Below is a quick guide to the tools, apps, and websites I use daily to travel and work online in East Africa – and everywhere else.
They’ll help you plan every step of your Africa journey and ensure your business continues to run smoothly while here.
We’ll add to the list periodically, so keep an eye out for updates.
Get around East Africa in comfort and convenience.
What Countries are in East Africa?
Depending who you ask, East Africa can consist of 3 countries – or 20.
The region stretches from the arid deserts of the Horn of Africa, down the entire Indian Ocean coast and inland towards Central Africa.
What follows is a brief introduction to each of the major destinations in East Africa and what makes them so unique.
The African Great Lakes
Kenya – Our base in East Africa, and the creative tech hub of the region. Kenya has a little of everything the region has to offer: safaris, beach holidays, the most exciting capitol city in Africa, amazing people, hiking, and so much more.
With the most developed tourism infrastructure, start here and slowly spread out across East Africa.
Tanzania – More than just the majestic slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti savannahs, and beautiful white sand beaches of Zanzibar. Tanzania is may be the most laid back country in the region, with a quiet charm that will easily win you over.
Uganda – Moving further inland, Uganda rests between the hills of Central Africa and shores of Lake Victoria. You can go white water rafting or relax at the source of the River Nile, hike amongst communities of chimps and gorillas, or try out the worlds tastiest roadside Rolex.
Rwanda – The Land of a Thousand Hills, dotted with spectacular lakes, rich forests teeming with wildlife, volcanic hikes, hidden freshwater beaches, and in Kigali, maybe Africa’s most unique capital city. Rwanda is a tiny country that will keep you busy and take your breath away.
Burundi – Rwanda’s next door neighbour, Burundi is tucked away on the north shore of Lake Tanganyika. The country’s landscape is similar to Rwanda’s but, unfortunately, it doesn’t enjoy the same stability. The political situation in Burundi can change quickly, often accompanied by civil unrest and violence, so keep this in mind if thinking of a visit.
The Horn of Africa
Ethiopia – The birthplace of coffee, spiritual home of Rastafarianism, the most beautiful country in Northern Africa, a fascinating and ancient culture, and the best food in the region. Ethiopia’s rich heritage can be celebrated with year-round festivals, exploring the old world wonders dotted throughout its countryside, and by simply hanging out with the warm, friendly people.
Eritrea – A battered and bruised country with a tragic history, Eritrea has fallen victim to decades of geopolitical machinations and a government that has closed the country off from the world. One day, it will hopefully open up again, but for now, its not likely you’ll even be allowed in, given the government’s suspicion of foreigners.
Djibouti – Fun fact, Djibouti is considered the point from which the first humans left Africa and started our millennia long migrations across the globe. Wedged in between three of its neighbours, across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen, this tiny state has maybe the strangest, most varied landscape in the region and a fascinating history.
South Sudan – The youngest country in Africa, since gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan has had a difficult start. Ravaged by civil war and famine, it remains very unstable but is opening up to tourism. If considering a visit, take safety very seriously.
Somaliland – A self-declared independent state, The Republic of Somaliland broke away from the rest of Somalia in 1991 at the beginning of the unrest that has plagued the country. Since then, Somaliland has become a distinct ‘country’ of its own, enjoying three decades of peace and relative prosperity. For travellers, its an incredibly safe, welcoming, and fascinating destination.
Somalia – While we’re intrigued by Mogadishu’s sole coworking space, its unfortunately not enough to ignore the security issues in Somalia. Unless you have a specific purpose for visiting Somalia, best to avoid it.
As of October 2019, SCF only offers deal alerts from American airports, with return flights to cities across Africa, for $100s less than their usual rate. If you’re planning a trip to Africa for the USA, this is a great resource to save a lot of money on otherwise very expensive flights.
Budget Airlines in East Africa
With one of the strongest regional tourist infrastructures on the continent, East Africa enjoys a small but healthy budget airline industry. While not comparable to Europe or Southeast Asia in terms of prices, flying is a great alternative to long overland journeys and often worth paying extra.
