Gaborone, Botswana Report of what it's like to live there - 11/24/13
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?
This was my second expat experience.
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?
My most common flight home was the Delta flight from Johannesburg, South Africa to Atlanta, Georgia. The flight from Gaborone to Johannesburg is about an hour and relatively cheap (US$100 - $150). The Johannesburg to Atlanta flight is 17 hours.
There are also some Washington, DC to Johannesburg that goes through Senegal as a fuel stop.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. Government Employee.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Stand alone houses, some in small complexes throughout the city. Most are nice, with pools and gardens. The commute, depending on where you live can be 40+ minutes depending on the time of day. The problem is that urban planning did not take into account turning lanes, so often you have to endure significant traffic going in one direction until you can get to a traffic circle and come back in the opposite direction. However, there are a considerable number of diplomatic residences close to the Embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries can be fairly expensive by U.S. standards. Household supplies are comparable.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Most things are readily available. Just whatever specific brand that you know you won't be able to find locally.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Food is decent. There are a wide variety of restaurants. Fast food is mostly limited to chicken. You will be hard-up to find good seafood, as Botswana is landlocked. After a time of eating Chicken Lickin, KFC, Hungry Lion and Nandos, you will be excited to see McDonald's in Rustenburg, South Africa (3 hour drive). More and more restaurants are popping up however.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are rumors of baboon spiders. I didn't see any, but I did see some rather large brown spiders, mosquitoes (non-Malaria area).
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I hear it is fairly inexpensive. I didnt have house help, but my gardner was 100 BWP per visit...which was about US$13.00. He was good and I used him once, sometimes twice, per week.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are gyms in Gaborone. We have an Embassy gym so I dont know too much about the private gyms.
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?
ATMs are generally safe. I used ATMs regularly. I would just say stick to ATMs that are in lit areas after dark. I don't remember anyone having any issues with card skimming.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I know for a fact that there is a Catholic English service.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
99% of the people in Gaborone will speak English. Setswana is mostly used when you are talking to older people and when you are outside of the city.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I dont think so. There are certain places where you would likely find it challenging, but nothing exceptionally difficult.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
My Batswana friends use the buses regularly, going from Gaborone to Francistown; Gaborone to Kasane; Gaborone to Francistown. They also use taxis regularly. I would not recommend regular use of combis. Most people I know that didnt have private cars, had a regular taxi driver whom they called for transport.
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?
Botswana is a right-hand drive country. You can use anything to get around the city. If you are adventerous and want to do self-drives, I would recommend a SUV and preferably a 4 wheel drive. You will see Mercedes, Range Rovers, etc. driving around the city. You can also drive throughout the country in a car (although there are potholes in certain areas). The only time I was very happy to have a SUV was going off-road onto the salt pans, going off-road to reach a lodge, and self-drive game drives.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet will cost you approximately US$100 per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You can use Orange or Mascom. Some people use both, depending on where they frequent around Botswana. Around Gaborone, either works. Contract service is not common. Most people simply buy airtime, which is available at most gas stations, malls, and even street vendors.
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?
Getting pets into Botswana can be a pain because they often have to travel through South Africa which is very difficult to transit due to vaccination requirements, etc. It is also very costly. You should expect to spend approximately US$3,000 to get your pet into Botswana.
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?
N/A. If you work in healthcare or edcuation there might be some opportunities. Some of the international corporations may have some as well...but I am not sure about the bilateral work agreements.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
The Embassy sponsored some volunteer opportunities and there are definitely ways to contribute your time and talent in Botswana if you ask around.
3. 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.
Crime is increasing but I wasn't fearful as I engaged in my daily activities. There has been an increase in robberies against restaurants, hotels and businesses. There are crimes of opportunities such as smash and grabs from vehicles, and petty theft. A few people I know were robbed at knife-point for cell phones and small valuables. Residential crime has been an issue as well, particularly if you don't have the luxury of high walls, electric fences, security grilles and intrusion alarms. However, if you use situational awareness you can live in Gaborone with little to no security issues. It's much safer than most major cities in the United States and no indication that foreigners are targeted.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
None. Although, major medical emergencies are medivac'd to South Africa. Routine medical care is adequate however.
