Did you know that in 2021, diaspora remittances were Kenya’s biggest foreign exchange earner, exceeding the traditional agricultural production and tourism market? Indeed, the Kenya diaspora remittances have defied the adverse shocks of Covid-19. They closed 2021 at a record of $3.718 billion, up from $3.0 billion in 2020. Further, the 2019 pre-pandemic year witnessed remittances inflows at $2.8 billion. The steady rise in remittance inflows tells the human stories of many ambitious Kenyans seeking to better their lives and their families left behind. And this quick guide gives you a sneak peek of these dreams, country by country. Let’s check them out below: –


Quick Facts

  • The ministry of foreign affairs estimates that approximately 3 million Kenyans live abroad, most of them residing in the United States. Hence, diaspora remittances from the US continue to be a cornerstone of Kenya’s diaspora remittances. Still, the Middle East is now challenging the traditional US dominance in terms of remittances to Kenya.
  • Over 90% of Kenyans traveling abroad do so for economic reasons. They move to improve their lives, families, communities, and the country. And many Kenyans rely on their family and friends working abroad to support their development functions, pay school fees and healthcare bills, and buy home improvement products and services.
  • The Diaspora Remittances Survey December 2021 estimates USD 3,718 million as the official remittances inflows for 2021. It represents a tenfold growth in the last 15 years and is equivalent to more than 3% of Kenya’s GDP. And, 63% of these remittance inflows were from North America alone.
  • The average cost for sending US dollars to Kenya from anywhere in the world is 7.9%. Gladly, the global community is actively working to lower these remittance charges to a target of 5%.
  • Kenya’s Simcard penetration is 133%, while the mobile device penetration is 71%. In turn, most individuals in the Kenya diaspora community prefer sending money to their loved ones or for personal or business use through mobile money wallets.


History of Kenya Diaspora Remittances


Source: World Bank Open Source Data

The Kenya Diaspora remittances were minimal at independence. At that time, only a handful of people, comprising Kenyans of European or Asian descent, would emigrate from Kenya for social-political reasons. And the indigenous ethnic Kenyan communities preferred staying within the country and pursuing the emerging opportunities that came with the robust economic performance after independence. Only this economic growth would slow down two decades after independence, triggering an increase in emigrants from Kenya in search of greener pastures and economic opportunities outside the country.


Other factors that fueled a surge in Kenyans moving abroad were the rapid population growth, political instability, especially during the election periods, and leadership wrangles resulting in deaths and destruction of property.

For the longest time, most migrants from Kenya moved to the United Kingdom. The move reflects the strong colonial heritage the two countries have. And the United Kingdom is a developed country with vast economic growth opportunities for Kenyans.


Even though there are scanty records of Kenya diaspora remittances that date back to the post-independence era, the exponential growth of the remittance inflows in the 2010s caught the attention of the Central Bank of Kenya.


In June 2014, the Kenya government developed the Kenya Diaspora Policy. It aimed to mainstream the Kenyan diaspora into the national development process in line with Kenya Vision 2030. The Kenya Vision 2030 recognized the Kenya Diaspora community as a significant economic growth enabler and catalyst for achieving the vision of a globally competitive and prosperous Kenya by 2030. Hence, the Kenya Diaspora Policy is a road map on such matters as the cost of remitting money, consular services, structures to facilitate investment by the Kenyan diaspora community, and developing a database of Kenyans living abroad.


Diaspora remittances have been increasing gradually from the 1970s to 2017. They rose from $7.26 million in 1970 to $134.30 million in 1994. Then, there was a decline in remittance inflows, reaching $65.85 million in 2004. The drop was due to structural breaks and various remittance dynamics that came to play at the time. The remittances would then rise again in the 2010s, reaching $1,946.93 million in 2017. By 2019, the diaspora remittances had doubled to reach $2,796.6 million. Still, all these figures were estimates since the Central Bank of Kenya had not yet captured all the remittance inflows from other unofficial channels at the time.


Ultimately, numerous factors explain the rise and decline of Kenya Diaspora remittances in the first few decades after independence. The increase can be attributed to the surge of Kenyans living abroad, the passing of the new constitution in 2010 that allowed for dual citizenship, hence allowing Kenyans to invest at home and abroad where they reside, and the enactment of tax amnesty on remittances. In contrast, the global 2008-2009 financial crisis and the decline of the Kenya shilling in 2011 discouraged Kenyans from sending money home. The Kenya government has innovative investment instruments targeting the Kenya diaspora community. They include infrastructure bonds, Diaspora investment funds, and bonds.




