Accra, Ghana Report of what it's like to live there - 05/04/19

Personal Experiences from Accra, Ghana

Accra, Ghana 05/04/19


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Not our first. I've lived in the Czech Republic, my husband has lived in Kenya, Germany, Peru, and Venezuela, and together we've lived in Mexico and now Ghana.

View All Answers

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?

Texas/New Mexico. Not super convenient to get back, which is why we haven't bothered during this tour. It's going to take us about 30 hours airport-to-airport to get home when we do home leave this summer. There are a few direct flights between the U.S. east coast and Accra, but many flights are routed through London, Amsterdam, or Brussels.

View All Answers

3. How long have you lived here?

Approaching two years.

View All Answers

4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic mission.

View All Answers

Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing is more than ample, larger than anything we ever had in the US. Most housing is in the form of standalone houses or townhome-type attached houses in multifamily compounds. All housing is in close proximity to the Embassy (within a 2-mile radius or so). We're in easy walking distance, and many of the other compounds are as well. Our home has four bedrooms and each has its own bathroom/shower. Additional half-bath for guests downstairs. And domestic staff quarters (a small, un-air conditioned room with its own bath/shower) detached in the back. Many compounds have pools.

View All Answers

2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

You learn your way around the grocery situation and where to find what. It took me a while to discover, for example, that the best way to get cheese of all kinds (from grated mozzarella to cream cheese to white cheddar) is from the deli counters at the shops that cater to expats. US and European-oriented products do tend to be expensive and sporadically stocked. Local produce is very inexpensive, and you will have all the pineapple, papaya, bananas, mango, and coconut your heart desires. Imported fruits and vegetables range from slightly more than you'd expect to pay in the US; for easily-transported produce like apples and pears and potatoes to ludicrously expensive for more delicate items like broccoli and berries.

View All Answers

3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

We didn't ship much in our initial consumables shipment since we didn't know what to expect. We made a later shipment that included peanut and olive oils (sunflower and canola and general "vegetable" oils are easily available), masa harina for making corn tortillas, specific hot sauces we like (though Ghanaian hot sauces are delicious, too), our favorite beer (the beer here tends to be very generic lagers and Guinness "foreign stout," which is quite different from the Guinness sold elsewhere), and wheat to grind. High-quality white flour is readily available (the town of Tema has an excellent flour producer), but whole wheat is harder to locate, and not always fresh. If you like specific brands of cleaning products or toiletries, those items are worth putting in consumables, too. Even if you find brands in the stores here that you like, they might suddenly disappear from the shelves.

View All Answers

4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There's an app called Jumia Foods that facilitates deliveries from a wide variety of restaurants. There are quite good Indian, Chinese, and French restaurants nearby. Pizza is hit-or-miss here. Seafood can be a bargain. We love Ghanaian food but not everyone does. If you do enjoy it, you can eat very inexpensively here.

View All Answers

5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

We haven't really had much trouble. There are plenty of insects here but they seem to mostly stay outside; we sometimes see tiny ants in our house. At one point we did end up with a rodent of some kind in our house but the Embassy was quick to help; borrowing a neighbor's cat took care of it even more quickly.

View All Answers

Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO. Can also get pouch for vendors that won't ship to DPO. Generally pretty quick and reliable. Sometimes packages get misrouted and take a while to arrive, but really have no complaints.

View All Answers

2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Very affordable. I think we pay on the high end for part-time house cleaning and it's still very affordable by U.S. standards. Drivers, nannies, gardeners, housekeepers, cooks; all can be engaged very affordably, and in most cases they are people who have worked for Embassy families and/or other expats for years.

View All Answers

3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There's a crossfit gym close to the Embassy but I don't know what it charges. A lot of people run or walk together in the early mornings (it gets too hot later on). There's a group of people who play in an informal tennis league at the Embassy, and there's a neat local tennis club with clay courts that's quite affordable to play at. The gym at the Embassy isn't great but it's adequate. The Embassy pool is long enough for lap swimming, but even better is the pool at Lincoln Community School, which is open for school families at certain times during the week.

View All Answers

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?

We don't use credit cards locally. They're accepted at some expat-oriented restaurants, hotels, and grocery stores, but we just prefer to use cash. I haven't heard of anyone having cards copied or any other card-related crime, though. Mobile phone-based payment systems are popular here and if we were not nearly at the end of our tour I'd probably set that up. There is an ATM in the USAID building on the Embassy compound and a cashier in the Embassy where checks can be written for local currency.

