Dakar, Senegal Report of what it's like to live there - 08/07/15
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?
No. Various other postings.
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?
DC. There is currently a South Africa Airways direct flight from Dakar to DC. The eight-hour flight is a codeshare with Jet Blue, so embassy employees can take it. There are rumors the flight will go away. In that case, there's a Delta flight to JFK. You can always transit through Paris as well.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I work at the U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Disappointing if you are expecting an African villa. Lots of apartments. Some houses, most of which have small yards. Most people have really short commutes though, and some walk to work.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Most stuff is available but will be more expensive than in the U.S. I think the COLA is probably fair.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are no American or European chains in the country. There are plenty of good restaurants, some run by French expats. I find the cost is similar to DC or Northern Virginia.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes, but it's not that bad. We only started using a net during the time it rains (I hesitate to call it a rainy season, since it's not a lot of rain).
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and pouch. Quite fast, too.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
It's very available and cheap. We have an excellent nanny and also have a part-time gardener.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a gym at the Embassy you can join through the employee association.
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?
There's an ATM in the Embassy. I wouldn't any other ATM. Credit cards are rarely accepted outside of the major grocery stores.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is Catholic mass in English and a few Bible study groups, as well.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English speakers are rare. French is needed if you plan to do anything outside the embassy.
The Embassy is home to a lot of agencies other than DOS and I'm always amazed that so many people from other agencies are assigned here with no language training or skills.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Sidewalks are rare and poorly maintained.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local buses are off limits. Taxis are cheap. I wouldn't say they are safe - accidents are frequent - but you aren't likely to be robbed.
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?
An SUV with clearance (not necessarily 4wd, though) would be preferable for the streets. Few restrictions on bringing in a vehicle. So I'd bring a reliable beater.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
I'd say medium speed. US $50 a month. This is Africa. Of course your internet isn't going to be as reliable as the U.S.
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 quarantine. There's a vet who makes house calls.
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?
I hear some EFMs have trouble finding positions in the Embassy. USAID has a huge presence and they don't have EFM jobs. Yet spouses of USAID employees do compete for EFM jobs. I'd guess there are disproportionately fewer EFM spots in Dakar compared to a similar sized embassy elsewhere.
Spouse might get hired by NGOs if the person speaks French. That's about it.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Animal rescue organization, for one. I'm suspect there are others.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual at work. Casual in public.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No. It's rated critical for crime, but it's probably overrated. There are few violent crimes. You have the usually purse snatching and there have been some houses robbed when the residents left the doors unlocked.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The RMO is based here and he will sometimes refer you to local specialists. But you are going to get medevaced for anything serious.
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?
Fair to good. For a few weeks a year, winds from Mali/Mauritania bring a lot of dust. Other times its fine.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Weather is nice. It's hot and humid for a few months in the Northern Hemisphere summer, but probably milder than you would think the other months. Occasionally in the winter you might need a long sleeve shirt at night. It's semi-arid, so there's lots of sun and little rain.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
ISD gets good marks from everyone. A few families send there kids to the French school. There's also a Christian academy (Dakar Academy) but it's a bit of a commute and isn't as popular.
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?
Plenty of preschools for around the 4 year age. Younger than that and most families choose to hire a full-time nanny.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Soccer, of course. ISD also has swim teams. There are a couple of after-school surf classes. The instructors pick up kids, take them to the beach, and then bring them back.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
This is a big embassy (regional hub for lots of agencies). I'd say morale is good but not great. Some singles have curtailed.
There are not that many English speaking expats in the local economy.
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?
Cook-outs at Ebbets Field. Getting together with friends. There's a small music scene but I have not explored it.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for families. Lots of babies and kids. The Embassy owns a green space (Ebbets Field) that has a big playground and sandlot.
Some singles, especially females, seem a little disappointed with dating options. Nightlife exists, if you like the late night dance club scene. Happy hour scene doesn't really exist.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
If you want to put on a speedo and march in a gay pride parade, then no, Senegal is not a good place. But there are gay couples here that make it just fine.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Vast majority of the country is Muslim but there are also Catholics. Everyone gets along.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Softball season is popular with the American diplomats and expats. Plenty of beach get-aways two hours south of Dakar.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Baskets. Wax, fabric.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
People are friendly. Senegal is known for its hospitality.
9. Can you save money?
Yes. Groceries are the only thing that I would call expensive but with DPO and pouch and consumables you can ship a lot of your staples here.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. It's been a good post. I don't think it's a hidden gem though.