Windhoek, Namibia Report of what it's like to live there - 07/17/12

Personal Experiences from Windhoek, Namibia

Windhoek, Namibia 07/17/12

Background:

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

I previously lived in in Budapest, Stockholm, Wiesbaden, and Maastricht.

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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?

Oregon....WHK to Frankfurt, then direct to Portland (overnight in Frankfurt). Travel takes more than 24 hrs. Alternatively, short hop to Jo'burg, SA, and then via London or long direct to NY (17 hr flight!).

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 year so far...

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

Foreign Service.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

No commute times to speak of - nothing is more than 15 minutes away in all of Windhoek. Houses in the housing pool are nice, with yards (not much grass- mostly rocks and plants). Most homes have excellent braai (BBQ)and pool areas. Some houses are quite large and others quite small. They are spaced all around Windhoek but mostly in the expat neighborhood. The housing committee will determine which house you live in -- and many folks can move directly in when they arrive.

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

Groceries are a bit more expensive than in Europe and a lot more expensive than in the typical U.S. city. Diplomats are eligible for 15% VAT relief on most things, and that helps. Most of the non-Namibian items are from Europe, but more and more you see U.S. brands - but they come at a price (i.e. $10 for a small box of Shredded Wheat) and $5 for a can of refried beans).

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

Salsa, peanut butter, tortilla chips, and tubs of frosting! Scoopable kitty litter, cold cereal and U.S. candy.

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

KFC is the only U.S. based chain, but Nandos, FishAways, Steers are also available. Prices are a bit more than the U.S.

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

Not really any..... Up north there are mosquitoes at sometimes during the year and you can easily get medication if you are traveling there during rainy season. Some folks have ant issues, but we haven't.

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Daily Life:

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

We have access to the diplomatic pouch - the only downside is not being able to ship/buy any electronic items with lithium batteries. Electronics here are easily 2-4 times as expensive as in the U.S. and twice as expensive as in South Africa. The ouch usually takes 2-4 weeks to arrive and many folks purchase staples and U.S. snack foods via Amazon.

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

Inexpensive and varies. We pay our gardener about $20-25 a day for his services, and we provide him with two meals while he is here. Our domestic worker is paid around $175 a month for two days a week, with taxi fees. We also provide her with two meals a day on the days she works. Many families with small children have live-in help, and most houses have maids quarters built into them. (Ours is quite small, but many are spacious).

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

Yes, high speed Virgin gym is available for about $40/month. For this price we get our teenagers included in the package. Pool, etc.

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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?

They are safe for the most part, and most have security guards stationed near them. Be mindful of typical schemes and don't use at night by yourself.

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

Not sure if all denominations are represented, but most of them are (Anglican, Lutheran, Muslim, etc.), and most of these would be in English. Some German Lutheran, too.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

AFN military T.V. provided to many homes, DSTV cable available for monthly cost.

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

English is the official language of Namibia and most people in Windhoek know at least some English. Outside the bigger cities, you won't find that as much. German, Afrikaans, and local languages are all spoken. Most Namibians speak several languages.

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

Many. There are not really sidewalks except forin the main tourist/shopping areas downtown. Also, lights are not timed for pedestrians - so you really have to hurry getting across the streets. Cars and taxis rule here, and taxis drive like crazy people.

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Transportation:

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

Embassy folks are highly discouraged from using local taxis as they are unsafe and driven by reckless drivers. There is no bus service, save for the ones that bring day laborers from the Katutura Township to Windhoek and back again. You can use dial-a-cab or prearranged drivers.

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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 purchased a low milage 4WD from Japan and had it shipped. (It took forever to get here...apparently many ships skip this port since it's pretty small!) We should be able to sell it for what we paid. Cars here are about 2-3 times more expensive than in the U.S. We also bought a 10-year old used car here (and saved the 15% VAT in the process). When we came, you weren't allowed to import any car older than 3 years, but that law may be changing. Embassy folks are not allowed to drive outside the city at night (animals, gravel roads, safety, etc.), but working only half days at the embassy on Fridays allows you to get pretty far away by nightfall for weekend trips.

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Phone & Internet:

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

Yes, 4G network is new to Windhoek and we have it. We average about 20mb/second and pay about $125 each month (well worth the price with two teenagers and a gadget-happy family).

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

MTC is pay as you go. Embassy staff are issued contract cell phones, but family members use pay as you go. Much cheaper than in the U.S. or Europe.

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Pets:

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, just need a lot of paperwork and coordination with the embassy ahead of time.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Pet care quality is good. Science Diet and other vet brands of pet food are available, but twice as expensive as in the U.S.

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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?

Family members can work legally here, but salaries aren't that much and there seem to be enough U.S. jobs in the mission to keep family members satisfied.

