Praia, Cape Verde Report of what it's like to live there - 02/06/08
Personal Experiences from Praia, Cape Verde
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, I've been to several places in Latin America and Europe.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I am affiliated with the U.S. Government.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
There is a direct weekly flight from Praia to Boston on TACV (usually twice weekly during high season) and that takes about 8 hours. It cannot be used by USG employees for official business as it does not qualify under Fly America Act. The best route is usually through Lisbon, Portugal but the total trip to US East Coast can take as much as 24 hours with connections. Another option is to fly via Dakar to either New York, Washington or Atlanta but many people have bad experiences with this due to cancelled flights, lost luggage, or layovers of over 12 hours.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is spacious and usually very nice. Yards are uncommon in Praia so don't expect a place for your dog to romp.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The availability of fresh products improved during my time in Praia. More fruits and vegetables were being brought in from Brazil, Spain, Portugal and South Africa. That being said, it was still hit or miss and prices were higher than in the U.S. You certainly can't go to the grocery store with a meal plan in mind and expect to find all the ingredients. Fish is readily available and fresh. Dairy products are difficult to come buy and milk is all long life. Meat is mainly imported from Brazil (some from Europe) but be sure to take a good look at it as sometimes it is frozen and thawed several times due to poor refrigeration systems. Praia is a consumables post and, especially if you like to cook, I would strongly recommend bringing most things with you. Laundry detergent is very expensive and of poor quality. Clothing and shoes of any sort of quality are also hard to come by so plan on ordering replacement items from the US. Dry cleaning is available but they are often out of fluid.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Peanut butter, baking items, chocolate chips, laundry detergent, all house cleaning items, spare tires and other car parts, plastic ware for entertaining, plastic wrap, foil, baggies, toiletries.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
No fast food. There are a couple places that serve reasonably priced Cape Verdean or Portuguese food. Churrasco is usually a good bet. Other than that, the selection is slim.
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?
Readily available and reasonably priced. The quality of work varies but those who work with USG families are outstanding.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
This is a cash economy. Credit cards can be used at the major hotels in Praia and in a few other places in Sal but cash is preferred. A tax is often added when credit cards are used.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Newspapers aren't available (thank goodness for the internet). USG employees have AFN. South African satellite option is also available.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
An absolute must. It is important to understand that although Portuguese is the official langugage, most of business is conducted in Criollo.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many: Streets and most of the sidewalks (if the exist at all) are cobblestone. Only one or two buildings in town have elevators.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Right, like the U.S.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are available and cheap but not always particularly safe. It's better to have your own car.
3. 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?
In Praia almost anything will do. However, if you plan on traveling outside of town, something with a higher clearance is advisable.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is available but is exclusively dial-up and quite slow. However, I was able to make calls back to the US using Skype. Cost is high especially considering the slow speed.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
USG provides one to employees. Otherwise, one recharges by buying cards with specific quantities of minutes.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Over the internet using a VOIP. Land line or cell phone calls are expensive.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There are a couple vets around that are decent but they can only provide basic services at a reasonable price.
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual, business. Weekend errands are more relaxed.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Dust storms part of the year can be difficult for even those in the best of health. Those with allergies may suffer more of the year.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are home break-ins and muggings. Many parts of town should be avoided at all times. The main parts of town such as Achada Santo Antonio, Palmarejo, and Plato are okay during daylight but one should be wary even when in a group, at night. Women should be particularly vigilant at all times and should never walk alone at night.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is poor and all expats (and some Cape Verdeans) leave the country for anything more than minor health issues such as colds or sprains.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There is a rainy season in August/September. When it rains, it pours and flooding often occurs. The rest of the year is dry and gets more dusty as the months go on. Temperature is usually 75-85F but can get as high as 95F in summer and as low as 60F during December evenings.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is a French elementary school that some expats send there kids to but I have heard that many have been very unhappy and have moved their children back to their countries of origin for their education.
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small. Mostly Portuguese.
2. Morale among expats:
In my opinion, poor.
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?
Inviting others over to your home or vice-versa.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Married couples as long as the spouse is aware that employment on the local economy virtually does not exist and possible work with the USG is not full-time. Families with small children who are not yet in school might fare well depending on concerns about health care.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Seems to be okay.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Women are often stared at and sometimes approached by overly aggressive men. If it is known that you are with the USG (and it is such a small place that it is always known) you are even more likely to get approached. Men can be more aggressive in clubs than most American women are used to.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Not much. The beaches in Praia are not fit for swimming. You have to travel by car for quite some distance over rough roads to find anything adequate. And if you are used to Caribbean beaches you will be sorely disappointed. Other islands (Sal, Boa Vista, Maio) have nicer beaches but it is quite expensive to travel there. A trip to Sal for the weekend would cost about US$500 for two people. There is no movie theater, clubs are pretty sketchy and the expat community is very small. If you are single, especially a woman, this will be a lonely place.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. Can you 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:
Idea that this is an island paradise.
3. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, sense of humor, sturdy shoes, allergy medicine, anything to entertain yourself with.