Abidjan, Cote D'ivoire Report of what it's like to live there - 02/13/20
Personal Experiences from Abidjan, Cote D'ivoire
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, this was my fifth overseas assignment, but first in Africa. I have lived in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and North America.
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?
USA. At the time of this publication, there is a 3x weekly flight on Ethiopian Airlines to/from New York JFK International Airport. However, if one is on US government orders, then you may not use this flight for official purposes as it is not an approved code share route. Depending on the origin from the U.S., one will either be on a United codeshare via Brussels on Brussels Airlines, or on a Delta codeshare via Paris CDG on Air France. Air France is currently operating three flights a day to Paris, and Brussels operates flights daily (depending on the day the flight may go via Ouagadougou or another city first). Many major international carriers operate flights to Abidjan (Turkish, Emirates, TAP, MEA, Corsair, Royal Air Maroc, South African, Ethiopian, Kenyan) however, many of these flights go to another Subsaharan African destination first.
3. How long have you lived here?
I lived there for a total of three years.
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?
All USG housing was (at the time of this publication) single family villas. Some of them were in compounds, others were standalone. Most of the housing was quite spacious, but design and construction quality varied by date of construction. I had a very nice standalone villa with its own pool close to the US Embassy. It had some maintenance issues, but the design was very modern and impressive.
Other diplomatic missions had their personnel in apartments, and the apartments that I visited were generally quite nice. As a note, due to the African Development Bank presence (AFDB), rents are quite inflated. Thus, if one is looking for housing on a budget keep that in mind.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Quite expensive compared to the USA or Europe. If one is on the US Department of State cost of living adjustment (COLA), one will find that it is not sufficient. Most major French and European brands are available at the numerous supermarkets in Abidjan, but expect to pay anywhere between three to ten times what one would pay in one's home country. I am not a big cook, so I found that most items were available (for a price) at the major supermarkets (many of which were quite nice). Some people complained that certain specialty items were hard to find.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Well, if one is with the US government, then one should know that this is not a consumables post. Having said that, during my time, the US Embassy was able to establish a diplomatic post office (DPOS) which made shipment of internet orders quite easy and expeditious. So, in short there is nothing I wish I had shipped to post other than car parts.
European diplomatic mission personnel would ship containers (when allowed) of goods to themselves. Some of these items would include wine, dry food stuffs, etc. Wine, as an example, was easy to find in Abidjan, but like everything else in Subsaharan Africa, extremely expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Fantastic Italian and French food: some of the best I have ever had. Very good Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese and, although Japanese and Thai were terrible and not authentic to me (if one has never had real Thai or Japanese food then one will not know the difference). In short, the only thing there is to do in Abidjan is to go out and eat, and the food can be fantastic. Please note, however, that some of the most expensive meals I have ever had were in Abidjan. Eat imported beef, foie gras, and throw in a couple of bottles of French wine, and your bill will easily reach $500 (USD) for two people.
There was also Burger King (numerous locations), KFC, Pizza Hut, and many Lebanese fast food places. Fantastic bread and pastry shops (as any former French colony has), and food delivery services (the largest being Jumia Food).
No one ever complained about food or beverage in Abidjan .
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Malaria is endemic, and US Mission personnel are required to take a malaria prophylaxis. It's Subsaharan Africa and there are bugs everywhere. Dengue, which has not historically been a problem in Cote d'Ivoire, was causing serious problems in and around Abidjan. Ants, cockroaches, and other insects were common. Again, it is Subsaharan Africa.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
US Mission personnel were able to utilize services available to them. Local postal facilities are not adequate.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help was shockingly expensive for the quality. 99% of expatriates employed a cleaner, and many had drivers and gardeners. Those who had experience working in the homes of other expatriates were better than those who did not (of course), but most of these domestics were often already gainfully employed, and/or would wanted a very high wage. Expect to pay around US$300 a month for a full time maid who will also cook. Expect to pay more if English language is required. A lot of US Mission personnel hired Ghanians due to the language ability, but this can pose complicated visa issues. Employers will be expected to pay into the Ivorian national retirement system (CNPS). Expect household help to be frequently sick, and in many cases, seem to not be completely literate.
