Nouakchott, Mauritania Report of what it's like to live there - 08/31/21
Personal Experiences from Nouakchott, Mauritania
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Lived previously throughout Africa and Asia in a number of developing countries.
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?
It takes about 24 hours to get to most places in the United States, with connections in Paris and at least one layover in the States.
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?
Housing is generally good; everyone is in medium or large houses, and the housing pool is moving away from the older, outdated residences. Some have pools. Others have large rooftops and "gardens" (i.e. large patches of sand) that can be used as great outdoor spaces for kids or entertaining if you are willing to put in the time and money to invest in them. Officers live 5-15 minutes from the embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries and food products are more limited here than anywhere I have lived, including availability of fresh fruit and vegetables, which are almost all imported and spoils quickly. Like many posts in the region you have to go to three or four different grocery stores for weekly shopping, as stock at each is limited, though many people ask housekeepers or cooks to help with this task. Consumables shipments help a lot with supplying key items.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Condiments, sauces, salsas, ingredients for Asian food, peanut butter, good coffee, alcohol (including mixers, etc). Restaurant options are very limited and mediocre quality, so having a lot of a wide range of ingredients to cook at home is important. This is a dry country and the only options for buying alcohol for diplomats or other expats are subject to arbitrary disruption and delay.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Restaurants are more limited here than anywhere I have lived. The seafood is good: you can get decent sauteed fish, calamari, at the beach. Most restaurants have similar menus that include mediocre pizza, hamburgers, shawarma, chicken wings, "tacos" (which are not tacos, no one is clear on what they are).
There are two pretty good French restaurants, one mediocre Chinese restaurant, an okay Indian spot, and a few others. Lots of bakeries with decent croissants, and a good ice cream/gelato place. New restaurants pop up all the time with a lot of buzz, but fall short in providing really good or different food. One sushi restaurant did just open that is quite good, so options should continue to improve.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Given lack of rainfall here most people do not experience pests (cockroaches, mice) as they do in similar developing countries. Ants and large/aggressive flies are common, but generally kept under control.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic mail. For some reason flat mail takes over a month to arrive, though packages only take two weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help for cooking/cleaning, gardening/pool maintenance, and nannies are available. Options will be abundant if you speak French. American diplomats pay much higher than other expats- usually $200-$350 for full time housekeeper/cook or nanny depending on their skills and experience . Fewer families have drivers, but there are options if you want to pursue that.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The US Embassy has a small but new and clean gym. There is one new gym owned by American expats with classes and personal trainers. There are pickup basketball games at the Embassy, and supposedly a pickup soccer game mostly among French and Spanish expats, but unsure if it's going on during Covid. Some women walk inside Olympic Stadium in the morning, which is safe and popular among expats, and there is a small running path at the U.S. Embassy and old embassy compound. Otherwise, running options (especially for women) are very limited.
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?
No, do not use credit cards; this is a cash economy.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
No. There may be a Catholic or AME service but they are not widespread.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can survive with English but your life will be much easier and your experience much more rewarding if you can speak French. So much of the news, information, menus, signs, tips and tricks for getting around here is in French.
It is important to note that Arabic (in reality, Hassaniya) is the most widely spoken language and the country's official language. French is secondary. Most (but not all) Mauritanians speak French but it's their second/third/fourth/fifth language. Interestingly, Spanish is more common than French in the northern city of Nouadibou.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, as there are no sidewalks, little to no accommodations for people with limited mobility.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No, use your POV.
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?
4x4 is ideal. Smaller cars (Rav4, for example) are fine for the city and going to the main expat beach, but if you have a 4x4 it opens up a lot of options for day trips and weekend camping. Gasoline is not widely available outside of Nouakchott, so diesel is preferred.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet was available when we arrived. We have had some issues but the Embassy has helped facilitate quick troubleshooting and repair. Streaming is generally ok but there will be pauses and delays. Most of the country is on 3G but some major providers are in the process of upgrading to 4G.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We have both a US SIM and local SIM.
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?
People use one vet here and seem to be pretty happy with him.
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?