Kenya Diaspora Remittances by Country

1.      North America




















 Total   America




The global economy contracted by 3.2% following the Covid pandemic. And the US economy was no exception, having contracted by 3.5%. And, for the 30 countries that account for 83% of world output, only four had their economies expand. Still, the North American remittances remain the highest source of Kenya diaspora remittances, accounting for 63.2% in 2021. These remittances are mainly from the US. Still, there are additional inflows from Canada and the Bahamas.


As of 2020, estimated that there were 157,000 Kenyan immigrants and their children residing in the United States. They include 102,000 Kenya-born people who acquired lawful permanent residence (via green card or LPR status). And, up to 10 percent of the Kenyan immigrant population in the United States is of Somali rather than Kenyan national origin. They are scattered across many parts of the United States, with a majority of them in Texas and California. And Dallas is one of the U.S. metropolitan areas with the largest population of Kenyan immigrants. 


Many Kenyan immigrants, their children, and subsequent generations retain active ties to their homeland. The government of Kenya encourages this engagement that has the potential to amplify the nonresident population’s contributions to Kenya’s economic and human capital growth.

Economic Activity

The Kenyan diaspora population in the United States is well educated, economically successful, and has a labor force participation rate far exceeding the national average. A higher percentage of Kenyan immigrants hold bachelor’s degrees and advanced degrees, far more than the overall US population. And over a quarter of the Kenyan immigrant population in the United States are in the nursing profession. The median income of the Kenyan diaspora household is $61,000, $11,000 more than the US national median. Plus, two in every five Kenyan immigrants are homeowners.

Diaspora Remittances

Many Kenyan immigrants, their children, and subsequent generations retain active ties to their homeland. The government of Kenya encourages this engagement that has the potential to amplify the nonresident population’s contributions to Kenya’s economic and human capital growth. In turn, the United States is now the largest source of Kenyan remittances, surpassing 1.67 billion by 2020.


2.      Europe











 United Kingdom

































    Total Europe






UNDESA estimates that at least 14,000 Kenya-born immigrants reside in Germany, the highest number of Kenya Diaspora population in the EU. The next largest Kenya diaspora population is Sweden and Italy at 7,000 and 5,000 persons, respectively. Other Kenyans live in Switzerland, Netherlands, Italy, France, Norway, Belgium, and Austria. The population is less than 5,000 individuals in each of these EU countries.



Migration Routes

Most Kenyans relocating to Europe do so via legal migration channels to pursue higher education or reunite with their families. Still, a sizeable fraction of Kenya immigrants travel to EU countries via perilous illegal routes. They engage human smugglers to help them enter Europe via Italy, France, or Greece. Then, they either seek asylum or proceed to other richer European countries like UK and Germany.

Diaspora Remittances

Still, the diaspora remittances from the UK are more than triple the amount from Germany. In 2020, the Kenya diaspora community in the UK sent home $230 million. Kenyans residing in Germany sent home $89million in the same year.


3.      Asia and the Middle East











     Saudia Arabia






 United Arab   Emirates
























    Total Asia





The 2020 Stakeholder Interviews estimates between 100,000 and 120,000 Kenyans reside in the Middle East and the Gulf countries. The majority of them are low-skilled Kenyan migrant workers looking for job opportunities as drivers, domestic workers, waiters, and farm hands. Since Kenya observes stringent immigration processes to the Middle East, most Kenyan immigrants engage private employment agencies who assist them with placements in their final places of work and residence.

Diaspora Remittances

Kenyans in the Middle East have become more vibrant in sending money back home and creating new trends in the flow of remittances. It is a departure from the traditional pockets of North and South America. For example, in 2020, remittance inflows from the UAE were $73 million.


4.      AFRICA











     South Africa












     Ivory Coast






     South Sudan












    Total Africa





Did you know that more Kenyans live in other African countries than in the EU? Indeed, in 2020, there were 137,969 Kenyans residing in other African countries versus 38,229 Kenyans living in EU countries. Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, and Mozambique are the top host countries for Kenyan immigrants. Still, Stakeholder Interviews notes that some Kenyan immigrants living in South Africa migrated to the region via illegitimate migration channels.

