Abidjan, Cote D'ivoire Report of what it's like to live there - 08/28/15

Personal Experiences from Abidjan, Cote D'ivoire

Abidjan, Cote D'ivoire 08/28/15

Background:

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

This is my first time living in the developing world.

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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?

Usually Washington or the American Midwest, and it takes about 20 hours for two flights and a typical layover in Europe. Most RT flights to the US will run you $1500-2000 since there's little competition for this market.

For Delta frequent fliers, all the Air France flights connect through Paris, and there are daily non-stop overnight flights. They started flying the A380 about 4 days a week, which is an impressive feat for West Africa. It's a 500-passenger double-decker plane, so it strains the airport's capacity when it flies into Abidjan.

United frequent fliers can take Air Brussels, which also has a daily overnight flight direct to Brussels, but it stops for an hour most days in Burkina or Togo, etc.

Some people take the 1-hour flight to Accra and fly on Delta direct to JFK, but connecting in Accra is lousy. Royal Air Maroc is probably the cheapest option, but I've heard it's not worth the hassle. Emirates and Turkish airlines are also slightly cheaper, but you're going in the wrong direction to get to the States.

There were rumors 6 months ago that a direct flight would open up between Abidjan and Washington, but it seemed to fall through. The airport here, which is probably the nicest in West Africa, was recently certified for direct flights to the US, so one can hope.

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3. How long have you lived here?

About two years now.

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

I work in the U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

There's a housing shortage due to the return of the ADB, but everyone is in a house. They are spread throughout the city in different neighborhoods. Most are big; one or two stories, all made of cement. Some have pools. Most of the houses I've seen are decent, some are even quite nice.

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

The grocery stores here are nice and clean, but they all carry the same stuff, usually geared toward French tastes, and are slightly more pricey than in the States. It's a shame they took away the consumables allowance, as that's a great way to get your American food and product fix. They have plenty of imported produce and products at premium prices. Local fruits and veggies are much cheaper, but you will notice the difference.

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

I like having the American staples, because they're more familiar and cheaper to get in bulk at Costco. Same for cleaning supplies. I enjoy American beer, so that's nice to import, since you can't get it locally.

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

Fast food here is usually schwarma, unimpressive fried chicken, or fried Vietnamese spring rolls ("nems"). Just not that kind of culture here. Usually you can get a bowl of sauce with a hunk of meat or fish and a starch for $2 for lunch at road stalls, but I don't know many Americans who eat that way.

I'm a big fan of maquis food, which is more traditional fare (grilled chicken or fish, with starchy sides, and local beer) served at outdoor restaurants. It can take a while for the food to be served, and you eat with your hands, but I love it. In Abidjan, it's about $10-12 a person.

Most other restaurants are fine, but they all have a French bent and will be a little more pricey, especially for wine. Burgers here are terrible, just avoid them.

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

Not really. There are a few mosquitoes in Abidjan, but it's not too bad. Some people get ants in their houses.

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Daily Life:

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

Dip pouch.

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

It's inexpensive, but also inconsistent. A lot of people have had sub-optimal experiences. Some pay more to get more seasoned help.

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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?

It's a cash-based society. Credit cards are taken at most hotels, upscale stores, and a few grocery stores. ATMs are safe and are located on every commercial street. The US Embassy also has an ATM.

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4. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

It's very helpful to have at least some French to get around. A few folks speak some English.

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

Yeah, it'd be pretty rough.

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Transportation:

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

Shared public transport is probably quite uncomfortable, and you might have your pockets picked. The orange individual taxis are "safer," although their drivers tend to be maniacs and they lack seat belts in the back seats. But it's a way to get around, since they're everywhere. Always negotiate the price before getting in; their meters are usually rigged.

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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?

For Abidjan, I'd say an older mid-size SUV will help with battling in traffic, but the roads are suitable for sedans. An SUV will also give you clearance on some of the bad roads on the way to the beach or outside of the city. Toyota is the most-common brand here, but people drive all sorts of vehicles. Mechanics can be good and pricey or cheap and a crap-shoot.

Traffic is bad during rush hour, but it's all relative. Some drivers are selfish and flout the laws, and it's necessary to be a defensive driver 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?

Yes, and it's really improved. DSL is $80-90 a month and is fast enough to stream video. Some people tether from their 3G phone connections. We can stream HD video (with an American VPN service, but upload speeds are pretty dismal.

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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?

Lots of folks have smartphones, and data plans are affordable and pretty robust in Abidjan. Less so out in the country.

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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?

No problems at all bringing in pets if you follow the guidelines, though I don't even think we needed to do that! Vets here are mostly enthusiasts and are not comparable to what's available in the developed world.

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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?

Probably not, unless you speak French; but even then, probably not. The US Embassy has more EFM jobs than applicants, which has changed since I arrived.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yeah, don't walk outside at night, and RSO advises staying out of certain neighborhoods. There were a few home invasions more than a year ago, but the embassy houses are pretty safe and have 24 hour guards.

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2. 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?

90 percent of the time it's good, if only a little humid. For about a month in January there's the Harmattan sand mist that darkens the city, cools things down, and can get in your lungs. Then there are the locals that occasionally burn their trash, which can make certain neighborhoods lousy for a few hours. There's a whole part of Zone 4 that smells like brownies at night, due to the cocoa processing plant there.

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3. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

It's a 60/40 split between hot-n-dry or warm-n-wet. During the rainy season, it'll be cloudy most days with brief light showers and occasional downpours.

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Expat Life:

1. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There's a new movie theater that shows films in English a few nights a week, which is quite nice. Restaurants are popular, same with night clubs. Dinner parties are nice. The embassy has monthly wine and cheese nights. CLO organizes family-friendly activities.

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

It's quickly becoming kid-city here, which means fewer social activities for singles/childless couples. Single people seem to have fun here, though, with a few exceptions.

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

There's a benign homophobia within the general public, but hostility and violence are incredibly rare, especially compared to elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. That being said, I don't know of a vibrant LGBT scene here.

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

It's a mixed religious culture here, and people seem to get along. Most people here don't care for atheists, though. There are some gender stereotypes, but it's far more benign than more religiously conservative countries. Almost all jobs here are gendered, i.e. all the cashiers at grocery stores are going to be women, and all of the people selling junk in traffic are going to be men.

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

Côte d'Ivoire is, with a few exceptions, a safe country to travel around in. I've done out-country trips both with the embassy and personally, and never have I ever felt like we were in an unsafe situation. Let me clarify that: the only danger I face here is other drivers on the road - and the road conditions.

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

I love the main university in Cocody. It's several square miles of mostly green space with little traffic, only students walking around. It's a great place to run at sunrise or sunset.

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

Some crafts are available, but it's not as developed here as in other parts of the world.

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

The climate here is pretty good; it's rarely too hot and it never gets chilly. The infrastructure in the city is greatly improving, but it still has a way to go. There are plenty of decent, if pricey, restaurants in the city. Ivoiriens here are pretty warm and friendly, and foreigners aren't really hassled. You can find almost anything in the city, as long as it's something that the French would want to buy, but the prices are going to be higher. American food, restaurants, and products are very much a niche thing here, although that seems to be changing. We've been able to save a decent amount of money, but that's because we don't eat out much.

Fruit here is great; when it's in season, you'll have the best pineapples and mangoes you've ever tasted.

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9. Can you save money?

Definitely, as long as you aren't eating out for every meal.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely, and things are improving here every day. I'm just happy that I take an international trip every few months to keep it from getting overwhelming.

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

Winter clothes and bicycles.

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3. But don't forget your:

Tex-Mex spices and bourbon. And sunscreen and umbrellas.

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