Dakar, Senegal Report of what it's like to live there - 12/30/19
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 spent many years overseas, including in Africa.
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. Six hours - there are direct flights! And many other international connections as well! New York, Madrid, Lisbon, Paris, Brussels...
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?
Housing for Embassy folks is primarily in one neighborhood. There is a mix of houses and apartments, but the majority of people will be in apartments unless their position or family size warrants a house. Very few pools.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Most things are available – it’s just a question of cost. There’s an American store just down the street from the Embassy that sells gems like BBQ sauce and Dr. Pepper.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
There’s not much you can’t find locally, unless you just really need a certain brand. I think there’s talk of Dakar becoming a non-consumables shipment post.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There’s a KFC. Beyond that, there are some amazing restaurants, many of which are on the water. You can eat very well here, though pork products are hard to come by.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are bugs. And mosquitos. Dakar is surprisingly dry and windy, so we ended up taking the malaria prophylaxis only during the rainy season.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The US Embassy has DPO. Some friends on the local economy use the local postal system, but I wouldn’t ship anything valuable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Help is available and most household help are third-country nationals. Figure around $200/month for a nanny or housekeeper, $300 or more for a cook or driver. Prices may vary.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a gym. There are some gyms and workout areas in town including Club Olympique.
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 credit cards at the major grocery store chains and at the Radisson Blu and other major hotels. Most restaurants likely won’t accept them, and local stores certainly don’t. ATMs are not common and I would exercise caution.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Senegal is a predominately Muslim country, but they are extremely tolerant. There are Christian services, but the majority in French. There is at least one English-speaking service.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It is helpful to have French or Wolof to get around, but some locals do speak some English. Not cabbies, though! The Embassy offers language classes and tutors are available.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There are few sidewalks and, as in most developing countries, resources for people with disabilities are few and far between. The Embassy is the only location I’ve seen with handicap parking, and most places are not wheelchair accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are cheap and easy to find. There is a bus system, of sorts, but I don’t know anyone who takes it. No trains or trams, though they are building a high-speed train from downtown to the airport. You could get by without a car, but it would be somewhat limiting.
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?
This is a post where you could get away with a sedan, but an SUV or cross-over vehicle will allow you to get out a bit more and explore.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Most people use ARC telecom, which was ADSL or fiber. We’ve had no trouble calling or streaming.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
A lot of people are switching to Google Fi and using that while overseas. Embassy personnel are issued phones and most spouses/adult children get local phone plans.
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?
Don’t have any pets, but know several that do, so it doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue.
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?
The Embassy is committed to hiring spouses and a lot of EFM jobs are available. There are many DETO telework spouses currently. For jobs on the economy, you definitely need French. Local salaries are lower than in the US or Europe.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are plenty of volunteer opportunities through local charities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dress at the Embassy is business, like most Embassies, though some folks dress down on Fridays. In town, due to the French influence, most folks dress up when going out. Locals tend to wear wax, a local fabric, which is extremely colorful, and the men wear a traditional formal dress, known as a booboo, on Fridays. As for formal wear, there are Embassy functions, national days, and the Marine Corps Ball, so I’d be ready for that.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Security is rated critical here, so some precautions should be taken. That said, by avoiding certain areas at night, you should be fine. Terrorism seems to be on the rise throughout the region, but the Government of Senegal is aware and is taking steps to counteract that threat.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care here is sufficient to stabilize you long enough to get medevacked. SOS Medicins is great for minor illnesses and injuries, though the wait-time is getting longer. You’ll probably get medevacked to Europe for anything major.
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?
Surprisingly bad from January – April. This is when the harmattan winds blow sand, dust, and all sorts of things you don’t want to breath from the Sahel into the Atlantic. I know many people who had lung infections during those dust storms. I would do some additional research if you have strong allergies or suffer from asthma.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
If you have specific allergies, bring what you need with you.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
It gets surprisingly cool in winter (think fleece) and the dust is a surprising detractor, but otherwise no major mental health issues that can be attributed directly to the post.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and dry during the summer months and surprisingly cool (think 60F/15C) during winter – and it can feel even colder when the wind is blowing! Most people equate the temperature to southern California or San Diego.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The international school is the International School of Dakar (ISD). Parents and students alike give it rave reviews. It has a great campus, energized teachers, and a strong curriculum. This is definitely a highlight of Dakar.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ISD will work with parents on some special needs, based on their capacity and the issue.
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?
For young children, there are several French maternelles, most of which are exclusively in French. Many people hire nannies to provide child care at home. Several of the schools offer after-school care, for an additional fee.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
ISD offers several sports and there are activities available in town, such as horse-backing riding, swimming lessons, etc.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The French are the dominant expat group, but Dakar is a cosmopolitan city with people from all over. Morale tends to be very high.
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?
There are plenty of activities to keep people occupied, from official representational events to movies to water sports. Some people join the Club Olympique, while others create their own groups. For the Embassy, Ebbets Field is the center of all activities: playgrounds for the kids, many activities for the adults, and softball for everyone!
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a great post for everyone. For singles especially, knowing French will open many doors and introduce you to a whole new group of friends.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
The Senegalese, in general, are extremely tolerant. That said, homosexuality is frowned upon, if not outright illegal. But like many Muslim countries, no one will blink an eye at individuals of the same sex holding hands in public, etc.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
It is very easy to make friends with locals. The Senegalese are tolerant, open-minding, and extremely welcoming: “teranga” is a word you will learn about quickly. You'll most likely get invited to celebrate Tabaski or other local holidays - go and enjoy!
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
This is a male-dominated society, and polygamy is legal. The version of Islam that is practiced is unique to Senegal and is a variation of Sufism, so they tend to be tolerant of other religions. They have a surprisingly large Christmas celebration and decorations every year!
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Lac Rose, watching some of the off-road rallies over there, vacationing in Saly in a resort, exploring the Bandia safari park, and zip-lining through Eco-adventures are all some of the highlights. Dakar itself is a wonderfully vibrant city with plenty to do and see – just make a point of getting out and seeing it!
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
See the above – in addition to what’s listed, get out to Gorée Island (a must see), take a trip down to Cap Skirring in the Casamance area, and see some of the interior of the country.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes. There are great artisanal markets, and most people leave with lots of wax fabric, large baskets, and artwork.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
This is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with direct air links to several cities in Europe and the US, as well as throughout Africa. There are great restaurants and activities in town – it’s a very livable, fun city with great inhabitants.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I would have extended my tour if I had known what a great city this is. The only downside I saw was the air pollution.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, in a heartbeat.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Preconceptions of West Africa and Muslims - Dakar will surprise you.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen and salsa.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Do you have any other comments?
It's hard not to have a great time in Dakar!