Abidjan, Cote D'ivoire Report of what it's like to live there - 06/07/09
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. I have lived in England.
2. How long have you lived here?
Almost a year.
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:
The most common flight route to the US goes through Paris. However, if you're flying to New York or DC, it is possible to fly through Dakar, Senegl.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Embassy housing is large and showy. However, many people have had serious problems with their housing. Leaks, mold, termites, etc. Getting things fixed the first, second, or third time is very difficult.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Just pay it and don't try to convert it to US prices. You'll be happier. Cote d'Ivoire may be an agricultural power house, but everything is exported in raw form. Then imported back in. So, the country that grows cocoa beans does not make chocolate bars. A pint of Ben & Jerry's is $10. A small can of tuna is $3-$4.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Cans of tuna and chicken. Boxes of pretzels. Twice the amount of cleaning products (the help here loves to use cleaning products).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots of restaurants ranging from cheap to expensive. There are no American fast food outlets. There are no Starbucks. You can get sushi here but it's not that good.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Welcome to the wonderful world of insects. Bring bug spray, ant traps, stuff to put on bug bites, and for crying out loud, take your malaria pills.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch. For personal packages we cannot send out anything bigger than a padded envelope through the pouch. We can, however, receive boxes.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I'm paying $16-20 a week (depending on the exchange rate) for someone to come to my 4-bedroom house -- clean everything, and do the laundry. I have been told by many people I'm paying too much. They are usually paying a dollar or two less. My housekeeper is grumpy because I won't let him cook and shop for me.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
If you are active, this is the embassy for you. Yoga, volleyball (there is a court right next to the marine house), tennis (lessons are $10), golf, Hash House Harriers, and a pretty decent work-out room in the embassy itself. Many houses have pools. If you don't, you can join the Golf Club and use their pool.
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?
Cash only society. Seriously. You will use your credit card for on-line shopping, and you will blow the dust of your ATM card before going on R&R. BRING YOUR CHECK BOOK and get cash from the Embassy cashier.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Not a good church-goer.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
All the newspapers are in French. I get my news from the internet and AFN.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Get that intro to French course. It will help. You need to learn to order in restaurants and shop in the grocery store.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Well, all of the embassy's handicapped door buttons were disabled because they were detriments to security. So, someone in a wheel chair or with a cane would have great difficulty just getting in and out through the heavy main doors. Sidewalks are rare in Abidjan, and they (and the streets) are usually in terrible repair. Every single house I have been in has stairs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Do not take them. Many are unsafe. Shared taxis open you up to robbery attempts. You can, if you have to, take a private taxi but then you can be pulled over by the police at a check point and be forced to pay a bribe. Stick to your dip-plate vehicle.
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?
You do not need an SUV or four-wheel drive. You do, however, need a car with a high clearance. Many of the roads (possibly the one you will live on) are terrible. Ivoirians build killer speed bumps, and huge pot holes are not uncommon.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. However, it's West Africa. Prepare to go to war with which ever internet company you chose.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The embassy issues cell phones.
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)?
There are many people with pets and they seem very pleased with the vet care. When going on vacation they leave their pets either with their servants or with a friend.
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?
The International School has hired two people I know. To get a job in Abidjan outside of an NGO, one would have to be fluent in French.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
At work - business, business-casual. After work - women will want cute going-out outfits. Get natural fibers (you will be sweating). Hit cheaper places like H&M so if that adorable top gets ruined (very likely) you won't feel bad.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Burning garbage is common. Cars belching black smoke is also common. In certain spots the lagoon always smells like sewage, and some days Abidjan itself smells like sewage. The Ivoirians drop their litter everywhere. There is absolutely no environmental awareness. That said, I've had no eye or throat problems, and my skin looks great.
2. What immunizations are required each year?
We take our malaria pills! You'll need rabies, typhoid, yellow fever, all the usual stuff.
