After 16 years of living and working in the US, I finally decided to relocate back home in 2016. My very first encounter on touching down at JKIA was enlightening.
I hailed a cab driver using a taxi app, which indicated that the driver was five minutes away. When 30 minutes passed and my cab was nowhere in sight, I decided to call the driver. His phone was switched off.
Luckily, I managed to get a cab with the help of the airport staff. I later learnt that most cab drivers are registered on several taxi apps and they can easily abandon a trip on one app if a more lucrative job shows up on another. I had just received my first lesson on my relocation journey: Not everything is what it seems.
Many Kenyans in the Diaspora who I have encountered would like to return home. This is not without reason. There has been a sharp rise in African returnees in the recent past as business opportunities on the continent increase and the world economy slows down.
With fears of a looming global recession, uncertainties about the effects of Brexit on businesses, America’s increased scrutiny on immigrants and the protracted trade wars between the US and China, the prospect of coming home is appealing.
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Other considerations are personal in nature - the need to be close to elderly parents and extended family, to participate in investments and family businesses, to contribute professionally, and to enjoy a better quality of life from a social perspective.
Returning home has been a very rewarding experience for me. My current job role aligns with my passion to help Kenyans in the Diaspora make sound financial decisions. The infrastructure improvements and vibrant use of technology in the country, the Kenyan social experience and the opportunity to connect more closely with extended family have made the move back worthwhile.
For those at the initial stages of their relocation journey, I hope that my experience can shed some light on what to expect of the process, and provide practical tips towards a smoother transition for those who are ready to take the plunge.
The first critical detail to take care of is income – ensuring a solid plan to generate cash. Whether you are coming back to do business or look for a job, it is advisable that you start locking down opportunities before you get here. This seems obvious for Kenyans living here, but for those who’ve been away for some time, one could easily underestimate the process of getting a business off the ground or securing a permanent job.
It is also advisable to have at least one to two years savings before you relocate. As you work out an amount, remember that there are likely to be ‘hidden’ costs that will pop up along the way. For me, these have taken the form of car maintenance costs, as well as the unbelievable price tag that schools here carry.
Make regular trips back home before you relocate. This will help you revive old contacts, get accustomed to the finer nuances of living in Kenya and start the re-integration process.
If you have children, it is imperative that you inquire about the schools you want them to attend as some will have a waiting list or rigorous entry procedure. It is also important to prepare them for the difference in modes of education and the cultural differences they may experience.
On money matters, I cannot stress this enough - make your investments through established institutions with a proven track record. After losing money twice to individuals, this was a big lesson.
At ABC Bank, we have developed a wide range of solid partnerships to allow our diaspora customers to enjoy diverse investment opportunities, with complete peace of mind, as the bank does additional due diligence to support customers.
Make use of critical support networks for people in the diaspora. These networks, readily accessible online, have been formed by previous returnees to help others who are navigating resettlement. It is advisable to identify and join these networks, as they come in handy with a myriad of issues ranging from knowing how systems work, registering businesses, to things that might seem as trivial as getting a plumber or mechanic.
Most of these groups organise regular get-togethers for the returnee community, which helps with building and maintaining networks.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed and Kenyans in the diaspora with intentions of settling back home should do so with confidence. Once you push beyond the challenges of relocation, you will love being in Kenya. Moving back need not be a headache if you are well prepared.
The writer is head of diaspora banking at ABC Bank, Kenya, and previously worked with the Citizens Bank of Edmond in Oklahoma, USA for 14 years. The views expressed herein are personal. [email protected]