Kenya is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Africa, with a major urban center in Nairobi, diverse animal life in the countryside, and a vibrant mix of cultures. Its currency is the Kenyan shilling (KES). KES is divided into 100 cents; however, the value of the shilling is so low that cents are rarely used anymore.

Kenyan coins available include 1, 5, 10, and 20 shillings; banknotes are available in 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 Kenyan shillings.

Kenyan shilling banknote
Via Wikimedia

The shilling is issued by the Central Bank of Kenya. At the time of writing, the exchange rate was 108.8 shillings to the dollar.

KES has lost value lately due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, economists hope it will recover soon.

Kenyan Shillings 101

These six facts about Kenya’s currency might surprise you. They may also come in handy when you exchange, convert, or transfer Kenyan shillings.

Kenyan bills are bilingual.

Kenya is a multicultural nation, with more than 70 languages spoken, including English, Swahili, Gikuyu, Oluluyia, Arabic, and Hindi.

For official purposes, however, Kenya only uses English and Swahili. Swahili is used across southeastern Africa, and English became widespread in Kenya during the British colonial period.

As a result, Kenyan coins and bills list their denominations in both English and Swahili. For instance, the one-shilling coin is labeled both as “one shilling” and “shilingi moja.” The other side of each coin reads “Republic of Kenya” and, in Swahili, “Jamhuri Ya Kenya.”

Kenya map as flag

The Presidents on the Coins Were Controversial.

When the Kenyan shilling first came out in 1966, it bore the image of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta. Under British colonial rule, Kenyatta was imprisoned for his pro-independence activities. After being released, he won an election as Prime Minister, oversaw the transition to home rule, and became president.

Kenyatta helped end colonialism in the nation and reconcile different ethnic groups. Yet he also suppressed dissent and was criticized for being authoritarian.

In 1980, Daniel arap Moi, who was president at the time, replaced Kenyatta on the shilling notes. He remained in power from 1978 to 2002, Kenya’s longest-serving president. Though he was popular for a time, he was later accused of corruption, and some called for removing his image from the shilling.

Kenyan shilling coin

Modern shilling notes don’t feature people.

After the controversy over the two presidents on the shilling notes and coins, some Kenyans advocated for keeping political figures off the nation’s money. In 2010, Kenya adopted a new constitution that forbade images of individual people on any of its currency.

Instead, Kenya’s currency bears pictures of national landmarks, animals, and other symbols of the country.

However, the latest series of banknotes all have the image of a statue of the first president, Jomo Kenyatta. Some say it’s favoritism, because the current president, Uhuru Kenyatta, is Jomo Kenyatta’s son. Others feel it’s appropriate to honor the first president. Either way, the bills are legal tender and used widely.

Shillings are home to wildlife.

Newer Kenyan shilling coins and bills feature animals such as the giraffe, lion, rhinoceros, leopard, buffalo, and elephant.

Kenya is home to diverse wildlife, which live on its 22 national parks, 28 reserves, and five sanctuaries. Tourists come from all over the world to go on safari in rural Kenya.

Many of these animals are endangered due to poaching and habitat destruction. Kenya’s parks protect and study them so they can thrive safely. Kenyans in rural areas also coexist with large wild animals. The species’ likeness on the shilling pays homage to their importance in national life.

The old 1000 banknote was discontinued recently.

In 2019, Kenya discontinued the old Ksh1000 banknote in an effort to stop corruption and counterfeiting. All Kenyans were urged to trade in their old bills for the new, more secure version.

Most of the bills were exchanged, mostly in small quantities, and the government believes their effort was successful.

Bring some dollars, too.

Most places in Kenya expect payment in shillings; however, a few tourist destinations only accept American dollars. This could be difficult if you’re bringing euro or British pounds sterling, so be sure you change some EUR or GBP to USD, along with Kenyan shillings, when traveling to the East African nation.

If you are bringing dollars, make sure your bills are new: due to counterfeiting concerns, American dollars printed before 2006 aren’t always accepted.

Kenyan Shilling Exchange Rates

Exchange rates between the Kenyan shilling and other currencies can change at any time. If you’re planning to travel or send money to Kenya, be sure to check the latest exchange rates online.

To demystify exchange rates and understand how to get the best rates, read our guide to exchanging money.

If you’re sending money to Kenya, it’s easy to check exchange rates through our Remitly app. After creating an account, you can select Kenya as your destination country to see the rates we’re offering.

Sending Money to Kenya

If you have loved ones in Kenya and want to send money there, money transfer apps make it easy. The popularity of mobile money provider MPesa means that you can transfer funds directly to an MPesa account, too, with apps like Remitly.

Remitly offers zero fees when sending to Kenya from the U.S., the U.K., Canada, or Australia. Check out our homepage and select Kenya, or download the app, to learn more.

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