3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There is a lot of crime -- especially around Christmas time. Home invasions seem to be less common these days. But the police are my main issue. There are several security forces -- all of them taking bribes. They all carry AK-47s. However, it is commonly believed the guns are not loaded since the safeties are not on, and none of the police have managed to kill themselves while using their AK-47s to direct traffic, gesture, scratch, and twirl like batons.
4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Embassy Abidjan currently has an excellent medical professional with a good staff.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's usually in the mid 80's, partly cloudy/sunny, and humid.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Before the US Embassy was evacuated twice, the international school was pretty large and quite nice. Now the facility is rented out to the UN, and a smaller version of the school is still chugging along. Currently, there are no American children at the US Embassy.
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?
If and when the US Embassy allows families back, there will be plenty of local help for small children. HOWEVER, malaria is a major concern here, and malaria pills are not recommended for children under 12.
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?
Small. Mostly NGOs, UN, and other embassies. There is a large Lebanese community, but these people have lived here for generations.
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?
Nightclubs, bars, restaurants, people's home. Volleyball, yoga, tennis, golf.
3. Morale among expats:
The expats who stayed through the civil war are pretty devoted to Cote d'Ivoire.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Right now it's all singles or couples without children or with grown children. It's a good group of people and there is a lot of socializing. There are a lot of nightclubs, bars, etc. So drinking and dancing opportunities abound. But forget about museums, window shopping, going to the the movies, walking in parks, walking on sidewalks, sitting in a cafe with a good cup of coffee.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
This is a culture where men are not gay, they just have sex with other men. That said, expats are not held to the standards of Ivoirian culture. Also, it's very common for straight men to hold each others' hands. I have no information for lesbians.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
As an expat with diplomatic plates - no. As someone who has read the human rights report on Cote d'Ivoire - hell yes. Women really do not have equal rights, no one has equal protection under the law, and there are a lot of tribal prejudices. It seems to me that religious intolerance is not that big of an issue here.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Nightclubs, bars, restaurants. Grand Bassam beach is only an hour away from Abidjan and great for a day trip (though the vendors will bug you). Assini is about two hours away and nicer, but you pay a lot (no bargains!) and you should bring your own pillow. There are markets, but the quality of local crafts are either (a) poor and far too expensive for what you are getting, or (b) good and expensive. There are no bargains to be had. There are no cool animals (killed off years ago) and the preserves/national parks are now off limits as they are in territories controlled by Force Nouvelle or bandits. Abidjan does not have one single tourist attraction. Most everyone gets a tailor and starts having clothes made. Men have had tuxes and suits made for the Marine Ball. Women get local outfits, gowns for the Marine ball, casual clothes, you name it.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
In general, crafts here are not good. The good stuff is around, but it is very expensive. Lots of people buy material at Woodin which is made in Cote d'Ivoire and have clothes and other things made.
9. Can you save money?
Yes. Despite the fact that everything is really expensive here, I have found myself banking quite a bit without even trying.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but with a big grain of salt. Abidjan is vibrant, and it has an active nightlife. But it also has crumbling infrastructure, lots of poor people, crime, garbage, and blatant corruption.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Western ideas of scheduling, getting things done quickly and correctly, driving ....Just leave the west behind. Get a copy of the book African Friends and Money Matters: Observations from Africa (Publications in Ethnography, Vol. 37)
and start reading it now.
3. But don't forget your:
Sense of humor. Also, if you've been meaning to knit sweaters for everyone in your family, finish WAR & PEACE, take up golf -- this is the place to do it. In short, if you don't have a hobby or self-improvement goal -- get one.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
7. Do you have any other comments?
It's easy to bang your head against the wall here. Graft and corruption are accepted. Educated people believe in witchcraft. You can go around in circles just trying to order a drink. Do not come to Abidjan with the idea it will be a great jumping-off place to see the rest of Africa. Plane fare is expensive, and direct flights to places of interest do not always exist. However, you probably will save up enough money to make one or two trips. Mali and South Africa are popular.