here. It was a little expensive to ship it but was very useful.

Permits and Forms

  1. My university asked me to pay an “affiliation fee” in order to get the research permit from the National Council on Science and Technology. As a Fulbrighter, you should receive an appointment at your university – you do not require a separate affiliation.
  2. Bring LOTS of passport-sized photos. 10 per person would not be too many.
  3. Bring copies of your diplomas from all of your degrees (and those of your family). In Kenya, the diploma counts, not the official transcript. You will need it for the research permit.


  1. Bring lots of kid’s medicine – chewable tablets, Tylenol, allergy meds, etc. The kid’s meds here don’t taste very good.
  2. Bring lots of sunscreen. It is surprisingly expensive here ($30 a bottle!)
  3. Caucasian bath and beauty products (shampoo, lotions, make-up) are often difficult to find or very expensive, so stock up or plan to ship via Amazon during your stay.
  4. Feminine products are very limited (especially tampons) so plan accordingly.
  5. Child car seats are not common in Kenya so make sure to bring your own.
  6. Confirm details of your health care coverage while abroad, including what (if anything) will be provided by your host university.

Schools and Family Life

  1. Kenyan professors (and students) tend to dress more formally than Americans. You may want to pack some dress clothes for teaching and special occasions.
  2. Bring school supplies for you and kids – manila folders, pens, pencils, notebooks, etc.
  3. For primary/secondary schools, but sure to investigate the curriculum and disciplinary procedure. The curriculum in the local schools is not great, and many use corporal punishment. International schools are expensive, but generally very good. Some local private schools may be suitable.
  4. There are some great second hand clothing markets around the country – so ask the locals.  You can easily pick up gently used, American and European name brand clothing for under 100 shillings (85 shillings = $1)
  5. Domestic help is readily available throughout Kenya.  The going rate ranges from 500 -1000 shillings per day in the Nairobi area, but is probably less in rural communities.   As you will be washing clothes in buckets by hand (as almost everyone does) you’ll appreciate the help and provide a job to a local.  These individuals can also help with shopping and meal preparation of Kenyan food – a great way to taste traditional cuisine and save money on your grocery bill as they typically know where the freshest and most affordable produce is sold.

Enjoy your time abroad!

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