Monrovia, Liberia Report of what it's like to live there - 10/08/21
Personal Experiences from Monrovia, Liberia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
First long-term post, but prior shorter-term posts include Tel Aviv, Bangkok, Addis Ababa, and Port-au-Prince.
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?
Arlington, VA. Takes about 30-48 hours depending on number of connects. Travel in and out of Liberia is very expensive, even just going a few countries over.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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?
My housing was wonderful in that it was the penthouse unit on the beach in Mamba Point. The views were incredible, and just a couple minutes to the embassy. However, the whole place leaked during the rainy season, and the electricity was not grounded, so I shocked myself a few times. There was mold everywhere, and the electricity would often go out for hours (despite two backup generators). The water pump went out several times a month (sometimes in the middle of a shower). Most housing that is not newly built seems to be in rough shape.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are a couple of good grocery stores. Fresh produce is limited but sufficient. Dry and canned goods are abundant, and the Lebanese grocers have a decent deli with good cheeses and meats. I am a very healthy eater and was able to make it work. Cost is on the high side due to most things being imported.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing since I was able to order off of Amazon through the embassy if something wasn't available in-country.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a few Lebanese-owned hotel restaurants that are really great, and both offer sushi bars, Lebanese cuisine, and Thai. There are some beach bar/restaurants owned by expats that are also good. Takeout/delivery also exists. The food at the Liberian-owned restaurants is local cuisine, which is not really food as I understand the definition of the word.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I had a semi-recurring ant problem, but a good ant trap usually knocks them out within a day or so. Not much problem with mosquitos near the beach, but if you are inland you should definitely load up on an anti-malaria protocol.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I hear there is DHL, but I sent and received everything through my embassy mail pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I think I paid $20 for a biweekly visit to clean the entire house.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
I used my embassy gym, which was really great. Not sure about external gyms, but I do recall the hotel gyms being bare-bones.
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?
Cards are accepted at all of the Lebanese and expat-owned establishments in Monrovia. ATMs are located in the hotels, but they are not always reliable (although they are safe). You need cash outside of Monrovia.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I believe there is a Catholic church and a number of Evangelical Christian-type Liberian churches, as well as a mosque.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Everyone in Monrovia and the major towns speak English or Liberian English (which is just a thick dialect of English). In the countryside, they speak an entirely different indigenous language, so you'll usually need an interpreter.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Depends on the disability and your employer's support. The country itself is generally not disability-friendly in the practical sense. I don't know of a single elevator in the entire country, although I heard rumors that one does exist somewhere. From a cultural sense, however, people with disabilities are well-supported because the civil war resulted in many Liberians losing limbs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are no trains, trams, or buses that I know of. There are taxis and tap-taps. The tap-taps are very cheap and a great way to quickly get around Monrovia traffic, although not always the safest option. Generally, I just used my own 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?
A Toyota Rav4 seemed to be the vehicle of choice. I'd say any Toyota, Honda, or Nissan SUV is the best option for maintenance and utility. Be sure to use an expat mechanic. The Liberian mechanics are mostly incompetent and will replace your working components with sub-par components without telling you, and then sell them on the black market. I never heard of carjackings, but burglaries are common if you park on an unguarded dark street at night.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It is available and can generally be installed the same day. You just go down to the local IP store, buy a wifi router and SIM card, pay a subscription, and that's it. You have to pay in person with cash every month to maintain your subscription, and it is very expensive (around $100 or more for what you'd get in the US for $30). Access is also quite unreliable and cuts out at some point every day, but it is generally back up pretty quickly. In Monrovia, it's generally good enough to stream Netflix, which is a personal necessity for living in Liberia!
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I used an embassy iphone for most calls. I only used my personal phone with wifi. Using the local provider (without wifi) to place calls outside of Liberia is extremely expensive.
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?
I did not have a pet, but I did see several coworkers with dogs.
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?
Most spouses are either employed with some international organization or external government, or they stay at home. There's nothing available on the local market because Liberia is the fifth poorest country in the world.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
You can wish pretty much any volunteer opportunity into existence in Liberia. It's a great place for that, and Liberians are always very eager to get involved in such things. I highly recommend trying to find some kind of fulfilling volunteer opportunity (or create one yourself).
