Based on our experience, here are some of the best ways to get access to phone and internet service while travelling in Kenya.
Getting set up with cell service is very easy in Kenya, provided that you have an unlocked phone. Prepare for your trip by having your mobile provider give you the unlock code for your before you leave – this will be much harder to do once you are already abroad. (Note: If you have an iPhone you will either have to jailbreak it or pay to get the unlock code. Some providers (such as AT&T) will give you the code if you pay to cancel your contract. If possible this is the better option, since jailbreaking your phone will mean you can no longer receive official software updates.) If you don’t want to worry about unlocking your phone or find it impossible, you can buy an old school handset in Kenya for about 2,000 KSH.
Once you have an unlocked phone, purchase a SIM card by visiting nearly any local shop or vendor. These are easily found at the airport when entering Kenya. It’s best to ask around and find out what provider has the best service and is most commonly used around the areas where you’ll be living or travelling. When you purchase your SIM card don’t forget to also purchase airtime vouchers – scratcher cards that you enter into your phone to load credit which then translates into talking minutes and SMS messages at varying rates.
Some of the most common operators are Safaricom , Orange, Airtel, and Yu. Safaricom is the largest and has a wide network, Orange is popular among business people in Nairobi, Airtel has consistently low international calling rates, and Yu is a pretty new network competing with freebies and low rates.
Safaricom and Orange have good mobile data packages, and the easiest and cheapest way to stay connected to the internet is by smartphone. Packages for both companies start at about 1,000 KSH ($12) for 1.5 GB and are prorated if you purchase a larger package. Aside from accessing the internet directly on your phone, it is possible enable most Android smartphones as a mobile hotspot with a password that you can pick up with your computer. This will work with an unlocked iPhone on Safaricom, but not Orange.
Finally, the easiest and cheapest way to connect to the internet on your computer is by using a mobile modem – a USB dongle that plugs directly into your computer. This makes working while traveling so easy that you will regret the high prices of mobile data if you head back to the USA!