It is not uncommon for Ivorians to not want to do manual labor jobs if they are from the Abidjan region; there are many third country nationals who fill these types of positions. It reminded me of the GCC, except Cote d'Ivoire is extremely poor. My hypothesis is that this mentality is leftover from the days when Cote d'Ivoire was "wealthy" and a regional leader. Of course, these days are long gone, but the locals seem to be unaware that their country is very much in the "developing" phase.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Lots of gyms, but they are quite expensive and usually not air conditioned. Expect to pay at least US$80 a month. The US Embassy has a very adequate gym, however one may not bring a personal trainer inside.
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?
Yes, it is quite common to use credit cards, however safety will vary. ATMs are common, however card skimming practices are also common.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I am not religious, but my understanding is that there were some English-language church services available.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Yes, one's life will be much easier is one is quite proficient in French. There are plenty of classes and tutors available in French. While there are local languages, they are not commonly spoken in Abidjan.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are sort of safe; U.S. Mission personnel are limited in the types of taxis they are allowed to use (woro-woros are prohibited). There are ride-hailing services available, however during peak hours they are quite difficult to get, and the drivers do not know how to use GPS to find the riders. Otherwise, public transportation is NOT safe.
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?
Carjackings are not really an issue, and haven't been for quite a while, but never say never. An SUV or small SUV is best, but one will be fine with a sedan. It should be noted that during rainy season streets can become quite flooded, so something with ground clearance may be preferred. Also, if one wants to go to the beach, an SUV can be useful. There is no shortage of luxurious cars in Abidjan; there will not be an issue finding parts for Japanese, Korean, and European (particularly French brands) cars, but parts for American makes will be more challenging. While there are plenty of American cars on the roads, obviously some models sold only in the U.S. are not available in foreign makes, and thus their parts are not readily available.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Expect to pay US$100 a month for unreliable service that will having varying speed quality. Many people use LTE internet service as broadband, however this usually becomes throttled after one has used a certain amount of gigabytes within the month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
MTN is the best; if one is with the US Embassy then they will help one establish an account at a very reasonable rate. Otherwise most people have Orange or MTN; the LTE signal depends on where one is within the country, but in general it is not bad. I personally recommend MTN, if only because they have slightly better customer service.
There are others, but I wouldn't bother.
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?
Animals do not need quarantine if they are properly papered, but they will be if there are not. Do you want your animal quarantined in a developing country? I didn't think so! So learn everything about importing animals to Cote d'Ivore and there shouldn't be any issues. I don't own any pets so I can't speak to specifics.
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?
If one speaks French very well and has many degrees then one may be able to work for the AFDB, or some other international organization. Some people do telecommute, but I guess that it is situational. Salaries for international organizations can be quite high, but getting these jobs is quite competitive. Otherwise, forget working on the local economy. There are many positions within the US Embassy if one is an eligible family member (EFM), but pay and prestige of these positions will vary. In summary, if one is a trailing spouse that cannot telework, then one may not be happy if one isn't happy to sit at home.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Ivorians tend to be quite formal at work (think suits for men, and the equivalent for women, or elaborate local outfits).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes, while it is definitely safer than a lot of places, bad things can go wrong at any moment. Lock your cars, be aware of your surroundings at night, and never venture into dangerous neighborhoods - one will learn what these are. Having said that, this is no Johannesburg, one can walk on the streets during the day, and as previously stated carjackings are not common. The biggest looming security concern is the upcoming Presidential election in October 2020. Previous Presidential elections have been quite violent, and resulted in civil wars - so that is a huge issue weighing on the minds of Ivorians and expats alike.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Well, as previously stated malaria and mosquito borne illnesses are major concern. Hospital quality varies, and while there are some mildly tolerable hospitals, one will want to leave if one is pregnant, or needs major surgery. Any sort of major accident or surgery, or health incident that requires hospitalization should be evacuated.