Kenya has most developed tourism industry in the region, and the most budget airline options. The following airlines fly from Nairobi and cover every major destination in East Africa.
Prices start at around $25 one way.
Kenya Airways – Technically not a budget airline, and actually quite expensive to fly with. However, if you’re flying to Kenya from Europe, their Amsterdam to Nairobi route is often the best value.
Addis Ababa is the biggest air travel hub for Africa, and Ethiopian is a popular choice for flying in and out of East Africa.
The airline has great prices for domestic flights between the capital and popular Ethiopian tourist destinations, as well as a regional route to Nairobi for less than $90 each way. Longer routes tend to be more expensive but worth checking out.
By far the cheapest airline to fly between Dubai & East Africa, including a direct route to Nairobi.
Hotels & guesthouses offer the best value and most convenience when traveling in East Africa. Booking.com is my favourite for their Genius loyalty program: 10-20% discounts, free breakfasts, and room upgrades are common.
Also, Booking.com users are the most difficult reviewers to please. Anything above a 8/10 score is a reliable sign of quality.
Hotels for Digital Nomads
If you plan to travel and work online in East Africa, check out our favourite remote work-friendly hotels and guesthouses. The list will continue to grow every time we travel somewhere new, so make sure you bookmark it!
Unless you’re familiar with traveling in East Africa, or staying in one place for more than a week, we don’t recommend Airbnb. While most remote workers prefer Airbnb for the privacy and convenience offered, we’ll explain below why you should still consider or hotel guesthouse instead.
Hotels vs Airbnb in Africa
Traveling in East Africa is not always convenient, especially if you’re on a budget.
While Airbnb may be appealing to remote workers for the privacy and ability to work in peace and quiet, we don’t recommend it for short trips.
Here are a few reasons why you should stay in a guesthouse instead:
Hotels offer facilities like daily breakfast, luggage storage and 24 hr reception. Instead of starting your day looking for a grocery store, relax with some pancakes, fresh fruit and coffee; leave your bags in the city while you go on safari; check in at any time, including the middle of the night, without having to wake someone up.
Using Booking.com, you also often get the option to cancel your reservation for free, up to 48 hours before check in. This gives you a lot more flexibility than Airbnb.
Most of the nicest Airbnbs in African cities are in gated estates in wealthy neighbourhoods. This is great if you’re living here, but its not very convenient for a short stay. Taxis are mandatory and often the nearest grocery store is a 20 minute walk away. You also risk getting stuck in traffic any time you go downtown.
Value for Money
I once stayed in an Airbnb to save money on hotels during a stopover in Nairobi. For breakfast, I walked 15 minutes to a small shopping mall. As I couldn’t access my host’s kitchen, I got a porridge and coffee for breakfast. It cost me $7.50.
Ever since, I book budget hotels with breakfast included and save, on average, $7-10 per day.
1 bedroom and studio apartments are rare in East Africa. The ones that are available are usually incredibly overpriced. So, in an Airbnb you’ll often share your space with the host and their family. Most good hotel rooms have workspaces for business travellers and lounges in which you won’t be disturbed.
East African hospitality is the best in the world and staying with a local family is an amazing experience: you’ll often be adopted as a temporary family member.
However, hotel staff have years of experience dealing with every possible tourist issue and question. Hotel receptionists are attentive, friendly, and patient, and will go out of their way to make sure you have the smoothest experience wherever you are.
Even the friendliest family in the world can’t compete with the level of service in a hotel.
With a travel medical insurance policy that starts at $37 USD every 4 weeks, Safety Wing costs a fraction of its competitors (I used to regularly spend $120+ on travel insurance in Africa).
SafetyWing automatically renews in the background every month, so you can save over 60% and rest assured you’re protected with an travel medical insurance policy built specifically for digital nomads.
World Nomads is probably the most well-known travel insurer in the long term travel community.
Its policies are significantly more expensive than SafetyWing, but also more comprehensive. Depending on your needs, the higher price tag may be worthwhile, so it’s worth looking at different options.