View All Answers

5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Lots,but this comes with the caveat that Ghanaian church is a very different experience. Services are very long, and even liturgically-based churches like the Anglican or Roman Catholic churches manage to draw services out to two or three hours. Many Ghanaians spend the better part of every Sunday at church. One exception is the Apostolic Nunciature, which has a Roman Catholic service each Sunday that generally is more within US expectations for length.

View All Answers

6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

It's very, very much appreciated if you can manage greetings in Twi, but it isn't necessary. There are some classes available but I don't know much about them. Local staff and domestic workers are often very happy to teach people basic phrases.

View All Answers

7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Definitely. I don't see much in the way of accommodations for physical disabilities anywhere.

View All Answers


1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

We take taxis and Uber sometimes. Very affordable, and I think reasonably safe with the proper precautions (same precautions you'd use anywhere). Trotros, the minibuses used for public transit here, are not allowed by RSO (actually, I'm unclear as to whether they're outright disallowed or just strongly discouraged).

View All Answers

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?

We have a Toyota Highlander. It's been great. Small cars with low clearance might be very tricky. Even within the areas of Accra we travel regularly there are fairly rough dirt roads and potholes in major paved roads can be pretty deep.

View All Answers

Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

All Embassy homes have Vodafone internet service with unlimited data for about $40-$50. Reliability varies pretty widely among the compounds. Ours has been reasonably good. Many people have backup 4G routers. Social sponsors can get internet running before arrival, but it's a fairly simple process to get it going even if it's not set up before you arrive; just a matter of making a payment to get it turned on in most cases.

View All Answers

2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Mobile phones service is quite inexpensive by U.S. standards. After setting up service with one of the providers (MTN and Vodafone are the big ones, and fairly equivalent, I think) you can recharge by purchasing scratch cards, by submitting payment at authorized locations, or even through the commissary. I usually buy 20 cedi ($4) scratch cards and they last me about 2 weeks each.

View All Answers

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 is a substantial group of spouses here who work from home, either telecommuting or working as freelancers in various fields. I know of at least one spouse who teaches classes here, but I don't know the details of working on the local economy. There are some jobs at the Embassy, in the Consular section and the Community Liaison Office (CLO).

View All Answers

2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Due to my own work I haven't explored this as fully as I would have wished. There are many, many volunteer opportunities here. There is a large expat women's group (NAWA) that makes grants to local NGOs, schools, etc. and can also connect potential volunteers with opportunities, and I'm sure there are other avenues as well. The Embassy occasionally will have beach cleanup activities.

View All Answers

3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

My husband wears a suit to work most days, but think some people dress more casually. Formal dress is nice to have for the Marine ball and other galas around the holidays. On Fridays people often wear Ghanaian clothing to work.

View All Answers

Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Accra is rated critical for crime and I have heard a few stories of muggings and robberies around the holidays. In general, though, I would say common sense measures for personal safety are adequate. It doesn't always feel like a big city, but it helps to remember that it is, and that it's never a great idea to make oneself an easy target. I don't personally know anyone who has had any trouble.

View All Answers

2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Malaria is a problem in Ghana. We all take anti-malarial medications. Bilharzia can be an issue in freshwater locations, I've heard. Produce needs to be washed carefully to avoid foodborne illness (it's rare to make it through a tour without at least one bout of GI trouble, though). I was medevaced due to some cardiovascular issues, and I do think medical evacuation is fairly common when people encounter health issues beyond fairly basic stuff. My son's best friend was medevaced with a broken arm.

View All Answers

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?

The smell of burning trash can be unpleasant sometimes, and December/January is harmattan season, which can bring lots of haze and blowing dust. In general, though, it hasn't been a problem.

View All Answers

4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Lots of tropical stuff blooming all the time means seasonal allergies can be irritated, but it's been manageable for us. Peanuts are a staple food here and I'd think anyone with a severe allergy would need to take extra care here.

View All Answers

5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

I have heard people mention that they feel better, mood-wise, if they get out of Accra/Ghana periodically. I haven't had that feeling myself, but it's a pretty common sentiment. Daily life is different here from life in the US and it can be frustrating at times, so I can see why people might like to get away now and then. I don't think it causes any serious mental health issues, though.

