Abidjan, Cote D'ivoire Report of what it's like to live there - 01/23/09
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 - Tokyo, Paris, Ulaanbaatar, Port Louis.
2. How long have you lived here?
9 months and counting...
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Air France has direct flights from Abidjan to Paris, from which you can fly to many cities in the U.S. Abidjan to Paris takes about 6 hours. Some people prefer to fly to Accra or Dakar first and then take Delta direct to the States. There is a direct Accra-JFK flight and another direct Dakar-Atlanta flight.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Embassy housing is one of the most fabulous things about this place. All of the houses are exceptionally large places. Nearly all of them (except a few compound style houses) have their own, large, enclosed yards and several houses come with their own swimming pool! The houses that are furthest away have a maximum 15 minute commute time without traffic. In general, it takes me 10- 15 minutes to get to work in the morning. As a single person with no family members, I have a 4BR/4BA house with living room, dining room, huge kitchen, breakfast nook, and pool. The smallest houses in the pool have 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom, but come with a garage and their own yard. There are no apartments in the embassy housing pool.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can find almost everything in Abidjan, though you may have to pay big $$ for it. There are several supermarkets which stock all kinds of local and imported food. If you stick to local items, you can keep your costs low. Imported items can be very, very pricey. A small box of cherries imported from Lebanon, for example, cost me US$15. You can definitely feel the French influence here - the cheese and wine selections are very good.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Liquid items that cannot be sent by pouch. Everything else can pretty much be ordered. Most people ship toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaning supplies because local quality is not as good.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Fast food: Steers (a South African chain) and Akle (a Quebecois chain) are here. Restaurants are very good here - you can find good Chinese, Tex-Mex, sushi, Indian, Vietnamese, Lebanese, French, and Italian restaurants here. Costs range from about $2USD for a shawarma to $30 a plate at fancier places. Pako's, which has two locations, has an excellent selection of breads, pastries, and a very reasonably priced breakfast menu with omelettes and crepes.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I have found giant roaches (around small mouse size) in my house before, and there are various other little beasties that will find their way into your house, including ants and inchworms. That said, I expected the bugs to be bigger and scarier - they aren't really so. Mosquitos are a problem: bring repellent and take your mefloquine, doxycycline, or malarone to avoid malaria.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch is best. There is no door to door mail service here, and streets are unnumbered and unnamed.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is inexpensive and can be very good here. Nearly everyone has a housekeeper, a gardener, or someone who cleans their pool. Prices are around US$15/day for help.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a fitness center with treadmills, an elliptical machine, stationary bikes, weight machines, etc. Embassy staff hold yoga classes weekly, and there is a beach volleyball court behind the embassy where people play twice a week. Many people also swim or play tennis at the Golf Hotel or go horseback riding at the local stable - both of which are located about 5 minutes away from the embassy. The expat community organizes hashes on the weekend. There is a weekly Saturday French hash, and a once-a-month Classic (British/Anglophone) hash on the 3rd Sunday of the month. Some embassy employees have also taken the embassy boat out for fishing.
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?
I have used ATMs here with no problems. Some people are uncomfortable with this though and just use the embassy cashier. There are very few places where credit cards are accepted here.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
DirectTV is available here.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Very few people speak English here and everything is done in French. You will be much happier getting around knowing at least basic phrases.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There are almost no sidewalks. Those that exist are broken and uneven and often used by cars as an additional "lane." The few high rise buildings have teeny tiny elevators or stairs. The embassy is wheelchair accessible, though most government buildings and stores are not.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The Embassy does not recommend taking public transport in general. Orange cabs can be used in a pinch and are not super expensive.
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?
A smaller SUV is probably ideal, mostly because some ground clearance is nice to have during the rainy season when some of the streets get flooded. Also nice for off-roading if you want to get out of the city. Many people have sedans, though, and there are literally all kinds of cars on the road, from brand new BMWs to falling apart rat-trap station wagons.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. There are two companies - Aviso and AFNet. Costs for DSL are around US$50 a month, and can go lower or higher depending on how fast you want your connection to be. Service is sometimes spotty, and can go out from time to time. Paying your bill is also a pain, because you need to go to pay in person with cash. You can prepay for several months, however, if you forget to go in to pay, they will cut your service off.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The Embassy provides cell phones to all employees. There are quite a few providers in town. Most have spotty coverage outside of Abidjan, with no service in rural areas. There are a few days a month when dropped calls and a busy network can be problematic.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
People use a vet in Cocody (Dr. Diakite) and one in Riviera. Care is generally very good, though more specialized pet meds may not be available on the local market. There are no kennels that I know of. People usually ask friends or their housekeeper to take care of their animals while they are away. Nearly all hotels here, including those at beach resorts, will allow pets to stay with you too.
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?