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?
People complain about it, although I didn't think it was that bad. Yes, air can be bad from the lack of any kind of pollution controls and the smoke belching taxis and mopeds. However, in general there isn't much traditional pollution. Air can be quite bad during the "harmattan" season when the sands blow in from the Sahara. Otherwise, I do not think that the air quality is a major issue - anyone who insists that it is hasn't lived in China.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Not that I am aware of, although some people may claim that the air quality makes their allergies worse.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
No SADs as it is always hot, so in general none that I am aware of. U.S. Mission personnel do get a bit angsty as it isn't easy to get to the US, and we have limited mobility around the country, thus leaving one to feel a bit trapped within Abidjan.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot, hotter, and hottest. Some dryer seasons, but it can rain all the time.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
International schools for those who desire an American curriculum are limited. There are some very good French schools, but then the children will be stuck in the French curriculum.
2. 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?
Not sure - but I think most people just hire nannies.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Some sports are available at the main American international school.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Well, lots of Francophone countries, and lots of African due to the AFDB. Over 140,000 Lebanese and other Arabs. Limited Americans/non-Francophone Europeans. Growing People's Republic of China presence.
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?
Going to restaurants, going to the beach, going to bars, going to more restaurants, going to the beach again, lots and lots of bars - restaurants etc. Not much to do other than to go to restaurants and bars (although none of the bars were that great, but lots of great restaurants). A lot of house parties.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Not bad for single people, families tend to be happy (although I wouldn't want to put my children on anti-malaria meds).
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Short answer is "it depends," but the longer answer is "no." So, Cote d'Ivoire is one of the few Subsaharan African countries that decriminalized homosexuality. However, there seems to be no concept of gay rights or being openly gay. Lesbians are invisible, and forget transgendered people. Having said that, there are plenty of gay expats who seem to find locals to be in relationships with. My assumption is that the local was probably benefiting from the relationship, as is common in other countries, but as long as everyone is happy who am I to judge? I've heard extortion can be a common problem here, and thus expats may refrain from relationships with locals. This can make Abidjan quite lonely for gay expats, and while there are lots of gay/bisexual Lebanese, they do not tend to fraternize outside of their own social groups out of fear of exposure. In summary, just like the rest of Africa it really sucks to be gay even if it isn't technically illegal.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Sort of ... it's a very international place, so one will meet people from all over the world, but one will have the most friends if one can speak French. If one doesn't speak French well, as I mentioned before, then do not expect to have many friends local or otherwise.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not really, obviously like most places it is a "man's world".
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Mmmmm. Best trips were leaving the country to Senegal. Cote d'Ivoire is not a terrible place, but there really isn't much to do except go out to eat. There is very little culture, and there is not much of a tourist infrastructure.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
No. People go to the beach, but it is just a mediocre beach with really overpriced hotels.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Well there are some, but I wouldn't say that it is a "shopping post".
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Ummm. it's not the worst place.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That there really isn't much to do, although I do not know how I would have been able to plan for that.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Short answer is yes, longer answer is no.... There is nothing fantastic about Abidjan, however for a Subsaharan West African post it really wasn't that bad. But, I would never go back.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Cold weather clothes and expectations of reliable service.
4. But don't forget your:
Toyota Land Cruiser, patience, malarone, bug spray, and lots of money.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Mmmm. There is some French movie made in the 1970s that was filmed at the old Club Med outside of Abidjan, but I forget what it is called.
6. Do you have any other comments?
If one cannot escape a tour in Subsaharan Africa, then Abidjan is probably your best choice. IF one can avoid Abidjan avoid it, but that goes for most of the region. People who like Abidjan tend to be Francophone Africaphiles.