View All Answers

6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

A typical day is 90 degrees F with somewhere between 65-85% humidity. It's hot and sticky almost all the time. There are a few times of year when rain is more common, but I was surprised to find that the "rainy season" isn't what I had imagined a tropical rainy season to be (I was thinking daily downpours). In July/August the weather cools down by about 5-10 degrees and it feels blissfully cool by comparison to the rest of the year.

View All Answers

Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

I'm familiar with two international schools: Lincoln Community School, which is an IB world school and Ghana International School, which is a British-model school. GIS is very, very close to the Embassy (the back entrance to the Embassy is on the same road as GIS, about 500 meters away). A few families choose GIS, but the vast majority of kids attend LCS. I would say people are generally at least satisfied, if not thrilled, with LCS. The school is a particularly good fit for our family and we absolutely love it, but that's not a universal feeling. Some families feel it's not rigorous enough. We've enjoyed the very welcoming and community-oriented atmosphere and the "whole person" focus of the school. We have a child in late elementary and a child in high school and have been happy with both kids' experiences. I can't speak personally about GIS but we have friends with kids there and they are happy. There's also a French school, I think.

View All Answers

2. 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 a few Montessori preschools near the Embassy (Little Explorers and Owls' Nest) that are popular with Embassy families. Little Explorers is very close (walkable from the Embassy, though that's not always advisable due to traffic), and I've heard very good things about it. I think compared to equivalent schools in the D.C. area they're inexpensive, but it's not an insignificant cost.

View All Answers

3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

LCS has a wide variety of after school activities and sports teams. I appreciate that there are also noncompetitive sports activities (swimming, soccer, ultimate frisbee, basketball, lacrosse) that just encourage learning the sport, having fun, and getting exercise. Parents have organized kids' tennis lessons at the Embassy. There are martial arts classes (tae kwon do, I think?) at a studio very close to the Embassy. Our daughter went to a really great soccer camp over the summer, taught by a former star of the Ghanaian national team. She's not a huge soccer player but she enjoyed the opportunity to participate.

View All Answers

Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

I think there's a reasonably large expat community, though I haven't had as much opportunity as I would have liked to meet more people outside the US Embassy community. There are many other diplomatic missions and certain international business concerns, as well as development agencies/NGOs. There are also some expats who run guest houses, restaurants, etc. I'd say morale is moderate. We love it here, but not everybody does, and there's large "luck-of-the-draw" component to housing for embassy families. We landed in a very social compound with great neighbors. I think it would have been a bit more difficult to be in a standalone house.

View All Answers

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?

Our compound has weekly happy hours. The commissary hosts monthly happy hours and there are other CLO-organized events. Other missions also have regular social events, and there are some expat-oriented restaurants and pubs that hold trivia nights & other special events. There is a also a complex of restaurants that attracts a mix of expats and Ghanaians - sort of a food court but with real restaurants - and they have a dance floor/stage with salsa nights, etc. North American Women's Association holds regular social events ranging from coffees to evening restaurant outings. We've never lacked for social opportunities, and in fact I feel like we could have done more to explore social life outside the expat bubble . . . it's there, but we haven't really connected with it.

View All Answers

3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

I can really only speak to how it's been for us as a family, and we have truly enjoyed it. The school has worked out well for us, our kids found the school community very welcoming and accepting, and we've enjoyed living in a compound with friendly and incredibly helpful neighbors. When I was on medevac my husband was humbled by the support he received from neighbors. For us it's been a great family post.

View All Answers

4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I am not sure about this. Ghana does have a very conservative religious streak. It's not a topic I've heard discussed. There's definitely not a clearly visible LGBT community.

View All Answers

5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

This is a tough one to answer because I feel like I haven't tried as hard as I might have to get outside the expat community. LCS has some Ghanaian students but not a whole lot. I would say it is very easy to become friendly acquaintances with Ghanaians, but takes a conscious effort to move beyond the expat bubble to make true friends. Ghanaians are warm, welcoming, friendly people, and I have really enjoyed living here, but I don't feel like any of the Ghanaians I know are truly friends. The Ghanaian I am closest to is the woman who cleans our house twice a week, and I will truly miss her when we leave, but I would be dishonest if I said we have become friends in the same sense I've become friends with other expats here.