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 can be a bit dusty, depending on where you are, but the air quality is decent.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Weather is great. The winters are comprised of warm days and cool nights. You definitely have to layer. The summers can be very hot.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Futbol (Soccer) is the game of choice. During season, you can always find people playing futbol and the Embassy has a recreational team.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community seems to be a decent size; however, all of them tend to do their own thing. There are expats here working with the diamond mining operations, diplomatic, etc. I tended to socialize with the American diplomatic community as well as Batswana friends. There were few instances of diplomats being invited to other diplomatic events, but not so common. It is probably because there is a decent amount for people to do in the city, everyone finds their own little niches. Morale seems to be high however when I was there.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Get-togethers are common. Braais are common. There are also a number of bar/clubs and resturants. You need not be there long before you meet people who will invite you to tons of events.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a good city for singles, families and couples in my opinion. Families have the benefit of living in a small, quiet, stable African country with an array of recreational activities for the weekends. Couples and singles can enjoy the growing retail and night life. There are a few bar/clubs that couples and singles can frequent as wells as restaurants.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
N/A - Although as an expat I think you would be insulated pretty well from any negativity associated with being gay or lesbian. I don't remember any instances of mistreatment of gay or lesbians in country, although I know in some of the more rural areas, people can be more conservative.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
None. Botswana is very tolerant with respect to religion. I know there is a Hindu Temple, a couple Catholic Churches, and a few mosques within the city. I don't know of any synagogues, but I am sure there is likely one.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The weather is beautiful, the people are friendly and the proximity to so much were my highlights. The ability to go camping on the salt plans, to drive to Kasane and take a river safari, drive over to Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe).
Johannesburg is only a 4 hour drive and there are tons of recreational activities there.
The other highlights have been just hanging out with coworkers and friends, having braais (grilling).
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Moremi Gorge, Kgali Hill, Mokalodi Game Reserve, Moremi Gorge, Mmamotshwane Gorge, Lion Park, Salt Pans, Kasane (Chobe National Park), Okavango Delta. I would also recommend going to a Batswana wedding or going to a cattle post with a Mostwana. The #1 Ladies Detective Agency film site is in such ill-repair that it's not worth going to see anymore.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Safaris and trips.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Southern Africa in and of itself is a beautiful region. The city is continuously growing with a large amount of retail venues, hotels, and restaurants being built. In the two years I was there, two shopping complexes were built.
The Batswana are extremely friendly and there are some outstanding recreational opportunities albeit expensive.
The cost of living is a bit more expensive (consumables, gas, etc.). A lot of the tourism is located outside of the city and not really within a "day-trip" distance. The Mokalodi Game Reserve, Gaborone Game Park, Kgale Hill are popular venues. There are often things going on in the city such as the Gaborone Marathon, Gaborone Dam boat races, etc.
Outside of the city are the Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park, Salt Pans, and some other smaller and less known attractions such as Moremi Gorge. Safaris are marketed to foreigners, and can be very expensive; however, if you talk to the Batswana they can give you insight on how to travel and see things at a more reasonable rate.
You "can" save money, but if you really take advantage of what the region has to offer, it's likely that you will not.
10. Can you save money?
You can, but if you take advantage of the vast opportunities of the Southern Africa region, you won't.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
WIsh I had known I would have such a great time and meet such great people.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Notion that all of Africa is a third world poverty stricken backwoods. Botswana has a slow and laid-back feel and although the bureaucracy can be frustrating, it's a functioning democracy. It will be what you make of it.
4. But don't forget your:
Camping gear, swimsuits, fishing poles and bbq grill (they can be quite expensive on the local economy).
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Most Batswana don't know of it, or don't like it...but I found it entertaining and enjoyable. It's a television series featuring Jill Scott.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Water shortages have been an issue in recent history, as well as load shedding. The most dangerous aspect of living in Gaborone for me was the power outages at major intersections between dusk and dark.