Dakar, Senegal Report of what it's like to live there - 08/24/14
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?
There is a direct flight from DC to Dakar that is just over 8 hours long, but it is on South African Airways. It has changed a bit over the past 2 years as to whether or not this flight complies with the Fly America Act. It depends on other airlines participating in the code share. We were able to take it over to Dakar, but had to take a Delta flight going from Dakar - JFK - IAD on the way back to the states.
3. How long have you lived here?
2 years; 2012-2014.
4. 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?
A mixture of single family residences and large, spacious apartments. The houses have very small yards, and some of the apartment complexes have small courtyards. Most are either in Mermoz (middle of town) or in Almadies (close to the Embassy).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Fresh produce is readily available and very cheap, though you would be wise to have your household help shop for it. They can get a better price than the expat price. Meat can be pretty pricey, and the beef is rather tough. It just needs to be cooked a bit longer to make it more tender. Household supplies are readily available though the price will be higher than what you would expect to pay in the U.S. Pretty much everything except for locally grown fruits and veggies are imported.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Lots of sunscreen, insect repellent, ingredients to make Mexican food, and soap/detergent. The local dishwashing soap was very thin and not what we are use to. We also ordered paper towels since the local stuff wouldn't hold up. There are now 3 "American Stores" in town that carry many items from Costco. They are expensive, but it's nice that comfort items from home are there and you don't have to wait for a week to come through the mail!
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are lots of new restaurants popping up in Dakar. The only "fast food" kind of places are at the mall or at Caesers which touts itself as the KFC of Africa. You can find Ethiopian, Italian, Lebanese, Argentinean, Brazilian, and lots of places serving local dishes. Dinners out can be a bit pricey, but it's a nice change of pace. There are several really great restaurants right on the ocean.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos and malaria are a real concern. You must wear insect repellent when outside, especially during the rainy season. We did not use mosquito nets in our house, but we kept is pretty chilly and did not have any issues. Ants are also an annoyance. Just make sure to stock up on air-tight containers and remember to not leave any food out on the counter and you don't have any trouble.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Post became a DPO just after we left, so I cannot comment on that. We only had the pouch for the 2 years that we were there, and it was fine. I also received several packages through DHL, though the pick-up process was a pain. We did not mail anything due to the restrictions of outgoing mail through the pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help of all kinds is readily available and very reasonably priced. A full time housekeeper/cook would be about US$250 - $300/month. Part time gardeners run about US$100-$150/month. Several families (especially tandem couples) had drivers, but I do not know the cost. CLO posts recommendations on their blog (clodakar.wordpress.com).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a small gym at the Embassy and the Marines host regular bootcamps. There are also options for yoga and pilates as well as swimming and playing tennis and golf. Club Olympique is in the middle of the city, but I do not know the cost. I have heard it is very pricey though.
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?
This is a cash based country. You could probably use your Debit/Credit cards at the larger grocery store chains, but everywhere else is cash only. There is a bank at the Embassy and only 2 ATMs are deemed as being safe (at the large hotels).
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is an English church service at ISD.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French definitely makes your daily life easier. Very few locals speak English, so speaking even the most basic French would help you get around town and negotiate with taxis.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Dakar would be very difficult for someone with disabilities to navigate, however one of our very good friends is in a wheelchair, and she survived just fine in Dakar. There were some places that she was not able to go, due to a lack of sidewalks. It was not always easy but she made it.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are ok to use, though you must negotiate the price before you get in (no meters). It is not safe to take the brightly colored buses called Car Rapides. Pick-pocketing is a major concern on those. I don't know of anyone who used the local bus system.
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?
4X4s will definitely be better suited for driving outside of the city, though smaller cars will do fine in Dakar. Some of the roads flood a bit during rainy season, so an SUV or something with more clearance will be better. The main roads are paved, but some of the residential roads are very rough.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
The internet is fairly reliable, but it does go out from time to time. We paid for a 2Mbps service, which ran about US$100 a month. With this, we were able to stream TV and movies as well as easily use Skype, Facetime and Vonage.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked cell phone and buy a local SIM card for use. Credits are done by scratch off cards which are sold on literally every street corner.
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?
Nope! There are many pets at post. The roads are not great for walking, as there are many stray dogs that would come up. The Embassy owns a large softball field and play area called Ebbettâs Field which is a wonderful space for pets to run and play. There are weekly play dates for dogs. There are also a number of great vets (French trained, a few speak English) that will also make house calls. There are no kennels, so we would have friends or our housekeeper stay at the house when we traveled. We were very happy to have our dogs with us.
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 some spouses that tele-commuted for various NGOs and US based companies. I think you have to have approval from the Embassy to work on the local market though.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are several orphanages in town that love to have volunteers. I'm sure there are other opportunities to help with teaching English to locals. They are very interested in learning and like to try to speak English if they know just a small amount.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual to casual. The Senegalese dress VERY nicely on Fridays since this is the day they go to the Mosque. It's so neat to see their beautiful boubous. The women are always very dressed up, even just to go to the store. For around town, shorts and t-shirts are fine, though it's nice to be respectful and cover the shoulders. I haven't seen anyone react negatively to someone's attire though.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
We always felt very safe in the city, though caution and common sense must be used at all times. Do not leave valuables out in the open in your car, make sure bags are zipped and not easily accessible to others, stay in groups when out after dark. Pick-pocketing is a concern, especially in the markets or downtown where there are larger crowds.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria is a concern so make sure to take your anti-malarial medication. The med unit at the Embassy is wonderful! There are also several clinics and local doctors that are trustworthy. For true emergencies, London is the medevac point.
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 not the best because of burning trash and car exhaust.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There is one rainy season which typically lasts from June to September (occasionally into October). It's pretty warm (upper 80s F) and humid during this time. The hottest month of the year is October making Halloween a bit of a sweaty mess. Mid-November, the humidity breaks and the weather turns beautiful until the rains start again. The highs are upper 70s (maybe 80 on a warm day) and the nights are cool, especially when you are near the ocean. The Harmattan winds start in January, but they aren't bad. You may just notice some extra dust on the furniture.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Many preschools and several upper level schools. Most students went to the International School of Dakar, but some opted for Lycee Jean Mermoz, the French school. Dakar Academy would probably be the only school that could accommodate special needs, as it is much smaller than ISD.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Dakar Academy, a smaller, religious based school, would probably be the only school that could accommodate special needs.
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 several preschool options but I did not have any school-aged children, so I don't know about the costs.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
The local school has a great swimming team as well as soccer. There are also two adult softball teams at the Embassy that play other teams. The season starts in October and runs through February. It's a wonderful past-time and a great way to meet other expats in Dakar.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are nearly 200 direct hires plus all of their families, so it's actually a pretty large post. Most everyone lives in areas of town with other American expats, which makes it easy for carpooling, planning parties and events, and getting to know your neighbors. I would say that morale is really good as the city is constantly improving.
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?
Again, lots of BBQs, gatherings at Ebbets Field, day trips around the city and just outside of town, going out to restaurants, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it's a good city for families and singles. There are MANY kids at post right now, so there would be a good expat group to hang with. I think singles also find many things to do around town. Many will go out for the evening together, as do the families (with and without kiddos).
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I cannot comment too much on this. Senegalese do not approve of homosexuality but they are a very open country and I don't know that they would react in a negative way.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
No. Senegal is primarily Muslim, but it is such a tolerant and peaceful country. The mosques will even put up Christmas lights in December! You will encounter many local families that have both Muslim and Christian family members.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
It's a "make your own fun" kind of post, so we spent many weekends developing new, lifelong friendships. There were countless BBQs, evenings spent at the Embassy owned softball field and playground, and hanging out in Saly (beach town about 1.5 hours away). We drove 11 hours down to see the waterfall and spent a day going through the game park. It was so much fun!
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Dakar has some neat, historical sites, but make sure to leave the city. Senegal has some very interesting places to visit like Lampoul (desert camping and camel riding), Sine Saloum (sleep in a tree house or over the lagoon), Niokola Koba game park in Tambacounda, and Dindefelo water falls down in Kedougou. Link up with a peace corp volunteer to learn more about their village and possibly go visit!
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Baskets, wax print fabric, wood carvings, jewelry
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The Senegalese are very kind and welcoming. They make it easy to live in the country and are always very willing to help with things. Groceries were much more expensive than we expected, and gas is pricey, but when you aren't spending money on many outside activities, you could definitely save some money.
10. Can you save money?
I think so, just don't spend too much time at the American stores. It's tempting to go shopping, just as you would at home, but it's going to cost a LOT more money!
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How much French would have helped. I knew a bit, but I wish I had learned more, as it would have made those first few weeks much easier, especially when going to the grocery store and trying to identify different things.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Definitely. We enjoyed our time at post and would go back again. I think we kept a fairly open mind throughout our tour which helped to keep things in perspective. Yes, the main water supply was out for 3 weeks, but at the end of the day, it wasn't hard for the Embassy community who had round the clock water deliveries.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Germophobia - you are moving to west Africa after all. Also, don't come expecting a fully developed country. There are still many parts of the infrastructure that need major work, but an expat's life is relatively easy.
4. But don't forget your:
PATIENCE! The Senegalese do not rush for anything (meetings, meals, driving, walking, etc). Also, remember to keep a sense of adventure. Dakar is not without it's difficulties, but it's a good city and you will see many things that make you shake your head. At the end of the tour, you will look at the horse-cart fondly. :)