Currency in Kenya - A Full Guide 2024

Claire Millard
Ileana Ionescu
Last updated
May 20, 2024

Planning a trip to Kenya? Whether you’re heading there for work or pleasure, you’ll need to know how to pay your way as you travel.

This guide covers all you’ll need to know about the official currency in Kenya, where to get it and how to keep your costs down during your trip.

What is the currency in Kenya?

The official currency in Kenya is the Kenyan Shilling, which is issued and overseen by the Central Bank of Kenya. If you’re buying your travel money online you may also see the official code being shown - KES. In stores and restaurants, Kenyan Shilling prices are likely to use the currency symbol Sh.

Once you’re in Kenya you’ll see costs of items shown in KES and you’ll need to start paying for things in local coins and notes which are often found in the following denominations:

banknotes - 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000 and coins - 1, 5, 10, 20.

Can you officially pay in CAD when you are in Kenya?

You’re unlikely to be able to officially transact in CAD in Kenya, which is why it’s time to start getting used to KES and learning more about the currency exchange rates so you’ll know what you’re spending on your trip.

This guide will walk through all you need to know, including Canadian Dollar/Kenyan Shilling rates and where best to get your travel money from.

Kenyan Shilling
Currency nameKenyan Shilling
Central BankCentral Bank of Kenya
Best travel cards to take to KenyaWise

Kenyan Shilling coins and banknotes

Here’s a full rundown of the KES coins and banknotes you’ll need to be familiar with when you’re in Kenya.

KES banknotesKES coins
50, 100, 200, 500, 1,0001, 5, 10, 20

Is CAD accepted in Kenya?

As we’ve seen, the official currency in Kenya is KES. If you carry Canadian Dollars with you on your trip, you’ll probably need to exchange it before you can spend.

Sometimes when you’re away on a trip abroad you’ll find that merchants will take payments in a selection of major foreign currencies. However, the chances are that where this is offered, you won’t get a good exchange rate for your CAD. Planning smart and convenient ways to spend in KES when you’re away is likely to mean you save on costs in the end.

Usually, having a few different ways to pay and get cash is the best option for travellers and tourists. That’s because you’ll have a back up plan in case one payment method isn’t accepted for any reason, and you can pick the method that’s best suited to the specific transaction. Having a multi-currency card from a provider like Wise, plus your normal bank debit card, and some local cash in KES should mean you’ve always got options. You can use your cash for small purchases and tipping, and make low cost payments and cash withdrawals with your multi-currency card, while keeping your bank card in reserve for emergencies.

Use a travel card on your next trip to Kenya

Using a travel debit card in Kenya is usually cheap, safe and convenient. A few providers in Canada offer multi-currency cards which come with a linked payment account that lets you convert, hold and spend in KES. That allows you to add a balance in CAD and switch over to KES to lock in the exchange rate and set your travel budget.

Once you have KES in your account there are no extra fees to make payments, and you’ll not have foreign transaction charges to worry about, either.

Here’s a quick overview of a couple of handy travel debit cards you may want to order and use in Kenya.

Wise travel card

Order a Wise travel card online or in the Wise app, to hold and exchange 40+ currencies and manage your money from your phone. You’ll be able to spend conveniently in KES - and all currency exchange uses the mid-market rate with no markup.

Card holders get some free ATM withdrawals available every month, and there’s no annual or monthly fees to pay, and no minimum balance requirement.

Read a full Wise review here

Go to Wise
Wise prosWise cons

✅ Currency exchange uses the mid-market rate

✅ No foreign transaction fees apply

✅ Free to hold and spend 40+ currencies

✅ Receive payments to your Wise account in a selection of global currencies

✅ No minimum balance or ongoing fees

❌ Card order fee applies

❌ ATM fees apply once you’ve exhausted your free monthly withdrawals 

What is the currency exchange rate for £ 1 CAD/KES?

It’s helpful to get to know the live CAD/KES rate so you can easily calculate how much things are costing you while you’re on your trip abroad.

The rate you need to focus on is the mid market rate, which is the one banks and major currency services get when buying and selling currencies. This rate isn’t always passed on to customers. Instead you may find that the CAD/KES rate you get when exchanging travel cash includes a markup - an extra fee.

Find the CAD/KES mid-market rate from a currency conversion site or a website like this, so you can keep an eye on the market and compare the rates you’re offered as you travel against the mid-market rate easily.

Should I exchange CAD to KES before traveling to Kenya?

It’s a good idea to exchange Canadian Dollars to Kenyan Shilling before you head off to Kenya, as you can often find a better exchange rate and lower overall costs before you travel.

