Khartoum, Sudan Report of what it's like to live there - 02/07/18

Personal Experiences from Khartoum, Sudan

Khartoum, Sudan 02/07/18


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

This was not my first.

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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?

I am from the United States. There are no direct flights from the US to Khartoum, Sudan. The flight can be done with one connection in some instances via some US cities, such as New York, Washington, DC, Houston, and Los Angeles. There is an Ethiopian Airlines flight that connects from Washington through Addis Ababa. However, the most popular connection point is Doha, Qatar. A flight from the east coast of the US to Doha takes approximately 14 hours, and the flight from Doha to Khartoum is an additional 3 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

Diplomatic mission at the U.S. Embassy Khartoum.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

There were four housing complexes in Khartoum during our tour. The largest had 38 enormous villas (6000 square ft), where about half of the embassy employees lived. Not far from the villas is a group of 8 townhouses, multi-floor and spacious. All transportation was in fully-armored vehicles during our time in Khartoum, so employees took a motor pool shuttle to work. The ride from the villas and the townhouses is 25 minutes. There are two more housing complexes closer to the embassy, both with four units. One is multi-floor, while the other is a one floor, appropriate for a single officer with no family members or pets.

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

Most of the local products are less expensive than in the United States, but any American brands are costly. You will be able to find local produce such as carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and peppers, but green beans, mushrooms, and broccoli are seasonal, imported, and hard to come by. The quality of local produce can vary from day to day. The Health Unit will provide information on properly cleaning produce before eating. Beef, chicken and fish are available, but since Sudan is a Muslim country, you will not find pork products. Bread is available, but sad. All dairy products need to be checked to be sure they have not gone bad. Some canned goods of fair quality are available. The cost for a week’s worth of groceries for two people would cost us roughly $30.

Sudan operates under Sharia Law, meaning alcohol is illegal. Therefore, you will not find it available for purchase in any store or restaurant. You also may not send alcohol into the country in any of your shipments.

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

You will want to take full advantage of your consumables shipment. While some items, like paper products, are available, the quality is so poor that you will find yourself constantly ordering from Amazon or similar if you did not pack enough in your consumables. Because this is a pouch-only post, liquids are restricted to 16 ounces per incoming package. I would recommend shipping large-size liquids which you will be unable to get later on. This includes everything from shampoo to cleaning solutions to canned soup to peanut butter to canned vegetables that are in water.

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

There are restaurants, but you’ll need to investigate carefully to find ones with good quality food prepared using appropriate health standards. The two most popular restaurants with expatriates are Ozone and Assaha. Some of the pizza places, such as Debonairs, deliver. Your stomach will let you know which restaurants you can go to more than once. Because of the security restrictions in place during our tour, as well as the fact that food eaten out was simply forgettable, most people did a significant amount of cooking and entertaining at home.

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

Ants are everywhere. You can use materials provided by GSO or things you order yourself online to try to combat. All remedies will work—temporarily. Ants even get into the water distillers. We had to keep anything sweet (sugar, cereals) not only in air-tight containers, but inside the refrigerator. Ants are simply a fact of life in Khartoum, as I suspect they are throughout many areas of Africa. There is also a fly season that begins in October or so. Some people reported mice and rats in their homes, but we did not have an issue with this ourselves.

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Daily Life:

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

Khartoum is a pouch-only post. Therefore, incoming package sizes and weights are limited, and liquids cannot exceed 16 ounces per package shipped. Outgoing is restricted to the size of a VHS cassette case. Bring a supply of stamps if you would like to mail cards and letters on a regular basis.

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

Household help, primarily Ethiopians, is abundant and reasonable. Most employees hired someone to clean at least once a week, as haboob dust makes keeping things neat a challenge. The cost is negotiable, but $25-$30 per full day seemed to be the going rate. Some officers also hired a gardener, but I do not know the cost of that. It is also common to pay someone to take care of your pets while you are away. This is sometimes coordinated with the housekeeper, who may agree to both clean the house and watch the pets. Additional cooking, such as for a party, can also be arranged. Finding a reliable housekeeper/cook/pet sitter is done almost entirely through word-of-mouth.

