Khartoum, Sudan Report of what it's like to live there - 11/01/16
Personal Experiences from Khartoum, Sudan
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
First long-term overseas posting, though have lived overseas for shorter periods before.
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. Admittedly a nightmare to travel to/from KRT to anywhere in the US, as very few airlines fly into Khartoum. At least three connections, and 24hrs required to reach KRT from the US.
3. How long have you lived here?
Almost two 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?
Housing is massive. Each diplomat has a spacious villa, townhouse, or a large apartment. Unfortunately, they require a lot of maintenance and repair.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Depends on which exchange rate you use...however, nothing from the US is available at local markets due to economic sanctions on Sudan, though you can build up a hefty Amazon.com bill ordering dry goods. Let's just say if you're coming, back sure you max out your consumables.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Pretty much everything. Sanctions are a real thing. Liquids and vegetables, in particular, are missed. Make sure you send ample hygiene products and ladies, don't forget your tampons.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Don't go out to eat. Just don't. Make friends with your neighbors and you'll eat better there than any restaurant in Khartoum. There are options for Italian, Lebanese, Turkish, etc, but your cooking will be much more reliable and, most likely, won't make you sick.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Just bugs. A lot of them. And lots of geckos because of the bugs. On the bright side, we have a monitor lizard and a mongoose! There are also snakes and monkeys. Your housing complex is the best zoo in Khartoum.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch only. Usually takes about 3 weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is certainly available and an option you should take. Most maids are affordable and will help you keep your house free of sand and soot.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Main embassy housing compound has a great gym. There are other facilities, but challenging to use given cost and gender restraints. Post restricts most outdoor activities, but you can partake in weekly sports clubs during the cooler months.
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?
No. Khartoum is a cash-only society. Remember, sanctions are a real thing. You can use your CC and bank info via Open Net at the Embassy or through a VPN.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is one Catholic church offering weekly English mass.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Very little. All the Sudanese you're likely to encounter speak very good English. Other diplomats speak English. Security restrictions make it difficult to get out and about, so the likelihood of meeting locals that don't speak English are low.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Since you're chauffeured everywhere, getting around shouldn't be a problem. However, there are no laws requiring businesses or government to accommodate those with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Affordable? Absolutely. Safe? Debatable. Something you're allowed to take? Absolutely not. Get used to the motor pool.
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?
Hotwheels. That's really the only kind of car you're allowed to bring.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed? Hah. Let's just say you'll learn 'streaming patience.' Think 1999 high speed. You could make buffering a drinking game. If there was booze.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring your own. Make sure it's unlocked.
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?
Soooo they are technically available. Let's just say hit or miss. That said, the prices definitely trump US prices. Animals don't have to be quarantined either to or from Khartoum. Monkeys are available for adoption at your own risk.
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?
Embassy or bust. Unfortunately, that's the truth for EFM's here. There are efforts being made to open up opportunities for spouses to work outside, however.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
You name it, you got it.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual with a side of sand. It's really hot, so be prepared to dress accordingly. Because of the heat and sand, formal dress is rarely required.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Sudan is on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List, which includes a long list of security concerns. Some are legitimate, some seem less so. However, Khartoum can be a dangerous place and particularly because the Embassy and its personnel are so isolated, it's easy to become overconfident as to the safety of this city.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Lots of food born illnesses, malaria, e coli, cholera, eye infections, respiratory issues, allergy reactions. The dust, pollution, and lack of hygiene in public settings, particularly those offering food, can have dire consequences. However, few cases are ever serious and Khartoum staffs a full time doctor.
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?
Poor. There is a lot of dust in the air as well as pollution. The preferred method of disposal of trash and sewage is via fire.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Bring Zpacs, epi-pens, pepto, immodium. There is a full-time doctor and food allergies and/or reactions are common.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
R&R hangover is a real thing. Khartoum can be very challenging as there are very few social outlets, particularly outlets outside of your own Embassy community. Security constraints have had secondary and tertiary effects on Embassy morale.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
HOT. In the hot season, it's really hot. In the cold season, it's just hot.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
US Embassy children are not allowed at post currently due to security concerns. Aid workers and other diplomats often do bring their children, however, and there are multiple international schools available to them.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Expat community is large for the size of Khartoum. People are here for various reasons and make the best of the situation. You'll hear lots of complaints, but, by and large, people seem to be having a good time.
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 friends with your neighbors, go to happy hour (except when it's canceled), go to Pickwick/other Embassy events, capitalize on a weekday sports club at the Khartoum American School. If all else fails, make sure you have a Netflix account.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
For single guys, Khartoum is a veritable playground. For couples, Khartoum can be tough, as spouse employment is an ongoing issue. That said, married couples are usually happier than singletons here.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Probably not, though several have served without issue. Sudan is not LGBT friendly, however.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Certainly not within the Embassy. The community is generally kind and welcoming to all.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Camping in the desert, scuba diving in Port Sudan, dinners with friends. Take lots of weekend trips outside of Sudan and really enjoy your R&R's.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Khartoum is pretty lacking in fun and/or interesting things, but there is a museum. Best interesting/fun things are within the diplomatic community, including sports clubs, quiz nights, etc. Pyramids are truly amazing.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
As of right now, the compensation package is a great incentive. Also, the politics and history of Sudan make your work truly interesting.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Sudan is not the scary war zone it is portrayed to be in the U.S. or in the media. Get a VPN before arrival, set it up before arrival, have internet set up before your arrival, and be prepared to be frustrated with internet. Expectation management is good practice before arrival. It's dirty, dusty, and you have to make your own fun.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I do not regret coming to Khartoum. Professionally, this has been a very rewarding tour.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Bathroom sensitivities, expectation for timeliness, and expectation of freedom of movement.
4. But don't forget your:
Sense of humor, humility, patience, and did I mention VPN?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Emma's War is great. There is a lot of literature about Sudan, but take much of it with a grain of salt. Until you've lived here, you won't know both sides of the stories.