When you’re in Kenya you may need KES in cash for some of your spending - particularly when tipping or making smaller value purchases. Buying your KES travel money in advance can get you better CAD/KES exchange rates, and saves you wasting precious time shopping around for a good deal once you arrive in Kenya.

Get familiar with the exchange rates offered locally to you, and online, so you can decide whether it’s worth switching some funds in advance of travel, using a card to pay while you’re away, or converting cash on arrival. Both in Canada and in Kenya, steer clear of exchanging currency at the airport. A captive market means that CAD/KES rates are often worse in the airport than in city centers.

Tips for exchanging money in Kenya

At merchants and ATMs, make sure you’re charged in KES. If you’re asked if you’d rather pay in CAD instead, say no. That’s a sign of dynamic currency conversion, which usually means extra costs. Withdrawing money in target-currency can be easy, particularly in big cities and Nairobi, here’s a few other tips if you want to exchange money in Kenya

  1. Avoid using exchange providers at airports or hotels in Kenya as they usually offer pretty poor exchange rates because they have a captive market and little competition nearby
  2. Use a travel debit card like the Wise card while you’re in Kenya for fast and cheap conversion between currencies and easy ways to manage your money from your phone

Best place to exchange currency in Kenya

You can get your KES in Kenya in a couple of ways.

You’ll be able to use a travel debit card from a provider like Wise to make convenient payments and cash withdrawals and to convert funds online.

Or if you prefer an offline solution you can carry some cash in CAD to exchange when you arrive. Currency exchange providers are often in airports and hotels, although the exchange shops in a city centre are likely to be cheaper overall.

How to pay in Kenya?

You’ll need to have KES to spend in Kenya. However, generally having a few different payment methods is a good plan. That means that if a merchant won't accept one, you’ve got a back up. It’s also reassuring to know you have a different way to pay if you were unlucky enough to have a card or some travel cash stolen. Here are your key payment options in Kenya.

  1. Debit or credit card

    Card payments can be helpful in shops, restaurants and hotels but there will be places where cash is also important. Order a travel card from a provider like Wise for cheap and fast transactions, including card payments and cash withdrawals as and when you need travel money in KES.

  2. Kenyan Shilling cash

    • You’ll usually find you can use a card to make payments in Kenya, but carrying some cash in KES is also reassuring. It’s often easier for tipping and making smaller purchases, plus you’ve got a nice backup if your card is ever out of action for some reason.

    • It’s a smart idea to have both a card and some cash in KES when you’re in Kenya. Some merchants will prefer cash, but having a card for higher value payments and in busier more tourist places is also convenient. Consider using a travel card from a provider like Wise alongside your cash for flexibility.

Paying for the trip in CAD

If you’re paying for things in Kenya with a CAD bank card you might find a foreign transaction fee is added. This pushes up your costs when you spend in a foreign currency, and can be tricky to calculate.

Travel debit cards don’t always work this way. When you make purchases in Kenya using the Wise card you can either choose to convert your account balance to KES in advance in the Wise app, or just leave your balance in Canadian Dollars and let the card handle the transaction when you pay. You’ll always get the lowest available fee and there are no extra foreign transaction charges.

Conclusion - Currency in Kenya

You won’t be able to pay in CAD when you visit Kenya - so learning about the currency you need is essential. Whether you decide to use a travel debit card from a service like Wise , or stock up on KES in cash in advance, knowing the mid-market exchange rate can help you get the best available deal. Use this guide to learn all you need to know about the options, rates and fees for exchanging CAD to KES, and make your money go further while you’re away.

The official currency in Kenya is KES. You can’t usually pay in Canadian Dollars in Kenya, so you’ll need to plan in advance to get your travel money sorted. Consider ordering a travel debit card from a service like Wise, for low cost conversions to KES and convenient spending and withdrawals - and remember that knowing the CAD to KES mid-market exchange rate is essential to check you’re getting a fair deal on currency exchange.

FAQ - Currency in Kenya

What is the currency in Kenya called?

The official currency in Kenya is the Kenyan Shilling. You may also see the code KES and the currency symbol Sh.

What's the currency in Nairobi?

The official currency in Nairobi is the Kenyan Shilling. You’ll only be able to spend in KES while you’re there.

What is the old Kenya currency?

Today the currency in Kenya is the Kenyan Shilling. If you’re worried about currencies changing, why not get a travel debit card from a service like Wise which will automatically pick the currency needed in your destination when making a payment - with no penalties or inflated fees.

What is the best currency to take to Kenya?

You’ll only be able to spend in KES while you’re in Kenya. Carrying some money in cash and using a travel debit card from a service like Wise is usually the best way to spend while you’re away from home.