Windhoek, Namibia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/01/13
Personal Experiences from Windhoek, Namibia
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?
Travel from Washington, DC to Windhoek via Johannesburg takes about 18 hours. If you miss the Johannesburg connection, you may have to spend the night. Windhoek is about a 2 hour flight from Johannesburg.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
(The contributor is a U.S. diplomat who has lived in Windhoek for a year and a half, with multiple expat experiences.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Houses are large and most have a pool. Commute time averages 15 to 20 minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries seem to be getting more expensive. We shop weekly (family of 4) and spend about $150 each week (USD). You can find most things but may have to go to more than one store. Most items are South African, and you can find German items. Sometimes you can find American products - usually at the SuperSpar.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
American pancake syrup, shampoo (don't like the German/South African brands), children's shampoo/body wash for sensitive skin, Cheerios, laundry detergent (sensitive skin).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Most South African chains can be found here - Steers, Ocean Basket, Spur, Wimpy's and Kentucky Fried Chicken. There are also a number of "nice" restaurants - Stellenbosch, Am Weinberg, O Portuga. Cost varies but you will rarely pay more than $20 USD for an entree. We find eating out to be quite reasonable compared to elsewhere.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Plenty of bugs and they're supersized! Crickets/grasshoppers are extra large as are moths. There are plenty of ants, spiders and other bugs. It is Africa after all.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We receive mail through the Embassy. We've also used DHL to have stuff shipped in - expensive but it works.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available, but don't expect too much. Motivation is often lacking. Cost is not cheap, I feel like I'm paying too much for what we receive.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, there's a Virgin Active gym.
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 haven't had any problems, although friends have reported credit card fraud after using them outside Windhoek.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. Most denominations from what I've heard. The Catholic Archdiocese is in the city with a catherdral that has mass in English and Portuguese.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes to both. English newspapers are available and you can sign up for directTV (out of South Africa). Cost is about $600 USD per year.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Most people speak English. We haven't had much trouble but Afrikaans or one of the primary tribal languages would probably be helpful. German won't get you very far.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Not many sidewalks and while some places are handicap accessible, many are not.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We don't use local transportation. I think some taxis are okay. The train is slow (lots of stops) and I wouldn't recommend buses.
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?
Right-hand drive and the vehicle must be newer than 5 years old. We prefer SUVs for travel outside Windhoek, but you can survive with a sedan.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, although it's really high speed in Namibia and loses strength when linking outside the country. Cost is $120 USD for 2megs.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Most cell phones work fine and there are a couple of service providers. Costs seem reasonable and you can get a pay-as-you-go plan.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Vets are available. Kennels also, although I'm not sure about conditions.
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?
Many expats work on the local economy.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Pretty casual. A bit more polished at work (sports coat and maybe tie for men/dress or skirt/slacks and blouse for women).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crime is pretty high, especially robberies.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care exists and most are trained in South Africa. Specialists are a bit harder to find - especially pediatrics. General care is good. Dental is also good. It's harder to get medical care during Christmas break when everyone seems to vacate the capital.
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?
Fabulous! Windhoek is considered high altitude so air is a bit thinner.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Mostly dry. There is a rainy season but it is not constant. Usually it rains hard then dries up quickly. Summer is hot (in the 40s C./100s F.) and winter gets down to freezing overnight. Keep in mind Windhoek is south of the equator so seasons are opposite from northern hemisphere.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Windhoek International School is the only "international" school. That said, I'm not sure how international it really is. They're in a period of transition (growing) which has had it's challenges. My children seem to enjoy it and are learning. I think it will be better once this transition phase is over - maybe in a few years.
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?
Multiple options available - German, English-speaking and Afrikaans.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, although generally not through Windhoek International School.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Fairly large both corporate and diplomatic. Lots of Europeans and Chinese.
2. Morale among expats:
Good. We have a small community and are spread out with both our offices and residences. There are community events, but if you want to socialize more you need to set things up.
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?
Braais are a national pasttime and with a pool at home, pool parties are popular. There are also wine bars and clubs. It seems to be hard to get hooked into the local social scene but with some perseverance it can be done.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it's best for families and couples. There doesn't seem to be a lot to do for singles, unless you're adventurous and like to travel on your own.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
The Apartheid era left it's mark and there is still racial prejudice. Most people seem to work well together but you can see a racial divide when you're out and about, especially when you head to the coast.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Safaris, rock carvings, climbing dunes. The landscape changes from area to area and never fails to impress. The city is quiet/peaceful which is nice. Traffic is minimal, making getting around relatively easy.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are swim clubs, malls, a movie theather, and plenty of other activities. We enjoy spending time at our pool and having friends over for a braai (bbq).
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Gemstones! Did I mention they mine diamonds in Namibia?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Windhoek and Namibia in general has the cleanest air with beautiful blue skies during the day and clear skies at night. It's one of the best places from which to observe the stars.
11. Can you save money?
If you don't do anything, sure. But there's so much to do, I'm not sure it's possible!
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
For vacation, sure. Not to live.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Left-hand drive vehicle!
3. But don't forget your:
Sunglasses and sunscreen!
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?
You must have a car to get around town. With children, it helps if one parent doesn't work, otherwise, there won't be much social life for your kids.