Dakar, Senegal Report of what it's like to live there - 07/17/20
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 lived in Africa and the Caribbean as a child, and have lived and worked in Europe and the Middle East.
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. There is a non-stop flight on South African Airways, or you can connect through Paris, Madrid or Lisbon. I usually broke the trip up and stayed a few days in Europe. The worst part of the trip can be getting to the new Dakar airport, which is far from the city center.
3. How long have you lived here?
Three and a half 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?
My apartment was amazing. It was spacious and had a beautiful view of Goree Island and downtown Dakar. It was located in Plateau, and close to many good restaurants, cafes and shops, as well as cultural attractions. It was also very safe. Unfortunately, the U.S. Embassy decided to abandon housing in Plateau in favor of Les Almadies. The residences there are nice, but some are located on dirt roads that are impassable when it rains. Les Almadies offers some nice restaurants, discotheques and beachfront cafes, but is predominantly an expatriate community.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get everything you need or want in Dakar in the French hypermarkets and local fruit and vegetable markets. Most of the groceries and household supplies are imported from France and Spain, and the quality is very good. There is also a huge variety of local fruit and vegetables, and the seafood is always fresh and delicious. If you really crave American food, there is a small, well-stocked American grocery store in Les Almadies. I personally enjoyed grocery shopping more in Senegal than in the United States.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I cannot think of anything. You really can get anything you want in Dakar.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a plethora of choices in Dakar — Senegalese, Cabo Verdean, French, Lebanese, Argentine, Chinese, Indian, etc. Some of the restaurants make you feel like you are in a chic neighborhood of Paris or New York. Jumia Food delivery service is excellent. You can even get fresh baguettes and croissants delivered for a small fee.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos are rampant, so you need to use window screens and mosquito nets. Other than that, I didn’t have any problems, but I lived in an apartment building that was well-maintained. Some colleagues who lived in houses had issues with snakes.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I relied on the U.S. Embassy DPO and diplomatic pouch. It was excellent with the exception of a couple of months around the time the new airport opened. Coronavirus probably similarly impacted the service.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is affordable and readily available. Most singles had someone clean a couple of times a week, and many families had full-time household help and nannies. Dust is a huge problem, so it is worth the expense.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The U.S. Embassy has a nice gym, and there are a few very nice local gyms and clubs. I used the Buddhatitude Spa at Sea Plaza (affiliated with Buddha Bar). They offer a discount to embassy employees, and the facilities are first-class. They have pools, wet and dry saunas, and good exercise equipment, as well as full spa services.
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?
Credit cards are safe to use in hypermarkets, restaurants, cafes, and internationally-recognized chain stores, but not recommended in other establishments or in the local markets. It is best to use an ATM that is not on the street because muggings are commonplace, even during the day.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There probably are some, but I am not aware of them. There are French-language Catholic and Protestant churches, though.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French is pretty essential. There is an excellent Institut Francais that offers language classes and cultural events, and many private tutors are available at reasonable prices.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be challenging, but not impossible. Many parts of the city are flat and have good sidewalks, and most newer buildings have elevators. Senegalese people are also remarkably warm and friendly. I’ve seen groups of men help people in wheelchairs that they didn’t even know when stairs were an obstacle.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are affordable and safe, but some are very old. It’s good to take the numbers of reliable drivers with good cars. Some local buses are very old and overcrowded, but the Dakar Dem Dik city buses are nice and air-conditioned. The U.S. Embassy discouraged using anything but taxis, though.
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?
I did not have a car at post.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
When I returned to Washington, I really missed my internet in Dakar. It is affordable and reliable, and you can just purchase scratch cards to top it up every week or month. No contracts are necessary. Installation service was quicker and more convenient than in the United States, too.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The U.S. Embassy provided a mobile telephone, but the service they used was not reliable in some parts of the city. I got a SIM card and purchased scratch cards for Orange every month. It was cheap and reliable, and even worked when I traveled in Europe.
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?
I did not have a pet at post, but my friends and colleagues seemed happy with the local veterinarians.