Diaspora Remittances

Despite the higher concentration of Kenyan immigrants in other African countries, Diaspora remittances from Africa are scanty, as detailed above. High costs of remitting money, coupled with informal remittance routes, account for the dismal formal remittances to Kenya from other African countries. Indeed, it costs more to remit money from another African country, including the East African Community member states to Kenya, than from the US or EU countries.


For example, sending money from Uganda to Kenya costs 4.1% of the remittance value. Uganda to Kenya remittance corridor has predominantly informal channels. Hence, most transfers are through unapproved M-Pesa agents. Likewise, the Kenya Diaspora community in South Africa prefers using Hawala traders who route money through Botswana and avoid foreign exchange controls via the formal channels.

Impact of Digital Money Transfer Penetration in Africa

Now, there is a high penetration of digital channels in Africa that helps push down remittance costs. For, Kenyans abroad can send money via mobile-to-mobile wallets to 7 other African countries apart from Kenya. And they can receive mobile-to-mobile remittances from at least six other African countries apart from Kenya.


5.      Australia, Oceania & Other Countries NES








 Australia and   Oceania






     New Zealand






 Total Australia and Oceania



 Other Countries NES



     Other Countries NES



    Total Other Countries NES




Australia’s 2016 National Census estimates that there are at least 17,652 Kenyan-born people in the region. The tally is a 27.6% increase from the 2011 National Census record. And 72% of the Kenya Diaspora community in Australia aged 15 years and above have some form of higher non-school qualification. In turn, 74% of Kenyans living in Australia have a skilled managerial, professional, or trade occupation. Indeed, they work as managers, professionals, technicians, communications and personal service providers, clerical and administrative staff, sales workers, machine operators, drivers, and laborers. Most Kenyans reside in Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland. The median income of Kenyan-born in Australia is $731.


Next, according to New Zealand’s 2018 National Census, there were 324 Kenyan-born immigrants in New Zealand. At least 44% of the Kenyan adult migrants are in full-time employment, and only 6% are unemployed. They work as managers, community and personal service workers, professionals, and laborers. They earn a median income of $30,100, thrice the median income of New Zealand-born workers. Another 53.7% of Kenya immigrants are in New Zealand as students.


The total Kenya Diaspora remittances from Australia, Oceania, and other countries NES in 2021 is $109.2 million.


Informal Remittances To Kenya

The above analysis of Kenya Diaspora remittances by country focuses on remittance inflows via formal channels as documented by the Central Bank of Kenya. CBK is yet to capture data on informal remittance values. Yet informal channels like remittance inflows through friends and family, bus drivers, traders, informal agents, Hawala, and unregistered or unlicensed money transfer operators is commonplace across border countries. For example, there are higher M-Pesa transfers (P2P) from Uganda to Kenya. And Safaricom’s deactivation of the roaming facility from Agent handsets did little to deter the practice. Hence, we rely on surveys to come up with accurate estimations of informal Kenya Diaspora remittances. One such study is the FinAccess Survey by the Steadman Group. The survey captures both the formal and informal remittances to Kenya.’


In 2021, the Central Bank of Kenya commissioned a survey on diaspora remittances. The survey explored various factors affecting the diaspora remittances, including the remittance channels, efficiency, and cost of these alternative remittance channels, challenges in remitting cash or non-cash transfers, and the available investment opportunities for Kenyans living abroad.


The Central Bank of Kenya noted an increase in formal remittances during the Covid-19 pandemic. This surge in cash inflows could be due to informal transactions going through formal channels following border and service closures during the global lockdowns. Indeed, remittances from the US and UK increased during the pandemic. And the inflows from South Africa dropped significantly in the last quarter of 2020, suggesting significant informal remittances between Kenya and South Africa.


The Cost of Sending Money to Kenya

The average cost of sending money to Kenya from the diaspora communities across the globe is 7.5% of the total remittance amount. This rate is marginally lower than the 8.9% rate in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Further, it costs more than 8.9% to send money to Kenya from Tanzania, Rwanda, and South Africa. The final charges depend on the volume of transactions by the service provider. For example, SendWave charges 1.2% and 2.7% to send money of $200 equivalent from the UK and USA to Kenya, respectively. The lower rates reflect the high volume of remittances from these two countries.


Kenya Remittance Market Structure


Kenya Diaspora remittances take place in a regulated landscape that varies depending on the various migration profiles of the destination country. It includes profiles of Kenyan immigrants, transaction volume in each remittance corridor, and the geography of the source country. The remittance landscape is highly digitized and market-driven. Still, most Kenya Diaspora remittances pass through Equity Bank and terminate through M-Pesa wallets.