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

There is a gym at the embassy, which seems to get limited use. But a much larger and well-outfitted gym can be found in the clubhouse at the largest housing compound, the Presidential Villas. You’ll find free weights, weight machines, treadmills, stationery bikes, elliptical machines, and much more. There is no additional charge to use these facilities.

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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?

Sudan is a cash-based society and credit cards cannot be used. Due to US sanctions in place when we were posted there, we could not use foreign ATMs. It is very important to be sure you are accessing your bank accounts via the OpenNet computers at the embassy or by using a VPN from home. If a US bank discovers you are in Sudan, your life will become significantly more difficult because they may lock you out of your account. Be vigilant about this.

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

A fair amount of people speak some English, but knowing a little Arabic is extremely helpful. The embassy employs a language instructor and you are free to sign up for classes.

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

Yes, someone with physical disabilities would have difficulty, especially walking. Only main roads are paved, and dirt roads are heavily pitted. It’s a walking nightmare. Erratic driving also makes it dangerous.

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

American embassy employees are not allowed to use public transportation of any kind.

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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?

Personal vehicles were not allowed in Khartoum. However, it seems rules were changing to allow current-year vehicles to be brought in. It is highly unlikely anyone would do this, given the road conditions and prevalence of dirt in Khartoum.

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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?

Internet is available. Manage your expectations for quality and speed, and you’ll be fine. In Sudan, power issues are common and internet complaints are frequent. There are several packages you can choose from. The fastest one featured a “pay by usage” (not by time) system, so you’d have to watch closely in case you needed to “reload” your account before a weekend approached. Reloading entailed bringing cash (all transactions in Sudan are cash transactions, due to the sanctions—perhaps this is changing now) to a local GSO employee, who would then take it to the local provider’s office and have it put on your account. I recommend working closely with your assigned sponsor and GSO prior to your arrival in order to have your internet installed before you arrive.

Important: Unless things have changed with the lifting of the sanctions, it is vital to have a VPN on your home computer. Trying to access your bank information is not possible without it. Look into this carefully before you arrive so you have the necessary equipment in place. Without it, you will have to do all banking-related internet transactions at the embassy.

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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?

Embassy Khartoum provided officers and family members with cell phones. Most people choose to move the SIM card from this phone into their personal iPhone. We kept our US cell phone numbers by porting them over using Google Voice for a nominal annual fee (about $10 per number). When we returned to the states, we got a new SIM card and reactivated our old numbers, which is great because family and friends do not need to learn a new number every time you return to the States. We did not keep any US provider and thus purchased a new SIM card in the US.

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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?

We do not have pets, but pets entered Sudan with no quarantine. There are vet services available, but I cannot speak to their quality. The only housing compound with large yards appropriate for dogs is the Presidential Villas. Be careful not to leave your dog outside unattended, as there are monkeys and other critters roaming the villas compound.

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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?

Family members were not allowed to work on the local economy. Any telecommuting opportunities have to be approved by the CDA. The embassy has several positions typically filled by EFMs, including those in Consular, GSO, Facilities, HR, and Public Affairs.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Volunteering is a challenge without a personal vehicle. However, the CLO will occasionally organize opportunities for officers to participate in activities such as food distribution during Ramadan.

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

Work attire varies by section, but ranges from business casual to business. In public, discretion must be used, especially by women, to appropriately cover arms and legs. The Sudanese do not expect foreign women to cover their hair, but some may choose to do so in public. Formal dress is required only at special functions like the Marine Corps Ball or the St. Andrews Ball.

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Health & Safety:

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

Sudan was classified as a high-threat post and therefore our movement was severely restricted. The threat level has now been decreased, but I understand that previous security measures are still in place. You are not free to walk about and travel as you wish.

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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?

Asthma is a particular health concern because of the poor air quality. Quality of available medical care is poor, and you will not be going to any local offices or hospitals unless it is an emergency. The Health Unit has fantastic local staff members, and the RMO is stationed here. The typical evacuation point is London, with some people going to Johannesburg. Evacuation is, of course, on a case-by-case basis, but you don’t fool around in Khartoum. The RMO will evacuate you if necessary.

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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?

Dust, dirt, and burning garbage fills the air, so the air quality is very poor. People with respiratory issues tend to have a difficult time.

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

Those with asthma will find it difficult to breathe in Khartoum. Those with food allergies will need to be diligent in translating labels.

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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 excessive heat (over 100 degrees F regularly) can be debilitating. You need to stay constantly hydrated and limit daytime hours outside, particularly from March through October. That said, being inside so often, at a post where mobility is limited, can make people stir-crazy.

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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?

The climate is ranges from oppressively hot to hot. November through February tend to be the most comfortable months, with temperatures plummeting to the 80s on some days. This is when you’ll see the guards wearing parkas, hats and gloves. There is a “rainy” season (usually a short shower) and a haboob season. Haboob dirt gets into everything, everywhere. There is no escaping it, making it difficult to keep your house clean. For this reason, many people hire domestic staff to clean their houses.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are two international schools, but at the time we served in Khartoum, only adult family members were allowed on orders.

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Expat Life:

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

Being such an impoverished country, there are many NGOs in Sudan, resulting in a fairly large expatriate community. The people we met had almost no restrictions on them: they could own and drive cars and move about freely. They all seemed to like the work they did, but always reached a limit where they knew it was time to leave. Nothing is easy in Sudan, and it eventually takes its toll.

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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?

Since we could not move freely, there was little opportunity for joining local groups. However, InterNations has a chapter that hosts meetups at restaurants, bowling alleys, and other local places. Embassies such as the British Embassy, Netherlands Embassy, and Italian Embassy have periodic events which usually draw big crowds of expats and can be a comfortable way to meet new people. Most American officers socialized primarily with other American officers and spouses.

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

US Embassy children were not allowed in Sudan at the time we served. There are many single officers who tend to get together after hours and create their own fun within the compound setting. Couples have each other for company, which is good when you can’t get out much. There are some restaurants in Khartoum, but of course no bars. So night life is limited.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Sudan does not embrace homosexuality.

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

Women are clearly treated unequally in the Sudanese culture. Men respect only the opinions of men, but not those of women. Women traveling alone in the city (shopping, etc) will have to be assertive to get the service they need.

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

One will want to visit the ancient ruins in Sudan. There are more pyramids in Sudan than in Egypt, although they are smaller. There are several other archaeological sites as well, all worth visiting. In addition, you will be close to countries worth visiting, such as Jordan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, and Namibia. Make the most of your location! Almost everyone goes on a safari at some point, if they’ve not already done so in the past.

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

If Khartoum has any hidden gems, they are still hidden. The British Embassy has frequent events, such as a monthly trivia night and a Christmas party. The Netherlands Embassy has a monthly movie night, and the Italian embassy hosts fundraisers. In addition, an NGO called Triangle has weekly movies on their roof (projected onto a sheet—yes, this is what passes for “fun” in Khartoum). For many events at other embassies, the sticking point is you have to know someone who can put you on the access list. The expat group, InterNations, is fairly active, with meet ups primarily at local restaurants.

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

Um, no.

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

No advantage to living in Khartoum, other than you can save money due to the lack of items to purchase and lack of nightlife.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I wish I had known how difficult life would be when you do not have a vehicle or freedom of movement. Living on a compound with no way out becomes stifling.

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


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

Freedom. And your car. And any white clothing, as they’ll not be white by the time you leave.

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4. But don't forget your:

VPN, sense of humor, perspective, and sense of adventure. And load up your consumables with any liquid items in excess of 16 ounces, as they are not allowed through the pouch. Don’t forget to bring clothing for all seasons, as you never know when you might be called back to the US/to a different climate. In addition, you have R&Rs, which most people use to go far, far away.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

If this is not a directed tour for you, carefully weigh all the pros and cons and compare to other posts you are considering. Until the security stance changes, Khartoum is a challenge from every direction and you’ll want to be well-informed before choosing it.

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