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 seem to be a lot of opportunities in the U.S. Embassy and the local market. A friend’s cousin came and stayed during her break from university in France, and managed to find a paid local internship.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Some friends and colleagues volunteered through churches and at a local orphanage. I imagine the possibilities are endless.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Senegalese of all classes are very fashion conscious and well-dressed. For Westerners, business casual is good for most days, but there are times when a suit is required. There are many social events requiring more formal attire.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Muggings are commonplace, especially along the Corniche. Robberies do occur, seemingly with more frequency now. Fortunately, car jackings are rare and most criminals are not armed. While you hear many stories, the crime is not any worse than in most large Western cities.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The medical care is pretty good if you can afford the private clinics, where many of the doctors have been trained in Europe or Canada and the equipment is more modern. Nevertheless, for anything serious, most people who have the means will go to France or the United States.
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?
There are air quality issues between pollution and the sands from the Sahara, but it seems to come and go. It did not bother me most of the year, but it was unpleasant for people with asthma.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Nothing in particular.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
No. Most of the year, the weather is sunny and nice.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Most of the year, it is sunny and nice. It’s not very humid. The rainy season is the worst time. It only rains a few days out of the year, but the city streets can quickly flood and the winds can do a lot of damage to trees.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I do not have children, but my friends were very pleased with the French and American schools. Families seem to be attracted to Dakar because the schools have such good reputations.
2. 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?
Friends put their children in local preschools, and were very pleased with them. Most of my friends were working in the international community and their employers paid for education, so I don’t have any idea about the affordability of the preschools.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. You can find classes in most sports, as well as horseback riding, ballet and music.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community is huge, and morale is very high. It helps if you speak French, though.
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?
The Institut Francais organizes a lot of events, and many people get involved in a local women’s group and running club. It’s very easy to meet people in Dakar. I made good local and expatriate friends there.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Dakar is great for everyone. It is a big, cosmopolitan city with a beach and excellent cultural and night life.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I had some friends in the LGBT community, who seemed happy, but I imagine it would be difficult. Local attitudes are very negative toward the LGBT community and there are occasional violent acts aimed at them. I never quite understood it because Senegalese are generally very open, tolerant and hospitable people.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Before I went to Dakar, people who had lived there told me I would never befriend any locals. However, my experience was quite the opposite. I made really good local friends, and was invited to baptisms and local religious celebrations.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Dakar is a very cosmopolitan city with warm and tolerant people. I have heard that life can be difficult for women in poor, remote villages, but there are many women in business, government, military and the police in the city. Also, relations between Christians and Muslims are excellent. Although there is not a lot of intermarriage, the friendships and bonds are strong.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The Senegalese people really make the country. Getting to know them and their culture was rewarding. I am a city person, so I really enjoyed the museums, cafes, theaters, and concerts, as well as just exploring various neighborhoods and markets. I also enjoyed visiting Casamance, which is sleepy, but beautiful and interesting.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
I highly recommend traveling to Cabo Verde and the Canary Islands for long weekends. They are fascinating and different places, and give you an appreciation of just how diverse Africa is.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are nice African baskets, paintings and handicrafts, but many of the items in the tourist markets are from Mali or other West African countries. The Senegalese do not have a tradition of masks. The wax fabrics are beautiful.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The cultural life is excellent, and the standard of living is surprisingly high. There are also good flight connections to Europe and the rest of Africa.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
There is nothing that I really wish I had known before moving there. Many things pleasantly surprised me. My best advice is to be open to experiences there.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely! I even think about retiring there.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Heavy winter clothes and stressed attitude.
4. But don't forget your:
Sandals, sunglasses and sunscreen.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Leopold Sedar Senghor’s writings are excellent. Music plays an important role in Senegal. Listening to Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Mal, Cheikh Lo, and Orchestre Baobab will you give you a real feel for the city and its special vibe.
6. Do you have any other comments?
If you have the chance to live in Dakar, don’t pass it by. The only thing you will regret is leaving Dakar.