Lots of jobs at the US embassy for spouses. Several spouses telework for their companies back in the States.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are some NGOs here, but unsure how easy it is to volunteer for them.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Conservative, especially for women. Covered knees and shoulders and loose-fitting clothing is appropriate. At the one expat beach however women can wear western style swimsuits, including two pieces.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Partly because of the culture (i.e., no public parks, few public spaces) but also COVID lately, you aren't really going into crowds. The main expat beach is fine, and going around town to run errands during the day just requires good judgment (windows up, doors locked, don't rummage through your purse at the market).
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The Embassy has a med unit, but anything requiring specific care (broken bones, dental emergency) would be a medevac. Dengue is not uncommon, and many families take malaria prophylaxis. GI issues are overall not common, though a few people have had repeated issues.
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?
Sand and dust is a problem, especially during Harmattan. It's seasonal though and not always an issue.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Pollen is low because lack of green here, though sand and dust can be irritating.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Despite a few months of very hot temperatures (July-September), Mauritania's climate can be surprisingly pleasant. November through March especially is more temperate, with low humidity and cooler evenings. Rain is scarce, and some days can be uncomfortably sandy. That said, the weather overall- especially during the cooler months- can be quite enjoyable, especially for spending the day at the pool or beach.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
People seem happy with the American school, at least for elementary and middle schoolers. It is very small and options especially for high schoolers are very limited. There is a French lycee, and lots of other French creches and maternelles, and several families are starting to use those schools more and more.
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?
Yes. The American school and the other main English-speaking school (TLC) start at 3 years old. People are generally happy with both the American school and TLC. French creches can take younger kids, and are a quarter of the price of the American school, half the price of TLC. There are more options for those who choose French speaking options (Montessori, etc).
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are a few options, more if you speak French. A French woman teaches swimming, a French sports coach does girls sports camp and boys soccer, and some kids do horseback riding at a local stable. Tennis lessons are available from at the Racing Club (also taught in French).
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large French and Spanish communities, quite small American community. Morale is high among the long-term expats who chose to live in Mauritania for a slower, simpler life. Lots of house parties, camping trips, etc.
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?
Most people go to the beach on the weekends, and camping once every month or every few months. Day trips in 4x4s to local dunes or just driving on the beach is also an option. House parties during non-covid times are frequent. There is one art gallery/farmers market run by a French expat on Saturdays that is popular, and the French institute has small outdoor concerts and other events. It is a slow, quiet pace of life here, but there are definitely activities especially if you can make friends with the French expat community.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Post has attracted a lot of families with young kids in the last year, and for good reason. Play dates, weekends at the beach and Embassy pool, and occasional camping trip makes for a great experience for families with babies through early elementary school. Options for middle and high school age kids become more restricted.
Couples or single people who enjoy hosting dinner parties, going to the beach, camping, other low key activities may also be happy here. There is very little in the way of activities such as yoga classes, clubs/sports, no malls or theaters, no bars or alcohol, few restaurants, which some can find extremely challenging.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
COVID has made socializing difficult; vaccine rates are low and most locals and expats are not taking precautions. Mauritanians are extremely welcoming and hospitable, so during normal times it may be possible to make local friends. However, many find the continued presence of slavery in various forms extraordinarily disturbing and preclude the ability to form personal relationships with certain Mauritanians. Ethnic tensions among local groups persist.
The French expat community is active, and many speak English of course. There is a pretty decent sized Spanish community as well.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
This is a conservative Muslim country, which presents challenges for LGBT expats.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, see above.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Camping on the beach and in sand dunes is great. Terjit and Chinguitti make for enjoyable (yet tiring) weekend trips. The Embassy community is very close and morale is high, which has made this a very enjoyable tour.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
During non-COVID times, people go to the Canary Islands, Morocco, and Dakar easily.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
No, there is very little made locally.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Quiet, peaceful pace of life. Proximity to the beach (20 minutes). Good housing, nice embassy compound, great Embassy community.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Knowing how limited the food options were; we would have brought more in consumables and a wider range of unique items to keep home cooking interesting.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. If you come in with expectations managed, and knowing that you will need to seek our and create your own fun, this can be a very enjoyable post.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, tank tops.
4. But don't forget your:
Camping gear, 4x4, and alcohol.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Wish there was more material out there on Mauritania!
6. Do you have any other comments?
Don't let post reports from five years ago color your impression of life here. Activities and options are limited here: no parks, no green space, and very few decent restaurants. However, people find the work interesting, the people very hospitable, and the access to the beach, sea food, and camping very appealing. The city is also growing and changing each year.