Accra, Ghana Report of what it's like to live there - 04/24/12
Personal Experiences from Accra, Ghana
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?
The flight from JFK takes about 10 hours, about the same for the direct flights from Washington and Atlanta. Plan on two seven-hour flights if connecting through Europe (London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, or Brussels).
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 around Accra is varied. Some within walking distance of work, some not. Most are large beyond necessity. It really depends on your family size and a good deal of luck whether you get a new 4-bedroom near work or the older, fixer-upper three-bedroom that’s a short drive. Given the unusual flight times/routes, if you live near the airport it may take some adjustment to sleep through all the night-time flights over your house. There are no stores or shops of note within walking distance of most neighborhoods, you will need a car (or take a filthy taxi everywhere).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Reasonable substitutes can be found for almost anything. If you buy from one of the “supermarkets,” like the commissary, MaxMart, Koala, or Shoprite, you can find just about anything, but it will cost you more than in the States. If you are intrepid and shop at local stores and at Makola Market, you can find most things very cheaply. When you see something you want, you should buy all of it. Supplies of most things are erratic.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Mexican-American foodstuffs (tortilla chips, seasonings, etc.), root beer, dog food, bread machine mixes, name-brand cleaning supplies, specialty baking items.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
You can find most any kind of cuisine here, but it will not taste the same as home. Among the choices are many Chinese restaurants, a couple of decent pizza places, some high-end hotel restaurants, a few good French places, a good Japanese/sushi bar, a couple of food-courts with fast-food chicken and sandwiches, and innumerable little chop bars and food stands. High-end restaurants can run as high as $50 per person without alcohol. Most restaurants that serve recognizable European/American food range from $10-$25 for an entrée. Street food is cheap ($1-$3), but you risk getting a stomach ailment. Our favorite places include the Accra Polo Club, Bella Roma, Monsoon, La Chaumiere, Champs, 3121, Movenpick brunch, DeliFrance, La Gallette, and Mama Mia. The first US chain just opened in Accra, a KFC.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Most of the food on the local market is organic in that it is direct from the farm. Lots of fruit and vegetarian options, especially if you like plantains. Gluten/lactose-free items cannot be found here.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes during the day carry dengue. Mosquitoes at night carry malaria. Prophylaxis is a must. Ants and spiders can also be a problem. The ants are small and numerous, the spiders can be HUGE.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
All mail takes about two to four weeks from the States, depending on how it’s sent. Expect three weeks for a Netflix turn around.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Inexpensive and easy to find. Live-in housekeepers/nannies will cost you US$150-$250 a month. Gardeners/drivers can run US$100-150 a month. Guards are US$75-125 a month. Everyone you meet will have a relative that is looking for a job. Quality varies widely, but there are many with strong diplomatic family references.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are small gyms. Some houses have small pools. Jogging is complicated given the lack of sidewalks and non-adherence to traffic laws.
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 don’t know of anyone who uses a credit card here. Most places don’t accept them, and you run a big risk using them at places that do.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Most newspapers are in English;their quality varies. English television is available through satellite providers.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Everyone speaks some English, most people under 50 are “fluent.” Most Ghanaians speak to each other in Twi, Ewe, or Ga.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Extremely difficult. No sidewalks at all. Random holes in the middle of any footpath. No handicapped access to anything.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are no trains. Buses come in two forms: STC long-haul coach buses that run between major cities and tro-tros that are short trip -- mini-vans that run everywhere (including right into your car). Tro-tros are cheap (USD $.25), but notoriously unsafe and overcrowded. Taxis are also everywhere, relatively safe (compared to tro-tros), and cheap (USD $1-5).
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 small sedan (called a saloon car here) would be adequate for all the major roads along the coast and around Accra. Travelling deep into the Volta Region or to the parks in the Northern Region will require a 4x4. Bring air and oil filters with you. Try to purchase tires before arriving, they will run you US$150-200 per tire in Accra (and probably used ones at that price).
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Vodaphone has “high-speed” service, when it works. But customer service is non-existent. Expect to wait weeks for installation or service requests. Disruptions in service are commonplace. The most common package costs about $70/month and is adequate to use Skype. Vodaphone has recently upgraded the service in Cantonments and it is adequate for streaming video.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
They are cheap and easy to get. If you are not issued one, you can get one on the local market fairly easily.
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, but getting them here is still stressful. Easy import requirements.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Almost all vet care is via house call, although a new quality vet shop and grooming salon has opened and is highly recommended. No Western-quality kennels to speak of. There are many stray dogs here. There are no parks or other public green spaces.
