Gaborone, Botswana Report of what it's like to live there - 06/06/10
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?
5th overseas 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?
Home is Chicago. It takes 24-30 hours to travel from Chicago to Botswana. You may either travel from Chicago to Europe (Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, or Paris) to Johannesburg and then connect to Botswana, or fly direct from Washington, DC or Atlanta to Johannesburg. There are no direct flights to Gaborone from the U.S. or Europe. Generally all travelers connect through Johannesburg. Many flights from the United States arrive in Jo'burg during the evening and are too late to make the last connection to Gaborone (around 7pm).Therefore, many travelers are forced to overnight near the airport in Johannesburg and finish their journey to Gaborone the following morning.
3. How long have you lived here?
September 2008 to present (June 2010).
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Assigned to the U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most expats in Gaborone live in single-family homes scattered throughout the city. There are few apartment buildings here. Most homes are spacious (3-5 bedrooms) and have large gardens and often swimming pools. I live in the central part of the city and my commute to work is 5-10 minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are numerous quality South African grocery chains where the quality and variety is quite good. On a good day, you will find unexpected American products at reasonable prices. On a bad day, you will need to go to 3 stores to get the brand of butter or cereal that you prefer. Generally prices here are comparable to the U.S. and most products you crave for a western diet are readily available in stores, though sometimes you can only find South African brands which are slightly different than what you are used to back home.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Gaborone has little fast food, and most outlets are South African rather than American. We do have a KFC.The most popular fast-food option is probably Nando's, a very good chain that offers Portuguese-style grilled chicken and sides. We also have Wimpy's (a South African hamburger joint) and some additional fast-food restaurants at the malls. There are good restaurants in Gaborone for steak, Portuguese food, Indian, Chinese, and pizza/italian. Unfortunately, while the range and quality is decent, the market is a bit small and after a year here, we have hit all the establishments that there are. Restaurant costs are similar to the US/Europe.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Many households suffer from ants and termites. There are mosquitos in Gaborone, but there is no problem with malaria in Gaborone or the southern part of the country. You must take anti-malarial drugs if you travel north of the Tropic of Capricorn. All of the main tourist attractions like Chobe and the Okavango are in the north and require malaria meds when you visit.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use the diplomatic pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is readily available and will cost about $200 a month for a full time maid/nanny. Gardeners are a bit cheaper and are easy to find. Many people also share domestic staff (part-time for certain hours during the week) at a lower cost. One thing that is hard to find here is a domestic who can cook.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are numerous gyms and sports clubs available around the city. Many expats belong to Energym or GymActiv, and there is even a local outlet of the Curves franchise for ladies. You can also join the national tennis or squash clubs for modest fees. Lots of people walk and run outdoors when the weather is good, and there is a Kalahari Hash House Harriers club which meets weekly. There are at least two golf courses available. There are several stables outside town where you can ride horses.
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?
It's very easy to live in Botswana!Almost every store takes credit cards and ATM cards and it is safe and reliable to use them here. Beware however when traveling to South Africa-- where credit card fraud is common!There are ATMs in all the major cities in Botswana should you need cash, and it is safe to use them.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, all major Christian denominations are represented here. You can also find mosques in the major cities.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There are several newspapers and 1 TV station which broadcasts predominantly in English. The newspapers have a fairly small distribution and are not of the highest quality. Satellite TV from South Africa is available for a reasonable price, and has started including 3 HD channels.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is the official language, but everyone prefers to speak Setswana. Some knowledge of Setswana (greetings, polite phrases) will make you popular with your local friends/contacts, but is not required.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There are no ramps/elevators in most buildings. It would probably be hard to get around if your mobility was limited.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There is no train service, but buses, combis and taxis are absolutely accessible.
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?
4x4s are popular, as so many people travel outside the city on the weekends. This is a country that drives on the left, so that is a consideration. Most popular brand here is probably Toyota, but you find most brands represented here and can get parts and service. Many expats import used cars from Japan.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. The speed is far from blistering, but it will usually suffice to browse effectively. We have had a little trouble using Skype, which works sometimes, and doesn't other times.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Botswana has the highest prevalence of cell phone use in sub-Saharan Africa.3G coverage is spreading, but usable normal coverage is available in all population centers. There are 3 or 4 carriers to choose from and they offer both contract and pay as you go plans.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Yes, there are both vets and kennels that seem just fine. Even more, there are numerous stables if you prefer your pets to be a bit larger.
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?
Botswana is trying to make sure that there are plenty of opportunities for its own well-trained citizens. This has lead to protectionist policies that can make it hard for some expatsto find work. But with that said, there are opportunities, and with a bit of persistence jobs can be found for well trained candidates. Best prospects are teaching at international-caliber schools or the University, or work with one of the many development organizations here helping with the HIV/AIDS crisis.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
People dress very similarly to what you would see in the United States or Europe. Suits for those who work in offices, slacks and polo shirts on the weekend.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crime is increasing in Gaborone, but we have so far been able to avoid the violence that is common in South Africa. We know many people whose houses have been robbed and there are certainly car thefts and "smash and grabs" in parking lots or at traffic lights. However, most criminals will simply steal your belongings and will not use violence or hurt their victims. My biggest worry is car accidents. Botswana has more than its fair share of road fatalities, many of them alcohol related. I do not advise driving late at night if you can avoid it, especially during the last weekend of the month (pay day), when alcohol-related car accidents are most common.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is improving. They have recently opened a state of the art private hospital in Gabs, but it is still having some staffing issues. You can get routine work done, but for surgery, I would still prefer to head to South Africa or back home to the US/Europe. Remember that Botswana has one of the world's highest HIV infection rates in the world-- and modify your behavior accordingly!
