Bujumbura, Burundi Report of what it's like to live there - 03/12/21
Personal Experiences from Bujumbura, Burundi
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
I am well-traveled in the Foreign Service and have spent many tours in Africa before arriving in Bujumbura. This is a beautiful country and the people here are respectful, courteous, and smart. Except where they are behind the wheel of a car and then - like everywhere else I have served - all respect for rules, lives, and common sense goes by the wayside. I have served in Sub-Saharan Africa, Northern Africa, and now twice in Central Africa. Plus a few short tours in war zones.
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?
I hail from the middle of the USA in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. That means I travel to the eastern seaboard - usually DC or Atlanta, and then onward to Europe. For Burundi that's Brussels if I can get the routing and then down to Buj. Otherwise one can go through Addis Ababa, but I have avoided that thus far. It's a loooong time to travel. Two days in reality. Take the time to rest-stop to give your body a break midway, trust me, your legs will thank me.
3. How long have you lived here?
I have a two-year tour.
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?
Beautiful colonial-era house with a beautiful garden and views of Lake Tanganyika with the volcanic mountains of the DRC beyond. Quite stunning really from the screened in porch off the master bedroom. Lovely way to start my day with coffee and birdsong. Of course I can hear the turkeys from the neighbor's yard too, but that's part of the charm here!
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
I was pleasantly surprised at the cost of living here. Compared to home? That's hard since I haven't been home for anything other than R&Rs where I bleed money from my ears until I return to post... but compared to the other postings in AF I am pretty happy. $2-3 dollars for a dozen fresh organic eggs, South African brands for vinegar, mayo etc., readily available and comparably priced. Coffee is FABULOUS and inexpensive. Cheese is more expensive, but most French varieties are available. There is no cheddar, Monterey jack, or American style block cheeses at all, but you can get gouda and sometimes even find Philadelphia cream cheese (that is PRICEY since it is imported). Our exchange rate is roughly 2000 BIF to 1.00 USD.
I spend 18,000 BIF ($9.00) on cheese for the week's meals and 36,000 ($18.00) on 4 fresh organic whole (and plucked) chickens. The Boucherie Nouvelle, Belgian owned butcher shop has most anything you want and many things you may not. There are several employees behind the counter with excellent English skills and they can assist you with all of your purchases. Your dairy products are almost exclusively UHT box style though I have found fresh milk in small containers. Yogurt is available but is either sugary and pre-packaged or homemade - plain and natural.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More liquids. This is a pouch only post so nothing over 16 ozs per shipment will arrive (unless it is in a can). I haven't received canned soda as yet, but everything else liquidy gets through the pouch in a can. Condensed soups, fancy mushrooms and olives, even olive oil.
Large Costco size dish soap and hand soap refills. Shampoo and conditioner. My favorite San Pellegrino flavors for that special treat, more olive oil because that is a bit pricey here, and mayonnaise. I use laundry pods to avoid the liquid issue so they ship just fine.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Good food from Harry's Bar and grill, Tandoor Indian, and Kezamia can be delivered. Tandoor no longer has a restaurant, just a kitchen and delivery service but is excellent. Kiriri Gardens hotel has a nice restaurant too. Most have several different types of cuisines on the menu and Harry's even has burgers and fries, though it's not quite American style - they will do nicely to satisfy that craving after you have been out for awhile! The locals eat rice and beans which are well flavored and a lot of fish from the lake. Mukeke and Sangala are the most popular. See this link for more ideas: https://www.worldtravelguide.net/guides/africa/burundi/food-and-drink/
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Yes. Ants and spiders are popular but the geckos eat them happily. If you leave the geckos alone they will help you keep your bug population to a dull roar. Also, the Embassy sprays the perimeter of your home prior to your arrive so it's more of a maintenance thing after you move in and directly related to cleanliness.
Don't want ants in your kitchen? Keep your kitchen clean and the counters wiped daily. Take the trash out daily and mop the floors - again, daily. Household staff is a must here even if you have a spouse who stays home. For $300 (or less) per month you can have a full time staff member who can cook, clean, iron, and manage your household. Why wouldn't you? You are providing a vital job which helps feed, house, and clothe entire families. It is a good deal for both sides!
