Niamey, Niger Report of what it's like to live there - 04/18/20

Personal Experiences from Niamey, Niger

Niamey, Niger 04/18/20


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

It was our first expat experience with the Department of State. I immigrated to the United States though, so technically not my first experience as an expat!

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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?

We travelled from Washington, D.C. Travel time was about 24 hours, via Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris. Connections were also available via Ankara with Turkish Air. Travel to Niamey always entailed a layover of at least a couple of hours, no matter where you transit through. The new airport building in Niamey is very fancy though, with many more facilities than the old airport building had.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

Diplomatic mission with the Department of State.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most housing was near to the Embassy. Houses are generally large, with anywhere from 3-6 bedrooms, usually with the same number of bathrooms. Some houses had large gardens, most had a swimming pool. From most homes, the commute was around 5 minutes by car, 15 if walking.

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

There were several stores which catered to the expat community, including Score, Marina, Cobra and Baaklini. Some American household and food products were available, but at a significant mark up (think $15 for a pack of poptarts), but most imported brands were European, and perfectly acceptable.

Many people had their housekeepers purchase vegetables for them from the roadside vendors, as they were better able to haggle and get good prices. Fruit and vegetable availability was extremely seasonal - there was a broccoli season, a very brief strawberry season and a mango season. Meat from the four above mentioned stores was generally safe and good quality. Pork products were very limited, although occasionally available from the larger stores.

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

More cleaning products as housekeepers tend to overuse floor cleaners. Additional toilet paper - you WILL need it and the local stuff, even the premium brands, do not match up to American TP quality. Laundry detergent/tablets - the local stuff is not good quality and we were advised it can mess up the drains on the washing machines.

Make the most of the liquid allowance to ship favourite American sauces, since those can't be shipped through the pouch. As a former French colony, Niger has plenty of good wines and champagnes, but if you have a favourite beer, you might want to ship plenty as it is unlikely to be available.

Make sure you contact the Community Liaison Office (CLO) for an up-to-date list of consumable recommendations!

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

We enjoyed Amandines, the closest you will get to "fast food", and an excellent French bakery to boot. There's also Cote d'Jardin (try the braised camel), QG (we enjoyed the curry dishes and American style hamburger), Le Diplomate (good for Moroccan-style cuisine), Le Pillier for French cuisine, Mumbai for a good curry selection (be warned that all cuts of meat will be bone-in). Just as we departed, a Radisson Blu opened with a rooftop bar, sushi, and New York Restaurant - all nice venues with good, if expensive, fare.

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

Niger has plenty of mosquitoes, especially in the rainy season. If you go out at dawn or dusk, or stand too long near any bodies of stagnant water, you're going to get bitten badly. There was a consistent problem with termites in our house, which manifested in large termite trails sneaking up the walls. I was very concerned that there might be cockroaches, but I only saw two inside the house in the entire time we were there - of course we were *very* careful about leaving food out.

Ants were an issue. Most houses also came with at least a couple of house geckos though, which helped to keep the ant population under some control.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch only. Local mail was non existent, as far as I know.

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

Most people had a housekeeper and a gardener. We had a housekeeper part time (there was only two of us and we're not messy!) and a gardener who came by in the early morning. He took care of the yard, pool and washed the vehicles, as well as growing vegetables for us in the cooler season. Many people who had children hired a housekeeper/nanny, rather than two people.

We paid around US $250/month for our housekeeper, but we were definitely on the higher end of the spectrum. Many housekeepers/nannies have worked for expat (or exclusively American) families for many years.

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

The Embassy has a small gym you can join for a fee, and the American School in Niamey also has a gym which can be used by members of their Rec Center.

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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?

Almost nowhere accepts a credit card. There were two working ATMs in the city, but we were advised not to use them. There was an ATM in the Embassy that was fine to use, and most American employees did so. Be prepared to carry cash at all times. Be warned that smaller vendors may not be able to break the large notes you get from the ATM or cashier.

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

The Sahel Academy ran English-language services each Sunday. Most other religious services were either in local languages or in French.

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

There are several "local" languages, including Hausa, Djerma and Peul. However, most people speak French, and that is the language you will need to get by in the city. Some vendors speak English, but it's not guaranteed. If you are working at the Embassy, they have a great language office that can offer 1-1 lessons, or in groups.

If you can, learn a few words of greeting in Hausa, Djerma or Peul, it will endear you to roadside vendors and help make friends.

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

Yes. There are no facilities for people with disabilities whatsoever.

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

Absolutely not. I once saw a local bus with people in seats strapped to the roof! Taxis are not permitted as they are extremely unsafe and often a target for thieves.

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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?

Toyota vehicles are most common, and most of the garages have experience in fixing them. Bring something with a high ground clearance and good suspension.

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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?

Internet is available, but a bit variable in speeds. I found I was able to stream low-quality movies (fine if you just want some background noise) and made video calls without issue. Outages were common though, and often weather affected.

