Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo Report of what it's like to live there - 07/14/20
Personal Experiences from Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
This is not our first overseas post.
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 live in the U.S. Travel time is about 14 hours with a connection in Paris. It is roughly 7-8 hours from Brazzaville to Paris and then 7+ hours from Paris to east coast.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. diplomatic mission.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Brazzaville is made up of single family homes with the majority having 2 - 3 bedrooms. Houses in Brazzaville are not as large as some might expect for living in Africa. Most of the houses have nice yards, some with pools. There is a limited number of houses in the housing pool for officers and their families, and finding new homes on the local economy can be challenging. The homes are located in close proximity to the embassy (10 minute commute), other embassy residences, and restaurants. There are issues with water and electricity, but our facilities and GSO team are pretty responsive. Each home has a water supply and a generator. The generator will turn on automatically when there are power outages.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can find just about anything in Brazzaville. You might have to stop at 3-4 stores when you shop, but many products are available. There are even some gluten-free and organic foods available. That being said, shopping in Brazzaville is expensive. There are some U.S. brands, and those are expensive. Some stores also carry comparable brands from Europe. There is a wonderful butcher in Brazzaville (Boucherie Poissonnerie du Rail) offering a pretty nice selection of chicken, meats and fish. We often shop at the local fruit and vegetable markets for our produce, which is much more affordable than supermarkets. Fruits and vegetables must be washed in a bleach solution prior to eating.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Brazzaville is a consumables post. It is helpful to bring as many liquids as you can, because they can be difficult/impossible to ship here with DPO and pouch restrictions. Baking items (baking soda, baking powder, smaller crystal sugar, chocolate chips, speciality chips) cannot be found in Brazzaville. Additionally, there are limited options for tex-mex and other specialty items. If there are particular brands or products you really enjoy, be sure to send those.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are quite a few restaurants in Brazzaville. You can find pizza, Indian, French, Lebanese, and Chinese cuisines, as well as burger joints and restaurants with a range of food options. There is even a steak house, sushi restaurant, and a food truck! There are also many restaurants which have local food options on their menus. Some restaurants will deliver, but the bigger challenge is describing where you live to the delivery drivers. (no house addresses in Brazzaville) There is an expat favorite, Mami Wata, which sits on the Congo River, offering patio seating and a wonderful view of Kinshasa.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos are prevalent in Brazzaville. We take anti-malaria meds. There is also a small insect (local name furu), which will bite and leave itchy welts on your skin which can last a week. Sadly, bug repellent does not affect the furus. You need to use an oil-based spray (or something as simple as baby oil) to keep these bugs from getting in contact with your skin. Can be messy, but SO necessary. You will also see your favorite cockroach and lizard wandering through the house. (get rid of the cockroaches, keep the lizards :-)
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We receive our mail through pouch and DPO. Our DPO is based in Kinshasa and is sent to us via embassy shuttle boat. Mail can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks to receive. There are restrictions on what can be sent in both pouch and DPO, so send what you can in consumables.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is available for a reasonable cost. Families can employ housekeepers, gardeners, nannies, drivers and those to take care of the pools. If you are looking to hire full-time household staff, you will need to work with HR to create a contract and pay into social services.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a small recreational site, Villa Washington, which has a pool, a small playground for kids, a small gym (with weight machines, elliptical and treadmill, and free weights), and an area to play half-court basketball. Embassy members were getting together twice a week for soccer on the embassy grounds, and once a week for basketball at the nearby school. There is also a tennis club which you can join for a yearly fee. The grounds have several tennis courts, an adult pool, a kiddie pool, and a playground for children. Additionally, each Sunday, the government closes the main road along the river (called the Corniche) to vehicular traffic. Many people take advantage and use this area for walking, jogging and exercise classes.
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?
Brazzaville is a cash economy. Checks can be cashed with the cashier at the embassy. Credit cards can be used at large grocery stores but often times the machines are not working. There are a few ATMs around town, but I do not know their reliability.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Most religious services are offered in French and the local language of Lingala.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Brazzaville is a French speaking country. Having a good understanding of the language is important. The Embassy has a Post Language Program for direct hires and family members. There is also a French cultural center which offers language classes.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be very difficult for someone with disabilities to move easily in the city.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We are allowed to take the local taxis (green and white) around town. Trips around the city usually are about $2-4. You must be cautions when taking a taxi as most do not have working seatbelts. Local buses are off limits.
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?
