Dakar, Senegal Report of what it's like to live there - 10/22/12
Personal Experiences from Dakar, Senegal
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?
Midwest, USA. Flight to JFK or Dulles and then an 8 hour direct flight to Dakar.
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 was in Dakar for three years as a representative of the U.S. Government, a first expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The U.S. Embassy housing is mostly either in the northern part of the city near the NEC or the international school, or downtown near the old embassy (closing in Spring 2013). None of the housing is close to Dakar Academy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Most things are available, but they can be really expensive. Things that you could find in France might be more reasonable (1-2x DC prices), but things you find only in the U.S. (sliced sandwich meat, sliced loaves of bread) are outrageous.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Anything with protein, since meat is really expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is no fast food. It is pretty difficult to go out to eat for less than about $12 per person, but usually closer to $15. You can get some great international food in Dakar - Italian, French, Lebanese, Argentinian, Moroccan, etc. There is no Mexican food.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Lots of bugs. We kept pretty much any unsealed food in the fridge. Mosquitoes are around all year, and malaria is a risk.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
USAID has a nice (by Senegalese standards) gym, but I'm not sure what will happen to it when the NEC opens.
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?
I used lots of ATMs and never had problems, but I heard or people having issues with it. Most transactions are done in cash.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There's a good non-denominational service called ICF Dakar. There is an African-style English-language Baptist church. There is a Catholic mass in English, but it's African English, and some people have a hard time understanding it.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
DSTV (South Africa) is about $60/month. Some people have AFN.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
No one speaks English. You can deal with most commercial establishments in French. If you want to go to the local market, you'll need Wolof (and an inhuman amount of patience).
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Too many to name.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No trains. Most expats other than Peace Corps people don't take buses. Taxis are affordable but are in terrible condition. Negotiate the price before you go anywhere. Most rides go for $2-$6.
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?
People usually bring SUVs, but it's not an absolute necessity. A vehicle that doesn't have high clearance can go pretty much anywhere in Dakar, but you might have to stay home on rainy days because of flooded roads, and you might have to take longer routes to avoid very rough roads. If you want to explore Senegal outside of Dakar, an SUV would be more handy.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is $70/month for the basic package (1mb/sec) and twice that for the "high speed" package (up to 10mb/sec). I had the basic package for 3 years and I don't think it ever went over half the speed of what it was supposed to be.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
An unlocked quad-\ band phone will work fine. Some people were able to get reasonable monthly rates for data plans for smart phones. I think they have 3G.
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)?
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?
Not on the local economy. Maybe with the U.S. Embassy. If you are a U.S. EFM, you should have an easy time getting an Embassy job.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
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?
Unhealthy. Some people picked up a cough that lasted for months, or even their entire tour. I rarely get sick, but during the dusty months I was sick all the time.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
During the months from Nov to March/April, it is usually 70s F. and zero chance of rain. From April/May to October, it is really hot, and it rains every day or so from July to September. You get some really exciting thunderstorms, but they're not much fun if you have a ground floor apartment or house and it floods.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The international school (ISD) and Dakar Academy are the main schools used by U.S. Embassy families. There are also French-style private schools.
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
It varies. Lower your expectations and you will start enjoying it sooner.
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?
Lots of get-togethers in homes.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I can speak best for couples without kids since that what I was during my tour. There are lots of restaurants to try, and you can make your own fun on the weekends getting together with friends or trying to find a clean/fun beach, but it can be a struggle to fill up free time.
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?
Expats are exploited for every possible penny in any interaction, whether it's meant to be commercial or not.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Trying surfing for the first time. Other than that, not much. I also enjoyed leaving to go to Cape Verde, which was only a 1 hour flight away.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Fly to Cape Verde.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Peanuts and baguettes.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Some pretty good restaurants. Great weather 7-8 months each year.
11. Can you save money?
Yes. There's not too much to do, so you can splurge once in a while and still put some away.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
perceptions of Dakar based on the opinions of those who were here 20 years ago. It's not the "Paris" of anywhere.
3. But don't forget your: