Abidjan, Cote D'ivoire Report of what it's like to live there - 05/11/20
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. I've also lived in Jordan, Somalia, Sudan/South Sudan, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nepal, and Montenegro.
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?
Original home is DC but HOR is a small town in MA. Pre-Covid, USG used flights through Paris or Brussels. 7 hours from CDI to Europe, transit, then 8 or so to get to East Coast of USA.
3. How long have you lived here?
Almost a year.
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?
Housing is varied, but ours is lovely. This is our third posting in a row with a new house, and we are getting good at being the testers for all the cheap fixtures that landlords seem to throw in once they get an Embassy contract. Having said that, NO COMPLAINTS. We have a small garden, small pool generator, water tank and a high wall. MANY houses here do not have those things though. Four bedrooms, four and a half baths, kitchen just barely fit our kitchen island, large porch (but it never gets used), upstairs terrace (also never used). We are next to a construction site, between the filth from that and the heat, we only go outside to swim and run the dog, and then come back in. On a weekend, it takes 10 minutes max to to get to embassy, 5 minutes to school. On weekdays (pre-Covid) it was 25 - 45 minutes to school and 30-50 to embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Again, pre-Covid: large, well stocked clean international style grocery stores (Carrefour/French and Hyatt/Lebanese). Most fruits and veg are very expensive as they are brought from outside. Local veg is ok, and cheaper and you can buy some items year round from local stands (pineapples, avocado, cassava, potatoes, maybe tomatoes sometimes). Large open veg markets do exist, but produce from them does not last long. NO produce last too long here, everything spoils much quicker due to heat/humidity. Still, you can get nearly anything you need and there is no consumables for that reason. There are a few diplomatic stores, with slightly cheaper wine, but they do not have much useful. In nine months we have gone only three times. Wine is mostly French, but decent selection of South African, Italian and others.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None, I have found peanut oil (dip store) Gluten Free Soy (Chinese market) and the regular stores have decent olive oil, GF pastas and breads, perfectly fine spices canned good etc. and there are a few specialty stores. I make my own corn tortillas but there are none here, and also very little chance to get flour tortillas. Lots of Asian and Middle Eastern specialties available here, less Latin/Tex-Mex stuff.
We order a few special things from Amazon but they are luxuries.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is food delivery, but not to our house we are too far out. We can get pizza and maybe one or two other things. There are LOADS of good restaurants, but they are expensive. Decent and reasonably priced Vietnamese and Lebanese, but anything else nice will be expensive. In other areas, there are LOADS of take/out delivery options though.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There is malaria, dengue, and yellow fever. We know some people have have had nasty bug and rat infestations, but we have not. a few ants, a few centipedes, loads of baby worms after the rains but nothing serious. lizards are inside and out, but they are cute :).
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pre-Covid we had DPO and pouch. No nothing, no idea what it will be like Post-Covid. No SAFE local facilities to my knowledge.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very inexpensive. We pay US$250 a month for a full time driver and about the same for a half time cleaner who does AMAZING. we also give them benefits like cash for transport, food, school fees, uniforms, etc. and yearly bonus.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Embassy has decent gym, although showers are inadequate. There is a club people like, but it is quite expensive. there are running clubs, Hash House Harriers, and embassy running groups. I am SURE there are gyms that are reasonable but we have always used embassy.
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?
Embassy ATM usually does not work. We have used ones at the mall no problem. We use cards at the grocery store most of the time and they usually work. That is about the only reason we use them.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
None to my knowledge. All in French.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
YOU need to speak French here. There is almost no English. Embassy has teachers I have heard mixed reviews of them. Institute Francais is expensive but worth it.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
YES! there are no sidewalks in many places. and nothing is anywhere close to ADA compliant!
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are safish...but they are dirty and drive fast. I hear Uber was nearly here but then Covid. No trains to my knowledge and buses are not likely safe but I am no longer in Peace Corps so don't know :).
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?
SUV is best, but it is not necessary. Lots of people have sedans.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, and some locations have fiber. Our internet is mostly OK. We watch TV and I work from home, all using internet. Took us a month maybe?
