Kenya Mobile Phones - Can I use my cell phone in Kenya?

Yes. In Kenya mobile phones are used widely – much more than normal land lines. One in three adults in Kenya carry a mobile phone.

While the northern part of the country has no network access, the southern part – where most tourists stay – has good network access. This goes especially for the wide areas around Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa, and as well for the whole coast region, the popular safari parks and the long road between Nairobi and Mombasa. See below:

Kenya mobile network coverage map

kenya mobile phones network coverage map


Kenya cell phone coverage map

However, cell phone users from America and Canada may have a problem because those countries adopted a different network system than (most of) the rest of the world. Kenya, as well as Europe, uses the GSM 900 system while the USA and Canada have the 850/1900 system. Your cell phone has to be compatible with the GSM 900 system. So while every mobile phone sold in Europe will work, only some North American tri-band or quad-band phones will work in Kenya. Check with your service provider or cell phone dealer if you are in doubt. It is possible to rent a phone from your service provider.

Be aware that calling in Kenya is usually very expensive. Depending on your service provider, you’ll easily pay 3-4 dollars a minute, both for foreign calls and for using your cell phone inside Kenya. Also be aware that receiving phone calls is usually just as expensive as making a phone call, while receiving phone calls costs nothing at home! This is because most service providers have the policy that the people who call you from home, may not know that you are abroad, and therefore cannot be expected to pay international phone costs.

One solution for big phone bills is getting a cheap SIM card after you arrive in Kenya, from one of the two major mobile providers, Safaricom or Celtel. If you put this in your phone, you’ll call against local tariffs. In order to use this, your phone must be SIM-lock free. At least in Europe, this is the rule with many subscription-based phones.

However, I prefer the following. Text messages (SMS) are much, much cheaper with most service providers to send, and free to receive. A further advantage is that they also often come through with a bad network. So I do this if I’m in Kenya. I tell my friends they can only reach me through SMS. I also tell this in my email responders. I turn off my voice mail system, because listening to your voice mail messages is just as expensive as making phone calls. I also turn off my phone, because many people don’t know where I am. Then once a day I switch on my mobile phone for 5 minutes, get text messages if there are any and immediately switch it off again. It’s also a way to give your mind some rest and enjoy the slowness of life in Kenya. In Kenya mobile phones must keep quiet a bit in my opinion – Hakuna Matata...

More about international cell phone use for North American users
More about Kenya mobile phones: Safaricom
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