The Kenyan remittance market structure comprises of the following key stakeholders: –

  • The Sending Party – The Kenya Diaspora communities scattered across the world
  • Banks or International Remittance Aggregators – There are 41 commercial banks, 14 deposit taking micro finance institutions. 2 Mobile Money Providers, and Post Bank
  • Money remittance providers (MRPs) –There are at least 18 licensed money remittance providers serving the Kenyan market. They include: –
  1. Amal Express Money Transfer Limited
  2. Amana Money Transfer Limited
  3. Bakaal Express Money Transfer Limited
  4. Continental Money Transfer Limited
  5. Dahabshill Money Transfer Limited
  6. Flex Money Transfer Limited
  7. Global Money Transfer Limited
  8. Hodan Global Money Remittance and Exchange Limited
  9. Iftin Express Money Transfer Limited
  10. Juba Express Money Transfer Limited
  11. Kaah Express Money Transfer Limited
  12. Kendy Money Transfer Limited
  13. Real Value Money Transfer Limited
  14. Safaricom Money Transfer Services Limited
  15. Tawakal Money Transfer Limited
  16. UAE Exchange Money Remittance Limited
  17. Upesi Money Transfer Limited
  18. Mobex Money Transfer Services Limited

International Money Transfer Operators (IMTOs) like Western Union and Remitly do not need licensing to operate in Kenya. Instead, they provide their services as agents through commercial banks and licensed MRPs.

  • Pay-out sub-agents – They include forex bureaus and lower-tier banks
  • Money remittance regulators – The Central Bank of Kenya regulates all money remittance providers for inbound, outbound, and mobile money transfers. Here, the regulator licenses and approves the businesses undertaken by the money remittance providers.
  • Consumer Protection Legislation – Kenya has consumer protection and data privacy laws defining local and international remittances, especially on digital platforms. Here, the laws give direction on pricing, dispute resolution mechanisms, and other digital-based services that can undermine consumer trust.
  • Deposit Protection Frameworks – Kenya requires banks, mortgage companies, and deposit-taking microfinance institutions to have deposit protection insurance for its customers. CBK requires money remittance providers to hold some funds in escrow accounts. And, there is a digital service tax on mobile money transfers, further increasing the cost of digital remittance services.


Remittance Governance in Kenya

The Central Bank of Kenya plays an oversight role in the Kenya Diaspora remittances landscape. Here, CBK formulates and implements, monetary policies that foster stable prices, liquidity, solvency, and proper functioning of the market-based financial system. In turn, it carries out the following functions: –

  • Banking Supervision –Supervises all MRPs, forex bureaus, and commercial banks
  • National Payment System – Oversees the payment and settlement systems
  • Financial Markets for Foreign Exchange Management – Sets indicative currency exchange rates and allows remittance providers to use these rates or other currency indicators.
  • Statistics – Publishes monthly diaspora remittance inflows and other financial market reports
  • Banking Fraud investigations Unit – Investigates fraud reports in financial institutions, commercial banks, and MRPs. Comes up with fraud detection and prevention strategies
  • Financial Inclusion Strategy – Pushes financial inclusion initiatives to grow the financial access, literacy, and development in the Kenya Diaspora communities worldwide.

Finally, the Central Bank of Kenya works with the following strategic partners to achieve its objectives: –


  • Ministry of Information, Communications, and Technology (ICT) and Innovation – Set and regulate standards of services
  • Communications Authority (CA) – Regulates and facilitates the ICT sector, including mobile money providers
  • Competition Authority of Kenya – Safeguards citizens against the unfair market competition by key stakeholders
  • Financial Investigations Unit (FIU) – A special wing of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations tasked with investigating financial crimes
  • Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG) – An 18-member Eastern Africa group dedicated to combating money laundering



With at least three million Kenyans formally living overseas, the Kenya diaspora remittances are now leading in bringing foreign exchange inflows. The much-needed foreign exchange surge bolsters the shilling and creates more business opportunities. And even though there is a significant flow of informal remittances into the country, CBK is actively coming up with market surveys and other strategies to capture these remittances in its monthly publications. The USA remains the top send country, and the Middle East is picking up fast. And, if the latest 2022 statistics are anything to go by, then the Kenya Diaspora remittances shall surpass the 5% GDP mark in the next five years.

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