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?
The air quality in Gaborone is good. This is a small city (around 200K people) with no real industry or traffic.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Botswana is a semi-arid country and the Kalahari desert covers a large area in the center of the country. In Gaborone, summers can get very hot (upper 30s to 40 degrees), while winter tempatures dip to near-freezing overnight (lows in the 3-8 degree range).As Botswana is in the southern hemisphere, our hottest months are November - January and our coldest months are June - August.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The Westwood International School is approved by the State Department for K-12.Many parents seem happy with the school. You should note however that the school is on a British/South African schedule -- the year begins in January and there are three terms, with a break of about one month between them. Friends are also very happy with the local Northside and Thornhill primary schools, as well as the Maru-a-pula secondary school. Both Westwood and Maru-a-pula offer the International Baccalaureate program for high schoolers. All these schools have websites if you need more information.
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?
We have two children in preschool in Gaborone and we are extremely happy with the experience. I strongly recommend Humpty Dumpty school, but other friends were very happy with the education at Playmates, Busy Bees, and Dipeo. To my knowledge most preschools here are half-day only (7:30 to 12:30pm) and are 5 days/week. However, there may be some full-day options. Most expat families have live-in nannies, who are able to assist with childcare during school breaks, afternoons, evenings, etc.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Most sports programs are through the local schools. You can also sign up for swimming lessons at local pools, at least one of which is indoors and available year 'round. Kids can take squash, tennis, or horseriding lessons for a fee.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community is small in terms of raw numbers, but fairly large percentage wise. You will regularly run into the same people that seem to live life like you do. There are at least a dozen embassies here, as well as numerous expat workers with development NGOs (mostly working on HIV/AIDS issues).
2. Morale among expats:
Morale is pretty good. I would call it excellent among people who are ok with small town life and/or outdoor enthusiasts. The only expats who are truly unhappy here can't live without a bigger city with more nightlife and social opportunities.
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?
Gaborone is a small town (about 200K people) and is relatively quiet. Most entertaining happens in the home-- pool parties, barbecues, dinners. There are at least a dozen restaurants and a few bars to visit. There are two western-style malls to shop at on the weekends (both fairly small).If you crave big-city excitement, Johannesburg is only about 4 hours away by car.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families (especially those with young children) seem most happy in Gaborone. This is a small town with a slow pace of life, but if you want to spend weekends swimming or biking with your kids, reading by the pool, gardening, or camping, this is the place for you. Some teens seem bored by the lack of social outlets. There are two small malls and two movies theaters and lots of sports opportunities, but little else in the way of teen activities. Singles are less happy here unless they are the type that truly enjoy tourism and the outdoors. If you are looking for an arts/culture scene or nightlife, this is not the best city for you.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Homosexuality is considered illegal in Botswana, but I have not witnessed any attempt to sanction or punish gays here. However, what little gay scene exists is quiet and does not attract much attention to itself. I don't think it would be easy to meet a new partner here or date as a gay single.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Botswana is predominantly Christian, but there are mosques in the major cities and towns for the small, mostly south Asian, Muslim community. There are also some Hindus and a temple in Gaborone. I have not seen any problems with religious intolerance here. Botswana also have a very open and tolerant attitude toward race. You see many interracial couples and families here and this is perfectly accepted. Botswana's first President Sir Seretse Khama married a white woman from England, and their son, Ian Khama is President today. More than any other country I have experienced, whites and blacks live together here in peace and harmony.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Visitors to Botswana should not miss the country's world-renowned tourist destinations, including the Chobe National Park (in the far northeast, near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe) and the Okavango Delta. Botswana has one of the world's largest populations of elephants, and also has abundant antelope species, amazing birdlife, rhinos, buffalos, giraffes, lions, leaopards, cheetahs-- all the wildlife you could ever hope to see on safari are here. There are camping opportunities at amazing parks and nature reserves throughout the country. One drawback for non-campers is that the lodges in Botswana (especially in the Okavango Delta) are VERY expensive and cater to wealthy Americans and Europeans. There are few discounts or incentives for local residents at the high-end lodges.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
If you like camping, hunting or safaris, Botswana is an excellent place to be.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Hand-made baskets. Botswana has lovely (though often expensive) handmade baskets to collect and some other nice handicrafts for sale (cloth, carvings, etc).
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Botswana is a beautiful country which offers a good quality of life and many unique tourism opportunities for expats. Cost of living in Gaborone is moderate, and unlike most African cities you can drink water straight from the tap, drive on good roads, enjoy near-constant electricity and other utilities, and send your children to good schools. Botswana is a relatively developed and easy place to live.
11. Can you save money?
Absolutely. If you keep the travel budget under control, you should save money.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
camping gear and binoculars.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
--Alexander McCall Smith's "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series of mystery novels.--"Whatever you do, Don't Run" by Peter Allison--"Twenty Chickens for a Saddle" by Robin Scott--"Place of Reeds" by Caitlin Davies--"The Colour Bar"(bio of Botswana's first President Seretse Khama)--
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
HBO's "No. 1 Detective Agency" movie and mini-series.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Botswana is one of Africa's true success stories:a successful democracy for more than 40 years which has also built a stable economy and raised living standards for its people. Botswana has turned its diamond wealth into roads, schools, and clinics. You have to admire this country and this government. They still have areas for improvement, but Batswana are deservedly proud of their nation. This is a great place to experience!