Gaborone, Botswana Report of what it's like to live there - 07/18/19

Personal Experiences from Gaborone, Botswana

Gaborone, Botswana 07/18/19


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, I previously lived in Dushanbe, Tajikistan (DOS), and Augsburg, Germany (U.S. Army).

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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 hometown is St. Paul, MN. Everyone flies through Johannesburg and from there I would take the Delta flight to Atlanta then on to Minneapolis or Washington DC depending on where I needed to go. It usually took 25-30 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I lived in Gaborone from 2015 to 2018.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

I was in a nice four bedroom (one bedroom set up as an office) house with a decent kitchen, pool, and a two-car detached garage. It was very comfortable. As stated by others there were a few really bad houses in the pool but 70%-80% of them were good. Housing was improving the housing pool, too.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

I did this tour right after Tajikistan which was a 30% hardship post. I thought the selection of groceries here was pretty good although it was definitely better in South Africa (basically same as the US). Johannesburg was 4 1/2 hours away so you could always go there or go to Rustenburg (3 hours away) for better groceries. Sometimes you couldn't find specific items you liked or wanted.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

I didn't ship anything and did not feel like it was necessary.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

When I first got there the only pizza place was Debonnaire's (which was not great). In 2017 they opened up several Pizza Huts. Delivery always took awhile as did service at a regular restaurant, but it was great having Pizza Hut pizza. There was an Indian restaurant named Embassy at the mall that was good. Caravella's was a good Portuguese restaurant in a house that had live music on the weekend. Main Deck on the old main street area had some good bar food. The Daily Grind and Sanitas were my favorite places. They were the best restaurants in the city. Basilicos was expensive, but had some good Italian food. Eastern Crescent had great, really authentic, inexpensive Chinese food and is another of the best restaurants in the city. There were another 5-10 decent restaurants in the city as well.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

The occasional ants and mosquitos were present but nothing too bad. Some people had snakes and scorpions but that was pretty rare. Almost everyone had a lizard or two, but they ate the bugs.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

I used the DPO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

I had a couple come twice a week for housekeeping and gardening and they stayed about 4 hours each visit. I paid US$200 a month.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There was a small Embassy gym and a couple of decent gyms in town. Jack's Gym was by the Embassy and Virgin Gym was at the mall by the airport.

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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?

I had no problem with ATMs.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There were some but I did not attend there. Some of my friends that attended said they were frequently asked to lend money to other parishioners.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Everyone speaks English.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

It is doable. They actually do have some ramps and other things.

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1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Use a personal driver. It is cheap and a lot easier. The CLO has a list of people.

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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?

You can bring anything but if you want to safari or camp you will want a 4 wheel drive.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet was mediocre. BBI was my provider and they were okay. You could usually stream video.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

I used the Embassy phone.

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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?

I did not have a pet but lots of people had dogs and cats. Some people bought dogs there from breeders.

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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?

All the spouses either worked remotely (difficult with the internet) or for the Embassy.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

FSOs wore suits and specialists wore business casual.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

There was crime but if you are careful you should not have any major issues. Keep your doors locked in a vehicle because they do open doors to grab purses. It is very rare for there to be violent crime against expats but home invasions are becoming more prevalent for some of the local staff to deal with.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Embassy heath care was poor. Other people have detailed this pretty accurately. I had some health issues I was concerned about and I did not care for the local doctor the Embassy employed.

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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?

Air quality was pretty good.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

I did not have any allergies there. The climate is a lot like Arizona.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Only seasonal boredom disorder when you aren't taking enough regional trips.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot and dry, but nice in the winter.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

I have no direct experience but everyone said the high school was not good.

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2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

The people that had kids seemed to find a fair amount of activities. Some of them had horseback riding and stuff like that.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Morale was not good but it really should have been better. The city is fairly boring but the regional trips are spectacular. Work at the Embassy was fairly quiet and boring. There was a medium sized expat community and about 70 or so Americans at Post.

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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?

There were several people at the Embassy that threw a lot of parties. Some people did a lot of camping.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

I think it would be best for families with young kids. You would have plenty of time to spend with your family. Dating was not good for single guys and even worse for women. It's my understanding there was a high AIDS rate there.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

As has been stated before I never had my bags searched at the grocery store or other places, but all of the black Americans were always being stopped. It was weird seeing black Americans being treated worse in a country that was 98% black.

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5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The regional trips in Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe were spectacular. I went to the Okavongo Delta for a trip which was expensive but something you have to do once. I stayed at Oddball's Camp which wasn't too horrendously expensive using resident and off season rates. Being poled around in a mokoro (dugout canoe) from island to island seeing incredible bird life, crocs, hippos, and all the other African wildlife was absolutely incredible. Madikwe which was right across the border from Gaborone in South Africa was the best place for safari. I stayed at Etali Lodge and we would be 20 feet or less from all the big five and lots of other wildlife. I only took one trip to Kruger which was about a 12 hour drive away but it was spectacular. Tuli Block in Botswana is the best place for leopard spotting (5 in 4 days including babies). Chobe is a great place to go (about a 9 hour drive from Gaborone). Stay in a hotel in Kasane and self drive. This will give you a great, inexpensive safari experience. Don't forget to do a boat ride on the Chobe River. It is another incredible experience. I also saw Victoria Falls, Cape Town, and Underberg (Drakensberg Mountains) which were all spectacular. I did some camping in South Africa along the Botswana border and other trips. All of my trips there were great fun.

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6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

I wouldn't call it a hidden gem but my favorite thing to do near Gaborone was visit Etali Lodge at Madikwe and go on Safari. You could go there for the day and for about $75 a person get a great breakfast, 2 1/2 to 3 hour safari, and a great lunch then drive back to Gaborone. You rented the entire safari vehicle so just get 4 or 5 friends from the Embassy and have a blast.

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7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Botswana had some nice woven baskets and pottery but most of the best African handicrafts came from surrounding posts.

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8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Nothing in the city was a particular advantage. It was pretty clean for an African city and stuff mostly worked.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I did some research before I came and I was coming from a 30% hardship post so overall it was a big improvement. Nothing goes on at the Embassy so it is pretty boring working there unless you are working on wildlife issues.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, I was very bored when I was just stuck in the city but the regional trips were fantastic. Get out of the city. Go on Safari. See the incredible countryside in South Africa, Zambia, and Namibia and you will have a much better tour.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Yak trax.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure! The only ski resort in Africa is in the Drakensberg Mountains about a 9 or 10 hour drive from Gaborone, so you could actually take your skis.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Everyone said the #1 Ladies Detective Agency. I have never read the books, but I thought I would continue with the tradition. My bet is that no one who recommended the series read it either :-).

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Southern Africa is really special. I had some incredible adventures. I think Namibia or South Africa would be better posts than Gaborone but Gaborone was not bad. At times I was bored and discontent when I was only in the city with nothing to do but now that I have been gone for a year I realize how amazing the things I did were and as much as I did do I wish I had done more. I would probably not go back to Gaborone, but I would go back to the region, particularly Namibia.

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