As for prejudices, I feel an uncomfortable deference is paid to white people in many cases. (I am white, so it's my discomfort I'm referring to. That might say more about me than about Ghanaians . . . I don't know). I don't feel like I can speak to the experiences of other ethnic groups.

View All Answers

6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

There is a substantial Muslim minority here (about 15% I believe) and Christian and Muslim Ghanaians seem to get along very well.

Gender equality is a complicated issue here (as it is most places!). I've met women here who are scientists, entrepreneurs, doctors . . . and they seem to be very well-respected by all. But there are definite gender-based expectations and I've experienced some dismissive behavior from Ghanaian men who are much more respectful to my husband. This is all very hard to judge/understand from the outside, though.

View All Answers

7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

In addition to just enjoying our everyday life here, we've had a lot of fun getting out and exploring. There are beaches within easy striking distance of the city (the beach here in Accra is fine to visit for a meal at a seaside restaurant, for instance, but not a great place to swim). Sadly the beaches are often marred by significant amounts of plastic waste, but it can still be a welcome getaway from the city. There are national parks: Kakum, with its elevated treetop walkway and Mole, which is known for its elephants, are the ones we managed to get to. There are beautiful waterfalls, an impressive hydroelectric dam that was the big infrastructure project of first president Kwame Nkrumah and that provides something like 85% of Ghana's electricity, there is the Volta River. The local markets are fun - Makola Market is almost a city unto itself. The forts along the coast, particularly in Cape Coast and Elmina, were key centers of the transatlantic slave trade and are an essential, but painful, visit.

View All Answers

8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

It is true that the wildlife in Ghana doesn't compare to the wildlife in east Africa or southern Africa, and tourism here can be a challenge by US standards, but for us the key to enjoying life here was to get out anyway and enjoy it for what it is. We loved Meet Me There, a lodge run by a nonprofit that uses lodging/dining revenue to fund community-based projects. Shai Hills is a wildlife park that only takes about an hour to get to. Aburi Gardens is a botanical garden about 45 minutes - an hour outside Accra. Near Cape Coast and Kakum there is a stingless bee research center that made for a fascinating visit. It's really interesting to go see glass beads made (TK Beads is in Accra, about a half-hour or 45-minute drive from the embassy). There really is a lot to see and do here.

View All Answers

9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Beads and jewelry made from beads, wax print fabric and dresses/clothing made from it, kente cloth, batiks, baskets, shea butter and related products, masks and carved wood furniture/sculptures . . .

View All Answers

10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Friendly people, a pleasant community, a huge city that sometimes feels almost rural (in the area around the embassy, at least on the weekends).

View All Answers

Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I wasn't prepared for how much the lack of changing seasons would throw me off, but I don't know how one can prepare for that.

View All Answers

2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely. I'd stay another two years.

View All Answers

3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Expectations for things to go a certain way. Grocery stores are stocked in what feels like a random way. Suddenly your favorite product will vanish from the shelves of all the stores, only to reappear a few months later. The store that usually has the best cheese will sometimes just run out altogether (one mega-supermarket I went to once was completely out of ketchup . . . they usually have an entire shelf with many brands, but they were just OUT; it's not at all unusual for a store to be completely out of a staple like flour or milk). So expecting the reliability of western supermarkets will just leave you frustrated, and that can be extrapolated to most other areas of life, as well. Even at relatively expensive hotels you'll have toilets that don't flush or hot water heaters that don't heat (if there's hot water there at all). But accepting that things are the way they are can free you up to really enjoy it here.

View All Answers

4. But don't forget your:

Flexibility, sense of humor, and lightweight cotton clothing.

View All Answers

5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Homegoing is a really good novel. Apparently there's a soap opera or something on YouTube called An African City (or something like that) set in Accra. I haven't seen it.

View All Answers

6. Do you have any other comments?

Accra is a very livable (and rapidly growing/developing) city and Ghana has been a great place to be. Traffic can be a hassle, nobody enjoys hopping the open sewers, and it can be irritating to visit several stores to get what you need for a special dinner, but there is a lot to enjoy, too.

View All Answers

Subscribe to our newsletter

New book from Talesmag! Honest and courageous stories of life abroad with special needs.

Read More