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We always get a local phone, but I also have a GOOGLE FI account with a USA number that also stays with us wherever we go.
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?
We have a dog and a cat, and I would say the vets are barely adequate. no quarantine. Our dog got putse fly eggs imbedded in his neck so that was disgusting. Our cat is free roaming and we worry but we cannot seem to change him. He eats a lot of lizards. Bring all meds with you. you cannot get frontline or similar here.
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?
Not sure, embassy has lots of jobs and many go unfilled but you must speak French I think for most. A few international schools that hire teachers.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
If you speak French, you can volunteer in orphanages, clean up groups, and lots of other options.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
CDI as with all of West Africa have lovely material called Pagne that they use to make outfits and many people (expat and otherwise) wear a full dress of this to work. Others where western professional wear. As with most of Africa dress is more formal that casual.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are no go areas. There were attacks on foreigners, but not since 2016. Still, personal security awareness is crucial as with most big cities. My compound has had multiple break-ins but not my house. Our houses have guards and mine has a loud dog, so I think we are not so attractive. But even those houses who were targeted were only quickly entered and then the thieves ran, more of a crime of opportunity (doors were unlocked)
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is sketchy so serious conditions require medevac. We mostly use the embassy med unit and that has been fine.
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?
At our house it is awful because of the construction, I am not sure but do not think it is likely too good anywhere in this city. Having said that, it is not nearly as bad as larger industrial cities. NO impact on health I am aware of.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
I had no idea there were parts of Africa where you could go months and not see the sun. I am not particularly happy to have found one haha! Indeed, we arrived in August and did not see sun until late October. It is now May and the sun is starting to leave us again, two gray days in a row....lots of rain. So, SAD could be an issue. Also, if you do not speak French, you might feel very isolated.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
In the 90s all year. humid all year. Two rainy seasons, with little sun.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is one International School with English instruction and one with instruction in French. They are so-so. We are at ICSA. My son is MUCH happier during Covid, as he finds the kids (even his "friends") to be bullies and generally very rough. He has been okay and gets very good grades, but is not loving it here and although he will do one more year at ICSA, he feels it is bearable, but not a good experience. He has gone to international schools in Kenya, Nepal and Montenegro. This is his least favorite. He is also TOTALLY unchallenged, even with a special plan to challenge him more.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There is a special needs counselor, she just started this year. She has created an IEP for my son to try to challenge him more. I cannot say I am very impressed but it is better than nothing. We consider it mostly our responsibility to help him feel more challenged. I am guessing kids with developmental disorders will get help but not sure how well it will go.
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?
After school activities exist, some free some not, some engaging some not.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, at school. Not sure about outside school except I know some kids take horseback riding somewhere.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large, but mostly French speaking. Morale is high in the community but not necessarily at the embassy.
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?
Parties, bars, running clubs, beach outings, upcountry outings, fitness clubs.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for all if you speak French. Great for West African music scene.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I wish I knew. I am guessing not. my LGBTQ friends are all USG, I know of no others and so do not know what it is like.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes if you speak French it is very easy! If not, that will limit you. I am sure there are groups who would be would be excluded but I do not know who they are. There is a sizable Lebanese community here, so Arabic speakers will also find peers
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I am sure there are, but I am not familiar with them.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The ocean is lovely, and surprisingly, I LOVED my French class at the Institute Francais! and I do not like languages :)
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There is not a ton unless you are quite adventurous but there are some monkey sanctuaries up country, zip lines and a few eco lodges.
It is a beautiful country.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes, but they are mostly the same handicrafts all over Africa now. Pagne material is a must buy!
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Great way to learn French, easy post with good access to groceries, decent schools, etc.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That the sun does not come out every day here.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Well, due to Covid, probably not, but otherwise I would have yes.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
I do not read French, there must be great books though! sorry I do not know them.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Overall this is pretty easy, and a smooth posting, and I will not regret it but it is not my favorite. East and Southern Africa were both more to my liking, but that is likely due to my lack of French skills.