Juba, South Sudan Report of what it's like to live there - 09/09/20
Personal Experiences from Juba, South Sudan
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
I've lived in 13 countries prior to South Sudan.
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?
United States. Total travel time from the West Coast is approximately 35 hours to Juba, via Washington Dulles. Connections are typically through Addis or Nairobi (Nairobi requires an overnight). Cairo, Dubai and Doha also offer less frequent connections.
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?
Embassy housing for most missions is typically modular shipping containers. Juba is small, and commute times are minimal, though rutted roads and a lack of traffic rules and signage can slow things down a bit. The US Embassy housing is located on a residential compound (walking distance from the office compound). It's a lush, green, walkable oasis in an otherwise fairly dusty city. Most housing on the compound consists of three shipping containers: bedroom, living area, kitchen, and bathroom; housing is quite comfortable in reality, and each includes a wood porch complete with deck furniture.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are several foreigner-oriented supermarkets; US Embassy personnel can take a periodic shuttle to these stores. Quality is okay, not great. Prices are a bit high for the quality. You can find most of what you need, but many people order more specialized ingredients online or purchase regionally while on R&R. The US Embassy cafeteria is very good. . .plentiful healthy options and a good variety of international cuisine options. Many people eat nearly all of their meals in the embassy cafeteria, and delivery to housing is free.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Coffee and tea are available in local stores, but both expensive, even for regional options. The US Embassy cafeteria has good cappuccinos, lattes, et al, but if you want to make coffee at home, bringing some is a good idea (coffeemakers are provided in each housing unit). The cafeteria is great, and I've found I need very little in terms of supplies from home. In terms of toiletries, cleaning products are available at the supermarkets and a limited but adequate and affordable supply of shampoo (Dove, Pantene, etc, are around USD$5), soap, body wash, etc, is available. There isn't much variety in terms of brands, though, so for specific needs/preferences, bring a supply with you. It's very rare to dress up in Juba, so beauty supply needs are very minimal.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Restaurants are currently off-limits due to Covid, but there are a half dozen restaurants that deliver to the US Embassy. However, the Embassy cafeteria is more affordable, and quite possibly more sanitary than local options, and it's rare for people to order delivery. When Covid isn't in effect, there are a handful of restaurants frequented by expats, including an outdoor option for food and drinks that overlooks the White Nile. TripAdvisor details the restaurant options in Juba, which are relatively limited.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Many mosquitoes and the occasional cockroach. . .it's tropical living. However, housekeeping is available at the compound, and there aren't many issues with infestations as the compound is kept very clean. Watch out for Nairobi flies, which leave a large acid burn on skin when crushed.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The US Embassy has incoming mail via pouch but no outgoing mail! This makes it a challenge to mail taxes and other official documents. Consular arranges for ballots to be sent to the US, however. DHL is available but very expensive (USD$30/letter). Bring US stamps and send mail with someone going on R&R!
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Housekeeping is available at the Embassy. Generally, household help (including housekeepers and cooks) is very affordable, but specific directions are usually needed. English ability varies but is usually adequate.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
I'm not sure what options are available in town, but the Embassy has a gym, and a periodic shuttle to take staff to exercise outdoors, including occasional trips to the UN facilities.
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 aren't useful in South Sudan. I've never used one. Even the more modern establishments (including grocery stores) are cash only. ATMs aren't in use. Bring checks if coming to the Embassy in order to access money from the cashier.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
These are currently on hiatus due to Covid. Usually there are a variety of services available around Juba.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Juba Arabic is commonly used, but most people speak English. I don't know of anyone taking local language classes as tours tend to be short in South Sudan (one year for most embassies), and English is widespread.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Absolutely. Sidewalks are non-existent, roads are severely rutted, there are almost no elevators, and there is little local understanding of accommodating for different needs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are no trains and few local buses, but they are not safe, and embassy staff are prohibited from taking them. I have heard that attacks on long-distance buses, frequently ending in death, are commonplace. Local flights also seem to have a poor safety record; two fatal crashes occurred in my first month at post, for example. Embassy staff use Motorpool almost exclusively.
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?
No personal vehicles are allowed for embassy staff.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Embassy housing offers decent pre-installed Internet, though it's not uncommon for it to go down at home and work, particularly during the stormy season. The embassy provides AFN and several dozen TV stations, which sometimes is unavailable during poor weather.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I use an embassy phone only; I'm unfamiliar with local options.