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Depends on your job. Generally, dress is very informal. As opposed to my other posts, I can count on one hand the number of times I wore a suit. The ambassador routinely wore informal Liberian lappa garb. Much of this has to do with practicality; hot and humid weather.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Liberia is extremely safe. I only once felt unsafe, and that was when I got caught in a mob protest. I would say it is also healthy as long as you make a point to go to the gym regularly and stay away from the oily Liberian food.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There is the Aspen clinic, which is a private medical clinic that I hear is pretty good, but quite expensive. It is run by expats. The Liberian hospital is called JFK Hospital. If you have any significant medical condition, you'll need to be evacuated.
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 pretty bad on the main roads in Monrovia due to car exhaust, but aside from that it is generally fine due to the wind coming off of the ocean. In the dry season, it gets a bit dusty, and there is always wood-burning happening somewhere.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I knew of a colleague with allergies who chose Liberia specifically because the wind coming off of the ocean pushed away all of the allergens. As for food, I never once got food poisoning in the three years I was there (which is incredible in the developing world).
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Mental health issues among expats are significant in Liberia. I would say it might only be more difficult in a place like Afghanistan, where there are also physical safety concerns. I know of many expats who couldn't handle it and left early. There is literally nothing to do aside from going to the beach, going to a bar, or surfing outside of town. It monsoons six months of the year (downpours literally every day and night). It is always hot and humid. The local cuisine is mostly inedible (think a bowl of pure palm oil with some potato greens and fish heads thrown in). There are no amenities and no natural wonders to explore except a waterfall and a small mountain on the edge of the country. Few things work properly, and nothing functions consistently. When I was there, Liberia had the highest visa overstay rate of any country, and that's because even Liberians don't want to be there. There was a billboard in Monrovia that stated "Liberia - it's not much, but it's all we've got." So if you have any adverse mental health tendencies, they will be greatly magnified in my opinion.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot, humid, rainy. Wettest city in the world (except in the dry season). The monsoon season lasts six months, and it downpours every day and night.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are international schools, but I don't know much about them.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community is enormous, and everyone knows everyone (which is helpful for emotional support I believe). I did like how everyone sticks together and tries to find things to do together (although that mostly just consists of parties and the beach). Morale is dependent upon the individual.
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?
Liberians are wonderful, welcoming people. They are some of the nicest people I have ever met. The expat community is also fun and interesting. You can meet people from all over the world. The standard ways of socializing involve the beach and the bars. Some people surf.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Generally, I would say that it is not a good city for anyone. If you have a strong, stable partnership in place, you'll fare better than most.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I knew several expats in the LGBT community. Non-heterosexual relationships are not supported by Liberians, but it's not like they are actively protested either.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
It is extremely easy to make friends with Liberians, and expats are always welcomed to explore the local hangouts. Liberians are wonderful people.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I know of. However, it is a very superstitious country, so Liberians seem to hold a lot of misconceptions and arcane ways of thinking.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Aside from certain aspects of my career, none that I can think of. From the moment I arrived, I couldn't wait to leave. My best memories were the sound of my flight taking off from the RIA runway.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There is really nothing to do in Liberia, and no hidden gems aside from an eco-lodge, a waterfall, exploring the abandoned Ducor hotel, and some local art stalls. The bars and beaches are basically the extent of it.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
A "shopping mall" was built in Mamba Point by the Chinese when I was there, but it quickly turned into a "white elephant". There are some very cool local art stalls in Mamba Point, and I really enjoyed those. I bought a number of masks and paintings that I still display on my walls.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Well, I suppose it's better than living in the countryside.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The isolation and lack of basic, functioning amenities. It felt like a prison. Even a single park or green space in the city would have made things more bearable, but there are none.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I only came for a very particular career move that resulted in a promotion. I would never live in Liberia willingly.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Everything that makes life worth living.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
'The Mask of Anarchy' and 'The House on Sugar Beach'
6. Do you have any other comments?
This commentary was my own personal experience and the experience I witnessed of most of my colleagues. I did know a select few expats who loved being in Liberia and seemed to thrive. Everyone is different.