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

Suit and tie for men at the Embassy, and business attire for women. In public anything goes and folks are very casual and dress pretty safari-like.

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Health & Safety:

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

Petty crime is quite high, thus the need for security alarms and high walls and wiring. Most of the crime is property only, and not violent. Being cautious is key.

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

Dryness, but humidifiers are given to families. Medical care is pretty good, but some things require medical evacuation to South Africa or London. We've been happy with our care here - which has included stays in the local private hospital and E.R. Much better and quicker service than anywhere else in the world!

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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?

Great. No pollution except for some field fires in the winter. No humidity in the winter and this is tough on some folks (dry skin, upper respiratory illness, etc.).

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

Warm/hot most of the year. Winter is about 75 during the day but gets below freezing at night. Rainy season is Dec-Mar, but still hot. Perfect weather!!!! The sun shines every day.

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Schools & Children:

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

Windhoek International School is where our high school students attend. This school has PYP/IGCSE/IB programs and is the best for foregin students (Northern hemisphere calendar, int'l curriculum, etc.). It's small and doesn't have a lot of resources, but students do well here on the external exams. English instruction is not great, but that's because most students are not native English speakers. This is a borderline international school; many local students attend and the outlook can be very Namibian, at least among older students. The younger grades are more international. Other private schools are available, but not as academic (key if your student intends to attend U.S. or European universities). They run on different school calendars.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Not sure. Many schools here are limited and small scale, so I wouldn't think that they would have too many resources for special needs. Most of them do not have any gifted programs, either.

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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?

Available - Waldorf, Montessori, etc. schools, though I haven't had first-hand experience with them.

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

Limited in the schools, but there are club sports available. My daughter plays ice hockey and was able to join an inline hockey team here (almost all are German-Namibians). There are track, netball, field hockey, soccer, etc. The International school offers limited after-school club sports in more traditional U.S. sports such as baseball/softball and basketball.

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Expat Life:

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

Small. Many Peace Corps volunteers, but they are spread out over all of Namibia and not in Windhoek. There is an active international women's association made up of expats from all over the world, but primarily Europe.

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2. Morale among expats:

Mostly high, but most expats aren't legally allowed to work here, so they are a bit frustrated. Morale at the embassy ebbs and flows -- typical of a smaller post.

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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?

Not a whole lot going on, but if you really try, you can find cultural activities - albeit on a smaller scale than elsewhere. There is one theater that tends to get the worst U.S. movies ever - week after week.

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

Yes, great for families - but mostly for younger children. Not a lot for teens to do in Windhoek and they are limited in mobility and freedom due to transportation and safety issues. Clubbing and drinking are popular past times for teens, even young ones.

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

There is a Mr. Gay Namibia contest, but most of the gay/lesbian scene is underground and I haven't seen many local couples out and about. That being said, it's a very tolerant city and culture and I don't think folks would have any problems.

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

There are residual issues from the Apartheid-era and if you're here for a while, you'll see some bad behavior on the part of some local Afrikaaners towards black or "colored" (mixed race) Namibians. Women and men are treated pretty equal....many of the entrepreneurs are female.

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

Traveling and seeing birds and large game. Love the scenery and open spaces. Flying over the Skeleton Coast was awesome. Proximity to South Africa, inexpensive flights there. Swakopmund on the coast is nice, most folks go there for the summer holidays (i.e. Christmas/New Years). Much cooler than inland!

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

See wildlife (nat'l park 20 minutes away, $3 to see giraffes, zebras, etc.), learn about tribal culture (San, desert, etc.), and enjoy the sun. Namibia is a big country and you have to drive quite a ways to get to see things... Take pictures of all the above!

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

Travel! There are some batiks, wood crafts, wire art, etc., here but pretty generic. Baskets, too.

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

Fantastic scenery for photographers. Great animal parks and lodges. Wide open spaces, sun every day. Unlimited volunteer opportunities.

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11. Can you save money?

Possibly. It depends on your travel budget and whether or not you stay at high-end lodges, or camp! If you buy import-only groceries, you'll spend a lot.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

My husband and I would definitely, if we didn't have teenagers. Given the school and social situation, we are not sure we'd have come had we known what it was like.

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

snow board and gear -- although it's a short flight to snow in South Africa! Also, your high speed life --.things are slower here "African Time".

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3. But don't forget your:

patience. Even though Namibia (Windhoek, in particular) is "Africa lite." You are still not in Europe when living here.

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

Just Google Namibian videos and you'll get the travel shows which give you a good idea of what to expect.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)! Just for the scenery....

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6. Do you have any other comments?

We love it here, but it's been hard on our teens socially and academically.... Great volunteer opportunities for the whole family and locals are very appreciative of your efforts.

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