There are some opportunities with local NGOs and the UN for those with prior experience. Most other jobs are not very well-paid, though there are some available.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The Embassy is not overly formal. Men do not generally wear suits at the office, though for representational events, they are required. Women wear anything from upscale casual to suits. In public, you can see all types of clothing. Women are generally not harassed on the street; however, Cote d'Ivoire is nearly 50% Muslim, so appropriate attire is appreciated.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Pollution is moderate to unhealthy in Abidjan, depending on the day. Days when people burn trash in the street all over the city are the worst, as smoke fills the air and you will be covered with ash, even if you are outside for only five minutes. The dilapidated state of many vehicles here also results in unhealthy levels of exhaust and emissions. I do not think the pollution is that bad here, but those who are sensitive to pollution might feel otherwise.
2. What immunizations are required each year?
Yellow fever is absolutely required upon entry into the country, otherwise you will be given a shot at the airport before you are allowed to enter. Rabies, meningitis, the hepatitis series, and others are recommended. Check with your doctor to be sure.
3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There is crime in Abidjan, with occasional carjackings and home invasions. That said, no one at post who follows security rules has had a problem. It is unsafe to walk around after dark alone or even with groups, simply because you stand out and people imagine you have money. The security office recommends that you drive everywhere after dark, even if only a block away. The embassy provides 24-hour a day guards, alarm systems, and many other security procedures to make you feel safe and secure at home.
4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Many people get weird bugs and have tummy issues here when they first arrive. Malaria is a main concern - many embassy employees who were not taking anti-malaria meds have gotten it and do not recommend it! There have been a few isolated cases of dengue fever here too. The HIV/AIDS rate is very high. The local hospital PISAM is okay for routine care, but not up to international standards. People die here from routine surgery, so those who can afford it go to Europe for serious health issues.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and humid most of the year. In January, with Harmattan, the weather cools down a bit and there is less humidity in the air. There are two rainy seasons - one that starts around May and another later in the year around November. Some people here find the humidity annoying (bad hair days!), but the moisture in the air seems to do wonders for your skin. There is sunshine almost 365 days a year - fabulous!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
American International School. Some embassy family members have found work there, but I have heard the school is somewhat disorganized. This hasn't really been a concern as children are currently not allowed at post.
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?
As children are not currently allowed at post, none of us have any experience with preschools or daycares in Abidjan. That said, household help is inexpensive and reliable and might be an option for some families. There are UN personnel with very young children here.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Embassies here generally have one or two people a piece, so the diplomatic community is somewhat small, apart from the Americans and perhaps the French. There is a large number of UN personnel and French military in Abidjan. There are also many NGOs working in Cote d'Ivoire, so there are definitely opportunities to meet expats, particularly if you speak French. The expat community is smaller, so you will see and recognize the same people at the same places after awhile.
2. Morale among expats:
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?
Single people spend a lot of their time going to restaurants, bars, and clubs in Zone 4. There are a decent number of places to choose from, though nothing rivaling the scene in bigger cities in more modern places. Many people entertain in their homes and host parties, barbecues, happy hours, or other themed events. Cheap household help and large houses make entertaining at home an easy and fun alternative.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Singles and couples that are currently at post seem to find it a good place to be. Families would be okay, as long as they were creative and imaginative about entertainment for children. There are no real parks or other outdoor places where kids can play.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Cote d'Ivoire is generally a tolerant place, and I think gays and lesbians should not have a problem here. Although you don't see it all the time, it is customary for very good male friends to hold hands here.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Cote d'Ivoire is very tolerant of different religions, and you can find mosques and churches throughout the city. Although men still hold most positions of power here, women occupy ministerial positions and you can find them working in nearly every sector, including the National Police. That said, part of the explanation for Cote d'Ivoire's political crisis lies in the ethnic tensions that are constantly simmering beneath the surface of things. There have been violent clashes between tribes even near Abidjan, though tensions are highest in the western part of the country. For daily living, African-American embassy employees have been subjected to different treatment than other diplomats, including being stopped or shaken down by police at checkpoints.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Day trips to very nice beach resorts an hour away or a three hour drive to one of the largest basilicas in the world, located in the de-facto capital city of Yamoussoukro (where you can feed alligators live chickens - yikes!). Longer road trips to Ghana: Accra is about 9 hours by car, with many historical and interesting slave castles, beach resorts, and other fun things to do on the way there.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Handpainted fabric with Senoufo designs; handcarved wooden items, incl masks, chairs, and figurines; and interesting and colorful African fabric. Tailors are skilled, relatively inexpensive, and can make fabulous things to order here simply from pictures.
9. Can you save money?
Absolutely, especially if you eat local items and don't spend all your money at restaurants and the biggest budget buster - bars. Most people who can't save money here spend all their time trying to get out of Abidjan - either going to the beach resorts or taking trips out of country. Flying out of here is really expensive, though there are plenty of great things to see around West Africa that are only a short flight away.
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:
Expectations that people should drive within traffic lanes and in an orderly fashion.
3. But don't forget your:
French, sunscreen and mosquito repellent, bathing suits, club clothes, sports gear, and patience.