A high clearance SUV would work best in Brazzaville. While most of the roads in the downtown area are paved, the roads are often littered with pot holes which can become quite large and hard to avoid if there is traffic. In addition, during rainy season, the roads often flood and high clearance vehicles are able to get around a bit better. That being said, all the local taxis are low clearance vehicles like Toyota Corollas.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Most of the embassy homes have fiber so the internet can be easily hooked up with Telecongo. MTN also offers internet with a stand alone modem. When the internet is running well, you can stream movies on Netflix. With the frequent power outages, it is a good idea to bring a UPS to help mitigate the reboot time when the power goes out, which can be a couple times a day.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
It is a good idea for family members to bring unlocked phones. Airtel and MTN sim cards can be purchased locally for calls, texts, and data. We have Google-Fi on our personal phone and have had poor results in Brazzaville.
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?
There are a couple vets here in Brazzaville which many embassy families use. Pets coming into Brazzaville do not require a quarantine period. Please talk to your sponsor or the Community Liaison Office (CLO) if you are bringing your pet into Brazzaville. As the most direct flight transfers through Paris, there are additional health certificates and certifications from vets needed for transit in Paris. Additionally, the titer test cannot be done in Brazzaville. This can be a long and stressful process for those departing post (again with the route taking families through Paris). It is highly recommended to have the titer test completed before coming to post.
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 are jobs available at the embassy for spouses. There are often more jobs than family members to fill those positions. Telecommuting is possible, but can have some issues with connectivity. Again, a UPS is strongly recommended for those who wish to telecommute. Some jobs are available on the local economy, but having a strong command of French would help immeasurably.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
For the embassy, it is business and business casual. For those who will work closely with local contacts, it is highly recommended to wear suits and/or business attire. Causal attire can be worn when out and about in the city (shopping, get togethers, events). The embassy does not have a formal MSG ball, but in recent years there has been an MSG cake cutting ceremony and formal attire (tuxes and formal dresses) can be worn to this event.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
You do need to be aware when you are in large crowds. We are able to walk around the city during the day.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
It is recommended that we take anti-malarial pills while in Brazzaville. The local healthcare is not up to U.S. standards by any means. However; we do have a good health unit at the embassy with two part-time local health care providers and one part-time nurse. Major medical emergencies would require medevac to Pretoria.
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?
Air quality is fine, but in the dry season you will notice more smoke in the air with people burning trash. For many, this triggers allergies with the increase of allergens and irritants in the air.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Ship what you can to post. There are limited varieties of gluten-free products available in the local supermarkets, but it is a good idea to bring food items in your consumables.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
None that I am aware of.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There are rainy seasons and dry seasons in Brazzaville. The long dry season, which is usually overcast and cooler, runs from June to September. The long wet season, which is hot and humid and can bring on huge thunderstorms, runs from March to May. There is also a short wet season and a short dry season.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are two main schools that embassy children attend in Brazzaville. The French school, St. Exupery, and the American International School of Brazzaville (AISB), neither of which is a State-assisted school. At St. Exupery, instruction is entirely in the French language.
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?
There are a few daycare and preschool options for young children. Both St. Exupery and AISB offer classes for early childhood.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Our embassy community is small, and we are surrounded by great people. Our morale at post is very high, and we like hanging out together - whether it is a BBQ and pool party, a game night or even a murder mystery night. We are very fortunate! In Brazzaville there is a good size expat community. We will often have opportunities to attend events with members of other diplomatic missions or invite them to events we host - either personal or work related.
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?
As noted above, we make our own fun while in Brazzaville - house parties, dinners parties, pool parties, etc. The CLO does a great job organizing events to keep the weekends busy, if you are interested. There are a good number of restaurants for nights out - from steak houses, to sushi, to tapas. There are a few night clubs as well. The tennis club is popular with many expats and the club offers social events (dinners) in addition to its tennis courts, pool, and restaurant. The French Cultural Center (CCF) offers classes like Zumba and dance. Many expats participate in the classes.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
You do need to make your own fun in Brazzaville, but the CLO is wonderful in offering activities which are of interest for singles, couples and/or families.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
It is possible, but it is very helpful to know the French language to truly engage in local events.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We have had several great experiences while at post. On one occasion we took a day-trip out to a sandbar where we met up with colleagues from Embassy Kinshasa, set up tents and had a BBQ. Another was a trip to a fancy hotel in Kintele where we enjoyed the day at the pool and spa and then spent the night. During dry season, many sandbars will pop up on the Congo River. One restaurant takes advantage of its location on the river and sets up a second “seasonal restaurant” on the sandbar. They have boats which take you over to the sandbar where food and beverage services are set up. It is a fun way to spend an afternoon!
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are several markets for fabrics and crafts in Brazzaville.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It is a small clean city and it is typically easy to get around town. While it is a quieter town, there are still things to do and experience, if you are willing to look for the opportunities.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How difficult it is to travel.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
Bug spray and oil based sprays for all the insects; also baking items (baking soda, baking powder, chips and morsels, extracts, etc.)