Freetown, Sierra Leone Report of what it's like to live there - 09/13/21

Personal Experiences from Freetown, Sierra Leone

Freetown, Sierra Leone 09/13/21

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

This was our third post. We were in Beirut and Nur-Sultan before.

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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?

Home is US. Flights are not too bad. 6-7 hour flight to Europe and then 8-9 to the east coast. The most interesting part of the journey is the boat ride to/ from the airport in Freetown.

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3. What years did you live here?

2021- current.

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4. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Foreign Service.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing is very spacious but with strange floor plans. Some of the residences are not as well-maintained as they could be but the GSO works hard to make sure any problems are taken care of. Depending on your housing assignment it can be a 10 minute walk to the embassy. Farther out can take a bit longer via car depending on traffic.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

You can get almost anything you may need here but you are going to pay for it. There are two grocery stores nearby the residences of most people that stock everything from peanut butter and soy milk to Pringles, but the prices will be higher than you would pay in DC. I would recommend people bring their favorite eco friendly cleaners and specialty spices. Amazon or Walmart can make up for almost anything you cannot find here. There are lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. I would also recommend people take advantage of their consumables shipment to make sure they get their favorite wine/ beer or BBQ sauce.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Nothing really. We have thus far been able to find almost anything we need. We are only missing meatless sausage.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

The last year has limited the availability of restaurant choices. Local food is spicy and has lots of unique flavors. If you are a seafood lover than you will find lots of options here. There is lots of Lebanese options available due to the large Lebanese population here. There are pizza and burger options available but they are okay at best. There are not fast food chains here at this time.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

So far nothing major. You will have your usual ants or the occasional roach but we have been very lucky to have no major problems thus far. All of the bedrooms in the residences have mosquito netting.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Local post is not an option. We use diplomatic pouch to send or receive everything.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

We currently have a gardener come twice a week at $100 per month. The housekeeper comes everyday and cleans and walks the dog: $280 per month. We also have someone come in and cook three times per week: $200/month. There are lots of options depending on what you might need. We have found that recommendations from people departing post have been the best way to find reliable help.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

The embassy has a decent gym. There are yoga classes offered in town but beyond that I am unsure.

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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?

CC are used in very few places. Make sure you bring your check book to get cash at the embassy cashier. Cash is king here and many ATMs often run out of money.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Not sure. There are lots of mosques around. I have heard that pre-Covid there were some other religions holding services that were attended by expats.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Lots of English spoken around the county. You have the ability to learn Krio if you want and in some locations it might be really helpful but not necessary.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

YES! The roads here can be treacherous. There are very few sidewalks and many of the residences are on steep mountains.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

We are unable to use any public transportation here at post.

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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 would highly suggest you bring a high-clearance SUV, the hills and roads can be brutal. Try and bring all of the things you may need for regular maintenance as well.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, but it is very expensive. You can stream most of the time but you may have short periods of interruption. Do not forget a VPN.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

We just use the embassy-issued phones.

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Pets:

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 some vets available. We have not had to use their services yet but we have heard they are adequate. Bringing our dog into the country was relatively straightforward. We have heard lots of stories about people struggling to get their pets out and back into the US this last year due to the rule changes. There are lots of stray animals around so you may consider adopting one.

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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?

Many eligible family members (EFMs) work at the embassy. I have found that if you want to work there is a job for you. There are limited jobs and volunteer opportunities available at the international school. Spouses that are not employed can get very frustrated quickly here.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Pre-Covid there were many opportunities at the Chimp Sanctuary, NGOs, animal welfare society, local schools, etc. This is a poor country, so lots of need.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual seems to be the norm. Suit and jacket for official meetings.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

This is a poor country so you will have all of the threats that can go along with high poverty. Petty theft and some car jackings can happen. Like all places just be aware of your surroundings and you will be okay.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

This is a very high malaria post so make sure you are taking your malaria meds regularly. The health unit can help take care of most family practice concerns. Anything major will require a medevac. Anyone with chronic health problems needs to make sure they bring a healthy supply of their meds as getting them locally is not really an option. There are no reliable pediatricians available locally. People with any real health issues should think long and hard about coming here.

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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?

Harmattan can bring a lot of dust and cause problems for people with respiratory issues. Good med unit for many issues but anything major will require a medevac.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Harmattan, some mold might be an issue as well. Lots of peanuts in the local food.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

The isolation created by Covid can be an issue. The poverty in the local community can also be an issue for some. This is a post that has lots to do if you are willing to be adventurous and make your own fun at times. Having said that it can be very easy to fall into the work to home cycle and never venture out.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Rainy season from Jun-Sept. Then dry. Humid, warm, same temps every day.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

The American School here is good for students in Grades K-8. The high school students have a virtual option. It is a very small school but the staff work to provide a quality education full that is also full of good extra curricular options.

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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?

Yes. Some people hire a nanny to assist them.

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3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

There are some classes available for kids. There are art classes, karate, and others available out in town.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

The expat community here is fairly small and morale level depends on who you ask. The largest expat community are the British. There are some activities that are restarting that allow for the expat community to get together. This can be a very much make your own fun post.

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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?

Make your own fun. Trivia nights, running groups are restarting, board game nights, and some CLO excursions.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Married so unsure but I think for single this could be a tough place due to the covid restrictions. Having said that if you are willing to put yourself out there and make your own fun it could be quite a good post. Good post for couples with younger children.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

No prejudices that I am aware of.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

The religious groups seem to get along here. There seems to be some gender equality issues when it comes to the roles and responsibilities of women.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Beaches and more beaches.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Beaches, Chimp Sanctuary.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Not sure yet. So far we have found good fabrics, some wood carvings, and Shea butter.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

There is a high hardship differential for a reason. Having said that if you come with your eyes wide open and s sense of adventure this can be a rewarding post.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How bad the rainy season could really get.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Snow boots and your first world expectations.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

No idea.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

I would have to agree with some of the previous posters. Remember why you are here. The differential is an opportunity to save some money but this is also a post that can leave a real positive mark on you. Come with an open mind and a sense of adventure and you can have a great tour here.

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