Lome, Togo Report of what it's like to live there - 03/12/19

Personal Experiences from Lome, Togo

Lome, Togo 03/12/19


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

No. I've also lived in Thailand, Germany, and Ethiopia.

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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?

It's difficult to travel anywhere in the AF continent in general. A connecting trip anywhere is usually 10 hours or more. To get to Canada, you'll have to fly either Brussels or Air France out of Lome and connect from Paris. Usually over 20 hours of flying by the time you reach home.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Roughly three years.

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


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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 are many single family homes available. Many expats live in the same neighborhood.

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

There are grocery stores available but the product may not be the most fresh. If it is fresh you tend to pay for it. There are only a few restaurants available. Everything is mostly outdoors. There are no real cafes here. The economy is poor and tourism is slim. The only expats around here are the diplomatic community, peace corps, students, and the business community.

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

I usually bring a bag of coffee beans with me. There is no variety in the grocery stores so if you prefer certain brands then you're out of luck. Once I run out I sustain on the local brand until I go home again.

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

For food delivery there are only 3 places. The Indian restaurant 7 spices, the Lebanese restaurant le phenecian, the sushi bar Japanese restaurant. There are some mediocre Chinese restaurants, some decent local restaurants, but generally everyone usually serves brochettes and French fries. Learn to love French fries. It is served with everything.

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

There are mosquitoes all the time. Giant wasps swarm to light during monsoon season. Mosquito netting is a necessity. Do not forget the malaria medication. Our housekeeper got malaria twice last year. It can be deadly for foreigners since we are not used to it. Especially true if you are older.

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Daily Life:

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

There is DHL and the local post office is sufficient. I've sent letters and packages to Canada and South Africa with no issues.

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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 is cheap here as everyone is looking for a job. It is usually hard to find someone who can cook, clean, nanny, and garden. You normally have to hire one of each. Some people try to be cheap and hire one person for all that but then you have to laugh when they pour too much bleach in the food or kill all the plants. You get what you pay for.

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

There are a few gyms available (no air conditioning) and it is not expensive. You can get a personal trainer pretty cheap here. You can get any coach here very cheap. It is a good place to improve your golf game.

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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?

I have never used my credit card locally. I carry cash and make any exchanges at the local bank. Although I try not to exchange too much cash at once since robberies are common. The police set up checkpoints throughout the grand Marche a few months ago and when I tried going to the bank, I had to park my motor bike outside the check point and walk a few blocks to the bank. They said this was to deter the shooters on motor bikes but I can easily be pick pocketed walking on the street. It wasn't very well thought out.

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

There are some Catholic Churches with English service but the times are later in the morning and service generally last around 2 hours. For the younger crowds it is a bit difficult to understand what they are saying because the churches have horrible sound systems. Did I mention it can be quite hot during summertime? The community is usually worth the agony.

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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?

You need French. I have no idea how some of the Americans can walk around without knowing any French. To interact with locals, join community events, attend classes, or even something as basic as refilling your phone card, you need to speak French. I speak French and I still have communication problems because of the cultural differences. There are tutors available and prices vary. I heard there are French classes available at the French institute but I do not know anyone who has taken a class.

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

Yes. There are no such things as handicap spaces or ramps. The hospitals here are not equipped to handle any big surgeries. I've seen an ambulance once but considering all the accidents that happen I wonder if they have more than just the one.

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

None of those are safe. They are affordable if you don't mind sharing a taxi with three strangers and wondering if your driver has a license. I always hire a local driver who rents out his car. He keeps it in good condition and is always available when I need him. These guys are always preferable to any taxi service.

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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?

Only SUVs. Car parts are stolen often here. Everyone I know have had their mirrors stolen. Other cases have wheels, plates, and basically anything that is not bolted down. This is why I don't have a car.

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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 good here. Installation does not take long but if there is an issue they usually are not responsive. Pretty typical internet service anywhere in the world I've been.

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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?

Local provider. Data is cheap.

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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?

There are local vets available apparently. I knew of some people with dogs but mostly ex-pats. Animals here are usually kept for meat... If you have a dog or cat, make sure it doesn't wander too far. I have never seen a stray animal.

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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?

It's hard for spouses to find jobs here. Mostly just shopping, spending time with other ex-pats, or finding other hobbies. Local salary scales are very low. It is also very difficult if not impossible for ex-pats to "find" work here. Many people tend to get depressed.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Always available.

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

No. It is much too hot here to be formal anywhere. If you go to an event or a party perhaps business casual but that is the extent. A lot of people have clothes locally made here so if you need something the local tailors can whip something up in a jiffy. Warning though, it also falls apart in a jiffy.

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Health & Safety:

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

Your usual safety concerns going anywhere in west Africa. Watch your wallet. Be wary of strangers. Don't go to events you know nothing about. Be careful of people calling you, "my friend" or "my brother" after just meeting you. That is not a normal custom. Be careful about going out at night. Women need to be extra careful. I understand that rape is a common occurrence here. Keep an eye on your surroundings and try not to go out alone, especially at night.

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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?

Togo tummy is a common occurrence. If you accidentally drink tap water then you'll get it. If you eat food not washed properly you'll get it. Allergies are bad during harmattan. The heat is exhausting if you are outside often. Medical care here is very basic. There are pharmacies here if you need anything. Specialists are a hit or miss. More often miss.

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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?

Moderate. Already mentioned some air related issues above. I need to leave here every few months. It is usually hard to stay longer.

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

This is not the best place for people with sensitivities.

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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)?

There are no malls, no cafe, no recreational activities like the neighboring countries with cities like Accra and Cotonou so ex-pats here tend to travel often to get their fix. It is obvious that some people tend to get depressed if they stay here too long since it tends to be isolating. You normally see this often during the summertime when the weather is too hot for even the few activities there are here.

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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?

Extremely hot and dry or humid and wet.

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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 a few schools I've seen but I can't comment since I do not have children here.

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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 is small. I see people at the grocery stores and around town but I prefer to keep to myself. There is a large Lebanese community here and a good amount of the Chinese community.

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

This is better for families. There are not many single people here. Local custom is that Togolese generally do not date expats. I'm sure there are a few exceptions but I do not know of anyone.

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

It is easy and it is not. If you speak French then you can have good conversation. It is not normal for Togolese to invite you to their home or vice versa. Before you even arrive at that stage you need to learn local custom, how to address people, what is proper, what is offensive, and so on. If you do not care to learn about all of that then it would be difficult for you to make friends with locals. Togolese are very friendly and polite people so you won't really encounter an 'uncomfortable' situation but be aware to not put them in an uncomfortable situation.

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

Best trips are to Kpalime but in this region there is a lot to explore. Togo is not a very tourist friendly country and the roads are not the easiest to travel on. If you can communicate then road trips are fantastic.

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

The markets are nice.

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

Not too much. I find better artwork in Accra.

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

Cheap cost of living and it is quiet... when there are no street protests.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How many protests there would be. Last year there seemed to be a protest every other week. It has tapered off since then but I can imagine how intense it will be around the presidential election. That is the norm in any country on this continent though...

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

Sure. I like coming here because I have a purpose. I have good local friends and I have a solid family network at home.

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

illusions. You need to adapt. Stop comparing this place to every other place you have lived in. It is not the same. Also, it is a bit offensive to the locals. This place has a lot of charm if you allow yourself the experience.

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4. But don't forget your:

Common sense. This isn't a gap year you spend in Europe where you wander around like a hipster and somehow did not get murdered in a hostel.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

This place is what you make of it. It can be great or it can be horrible. Bring some antacid and get ready for the slowest ride of your life.

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