There’s plenty of reason to visit Kenya. Maybe you’re headed to the Maasai Mara in search of wildlife, or looking for a romantic beach break along the magical Indian Ocean coastline. Or perhaps you’re moving to work in the vibrant city of Nairobi. Whether you’re in Kenya for business or pleasure, you’re going to need some cash to make the most of your time there.
ATMs are a handy way to withdraw local currency while you’re in Kenya. They’re economical, too, as long as you avoid common pitfalls and unnecessary fees. Get clued up, with our guide to ATMs in Kenya.
You’ll find ATMs in major towns and cities in Kenya, but in smaller towns, villages and rural areas, you’ll need to carry cash. Expats living in Kenya report that there are sometimes connection problems between ATMs and foreign banks, which result in transactions being declined at some ATMs but accepted at others. It’s wise to carry some cash just in case.
If you’re in one of the towns or cities you’ll find an ATM in a bank branch, or shopping mall - otherwise, find a convenient ATM by using one of the following ATM locators:
- Stanbic Bank ATM Locator
- Bank of Africa ATM Locator
- KCB Bank ATM Locator
- Co-operative Bank ATM Locator
- CBA ATM Locator
- Barclays Kenya ATM Locator
Visa is far more widely accepted in Kenyan ATMs than Mastercard. Make sure you check the network the ATM accepts before you put your card in - if the ATM doesn’t recognise the card it could retain it, causing a major inconvenience. In Nairobi, other large cities, or in areas where there are lots of tourists, you’re more likely to find an ATM which works on multiple networks.
Amex has only a dozen or so networked ATMs in Kenya, and it’s even harder to find an ATM which will accept a Discover card. If these are your primary cards, carry cash, or consider getting your hands on a Visa network card for your trip.
Wherever you are, find an ATM that suits you, using one of the following locators:
- Maestro ATM locator
- Mastercard and Cirrus ATM locator
- Visa, Plus, and Plus Alliance ATM locator
- Discover ATM locator
- American Express ATM locator
Newer bank cards issued in Kenya have chip and pin technology and use a 4 digit PIN code. That means you’ll need a PIN to use an ATM in Kenya - no problem if you hold an account in European countries, the UK or Australia, for example, where chip and pin is the norm.
If you have an American magnetic stripe card which doesn’t have a PIN, you can have a PIN issued by your bank before you travel.
Whatever maximum cash withdrawal limit you have at home will be applied in Kenya, too. However, if you don’t have a limit already set up, the ATM provider’s rules will apply. In most cases, ATMs will have an upper limit of about KES 35,000 - 40,000, although you might be able to make multiple transactions, or use several different ATMs if you need to take out a larger sum.
If your bank notices any unusual activity on your account they might limit or block your card, leaving you without any cash until you talk to them. This is inconvenient, and a pretty good way to ruin your break.
Tell your local branch about your plans before you go, or find the online form to report your travels, which is usually available if you log into internet banking.
It’s pretty normal for there to be a withdrawal fee when you take cash out of an ATM in Kenya. Even local account holders may have to pay a small charge when they make a withdrawal - however, these fees are higher if you don’t bank with the ATM provider. It’s worth taking time to understand all the likely fees, so you can get the best deal possible.
Dynamic currency conversion (DCC) is a common, costly - and completely avoidable - problem for travellers and expats. Under DCC, you’re asked if you want to pay for your transaction in your home currency rather than the local currency. Your bank may insist this is helpful - you can see the cost in your home currency so you don’t need to worry about the exchange rates.
Don’t be fooled, though, there’s a catch. DCC transactions don’t generally offer the real, mid-market rate - the one you’d find if you googled it. If you decide to pay in your home currency, you’re giving the foreign bank or ATM provider permission to set the exchange rate for you. There’s no reason for them to keep you happy because you’re not actually their customer. So, they often mark up the rate and pocket the difference as their profit. Pay in the local currency instead, and you’ll almost always get a fairer rate on the exchange.
Wherever in the world you are, you could be charged by your own bank, for withdrawing cash from a foreign ATM. The details of the fees will be set out in your terms and conditions document, so it’s worth having a look before you go so there are no nasty surprises.
As well as a fee from your home bank, you might find that you’re also charged by the local provider when you use ATMs in Kenya, either in the form of a flat fee or a percentage of the total amount you withdraw.
It’s unlikely you’ll get free cash withdrawals in Kenya. Even local bank account holders pay a small fee in most cases, to withdraw cash via their own home bank. If you’re taking money from another bank, the fees are higher. With a foreign card, you’re highly likely to be charged by the ATM provider, and possibly your own home bank.
Even if you can’t avoid ATM fees in Kenya, you might be able to reduce them with a few simple tricks.
One of the fees that’ll be levied is set by your own home bank. You can find this out before you travel, and check if it’s fair. If you have several bank accounts, check the charging structure for international cash withdrawals for each of them - some are much cheaper than others. Simply use the one which will leave you with the most cash in your pocket to enjoy your trip.
Foreign currency credit card cash advances are usually an expensive choice and best avoided.
Often the worst deals on ATMs are to be found in tourist locations, pubs, nightclubs and other places with a captive audience. Avoid. Sticking to an ATM in a bank branch is safer and more likely to offer a reasonable value.
And finally, don’t forget DCC. If you have the choice to pay in your home currency or Kenyan shillings, the local currency is always the smarter choice. Otherwise, you could be hit with high fees and poor exchange rates because of DCC.
TransferWise is a convenient and cheap way to get the Kenyan shillings you need for your trip. With a TransferWise transfer, your cash is converted using the real, mid-market exchange rate, with just a transparent fixed fee, which is set out upfront.
If you have a bank account in Kenya, or if a friend or family member does, you can transfer money between accounts ahead of time, and withdraw the cash when you need it, from ATMs during your stay. Stick to ATMs provided by the same bank that holds the account, and you’ll find the fees are lowest.
Another option is to keep your cash in Kenyan shillings, or any one of dozens of other different currencies, in a borderless multi-currency account from TransferWise. There’s no monthly account fee to pay, and you can switch between currencies using the real exchange rate with just a small fee, whenever you want. You can also get a handy debit card, to use directly in shops and restaurants, so you don’t have to carry too much cash about with you.
If you can dodge DCC, then ATMs are a convenient and - usually - fairly priced way to get the cash you need for a visit to Kenya. Alternatively, use TransferWise, to send money to a local account, or spend using your borderless multi-currency account card, and avoid ATMs altogether.
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