Countries Not Covered by Insurance
Before choosing your travel insurance for Africa, make sure it covers the countries you’re visiting.
Every travel insurance provider has different policies for covering countries that are considered dangerous or risky to for tourists, and set restrictions accordingly.
As usual, policies for coverage in Africa are usually over-cautious or reactionary. To help you decide, I’ve briefly explained SafetyWing’s policies below.
Maybe the fairest coverage policy I’ve seen, especially for such a low-cost insurer.
SafetyWing informed me they base their coverage on the USA Department of Treasury OFAC sanctions list.
This means you should only lose your coverage if you travel to a country currently under sanction by the US government. My recommendation:
Read the OFAC list and if you see a potential destination, contact SafetyWing directly and ask how it will affect your coverage. Their customer service is quick and attentive.
World Nomads bases coverage on the travel advisories of your country of residence.
This will impact any claim you make, so its best to check your governments warnings on specific countries before signing up.
Acceptance of debit and cards varies wildly throughout East Africa.
In Kenya, for example, you’ll rarely need to rely on cash (thanks also to MPESA mobile money). Ethiopian, however, is the opposite – it’s an almost completely cash-based economy.
Wherever you are, using debit cards is generally safe from fraud and a better alternative to carrying large amounts of cash.
When you do need cash, most ATMs don’t charge and withdrawal fee, and usually have security close by.
The following three travel debit card providers all offer excellent security and free foreign transactions and are accepted throughout most of Africa.
Transferwise: Offers free ATM withdrawals up to $250/month and direct deposits into MPESA accounts. Cards don’t work in Ethiopia.
Revolut: Overall, a great choice, with $300 free ATM withdrawals. However, the lack of a desktop app means relying on your phone a lot.
n26: Widely accepted and easy to use, but no free ATM withdrawals and terrible customer service.
Tracking your expenses and income while traveling is the best way to avoid stress and any nasty surprises at the end of the month. Toshl has been my go-to finance tracking tool for two years now, and it keeps getting better.
Inputting multi-currency cash transactions takes seconds, while the app has automatic syncs with 14,000+ international banks & accounts. These include n26, Revolut, Paypal and, soon, Transferwise. This means 90% of my expenses are automatically tracked, saving me countless hours per month balancing my personal expenses & income.
It’s a pain in the ass to use, but this is still the best resource for understanding your particular visa requirement for individual countries.
This is the fairest and least reactionary government travel advisory online.
Even better, the British government offers advice for specific regions within a country, rather than a blanket warning for an entire state.
This is important because African countries are huge and often only dangerous in certain pockets or remote regions. The FO’s colour-coded country maps are the best way to quickly understand the security situation in a country and plan accordingly.
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Africa is home to over 400 coworking spaces. Whether you’re in Mogadishu, Somalia or Cape Town, South Africa, you shouldn’t be far from a space to work.
The easiest way to find a local coworking space in your city is on Coworker. However, the best way to judge which one is right for you is to check out their Facebook page and get a sense of their facilities and atmosphere.
The Best Coworking Spaces in East Africa
To save you time, here are my favourite coworking spaces in the region.
I’ve chosen them based on my own experience and/or the following criteria: location, atmosphere/community, convenience, price, facilities.
iceaddis – Addis Ababa
MombasaWorks – Mombasa
Pallet Cafe – Nairobi
Ikigai – Nairobi
The Foundry – Nairobi
Waka Work – Kigali
iRise – Mogadishu
I’ve been ghostwriting about VPNs and data security fulltime since early 2019. This has included speed testing the 6 most popular providers.
NordVPN is the best overall VPN on the market, while ExpressVPN offers the fastest speeds, especially in Africa.
Prepaid SIM Cards
A good 3G or 4G SIM card is essential for staying online in East Africa. Often, your phone is the perfect back-up wifi source. You can buy a local prepaid SIM Card in most international airports. Otherwise, ask your hotel for advice.
This up-to-date guide will help you pick the best network in advance.
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About the Author
Technology Ghostwriter & Founder of Nomad Africa
Did I leave something out?
Tell us in the comments below and we’ll add it to the list.