Gaborone, Botswana Report of what it's like to live there - 04/22/13
Personal Experiences from Gaborone, Botswana
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. I've had several additional expat experiences, and this was my second posting in Botswana.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
US - 17 hours from Atlanta to Johannesburg non-stop, then an hour up to Gaborone. I found this flight to be much better than the DC flight that stops in West Africa.
3. How long have you lived here?
January 2010-August 2012.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
A huge range: stand-alone houses, townhouses and some apartments. Also, there are a several neighborhoods in which to live. The commute time is not huge, depending on where you live. Phakalane is about 10Km out of town and is very popular. That commute into the city is 40 minutes or more. We lived right in town, 5 minutes from the office and 10 minutes from the school.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
All South African brands are available - not cheap but I've been at more costly posts. The shock is the price of chicken - 40% more expensive than beef. Being close to South Africa, you can find about everything.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Sun screen (hard to find high SPF regionally).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots of South Africa chain (Nandos!). Not a huge range of restaurants, but great beef - really good. In the last year, due to the relocation of De Beers to Gaborone, it seemed to be changing with more diversity in offerings.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There is no malaria in Gaborone. We had trouble with ants (the biting variety), but it was managed with a local pest company (non-toxic chemicals).
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
It is hard to get mail from the States and even then it is not so reliable. There is no home delivery, so you have to rent a mail box.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Cheap and available. Quality varies, but we had a FANTASTIC housekeeper whom I found through a maid service. Lots of expats and one good site on facebook (gaborone grapevine) which helps with recommendations if you're just arriving.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Both are widely used and accepted.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
All denominations. Many will be in Setswana, but there are lots of English-language services as well.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes - moderately priced South African services.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None, really, but it is always good to have a few phrases.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Actually, the shopping malls have handicapped facilities, but it's not generally a handicapped-accessible city.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We used taxis a lot. I found them affordable and safe.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Roads are good but not great (lots of potholes), but in and around Gabs almost any car would work. If you want to get out into the bush, obviously you'll need something sturdier.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We paid about $50/month. It was not fast - no streaming possible. This is a constraint in the region.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Lots of options.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Not necessarily. We brought our dog from the US. We were happy to have him with u,s but it was extremely difficult and expensive to get him into South Africa. Think carefully about it. South Africa has extensive regulations about importing pets. We had to ship blood samples to Kansas to test for rare diseases. If you do bring a dog, don't skimp on the tests. They can and do ship pets back if everything is not up to par. Once you're in South Africa, all you need is an easily obtainable certificate to get your pet from South Africa to Botswana.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Yes, there are a number of good vets. Kennels are harder, but there is a range of grooming salons.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
No, and it is getting harder and harder to get work permits.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Petty crime - don't leave things in your car. Home break-ins have become more frequent, although not nearly on the level of South Africa. We had one, though, and after that we had a guard. Most expats have the full security range: guard, wall, electric fence, and in-home security alarm system.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
For anything serious you can go to South Africa. I found a good GP, but in my opinion you have to look around to find a doctor you're comfortable with. Not so great on dentists. Coming from the US, I didn't find them to be very proactive.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
It's good, but it can be extremely dry at times.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Extremely hot in summer, dry and cool in winter. It's a desert, so in winter it can be quite cold, especially at night.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
My experience was with Reception and Standard 1. There are 3 or 4 main schools at the primary level: Northside (way overbooked), Thornhill (very British) and Westwood. We were very happy at Westwood, and most parents are happy with the school choice for the younger levels. Secondary students are less happy with the school quality.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I think not a huge range. Westwood did have access to support counsellors and occupational therapists, and I'm sure the others do as well.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
In home nannies/housekeepers are common. There is also a range of great preschools - Humpty Dumpty seemed to be among the most popular.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, through schools and camps during breaks.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large - lots of South Africans but diverse.
2. Morale among expats:
I think high for families. Most find this a dull post, though, and singles on my staff suffered. For us, it was very high!
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Dinner parties, long lunches, eating out. LOTS of birthday parties for kids in school.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
As a family, we loved it. Singles did not seem to enjoy it, and having lived there as a single years prior, I can see why. It is mainly a drinking scene with little diversity of activities. Couples also find it limiting. However, Johannesburg is a short drive away.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think it's probably okay. There is a community even though it technically illegal in Botswana.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I didn't find any of these issues.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Day-to-day living, safari trips, and some regional travel.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Obviously lots to do regionally. In Botswana, tourism is obscenely expensive. Regionally, you can almost fly back to the US for what you would spend on a ticket to a destination outside of South Africa. That said, the safari opportunities are not to be missed, although for us it was a very rare treat. Gabs has a lot of family-oriented activities, which we enjoyed greatly.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Botswana is not very "crafty". However, the quality baskets are a must.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Peaceful, kind people. Lots of tourism possibilities but expensive. For us, the best benefit was a great family culture - lots of activities for kids. We loved it.
11. Can you save money?
Not if you want to travel.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. It's not a glitzy, exciting post but it was great for us!
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Need to rush!
3. But don't forget your:
Patience and Kindle (or e-book reader) - Books are extremely expensive here.
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Pilot was made into a series.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency 5-Book Boxed Set, The Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Kama and His Nation, Deadly Harvest: A Detective Kubu Mystery