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO usually takes three to five weeks, though sometimes it can be as fast as two weeks!
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
For under $300 per month you can have a full time staff member who can cook, clean, iron, and manage your household. Why wouldn't you? You are providing a vital job which helps feed, house, and clothe entire families. It is a good deal for both sides!
I have my staff help provide meals for the gardener (240,000 BIF/month), and the guard placed by Embassy contract daily. Everyone gets one meal per shift. This costs me 40,000 BIF per week and I feel it is insurance for their health and for my family too. Guards are paid very little and don't always get treated well. I feel it is an easy way to let them know how much I appreciate their effort to keep my family safe and provide some nutrition too!
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a nice gym at the Embassy you can sign up to use.
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?
No. BIF only is used. I have used my credit card at only the Flemingo Diplomatic store and the Kiriri Gardes Hotel. USD is not allowed to be used here locally.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I have not found any yet.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French is widely used, Kurundi is unnecessary but a few words in it or Swahili will get you very far in the eyes of the locals!
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No safe to take any (at all).
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?
Four wheel drive with high clearance is required for life in Buj. Your big beautiful house will likely be off of a pothole filled dirt road. Currently motor pool is free and available 24 hours per day. I don't have a car and I get around just fine with motor pool.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
$500 flat rate for a two year contract for service, $500 to install the equipment. No monthly fees or issues. Can stream Netflix most days and use my Vonage phone too. Your sponsor can have it set up before you arrive.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I use T-Mobile but I am technologically lazy and have no idea if there is a better/cheaper way to do it. I really don't care to change it out.
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 really. There are vet services available but I do not have pets. No current quarantine for your pets.
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?
There are six EFM jobs at the Embassy. Currently two are filled.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
It's Africa. You can volunteer to help in many places.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business dress is used at the Embassy especially for reporting officers and folks working inside the CAA. Business casual on Fridays.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Of course, but this is NOT the Burundi of 2015. I feel safe walking around markets and shops. Use your instincts and keep your wits about you. Like in any capitol city. Muggings are the most likely but we stay to a limited area. There are neighborhoods that we do not go into. Listen to the RSO briefing and follow their directions.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No quality medical or dental care is available locally.
In a true emergency there is a Military hospital that can treat you with relatively good equipment and training but most everything requires a Medevac. The current Medical Provider at post is a PA. The RMO is kind enough to allow folks to be treated by him via the telephone whenever possible. However, this isn't the post to bid on if you have chronic medical issues to manage.
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?
Good for Africa.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Pollen hasn't been an issue for my allergies here yet.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Not that I am aware of.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is humid here but the altitude makes the weather much nicer that other places in Africa. Not as hot, nice cool breezes, rainy season is pretty nice and the air is cleaner than other places.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Families are coming back for the first time since 2015 beginning June 1, 2021. Currently there are no schools or children under 18 at post.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
In my opinion, it is small and currently the morale seems low. However, our newly-arrived Ambassador is working to change that.
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?
Small groups for outings or get togethers.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a great place to be if you are going to be overseas in Africa.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I find it easy to make friends here. Locals are welcoming and receptive to folks who treat them well.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No idea but I expect that Burundians would be respectful.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
White people are the minority and there seems to be no issues from my perspective. I do not see or experience gender or racial bias from the locals.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Food and friends
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Hippo watching and lake activities. Wildlife park
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Typical African items. Fabric, jewelry, etc.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It is a small beautiful city and we work out of a New Embassy Compound built in 2013.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How clean it would be compared to other African posts.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
American entitled attitude and expectations. Leave behind your winter blues and gear.
4. But don't forget your:
Smile! Open-mindedness to experience a new culture! Sunscreen and bug spray! There is a rainy season so rain gear is a must.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Don't read too much that focuses on the events of 2015. That is not this Burundi and you might miss an amazing opportunity to experience this place if you don't look past their past.
6. Do you have any other comments?
I am happy here.