Gaborone, Botswana Report of what it's like to live there - 12/28/23

Personal Experiences from Gaborone, Botswana

Gaborone, Botswana 12/28/23

Background:

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

No, this is not my first post. I have lived in London, Ottawa, Maputo, Harare, Doha, and New Delhi.

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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?

Washington, DC

It is a long trip because there are very few direct flights into Gaborone; you have transit via Addis Ababa or Johannesburg, so including layovers and excluding rest stops, the trip is about 35 hours. You can cut the time by a few hours by taking the direct flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, but that's a 17 hour flight and you would still need to clear customs in Johannesburg and then check in again.

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3. What years did you live here?

2020-2023.

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4. How long have you lived here?

Three years.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

The housing varies in size, style, quality, and age, but broadly speaking, it is a mixed bag that tends towards good. Each property has its quirks. Some have pools, some share pools, there are modern townhomes and modern apartments. There are no consistent building standards, landlords often take shortcuts or make strange choices on how to use space. The apartments are in a high rise building. They differ in size and style so that can cause competition and resentment among tenants. The elevators there are very slow and regularly break down.

Embassy housing is moving to a new compound further away from the chancery. This is being poorly received because it increases everyone's commute, the houses are townhouses in very close proximity to each other, and in my opinion, the neighborhood is not very nice. Compound living seems to be the norm at most posts now.

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

Most things are available, but with limited variety. You have to visit several stores to complete your shopping list. The market at the Serbian church is popular and reminds people of a Western farmers' market. Botswana imports most of its food and started restricting the import of produce in 2021. So we go through episodes where there are shortages of basic produce like tomatoes or potatoes. People make a sport of tracking down these rare items and then posting their finds on WhatsApp. Many people drive to South Africa to buy produce, but technically, it's illegal to bring that produce in, although people do.

Produce and cleaning products are more expensive than in the States, but beef is super cheap and very good quality. Eggs here are very tasty as well.

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

Chocolate chips, paper towels, and anything from Trader Joe's.

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

Food delivery is common since the pandemic. Most places do not have website so you have to complete the transaction on the phone and the delivery person brings a point of sale machine to you to swipe your credit card.

There are no fine dining restaurants in Gaborone. Table 52 tries to be find dining, but the food is not very good. People go for the view. The Daily Grind and TwoSixSeven are owned by the same family and serve good quality Western cafe food. There are several decent Indian restaurants and then outlets of South African fast food chains. There are a few small businesses making their names as cake and coffee shops.

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

Weevils and ants are what I have experienced

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic pouch.

DHL and FEDEX operate here as well. Botswana does not have a formal address system, so the post office delivers to local P.O. Boxes, but largely serves as a bank for low income people.

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

Household help is relatively cheap. The minimum wage for full time work is about $200/month. This is not a liveable wage, but it is what locals will pay. Domestic workers prefer to work for expats and diplomats as we generally pay more. Almost everyone prefers to hire Zimbabweans because they generally have a better work ethic than their Batswana peers.

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

There is a small gym at the Embassy rec center, gyms like Virgin or Jack's Gym. There is a Pilates studio that offers inexpensive private lessons and there are several yoga teachers who will come and teach groups in people's back yards.

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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?

Credit cards are very widely used and are safe to use. ATMs are common as well and I use them all the time with no problems, just make sure it's an international or South African bank.

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

English is an official language, so services are available in English at almost all houses of worship. I have not seen a local synagogue here. I think that is due to the small size of the Jewish community rather than due to anti-semitism.

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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?

Although English is an official language, it helps to know pleasantries in Setswana. People appreciate the effort.

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

Gaborone does not have good infrastructure for people with disabilities. Sidewalks are almost non-existent or used by motorists to park their cars. Buildings are supposed to be accessible, but builders often do not conform to those rules. Traffic lights are almost always out of order, so blind people never have audible cues to cross the street.

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Transportation:

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

Public transportation is not safe or advisable. It is largely in the form of overcrowded minibuses (kombis) or dilapidated taxis. Gaborone desperately needs a reliable car service like Uber. The few reliable drivers are independent contractors who re oversubscribed and their cars are sometimes in questionable condition.

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2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?

Don't bring an electric car; the infrastructure does not exist. Most people like SUVs for psychological reasons or to go offroading, but any car will do here.

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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?

High speed internet is available in theory, but it is neither high speed nor is it reliable. The bandwidth is so bad that you cannot hold video calls. You can get internet installed right away because you can buy a plug and play router. They are all Huawei, so forget about protecting your data.

