Malabo, Equatorial Guinea Report of what it's like to live there - 09/07/14
Personal Experiences from Malabo, Equatorial Guinea
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?
USA. Connections available through Frankfurt, Paris, or Madrid. Typical trip length is around 30 hours depending on lay-overs.
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?
A new Embassy compound complete with townhouses was completed in 2013. Beautifully constructed homes with modern appliances (a dishwasher!) and new furniture. The compound has its own water purification system, so you can drink the water out of the tap. Compound also has a pool and tennis court.
Commute time is a 2 minute walk. :)
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Availability of groceries has been increasing due to the larger numbers of expats. There are three main grocery stores that offer staples, including eggs, milk, and cheese. All meat comes frozen. There is not a diverse option of fruits and vegetables, and there is also a lack of consistency about what is available at a shop on any given day. However, if you go to enough stores, you can usually find something close to what you are looking for.
There is a high COLA here for a reason. Almost everything is imported and comes at a high cost. Especially items like cheese, meat, and surprisingly, pineapple!
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Any specialty food items. A KitchenAid or something similar. Lack of diversity in the market means we end up making a lot of things from scratch! Anything for holidays, especially Thanksgiving (canned pumpkin is a must!).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Malabo is lacking quality restaurants. Those that offer semi-decent meals come with a large check (US$20-$50 per person at least). There are a few good restaurants that offer local fare (fish, chicken, plantains and rice) for about US$10-$20 per person depending on what you get.
You can eat cheaply on the street but it is not recommended due to the poor sanitary conditions of these operations and high rate of typhoid in the country.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are lots of bugs here! Like most African countries, malaria is an issue here. However, the Embassy housing is well sealed, and I have never seen a mosquito inside the house. Free tests and treatment are available through an American-run NGO on the island. Within the city, we usually don't notice a huge amount of bugs or mosquitoes.
The biggest nuisance are the ants. They come into the pantries during the dry season, and like to sneak up and bite your feet if you accidentally step on one.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch. Usually takes 3 weeks to arrive in country. Sending mail is more difficult. There is an outgoing pouch about once a monnth, but it is usually easier and faster to just find someone leaving the island to take your mail.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Lots of availability. Cost is higher than in surrounding African countries but still reasonable.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a small workout area with an elliptical, stationary bike, treadmill and stair master. There are gyms at a few of the hotels that offer passes for a hefty fee.
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?
There are two (maybe 3) places that accept credit cards and that is it. There are a few ATMs, but I have never used one. It is a cash economy.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
If you never leave the compound, none. Many of the local restaurants also have wait staff who speak English. That being said, some basic Spanish always helps around town, and especially if you ever get stopped by the police.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Within the Embassy compound, you would be fine. However, outside of that, the sidewalks are not well maintained, there are few ramps and few elevators in the city. It would be difficult.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No trains or buses. Only taxis. Taxis are cheap (US$1 for a ride) but not recommended to take because of their poor quality.
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?
There is a great road that goes around the entire island, and to get to the "normal" places in town, a 4-wheel drive would not be necessary. However, one is recommended if you want to venture off the beaten track, or for when it rains and you need to get through the flooded streets. I would not recommend a very large car, as the streets can get congested and are narrow.
Toyota is the recommended brand of car to bring, as there is a dealership, and often parts available. However, I would recommend getting any car you bring thoroughly checked out before coming, as repairs can be expensive, and they don't always have the parts you need.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
I don't know how "high-speed" it is, but yes. Internet is very expensive (between US$250-$1,000/month depending on speed and company), and not always that great.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There are three cell-phone carriers. The main one is Orange but coverage is not great at the Embassy compound. Embassy provided phones run through Muni, another telecon company.
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?
No quarantining necessary. There are no kennels available. There are two "vets" on the island, who are just two men who have other jobs, but work as vets "on-call". They can take care of basic issues (immunization, antibiotics) but don't do surgeries or anything complicated.
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?
