N'djamena, Chad Report of what it's like to live there - 04/27/14
Personal Experiences from N'djamena, Chad
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Al Ain, Abu Dhabi,Doha, La Paz, Majuro.
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?
Florida. Around 24 hours. Change planes in Paris.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. Embassy employee.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Mostly individual houses. Typical commute is about 10 minutes. Traffic is disorganized with little recognition of rules of right-of-way. However, it is usually light enough that you can get where you are going with a minimum of annoyance. Fender-benders are common.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can buy anything you need but the brand selection will be very limited; the quality is low and the prices are astronomical.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I would put more liquid items in HHE and consumables. Cooking oil, liquid cleaners, vanilla extract, chocolate syrup. Dry goods and paper products can be shipped in easily. It's the liquids and anything with a lithium battery that we have trouble getting. Bring one more UPS than you think you need. The electricity is terrible here and your UPS won't live long. It's hard/impossible to ship a UPS later. Don't bother to buy/ship any transformers. They are easy to obtain locally and can also be shipped if you decide to buy more later.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
No American fast food brands or anything similar. Several local restaurants serve some American dishes. Cost is about 50% more than U.S. for comparable items.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
All kinds of insects. Crickets and locusts were the worst. This is Africa. It is teaming with life. You just have to get used to it.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Dip pouch is to only practical way to get anything in. Outgoing is limited to letters and packages no larger than a VCR tape.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Cheap, but expect to have to do some training. A full-time gardener can be less than US$150/month and a full time housekeeper/cook for not much more. However, they will need training to your expectations.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a small gym and pool and tennis court. The French club has 3 clay tennis courts. There are fewer sporting activities available than I've seen anywhere with the notable exception of tennis.
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?
Don't even think about using a credit card. Maybe at one or two hotels. Get your cash at the hotel or bank.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is a non-denominational English service at SIL that meets bi-weekly. There is a large Catholic church but I don't know about language.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
We don't get out much so we get by fine with zero knowledge of French. However, if you expect to spend time out in the community, a working knowledge of French is a necessity and a bit of Arabic would be nice.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There is no effort made to make anything handicapped accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Embassy employees do not use local transportation.
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?
The only local dealer is Toyota. 90% of all cars on the road are Toyota. Many of the roads in N'Djamena have been paved over the past couple of years so a 4WD is not the necessity that it once was, but it's still a nice-to-have.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Some commercial internet is just now becoming available. Around US$150/month will get you a connection of about U.S. dial-up speed/quality. You can send/receive email and read the news but not much more. The embassy also supplies a minimal connection to the houses at no charge. It's reasonably reliable but slow. It's adequate for keeping in touch via email but usually is not fast enough for Vonage, Skype or Youtube to work at an acceptable level. Note - embassy housing has extensions off the embassy phone system and the Embassy has Netbox which allows for free calling anywhere in the U.S.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Embassy employees and spouses are issued a basic cellphone. Personal use should be reimbursed. Many of us have brought our own unlocked GSM phone and shifted the SIM card over to it.
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?
No need for quarantine. No vets or kennels.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Conservative. Most male embassy employees are expected to wear suits.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
It's one of the poorest countries on earth. As a Westerner you always are a target. Kidnapping for ransom occurs in neighboring countries. We always wonder when/if it will spread here. Most of the neighboring countries are experiencing some form of civil unrest. Chad has been calm the past few years but has a history of civil war.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria is the most common disease that expats need to worry about. It's also just plain dangerous. Murder from gunshots and knives are common. Medical care is very poor. Almost any minor injury or sickness justifies a med-evac (assuming you live long enough). Chad has the lowest life expectancy anywhere on earth. Don't plan to have a heart attack here. It will probably be the last thing you ever do.
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?
Unhealthy. Lots of dust and smoke. Too may wood fires and neighbors who are constantly burning trash. Make sure to bring/buy an air filter for your bedroom.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and hotter. We had a pool and it was never too cold to use it.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The American school closed several years ago and there are no signs of reopening. The French school is rumored to be good.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small but fairly high morale. It's a hardship/danger post but most people here knew that when they chose to come and have adjusted their expectations accordingly. The most unhappy people are those who came here for the money (currently 30% hardship and 15% danger pay for Embassy Americans) and yet expect to be able to live and work as if they are in Washington D.C.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
If you are comfortable with reading, watching videos that you bring, working in your yard, or other stay-at-home activities, you can have an enjoyable tour. If you want the social activities and night-life that you would associate with a major U.S. city - you'll be miserable here.
3. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Good tennis at the French Club was a pleasant surprise. The embassy restaurant was also better than expected.
4. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Some local trinkets but nothing that is really unique to the area.
5. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Great place to live if you like staying at home all the time.
6. Can you save money?
Yes. Just stay in a lot.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. I've been lucky to experience Chad during an unusually stable and calm period and I'm a person who enjoys staying at home, reading and watching TV.
2. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Do a Youtube search and watch the locally made videos.