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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 use my work phone, but it's easy to buy phones on the local economy. Most people use WhatsApp anyway because it is ore reliable than the phone system.

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Pets:

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 do not have a pet, but those who do seem satisfied with the local veterinary care.

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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?

Teleworking is hard because of the unreliable internet. Several spouses work as teachers. Some EFMs work in the Embassy but the security clearance takes such a long time that they get demoralized.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

I do not know the answer to this. I know there is a need for all kinds of volunteers, but the process of getting these jobs is unclear to me.

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

Locals like to dress up for work, but most Americans lean towards business-casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

In the last two years, there has been a rise in crimes of opportunity, home burglaries, and smash and grabs. Diplomatic homes and vehicles have also been struck. The crime level is nowhere near the level in South Africa, but it is worrying. Locals report that attacks on their homes and vehicles have been violent.

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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?

Basic medical care is probably ok, especially if the Health Unit advocates for your interests. Generally, more serious issues require medevac.

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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?

It's not bad, but this is a desert, so occasionally there are sand storms. On some days, the fog is quite thick.

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

I have had my worst seasonal allergies here, especially at the beginning and end of the rainy season.

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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)?

Morale at post is quite bad and probably causes low level depression in some. There have also been some EFM cliques that have created a "mean girls" culture that has been harmful to some families.

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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?

The summers are very hot, but it's a dry heat that tends to cool down to tolerable levels at night. The dry season is can get very cold during the mornings and at night. The rain storms are surprisingly heavy and very dramatic, but they are shortlived and the country really needs the moisture.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are a handful of international schools that mission kids go to. The quality of education seems ok in the lower grades, but deteriorates at the high school level. The failure rates at government schools are abysmal.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

The accommodations are not adequate, but can be augmented with private services.

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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?

There is one Montessori school that many Mission kids go to. The proprietor's kids also went there and she is very committed to early education.

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

Yes: swimming, tennis, horse riding, soccer, you name it.

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Expat Life:

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

There is a small expat community that is as insular as the host population. Morale is low because there are few social activities to enjoy. The locals tend to stick to themselves as well.

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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?

Barbecues (braiis) at private homes, a lot of drinking, dinner in the handful of restaurants. The social scene is very limited. People often drive to South Africa just to get away and enjoy a better social scene.

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

Single men seem to do fine here, but single women find it difficult. Couples often survive by traveling out of the country to have fun. Families, especially those with small children, seem to be the happiest here. Teenagers complain that there isn't enough to do, and they are right.

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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?

Most locals leave town on weekends to go to their cattle posts (rural homes) and rarely invite expats to visit. Batswana can be surprisingly unwelcoming, insisting on speaking Setswana even when they know the other person does not speak it. It isn't clear whether Batswana use language to shut people out or whether they are just oblivious to its impact.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Same sex relations are legal and protected in Botswana's constitution. But, Botswana is still culturally a homophobic country. Foreigners do not experience overt discrimination, but their local partners do.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

There is a lot of antagonism to people of Zimbabwean or South Asian origin. White South Africans are often casually racist to non-white people.

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

Regional travel to Cape Town and Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe and Zambia).

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

The weekend farmers' market at the Serbian church in Phakalane. Pottery making lessons in Gabane.

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

This is not a shopping post. Botswana is famous for its diamonds, but they are almost entirely exported. For handicrafts, go to Eswatini, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

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

Half days on Fridays, lazy weekends, and relatively short commutes to anywhere in the city.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

The internet is terrible! It has harmed my ability to remain connected with friends and family, made job interviews even more stressful from worrying that the call will drop or not connect at all, and streaming online classes can triple to quadruple the normal time.

Local and regional travel is very expensive.

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

No. I don't hate it here, but I don't need to do it again either.

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

Do not assume that because Botswana is relatively wealthy, it will be a smooth transition... it will not! Forget expectations of welcoming locals, sense of urgency, expectations of serious journalism, consistent availability of produce, and inexpensive fish and seafood.

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4. But don't forget your:

Humor, sunscreen, and DIY skills.

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

I do not recommend the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency to learn about Botswana; it's like watching King Kong to learn about New York. Instead, watch/read the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency for pleasure because it is cute, but has very little to do with Botswana.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Bring your hobbies with you. Living here has been very isolating; travel and my hobbies have saved my sanity.

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