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 many street dogs and cats, and some people end up adopting them to take home, which is a bit of a paperwork nightmare but is possible. Vets are mediocre but can provide the basics.
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 MANY international organizations and NGOs in Juba and throughout South Sudan. A few spouse positions exist at the Embassy. This is an unaccompanied tour for many personnel.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Volunteering at a local orphanage. Religious groups also offer volunteer options.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual for most; two suits is sufficient for a year-long tour. The weather is hot and humid year-round, with significant rainfall for half the year. Don't bring your favorite clothes. . .in fact, don't bring much at all. Mold is an issue, and you will get wet and muddy and many people leave the majority of their clothing behind when they depart post. A raincoat, sturdy shoes, and an umbrella are essential. Cotton and tactical-type clothing are common as clothes take a beating in South Sudan. There are no places to buy clothing locally that embassy staff are allowed to access, so bring enough for the year, but I find that I need little variety when it comes to clothing here. This is a good place to exercise minimalism.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Kidnapping and being in the wrong place at the wrong time are probably the biggest threats. Transport accidents are also common. All embassies have ample security provisions. Conflict is widespread across South Sudan; this is not a place for tourism.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria is rampant, with other mosquito-borne and tropical illnesses prevalent. A yellow fever vaccine is required to enter the country. Anything that is not minor invokes a med evac. This is not a post to come to if you have medical issues. Bring mosquito repellent and sunscreen with you.
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 city is dusty but has little industry, so the air quality is moderate. There are few paved roads in South Sudan; vehicle traffic kicks up a lot of dust. Storms during the rainy season clear out the air and make for pleasant temperatures. Some people experience allergies; mold is common due to the high humidity.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Emergency medical care is not something you want to need in South Sudan. Allergies aren't the norm here, and explanations of not being able to eat something usually just cause confusion. Bring anything you need to deal with allergies with you, and if you have a severe food allergy, cooking is probably a better option than eating out since ingredients are often unclear and deviate from the menu explanation.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Alcoholism seems to be widespread among expats. Stressful work and living conditions that tend to be a bit rudimentary can impact mental health, as can living in a small compound as is the case for many expats. The morale at the Embassy is high. . .it's a small post, and convivial interagency collaboration both at work and socially is the norm. USAID is particularly heavily represented at this post.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Tropical. . .humid and hot with frequent rain for half of the year, hot to very hot during the other half of the year.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
US Embassy personnel may not bring children to post. Local schools are of generally very poor quality.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Few to none. It is very unusual for expats to have children at post.
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?
No experience with these. Nannies are more common than pre-schools, and they are affordable but usually need training and direction.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There is a very large expat community in Juba, mainly international organizations, NGOs, and embassies. There is very little commercial activity and few expats work in the private sector. Morale tends to be good in Juba among expats. Morale is high at the Embassy.
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?
On the Embassy compound there is a gym, a few clubs (book club, cooking club, etc), a pool, and occasional events organized by embassy staff. Off the compound there are a few restaurant/bars that expats frequent. Dinner parties are common. Social life is largely self-driven as there is little infrastructure in Juba.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Pretty good for singles and couples (though housing is a bit small at many embassies for couples). Most embassies are small, so one needs to branch out in order to date. There isn't much to do for families and there are few expat kids in Juba (mostly missionaries). Most staff with families come unaccompanied to this post.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Discretion is advised locally but very accepted within the expat community.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
No. The security situation makes it a challenge to get to know locals, and most expats have very few locations they are allowed to frequent. South Sudan tends to be quite religious and religious venues can be a way to meet locals. There are many expats in Juba and locals are accustomed to diversity among expats.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Gender equality is a significant challenge for locals but less so in relation to expats. There is much tribal strife within South Sudan, but this isn't directed at expats.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
It's a busy place in terms of work but there isn't a lot to engage in locally other than socializing with other expats. The US Embassy community is great. Having a drink at AFEX overlooking the White Nile is a relaxing way to enjoy Juba.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Due to security restrictions, hidden gems aren't really a thing.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
No, Embassy staff aren't allow to visit anywhere that sells any local items.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The city itself isn't attractive, but the expat community makes it a pleasant place to be despite South Sudan's many challenges.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
It can be a real challenge to get things done in South Sudan. . .patience is essential.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Nice clothes, makeup, high heels, and winter attire.
4. But don't forget your:
Malaria prophylaxis, rain gear, and items for hobbies. . .there is very little to purchase in Juba.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Books: What is the What. They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Juba has exceeded my expectations . . .a close-knit expat community and interesting work make this a good post.