It really depends on what you do and how hard you look. Post has a few EFM jobs, and there aren't many EFMs, so everyone who wants one has one. There are three major oil companies on the island for possible employment. If you speak Spanish, it may be possible to find employment for foreign-run companies in EG. There is an American-NGO that runs a malaria control project, and a biodiversity center run through Drexel University. Also many opportunities to teach English either through the Embassy or for the oil companies. Doctors and nurses could work at the Israeli-run hospital.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Limited. A few of the expats volunteer at an orphanage but that is about what is out there.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Guineans like to dress very professionally for work. Suit and tie is a must for men when meeting with someone high in the government. Outside of work, dress is fairly casual. Women don't tend to wear shorts; mostly dresses and skirts.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Malabo is actually a fairly safe place to live. RSO recently forbid the use of taxis due to poor maintenance of the vehicles, drunk driving, and a recent surge in taxi crime on the mainland. For Americans (and especially diplomats), you are usually not bothered by the police.
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 not the greatest in EG. If you have particular health concerns, do your research to ensure that care is available. There is an Israeli-run hospital that offers many specialties, consultations and 24-hour emergency care. Other than that, options are limited. Bring a good first aid kit with you!
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?
During the dry season (October-February) the air is very smoky due to burning trash and volcanic ash from the mainland. However, once the rain comes, quality greatly improves. There are no real rules on car emissions, so the city can often be filled with exhaust fumes. However, for the most part, the air quality is moderate to good.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is never cold here. There are two main seasons, rainy and dry. The rainy season is divided into two sections as well, starting off with a month or two of heavy rains in the morning, then clear skies for the afternoon. This is followed by a few months where it rains pretty consistently throughout the day. The rainy season ends with the "soft rain" season, where the rain comes and goes throughout the day with sunshine in-between. It cools off during the rainy season, and the nights are very pleasant during this time.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The education system is not great. Other expats send their children to the French or Spanish International school. There are currently no strong options for schooling in English. The Israeli hospital provides a small school for children of the employees there, and one American family has put its children in school there. That being said, this is probably not the best place for school-aged children unless you are willing to have them learn in another language or put in the effort to supplement their education.
2. 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?
The Embassy community is small but the expat community is quite large due to the presence of oil companies, construction, etc. Morale is a mixed bag. I'd say this isn't the happiest post but also not the worst.
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?
Again, you make your own fun here. There are some discotecas and night clubs but most social life revolves around getting together with friends for dinner, drinks, games, etc. If you make friends with people who work at the oil companies, they often have events on their compounds.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Due to lack of schooling and general things to do, it's not always the best post for families but it can be done. Malabo is a city where you have to make your own fun and adventure.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not recommended as homosexuality is frowned upon.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Most problems arise for foreign Africans, not Americans. The local people do not like foreigners, and will often stop cars to check for proper documentation to be in the country (diplomatic cars rarely get stopped) and harass foreigners looking for bribes.
Women (especially white women) should expect to get cat-called in the street, supermarket, etc.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Hiking/camping in the southern part of the Island. Swimming under waterfalls and enjoying the beauty of the island. Visiting a beautiful white sand beach on the mainland.
Trips to Moka, an elevated section of the island where the air is cooler and there are beautiful views and a few hikes to enjoy.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
As mentioned above, Malabo is a make your own fun type of place. Highlights of the Island include the Sipopo Beach, Moka (where there are two guided hikes available), and hiking/camping in the southern part of the Island.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There really aren't any. Spend it to travel outside of the Island.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It is an experience unlike any other. Possible to save money due to high differential and lack of things to spend money on. Beautiful hiking in the remote, mostly untouched southern part of the island.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, if you budget and plan ahead.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
This is truly a country unlike any other. The people are unique and working here can be frustrating. No one will tell you anything directly, and it takes a long time to get anything done.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter gear (keep a bit for vacations!).
3. But don't forget your:
Swimsuit, hiking gear and open attitude to make your own adventures and experience a place unlike any other.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you have any other comments?
Malabo is a place unlike any other. It is definitely an experience, and a post in which you will learn a lot, be challenged constantly, and make your own fun. The isolation is probably the most difficult part of living here so if you come this way, make sure you try and leave every few months, even if it is just to the mainland for a few days.