Dakar, Senegal Report of what it's like to live there - 03/20/12

Personal Experiences from Dakar, Senegal

Dakar, Senegal 03/20/12

Background:

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

Not a first expat experience. My husband and I have lived, respectively, in Peru, Kenya and Egypt.

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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?

East Coast. It is a 9-hour direct flight to JFK on Delta and the same to DC on South African.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

U.S Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is spread out from the downtown area near the current U.S. Embassy (mostly apartments) all the way up the Courniche toward Ngor and Almadies, where the new Embassy will open in 2013. Housing is a real mix of 70's style "contemporary" to newer homes. Some have small yards and gardens, many do not. Construction is often of poor quality, especially in the newer areas.

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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 astronomically expensive as most everything is imported and has an 18% VAT tax. Tuna fish for US$5.00 per can, cereal US$7.00 per box, Chicken Breasts US$9.00 per pound... Local produce is plentiful in the winter months and prices are not fixed at the street stalls. Local fish is also cheap and pretty good. There are an ever-increasing number of Western style grocery chains- Casino, Hypermarche, CityDia, but again, they are very pricy.

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

Liquids, laundry detergent, cleaning products, peanut butter, paper products, and printer ink!

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

Some nicer upscale restaurants with DC prices, some casual pizza-type places, lots of French bakeries. Some ethnic restaurants (Thai, Chinese, Indian, Lebanese, Moroccan).

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Few, if any meat, substitution products, tofu, etc. I have not seen gluten-free, but it may be available. Organic processed foods are appearing, but are even more expensive -- I accidently paid US$26 for 6 liters of Organic long life milk.

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

Mosquitoes, palmetto bugs, gekko's, snakes, ants, all kinds of critters.

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Daily Life:

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

We can use the Diplomatic Pouch, but it is very difficult otherwise. DHL provides express service but is extremely expensive (US$40 for a three page document to the US)

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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 -- US$200 per month for a full-time housekeeper. Many also cook. Gardeners and drivers are also cheap.

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

There are a few private clubs and they are quite expensive.

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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?

Do not use them. Skimming is a big problem, except at some of the nicer hotels which have safe ATM's next to the front desk. This is a cash economy.

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

Some. ISD has a weekly non-denominational service in English

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

DSTV out of South Africa is mostly in English, no newspapers that I am aware of. DSTV is @ US$80/month.

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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?

Some French is essential. Most people speak Wolof, Puular, or other native dialects, the educated speak French. Some people know English.

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

Many -- the vast majority of roads are rutted and unpaved, sidewalks are either non-existent or used to park cars on (especially downtown). There are no ramps, and often no elevators in buildings.

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Transportation:

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

Local busses are crowded and unsafe. Taxis are prevalent, but often in very poor repair (spewing black smoke, shattered windshields, no seat belts) and driven by someone who never went to drivers ed. Prices must be negotiated before entering the cab. There are no meters.

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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?

Bring something durable and prepare to get it banged up a bit. Flat tires are common due to nails and Rybar sticking up on dirt roads, large potholes, and oddly configures detours. Bring extra air filters -- the amount of dust is astonishing. Something with high clearance is better, especially if there is flooding in the rainy season. It takes very little rain to wash away and flood the streets of Dakar. Air conditioning is essential during the hot months.

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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 service is available, but not very high-speed and easily disrupted by power outages and spikes. We pay US$80 per month

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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?

Buy a cheap phone on the street and purchase minutes as you need them. You can buy minute cards easily from vendors on every street corner.

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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.

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

Some very good English-speaking vets, but their options are limited for seriously ill animals.

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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?

Possibly, if you speak French. Lots of NGO's.

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

Pretty casual for everyday -- light weight cottons, sandals. Mmore dressy for official functions. This is a Muslim culture so modesty prevails- knee length shorts and skirts are OK, nothing too revealing.

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Health & Safety:

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

Recent election-related violence, but contained to certain areas. There are an increasing number of violent robberies along the Cornish near the expat neighborhood of Mermoz. Some house break-ins, purse snatching, etc. Guns are illegal and this really makes a difference.

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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?

Malaria, food-born illnesses. Local medical care is far from Western standards with a few exceptions. There are a few good English-speaking dentists. There are private ambulances, but emergency response is a crapshoot. Traffic accidents are frequent and serious.

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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?

Mixed -- some days are clear and sunny, others hazy with airborne dust. Many cars use diesel and the fumes can be awful. Some area have sewage problems and trash burning is a daily event.

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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?

Sunny with low humidity from November-May. January and February can be very windy and, thus, dusty. Summer is very humid and there are some infrequent downpours during the "rainy" season -- often it looks like it will rain any minute, but does not. September, and especially October, are unbearably hot and humid, and then it just magically improves.

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Schools & Children:

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

The International School of Dakar serves grades Pre-k through grade 12. We have had a very positive experience at ISD. They offer AP courses at the High School level and are moving toward a new IB program in 2013. The new high school is due to open later this year. Many expats also use local bi-lingual schools, as well as Dakar Academy, which also serves children all the way through High School with a Christian perspective.

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

Some, but there are limited services available.

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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?

There are local preschools, mostly French-speaking and I do not have personal experience, but many people use them.

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

Usually through the school, and there is a soccer club organized by a Brazilian family.

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Expat Life:

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

Not huge -- many Europeans, and a smaller number of Americans and Chinese.

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2. Morale among expats:

Mixed- it takes a lot of effort to find your niche, or carve out a new one. There is very little to do that is easy and accessible, virtually no public gathering space aside from aforementioned beaches, no parks, green space or gardens, it is not by any means a walking city and it is very difficult to ride a bike. Those who do well find a hobby. It is prohibitively expensive to fly out of Dakar due to a large surcharge on every ticket, thus it is not easily affordable for families to see other parts of Africa.

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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?

Restaurants, live music, The French Cultural Center. A lot of entertaining takes place at home.

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

It is probably difficult for single people, as there are limited public venues in which to socialize (i.e. bars, cafes...) Most socialization takes place informally and in private homes and school functions,

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

The Senegalese are pretty tolerant, although there are no public displays of affection. Senegalese men, however, do hold hands in public.

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

Very few that I am aware of. Although predominantly Muslim, there are many Catholics. Sexual harassment rarely, if ever, occurs. White people are referred to a Toubobs and the Senegalese seem to have a positive regard for the U.S.

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

Seeing Youssou Ndour at his club, witnessing an African election, visiting Goree Island.

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

This is a "make your own fun" kind of place. People enjoy the beach (some are OK, many are littered or used for goat grooming), fishing, haggling in the markets. Outside of Dakar you can visit Accrobaobab, Bandia, the resorts of the Petite Cote and Sine Saloum, bird watching, sports, watching African Cup soccer, Lampoul, Lac Rose.

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

Baskets, jewelry, beautiful wax fabric, African art.

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

On the ocean, beautiful sunsets. The Senegalese and very warm and friendly and the weather is picture-perfect from November-June. The music is world-class, but begins in the wee hours of the morning.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, and no. There are not a lot of things to spend money on, but the things you do buy (food, household products, gasoline) are outrageous.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I'm glad we had the experience to live in this part of the world, but the "Paris of West Africa" thing is very deceiving, and just not true. This is urban Africa -- very poor, very chaotic at times, a very unattractive city. The dignified spirit of the Senegalese, despite these conditions, is very moving.

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

Winter clothes, high heels, roller blades, impatience, control issues, and high expectations.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor, camera, bathing suit, sunscreen, sunglasses, and flexibility.

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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