Djibouti, Djibouti Report of what it's like to live there - 04/13/10
Personal Experiences from Djibouti, Djibouti
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
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?
From Washington, D.C., the trip can take up to 30 hours if you are flying via Paris on Air France (that flight from Paris to Djibouti flies once a week), and the layover in Paris is 12 hours. You can also fly to Djibouti via Addis, Nairobi, and Dubai. Depending on the route and timing of the flights, you may have to overnight.
3. How long have you lived here?
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 hit or miss. The quality of the houses varies. There is a compound of 6 town-homes, and they are not very nice. There are other houses that are larger, but the workmanship is not well done. Other houses are extremely nice and spacious with some sort of garden area.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
EXPENSIVE! Everything is imported. Do not be surprised if you spend $300 at the grocery store in one visit - with only 2 bags of groceries to show for it. Food comes into Djibouti at the end of the week, and that is when everyone goes (and you'll go too). Take advantage of your consumables allowance. Why pay $3 for a can of tomato paste when you can get it for $0.50 at Giant? A small example, but when you're using 30 cans of tomato paste...
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
The following items are not available or are so rare you'll never find them when you need them: chocolate chips, vanilla extract, crisco, pie fillings. Many people order from amazon and netgrocer.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
"Fast food" is non-existent here. Everything takes an hour or longer. Many people call ahead to restaurants and then swing by to pick it up. Pizza is done this way a lot. There are rotisserie chickens at many of the supermarkets. No side dishes.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are mosquitoes, so bug repellent is a good thing to bring. Also there are fruit flies and an occasional cockroach. If you keep your house clean, you won't have a problem.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The embassy receives mail via the pouch. It usually takes about 2 weeks for mail to arrive (from ordering to delivery). You can return items through the pouch. FPO was available, but there was abuse of some sort by someone in the embassy, so we may not be able to use it anymore.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Help is expensive in Djibouti. Availability is hit or miss. There are not a lot of English-speaking housekeepers.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a small gym. Camp Lemonnier has a very large gym that U.S. Embassy people are allowed to use.
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?
Camp Lemonnier has recently opened a Navy Federal Credit Union. There are two other ATMs in town. I have heard of many people using them and have not had a problem. I would be cautious about using a credit card here. Shopping is generally cash only, but with fraud being what it is nowadays, I wouldn't take the chance.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Camp Lemonnier has a chapel with many services, all in English.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
No English language newspapers. The embassy does get AFN, and you can get satellite television, but it is expensive.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can survive with no French, but it would be useful to have some basic French so you can recognize grocery items etc. With that said, more and more Djiboutians speak English. There are two different versions of a menu at a restaurant - the French and the English.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The roads are full of potholes, sidewalks are not on every street, and many roads are unpaved. Parking is wherever you can find a spot, and you'll often find yourself squeezed in by another car. Ramps are non-existent. I would not recommend coming here if you have physical disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No to the local trains. No to the buses. Taxis are okay if you are stranded and nobody can pick you up. Bargain before you leave. You'll be ripped off either way, but like I said, only if you are stranded.
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?
Bring an SUV. If you can bring spare tires, do so. Tires are really expensive here. Throw some oil and air filters in, too. You could get them here, but the money you'll save! There was a recent crackdown on window tinting. We were told that if it was factory made, it was fine, but these rules change like the wind, and really a lot of it is misinformation.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High speed! HAH! Internet is very expensive and slow. It is good enough for Skype, but connectivity will be hit or miss. Djibouti Tel has blocked Vonage.
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 to its employees. Blackberries and other global phones don't always work.
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 is a vet here, and I have heard that he offers good services. There are no kennels.
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?
No. There are a few jobs at the embassy for spouses, but they are very few and limited. There is always talk of establishing this job or that job for spouses, but it is all talk and no one ever does anything about it.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual. The water is hard on clothes here. In public, people should dress conservatively, as this is a Muslim country.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really. Crime here is very low, although you do have to retain your street smarts. Lock the doors, don't have valuables out in plain sight, don't wave wads of cash around, etc.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria is present in Djibouti, so MED recommends that you take the medicine. Medical care is limited. The embassy does have an RN who can distribute meds, but for anything more serious you have to go to either the French hospital or Camp Lemonnier.
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?
Air quality is moderate. It is dusty, and some parts of the city smell like sewage.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The "winter" is in the 80s (October to April). The summer is very hot - up to 120 degrees with high humidity (May to September).
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is a French elementary and high school. Lessons are offered only in French. There is a small Indian school that does teach in English, but it is a one-room school and it only goes up to second grade, I believe.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There are no accommodations 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?
There are some preschools around, but people generally have nannies at their homes to take care of their children.
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?
There is a small English-speaking expat community. There are a lot of Americans at Camp Lemonnier, but they rotate out every year. Plus, unless you have a reason to get to know people there, such as working with them, going to church with them, etc., you may find you don't have too many friends from Camp.
2. Morale among expats:
Morale at the embassy is low. This is a small embassy, and Djibouti can be a difficult place to live -- with the heat and lack of things to do. When personalities don't mix well, people try and do what they can. But people are overworked and there are many frustrations here. Our home life is too closely tied with the work life. It can be difficult.
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?
Unfortunately, not much is going on here. There are a few CLO events here and there, but nothing regular (sadly, no end-of-the-week Happy Hour to look forward to). There are some people within the community who throw parties, but it seems to always be the same few folks.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a small, quiet town. The bars and clubs are okay - many are frequented by aggressive prostitutes. The Kempinski Hotel is expensive. Families with school-aged children are disadvantaged by the lack of English-language schools. Singles may be bored, especially if you don't drink or go out to the bars/clubs. Couples may find it enjoyable, but it can be a bit boring.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I know of.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The beach and whale sharks.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Whale sharks, beach, boat trips.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Nothing really. Most curios are from other countries in East Africa (namely Kenya).
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
This is a hardship post, and the experience will be what you make it. The Djiboutian people are very nice and hospitable. Crime is low. There are restaurants and a bowling alley, but beyond that it is pretty much home entertaining. Djibouti is on the ocean, so there are beaches to go to. The whale sharks are here from November to January.
11. Can you save money?
Yes! But you'll have to take advantage of your consumables allowance, restrain yourself at the supermarket, and limit your travels outside of Djibouti (airlines tickets are not cheap). The two highlights for everyone during the week are the mail days - so you'll to make a choice there, too.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, maybe. As in any embassy, it is all about the people you serve with. This has been a difficult post to work at. People do what they like with no regard to the rules and regulations, and with no consequence. It can be very frustrating when you need to do your job, and to ensure your house isn't falling apart around you.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
beach and snorkeling equipment. I would bring a cooler and some patio furniture. The embassy provides some plastic furniture that breaks due to the hot sun.