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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?

I bought an unlocked phone with me and purchased an Airtel SIM card at post. Many people used Google Fi without issue.

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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?

We did not have pets, though many other people did bring animals with them. They were not required to quarantine upon entry.

I understand that, on leaving Post, many pets required a rabies titre to be taken by the local vet (there are two vets used by the expat community), which can take a significant time to be processed as it must be Fedexed to a lab in Paris, which takes some time and usually several attempts. The animal won't be allowed to leave without it though, so make sure you start early.

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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?

There were several positions open at the Embassy for EFMs, including some part-time positions. Employment was also available at local schools, if you had the necessary qualifications. Employment on the local economy was possible, but I don't recall anyone actually doing it - also French fluency was a must.

The internet connection was just about good enough for teleworking, so some spouses were able to do so.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There is an American Women's Association in Niamey which works closely with local orphanages, trade schools and women's interest charities. They also meet monthly for social events and are very welcoming to all who want to meet new people and aid in good causes.

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

Typical dress code requires that the shoulders be covered in public and skirts/dresses for women should hit below the knee. For men, shirts and chinos were the order of the day. More formal clothes might be required if you were invited to a local wedding, but generally the only formal events are the 4th of July party and Marine Birthday Ball. Keep in mind that the temperatures are rarely below 90F in the hot season, even at night, when selecting formal wear!

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes. Travel within the city of Niamey is generally unrestricted but outside the péage was a different matter. At least two vehicles had to travel together and had to be back inside the péage before dusk. For journeys outside the city, coordination with local security forces to escort embassy vehicles was required.

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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?

Niger is 80% Sahara Desert, there is a lot of dust and sand, which can cause breathing difficulties. The medical unit at the Embassy is very good, but anything more than food poisoning or flu is going to get you medevaced. There are dentists, but most dental issues required a medevac as well.

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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?

The air quality is bad. There is year round dust, which is at its worst during the Harmattan (dust storm) season, and during the "winter" when people are burning wood, plastic and other trash. This can cause upper respiratory problems and general sniffles.

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4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Because Post is quite busy, and it is quite hard to leave for weekend breaks, many people found themselves burning out before taking a longer vacation. Some depression issues as well.

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

The climate is very hot. April and May are the hottest months, with noon temperatures often rising above 118°F. At night temperatures remain above 85°F. The rainy season begins in June and runs through September; rains normally come in short, torrential downpours preceded by strong winds and dust or thunderstorms. The rainy season is followed by a short period of hot, humid weather in October, then the Harmattan (dust storm) season begins at the end of October and lasts through March. During the Harmattan season, the weather tends to be dry and a little cooler, evening temps hover around 60°F.

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Schools & Children:

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

There is the American School in Niamey, Sahel Academy (a faith based school) and La Fontaine, a French school. I did not have experience with them though.

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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/Medium expat community, heavy missionary and NGO presence. Morale seemed generally good.

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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?

AISN has a rec center that used their facilities after hours. There was a monthly quiz night that was well attended. Most social events took place in people's homes, such as BBQs, swimming parties etc.

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

We enjoyed this post as a couple, there are plenty of things to do and see around the city. There were many families with young children who also seemed to enjoy the Post and the opportunities it afforded to experience a different way of life.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

The local people are very friendly indeed, and will enjoy taking time to talk to you. There are a number of ethnic groups present in Niamey and they all seem to get along. You will find some groups that tease each other in a light hearted way but it can sound harsh if you're not "in the know".

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

Seeing giraffes in the wild was a highlight for me, as well as the river trip to see hippos. We also had the opportunity to see some camel races and experience Tuareg hospitality firsthand.

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

There were good places to go hiking, if that's your thing. The river cruise to see the hippos is unique to Niger, I think, and the giraffes are the last wild herd in the world. Trips to the Grand Marché were also incredibly interesting, if a bit overwhelming a first. The Embassy held a number of cultural events to help new arrivals see all the city had to offer.

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

You can buy very nice silver items from Tuareg traders. Many people purchased cloth and had clothing made by local tailors. There are frequent craft fairs organised by the CLO, and events at schools in the city around Christmas to allow the expat community to buy wooden carvings, cloth items and silverwork.

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

You will be able to see firsthand the work that NGOs do overseas and will come away with a new appreciation for the work they do. In general, you will also be able to save money.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Just how hot it could get! I also wish I had done a bit more studying of French before arrival, particularly the household and shopping terms that I needed from the get go.

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

Yes, I would live there again.

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

Coats and warming layers. Pre-conceived notions about how fruit and vegetables "should" look.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, mosquito repellent. Hand carry plenty of good chocolate (it won't make it through the mail, ever).

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5. Do you have any other comments?

It sounds tough, and it is, but ultimately extremely rewarding and one of the best experiences of my life.

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