Dakar, Senegal Report of what it's like to live there - 06/08/17
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. I've lived in Africa, Europe, and South America.
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?
Washington, DC is home base. 8 hours direct flight to Washington or New York.
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
Most people live in apartments, though they can be extremely large. My apartment here is larger than several stand-alone houses I've lived in previously. Families with kids at the international school tend to live in stand-alone houses there. Housing is pretty nice, but space is at a premium in Dakar so gardens and pools are rare. My commute is about three minutes, but it's important to live near your work, or drive against the rush hour traffic.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Anything you need is available, there are large French and Spanish chain grocery stores. If you buy everything in the supermarket, prices are comparable to the U.S. If you shop in local markets (or have a cook or housekeeper who does), then food prices come down considerably. Dakar isn't cheap, though.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I was glad I shipped pet food and some packaged products. But honestly everything is available, there is even a self-styled "American Food Store" with American products.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Dakar has great restaurants at reasonable prices. Seafood galore, African fare, grilled everything, and then decent other options. Food delivery is increasingly available, beyond just pizza/sushi. There are no chain restaurants, which I consider a blessing.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
The humidity levels are very high, so keeping housing dry is essential to prevent mold. Bring dehumidifiers, they're not available here.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO or the diplomatic pouch. Local post is available, but customs is a headache.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Readily available, however you need to speak French to communicate.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Everything is available: gyms, pools, yoga, tennis, golf. Moderately priced.
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?
Visa is fairly widely accepted, and ATMs are common. There are some fraud concerns, but they can be managed.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Only one inter-denominational church that I'm aware of.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French is essential. The clearest indicator I see in whether my co-workers enjoy Dakar or not is whether they speak French. You can survive without it, but it will be a constant challenge. Household staff and people in the service industry don't speak English, and there is a large Francophone expat community who are happy to welcome non-native speakers, but won't accommodate people who don't speak French at all. I don't speak Wolof or other local languages, and have no problem without that.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, it would be extremely difficult. Nothing is handicapped-accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Affordable - yes. Safe - sometimes. Taxis are easy, they're cheap and it's just a matter of finding one with working brakes, seat belts, doors, etc. No trains, and the buses are scary.
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?
For Dakar, a sedan is fine. I brought a medium-sized SUV and am glad I did, as it's easier to get around on rough roads and absolutely necessary for traveling around the country.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Some of my colleagues complain about the speed, but I have no problems and find it very cheap.
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?
There are a few dependable vets, though it can be a challenge. There is no quarantine. For dog owners, the biggest challenge is the lack of green space. If you have a big dog, make point of requesting a house or apartment with a garden.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual at work. Beach attire is common. Though dress overall is fairly conservative.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I've felt extremely safe in Dakar. With the threat of extremist attacks around West Africa (and the continuing war next door in Mali) there is a fairly high alert level, but the Senegalese seem to be taking it very seriously. You will see "gendarmes" with rifles commonly.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Good healthcare is available, at least for routine needs. I have an excellent dentist and have had significant dental work done, for example. Though for serious issues medical evacuation is necessary.
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?
Terrible, but it's a geographic issue. There is dust and sand everywhere, and dust storms are terrible at some times of the year. It's been difficult to manage my allergies here, and some childhood asthma has resurfaced after being dormant for decades. There is mold as well. You have to be careful.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
See above re: dust and mold.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
July-October is very hot, 90s is common, with high humidity. August and September are the rainiest, but it can rain earlier too. November-June is very comfortable, though we have 3-4 months when it's particularly dusty.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I don't have children, but people rave about the International School of Dakar. As in, I've had multiple co-workers extend their stay in Dakar by several years because they were so pleased with the school.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge. But Francophone.
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?
Days at the beach, surfing, fishing, dining or hanging out at bars and cafes along the ocean. Shopping, including markets, the farmers' market, art and fashion shows, etc. Dining out, live music venues, dinner parties. There are bars and there is a nightlife scene, very late. Picnics and sports. There really is tons to do.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes for all. Dakar is extremely family-friendly, but also great for couples and singles.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, to a degree. Homosexuality is taboo (and illegal) in Senegal, and there is no local LGBT scene. But Senegal is also an extremely private, conservative country, and "don't ask, don't tell" goes a long way here. I know several LGBT expats who are very happy here.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Dakar is overwhelmingly Muslim and you need to adapt to that, but the Senegalese are very open and accepting of other religious traditions. There are a variety of religious communities and services available. Gender equality isn't a huge issue in the expat community, though it certainly is among the host community.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The beach, the ocean, running at the beach, eating fish at the beach, having coffee at sunrise or cocktails at sunset, dancing on the beach, playing with the dogs at the beach... You get the idea. The Sine-Saloum delta, the Casamance, the Saint-Louis Jazz Festival - there are lots of nice short trips. And Europe, Morocco, and the U.S. are fairly cheap and easy to get to.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
People go crazy for baskets, fabric, masks, and tapestries. The art is amazing!
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Dakar is safe, easy to get around, fairly cosmopolitan, has good supermarkets, a major airport, amazing beaches... It's pretty cool.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Not much. I didn't realize how great Dakar was. I extended my tour!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?