Learning The Lingo: Helpful Swahili Phrases For Travelers In East Africa

While many people speak English in East Africa, there will likely be times where tourists will only encounter those who speak Swahili. Which is why knowing some Swahili is very helpful, especially if you’re planning to travel around Mombasa and other coastal areas. Swahili is an official language in four countries in East Africa, including the DRC, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, and it’s also spoken in several other parts of the region. While you don’t have to pronounce all the key phrases perfectly, just the simple effort of trying is sure to please the people you’re communicating with. Here are some helpful Swahili phrases for travelers in East Africa.



First, pronunciation

Before you can speak Swahili, you need to know how to pronounce the sounds. There are five vowels in the language pronounced like the following: A: ah. E: eh. I – ee. O – oh. U – oo. There are no silent letters in Swahili, and all of the vowels make the same sound. With that out of the way, lets begin.

man in mombasa

Oleg.0 / Shutterstock


Hello, how are you?

In Swahili: Jambo, habari (gani)?

If somebody asks you that, you can say “sijambo” in response, which means I’m fine.

What’s your name?

In Swahili: Unaitwa nani?

My name is.

In Swahili: Jina langu ni ____________.

Pleased to meet you.

In Swahili: Nimefurahi

Good morning.

In Swahili: Habari ya asubuhi.

Good night.

In Swahili: Usiku mwema.



Numbers and days

You can say 1-10 with the following:

1: Moja. 2: Mbili. 3: Tatu. 4: Nne. 5: Tano. 6: Sita. 7: Saba. 8: Nane. 9: Tisa. 10: Kumi.

The days of the week are the following: 

Monday: Jumatatu. Tuesday: Jumanne. Wednesday: Jumatano. Thursday: Alhamisi. Friday: Ijumaa. Saturday: Jumamosi. Sunday: Jumapili.

kenya shillings


Money issues

Where can I get money changed? 

In Swahili: Ninaweza kubadilisha pesa wapi?

Can you change money for me? 

In Swahili: Unaweza kubadilia pesa mimi?

tourist talking to maasai

Arsirya / Shutterstock

General conversation

Thank you (very much).

In Swahili: Asante (sana).

You’re welcome.

In Swahili: Karibu.

Excuse me.

In Swahili: Samahani.


In Swahili: Ndiyo.


In Swahili: Hapana.

How was your safari?

In Swahili: Habari za safari?

Where is the bathroom?

In Swahili: Choo kiko wapi?

Where are you coming from?

In Swahili: Unatoka wapi?

Where do you live? 

In Swahili: Unaishi wapi?

maasai market nairobi

LMspencer / Shutterstock


How much does this cost?

In Swahili: Bei gani?

No, thank you very much.

In Swahili: Hapana asante sana

That’s too much

In Swahili: Ni ghali sana.

Do you have this item in my size? 

In Swahili: Kuna hii ya kunitosha?

Can I have a bag? 

In Swahili: Nipe mfuko mmoja tafadhali.

Do you take credit cards? 

In Swahili: Naweza kutumia kadi ya benki.

night market stone town zanzibar

Attila JANDI / Shutterstock


I’m vegetarian

In Swahili: Mimi ni mla mboga.

Can I have a glass of…?

In Swahili: Ninaomba glasi moja ya _____?


In Swahili: Bwana!

Check, please. 

In Swahili: Naomba bili, tafadhali.

I don’t want bones

In Swahili: Bila mafupa.

Matatu Bus (HansueliKrapf/Wikimedia Commons)

Matatu Bus (HansueliKrapf/Wikimedia Commons)


Where does this bus go? 

In Swahili: Basi hii inakwenda wapi?

When does this bus leave? 

In Swahili: Basi itaondoka lini?

How much is a ticket to…?

In Swahili: Tikiti ya kwenda _______ shengapi?

luxury hotel in kenya



What time is breakfast? 

In Swahili: Chakula cha asubuhi saa ngapi?

I want to check out. 

In Swahili: Ninataka kuondoka.

Do you have any rooms?

In Swahili: Je, unavyo vyumba?

I’ll take it. 

In Swahili: Sawa basi, nitakichukua.

bad situation


Bad situations

Leave me alone!

In Swahili: Niache!

Call the police!

In Swahili: Ita polisi!

Don’t touch me!

In Swahili: Usiniguse!

I need your help. 

In Swahili: Ninaomba msaada.

I’m lost

In Swahili: Nimepotea.

communication problem on phone


Communication trouble

My swahili is really bad.

In Swahili: Kiswahili changu ni kibaya sana.

Do you speak English?

In Swahili: Unasema Kiingereza?

Speak slowly, please.

In Swahili: Tafadhali sema polepole.

How do you say this in English? 

In Swahili: Una sema Kiingereza?

I don’t understand. 

In Swahili: Sifahamu

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