Windhoek, Namibia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/26/21
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?
No. We have lived in southern and eastern Africa for over 16 years. Beijing and Central America prior to that.
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?
Seattle: Count on about 38 hours, door-to-door. There are direct WDH to Frankfurt flights. Other than that, all flights stop in Joburg. Joburg to the US is direct (ATL or IAD) or via Europe.
Namibia is very out of the way but that's part of its zen charm.
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?
Many of the other expats I worked with lived in one level, stand alone houses; many with swimming pools (thank goodness). Due to the perpetual drought, intensive gardening and lawns are looked down upon and discouraged.
We had a nice one level home with three bedrooms and three bathrooms, a separate staff quarters/laundry room, two car garage, pool and a nice 'stoep' (covered outdoor patio area).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Slightly cheaper to U.S. prices. There are a lot of nice supermarkets (SuperSpar, PicknPay). We really loved the Sunday organic market near Ludwigsdorf neighborhood. Namibia has amazing grass fed beef. Its not a great country for vegetarians/vegans. Braais (BBQs) are a way of life here, socially and at work.
The German heritage means lots of great baked goods: breads, pretzels, etc., and deli meats, sausages. Lots of produce from nearby South Africa.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Anything that is costly in Namibia or difficult to ship: maple syrup, specialty ethnic ingredients, preferred toiletries (Dr. Bronner's Peppermint liquid soap!) trampoline, massage table.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
We didn't use delivery that much. The home delivery option may have improved since we left/since Covid. Fave restaurants were the Cameroonian restaurant (Zoo park?) in the park near Post Street Mall,
Joe's beer house (excellent eisbein and free drum circle used to be on Wed). The Indian restaurant Garnish is amazing.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I arrived in Namibia expecting to see scorpions galore. The only time I saw one was when we went on a night time scorpion educational tour with a doctorate student at Gobabeb Desert Research station (definitely worth a two night visit!)
But no, we never encountered any critters in our home in the Eros neighborhood.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through embassy. I did not use the local post office services.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Single working parent so we had a full time nanny plus a part time housekeeper/cook, plus a once a week pool and garden helper.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Virgin active. Very nice gym. Membership slightly cheaper than US prices. I enjoyed the Sunday hiking club.
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?
Yes, yes, and yes.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is one of the official languages. There are tutors for Oshiwambo (49% of population) and Afrikaans.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
With a car, it is possible. It's a very clean city, with sidewalks and curb cuts. The main down town area is relatively flat.
1. 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?
If you like road tripping, camping, come to Namibia and if your job will import one for you duty free, import a Toyota from Japan. That said, infrastructure/highways between main cities (WDH to Swakopmund) are excellent and a regular sedan is just fine.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, it took a few days to install.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I only used my work provided local phone.
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 quarantine was needed from our dog that arrived from Nairobi. It's a HOT country. Always make sure your dog has access to water and a way to get in and out of your house/garden. Yes, good vets.
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 work low-paying jobs at Embassy. Local work visas in the local economy are VERY difficult to get. Employers must justify why they cannot hire a Namibian. Best to telecommute to a job that pays your home country's currency.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots of opportuntiies with HIV work, permaculture, youth.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
This depends on your place of work. I worked in a diplomatic mission and just went for the comfortable but 'smart professional' look. No heels or make up needed.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Don't be fooled by the zen serenity in Windhoek. In 16 years in Africa, including 3 in Nairobbery, the only place I got held up was in Windhoek, at knifepoint, in front of my own house. They wanted my iPhone. I didn't go running with a phone again after that.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is very good. Dentistry, too. If needed, more critical specialized care options are in South Africa.
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?
Amazing, and starry, starry skies at night.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
It's hard to be a vegetarian here.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
It's a lonely post. The Namibians are kind but it's hard to get to know them. Dating is horrible. Not recommended for single women.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Oct through Feb is bloody hot, but it's dry heat. June, July, Aug nights can be chilly.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The Windhoek International School seemed to be quite poor in terms of quality of staff and resources. While we were there, two families with kids in MS opted to send their 14 year olds to boarding school in the UK rather than keep them at WIS. St Paul's is a competitive private school (they offered coding in 2015!) but I didn't know of any Embassy kids who attended it. A few Embassy families opted to send their kids to the bilingual German school. That seemed like a much better option than WIS.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
This is a very under-resourced post for kids with special needs. Occupational therapists had no clue what ABA was.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
It's very hot so sports are difficult. The local scouts is wonderful. They've been coed for decades.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's small and it's quiet.
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?
There are a lot of great cultural events and a monthly night market.
Hash House Harriers is also a welcoming community.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Hell to the No for singles, esp single women.
This is an ideal post for families with small children. See comment above about poor quality of WIS.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
No. Namibians tend to keep to themselves. They'll go out with you for happy hour but it's the first place I've lived where I was not invited home to someone's for dinner.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The camping is wonderful. Spitzkoppe for wild camping must be one of the most magical experiences ever.
The Gobabeb Desert research stations is great" in the middle of nowhere and you get to meet and interact with all kinds of scientists (wild life, climate change, geologists)
Tours of the Uranium mine (buy ticket in Swakopmund).
Moon desert tour (buy ticket in Swakopmund)
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Ostrich leather goods. There is a huge once a year sale in June. Ask around.
Ostrich egg shell jewelry. The 'pearls' of Namibia. Really cool, modern looking stuff.
Go to NamCrafts in Windhoek.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It is CLEAN.
It's small and easy to navigate.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Once my kids are done with school, I'd go back in a heartbeat!
2. Do you have any other comments?
Maybe its the leftover German influence, but Namibians are very Punctual. I once showed up for a meeting at the start time, I was the last one there and they had just finished introductions.
Arrive at least 5 min early prior to your meeting's start time.