Dakar, Senegal Report of what it's like to live there - 04/08/16
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, 5th 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?
Virginia. Depending on the contract agreement, either a 7 1/2 hour flight from DC, or same from NYC. You can go via Paris, Brussels, Casablanca and Lisbon, too.
3. How long have you lived here?
2 1/2 years
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?
Houses, townhouses and apartments. Very few houses have yard space. Apartments have newer and generally nicer amenities than do the houses. Houses can be large and with awkward spaces, or they can be too small to actually be comfortable.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Dakar is expensive. Almost all fruit and veg are imported, so are pricey. Prices are on par with DC.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
You can pretty much get everything here. You just have to pay a lot for it.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
No known franchises, but plenty of burger and chicken places. Good seafood. No restaurant is inexpensive, though, and service typically does not match the price asked.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes, especially in Almadies and Ngor areas. Ants, ants, ants everywhere. Big ones, little ones... some are just annoying, others bite. Roaches are quite large, too.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Dip pouch and DPO
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
US$150 - $200/month for full time help. Easy to find, but most don't speak English.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a gym and pool at the embassy. Cost is US$200/year for families plus start up membership fee. The other athletic club frequented by expats is CLub Olympique and pricing depends on what services you use.
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?
You can use them at some of the larger grocery stores and at the hotels. We use our ATM card at the embassy instead of cashing checks.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Non-denominational Christian, LDS, and Catholic services. There is a number of Jewish families, too, but they just get together for holidays and important events.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French. Wolof helps for negotiating for things like fruit and veg, but French will definitely get you by.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be extraordinarily difficult for someone in a wheelchair to access most part of the city. The embassy itself is handicap accessible but it stands alone. Sidewalks are uneven, pitted, and sometimes even 1 1/2 feet tall in places. Steps and stairs are almost 100% of the time uneven.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are fine. Agree on a price before getting in.
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?
You want something with higher clearance, if possible. The main roads are paved, sure, but anything off will have large potholes, and excessively-high speed bumps. Toyota is your best bet. The less automated the car, the better for your pocketbook to get replacement parts.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
I wouldn't call it 'high-speed' but it is available. US$60/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone and get a local SIM.
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, but valid rabies vaccine. Good vet care. No kennels, but most people can find a friend to take care of their pet while on trips.
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 a number of good jobs, but without fluent professional-level French, you won't get your foot in the door. one of the biggest EFM frustrations, actually.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Plenty! So many hospitals, orphanages, animal rescue, etc. With a good frame of mind, you can really get and stay active. There are two women's groups who do a lot of volunteering and organizing.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Generally, when at school or the field, it's pretty casual. If one is headed to the plateau (downtown) or where it will be predominantly Senegalese, or out to the village, it is generally better to be more conservative (long skirt or pants for women). Dress code at work typically is a suit or a jacket. Most men keep a jacket at work so they can have it regardless what they wore to work that day.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are some areas we are not allowed to go during hours of darkness. But otherwise, it's a large city, and so it's important to follow smart suggestions for large cities: don't carry a lot of cash, no flashy jewelry, stay in a group, be mindful, etc.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Allergies and asthma can be issues, especially during the windy harmattan months (Jan - late March). Mildew and mold are issues during the higher humidity months (July - October).
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 fine except when the harmattan and winds are blowing. So January - March or April, the sky can be filled with dust for days at a time.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Lactose and dairy are hard to avoid. Dust and mold are prevalent (see above). French love their bread. Soy and rice milk are available but can be hard to find consistently. Coconut milk is available but expensive.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
December - March is the cooler and windier season, with low humidity but 15 - 20 mph winds every day. Temps are around 70F. April - early July is beautiful with breezes and upper 70s to lower 80s F. The rains can start in July, but don't really get going until August. Then it is hot and humid, with temperatures creeping up to peak in September and October (upper 80s and lower 90s with high humidity). October is just sticky hot and kindof uncomfortable. November is amazing again.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We have 3 kids in elementary at the International school of Dakar. Amazing school community, great experience. Plethora of after school activity choices, plenty of opportunities for parental involvement, great staff. We've been really happy with the experience. IB Diploma has been in place now for 3 years, and most students and parents are very happy with the program.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Very few. ISD would have the largest breadth of assistance; Dakar Academy would have the smaller class sizes. I would suggest that families with kids who have special needs think long and hard about coming to Dakar, as it would be a stretch for either school to meet the needs of anyone beyond a very mild situation. I don't think the French Lycee offers any special needs assistance.
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 available, most are French-speaking. Costs vary from US$200/month to US$450. Most of the 'good' ones have long wait-lists. Most of the creches are M-F, all day, but some of the more structured programs follow the French school calendar.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
The international school offers soccer, basketball, volleyball, etc. There are local swimming instructors and an equestrian club. One of the local hotels offers a sports class. Dance classes are available, as are karate, tae kwan do, tennis, fencing, and other sports. Senegalese love their sports, and they love kids.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large, and good. You can really meet a lot of amazing people here.
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?
Softball is big big big October - February. Otherwise, BBqs and gatherings at our embassy field, Ebbets, CLO is active in planning events and activities.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Excellent for Families and couples. Even singles, as often everyone is included in activities. It is not a post with a huge number of activities and events, unless you like the restaurant/bar scene and then you'd have to be pretty fluent in French for it to be fully enjoyable.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It's not where I would suggest to go, as it is illegal in Senegal. That said, we do have some folks associated with the mission who are gay, and they have found a great niche here.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
No. Although it is predominantly Muslim here, Senegalese are very accepting for other religious pratices.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We've loved getting into surfing.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Beach beach beach. Surfing is outstanding. There are a number of hidden gem trips to take. You just have to be patient with the traffic and the roads. And then when you get to your destination, know that you'll be speaking French, not English with the hosts.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Onions and peanuts. And imported French wine. Trips to visit nearby countries.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
You can save some money, although travel out of Senegal is expensive. Weather is amazing 8 months out of the year. People are generally nice and accepting. School is excellent.
10. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How important french is to daily life.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
rushed attitude and high-end vehicles
4. But don't forget your:
Cooler weather clothing, especially if you want to go to South Africa or Europe for skiing or a winter vacation. Surf gear, and wet suits for when the water is a little cooler.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
"However long the night" by Aimee Molloy and "So Long a Letter" by Mariama Ba.