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?
Nothing that would pay well enough to justify the effort.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business-casual at work. Casual everywhere else.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is a developing country and the crime is what you would come to expect. However, it is manageable by using common sense. Don’t leave things in your car. Don’t walk down the dark alley. Don’t show off your nice camera in the market. Etc. We have actually been pleasantly surprised by the security atmosphere here and have not had a real problem (yet). People we know have had burglaries, purse snatchings, and cell phone robberies. There is significantly less violent crime here than in neighboring cities like Lagos, Lome, or Abidjan. That said, however, as Ghanaian economy is starting to cope with the benefits/problems that come with a rapidly-expanding oil-based economy, the crime seems to be becoming more prevalent.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria pills are a must. Don’t drink the tap water or use ice in restaurants. Fruits and vegetables must be sanitized. Don’t swim in the open ocean or in still water, like Lake Volta (risk of schistosomiasis). Anything that requires a hospital will need to use medevac.
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?
Burning trash is a constant, the smell of the open sewers can be stunning. The cars have no emissions controls and getting behind the wrong taxi or tro-tro can cause serious lung damage. The best air is at the beach or in the hills, far from Accra. Do not come here if you have respiratory ailments.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Nov thru April is very hot (95-100F) and mostly dry, sometimes with a dusty Harmattan wind (in January and February). May and June are hot (90-95F), humid, and rainy. July thru October is tolerable (85-90F) with occasional rain. If you think that you will miss winter/spring/autumn, this is not the place for you.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
It seems to be better for younger children.
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?
Most people have a live-in nanny.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, and for adults too. Easy to find adult softball, volleyball, floor hockey, dodgeball, horseback riding, and soccer leagues
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium. Mostly businessmen and students. The tourist numbers are small, but growing.
2. Morale among expats:
It ranges. You can be happy here, but you have to work at not being frustrated by the little things.
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?
There are a few museums and cultural sites in/around Accra. As for entertainment, there is a western-style movie theatre at the mall, a bowling alley, and plenty of bars and clubs. Many of the different diplomatic missions have cultural events, especially the Alliance Francaise and the Goethe Institute. There are some good beaches within a couple of hours from the city. Unless you are willing to spend two-hours in the car for a small payoff, this is a “make your own fun” kind of post.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
We have friends in every circumstance. Everyone seems fairly happy, if they want to be. It’s easy to get frustrated by West Africa (just try to eat in a decent restaurant in less than two hours), but our community is strong and active. I would not say that it is better or worse for married people or single people, it’s best for people who know how to amuse themselves.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Homosexuality is technically illegal in Ghana. However, there seem to be no practical restrictions or problems in regard to this.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Foreigners are very conspicuous in Ghana. Most people, however, are either genuinely curious about you or, if you’re in a touristy area, they are trying to sell you something. As for religion, they have every denomination you could want -- Presbyterian and Muslim seem to be the most prevalent.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The people are ridiculously friendly and naturally curious. We will really miss the genuine amicability of people.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Many places to shop and eat in Accra. Day trips outside the city include gardens, waterfalls, beaches, boat tours, slave forts, and wildlife parks. Further afield are Mole National Park, the Volta highlands, and Kumasi. Togo is a four-hour drive from Accra, plan on at least five hours to the Ivory Coast border. West Africa is NOTHING like East Africa or Southern Africa when it comes to variety or quality of tourist attractions. Manage your expectations of tourist infrastructure and quality of attractions.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Lots of hand-made crafts like masks, kente, carvings, batik, etc.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
As Ghana becomes more developed, life for expats is getting easier. The supermarket shelves are stocked with adequate South African substitutes, the road quality is improving, telecommunications are conforming to international norms (we recently got seven-digit phone numbers!), and travel options out of Accra are growing. It is probably the best city in the region in which to live.
11. Can you save money?
Easily, but you’ll want to spend it on trips out of the region. Travel within Africa can be more expensive than travel from Africa to Europe. Given its relative standing in the region, I am surprised at the high level of pay differential.
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:
Cold-weather gear, nice car, and need for punctuality.
3. But don't forget your:
Linen clothes, sunscreen, bug spray, and quality snack food.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
The general consensus is that Accra is neither a great nor a horrible posting. Some people curtail, others extend. Most make what fun they can for two or three years and are satisfied to move to another place. In comparison to the rest of Western Africa, this is one of the better postings. In comparison to the rest of the world, this is a tough place.