Harare, Zimbabwe Report of what it's like to live there - 04/18/18
Personal Experiences from Harare, Zimbabwe
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
This was my first expat experience.
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 City - Washington, DC.
The trip is LONG about 22 hours. My spouse and I try to make it manageable by adding a rest stop overnight. The route we took was from DC to Dubai to Harare via Emirates. There is a 30 minute stop in Lusaka to clean the plane and let some passengers on, but you do not get off the plane. My mom came to visit from Brooklyn, NY. She took a route from NY to Johannesburg to Harare (and still had a stopover in Lusaka).
We adopted a dog in Harare and the routes with pets are different. Overall, we have been told to avoid transiting your pet through South Africa.
3. How long have you lived here?
9 months down. 16 months to go. This is a 2-year tour for our family.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My lovely husband brought me here for a diplomatic mission with State Department.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is nice! Most homes are 1 level and LARGE. Walking into our house, I was shocked at how big the home was. When I went to visit other expat families, I learned we had one of the smaller homes (all relative)! There are so many rooms we barely use all of them. The yard is YYYYUUGGEE and again we have one of the smaller yards. The home is surrounded by a high wall with barbed wire and we have 24-hour security.
I can get to the embassy in 7 minutes outside of "rush hour" however during "rush hour" it could take 10-40 minutes. The increase in time depends on whether or not the "robots" aka stop lights are working. Often times, the lights go out and the vendors selling newspapers attempt to direct traffic.
There will be an NEC soon, which will be further from most of the houses in the pool of homes. We are going to be about 13 minutes away, but some home will be about 30-35 minutes from the embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There is a local farmers' market on Wednesdays and Saturdays until 1pm. If you go before 10am, you can get all the fresh fruits and vegetables your heart desires. The produce here is cheaper than what is available in the grocery stores.
Stores - You have to go to 3-4 stores to get all the ingredients you need for a dish. I'm quite particular about the foods I buy and my husband has a gluten allergy. You can get some gluten-free foods but they are VERY expensive.
Produce is SEASONAL - I learned the hard way that if I like blueberries, I better buy and freeze them while they are in season. I haven't found frozen fruits anywhere!
Meats - There are good quality meats and most expats go to local butchers.
Cheese - There are 3 types of cheese readily available. All others, good luck! There are a few families that are hooked up with "the cheese guy" but it's a hassle to find.
Household supplies - The US products are better quality and more variety. The products get expensive because the houses are big and there is a lot of space to clean. Laundry soap is "meh." Not the best, but it does the job. Thank goodness I went overboard on tide from Costco before getting here.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More cleaning supplies, extra virgin olive oil (we cook way more than we did in DC), lotions, body oils, conditioners (the water is hard and tough on skin and hair). Basically go overboard on liquids in your HHE, if you have room.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Many people enjoy Chang Thai. There is a new BBQ place, Hometown that is Texas style. Most all places over take out. Delivery is limited. There is reportedly an app that you can get food delivered, but it has never worked.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are flying ants that are around during the rainy season. Keep your door closed if you have the lights on in your house. Keep your yard free from garden mess, as there are LARGE cane rats that will come onto your property. There are a large flat spiders that are everywhere in your house when it is dark. Make sure you housekeeper cleans their webs with a vaccum. The spiders don't bother people, but they just look creepy.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use the Pouch. If we place an order from Amazon for next day shipping, it will arrive to us in about 1 week. Letters to the States take about one week. The pouch is AMAZING, with the only limitation being liquid amounts and batteries. Your items will get rejected if they have a prohibited item.
We can use FedEx and DHL. I used FedEx for a sensitive document. It arrived in 3 business days and costs me $44. People often say that mail is expensive, but we are in Southern Africa and your mail has a long journey to the States.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is abundant. There are nannies, maids, gardeners, and drivers. We pay $125 for a maid 3 days a week. We have a gardener once a week and the daily wage is $10 per day. We haven't had much luck with gardeners.
Please do interview your domestic staff rather than just taking the staff that the last expat in your position or home used.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are traditional gyms, outdoor cross fit gyms, personal trainers, and a small gym at the embassy. The CLO negotiated a rate of $70 per month at a nice gym.
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?
Yes, cards are safe to use. I've never seen an ATM. If there is one, there is no cash in it, as the country has a cash shortage.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are several Catholic churches. Mass is done in English and Shona.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not much. The embassy offers occasional classes in Shona.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. There are no sidewalks and you need a car to get everywhere.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are local transport vans, which are NOT safe. There is an uber-like company, GTaxi, that is pretty reliable.
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?
The roads in Harare are full of potholes, and I cannot emphasis this enough. Do not bring a car that you treasure. A 4x4 is the way to go.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Short Story - Yes, it can be available upon arrival
Internet was one of my priorities coming to post. The internet is available and most people have the package that is $150 per month. We have that package and its supposed to be unlimited at 20mp (cant remember the unit). We are able to watch Netflix, but your internet is throttled. Since I am home, I use the internet a lot. Once my husband get home with his devices, the internet is noticable slower and our shows buffer. The internet was in the name of the last expat and we had to pay her bill before they would activate our account. You are also able to pay online for service.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone.
My husband received a phone from the USG and I received a SIM card. Our sponsor brought it with her to the airport and we were connected instantly. My phone bill is paid at the embassy monthly.
I have AT&T and wanted to keep my local number for when I return to America. AT&T was able to suspend my line, and I pay $0.01 a month to keep my line.
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?
Yes. There are vets near most neighborhoods and 24-hour vet services. No quarantine. Most Zims are not really into dogs, but the expats here are. Your dog can have so many doggie friends.
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?
Most expat spouses do not work at post. The hiring freeze put a squash on the somewhat limited positions. Post is trying to advocate for spouses.
You can telework if your company lets you. However, there are power outages once a week and the interent will go out until the generator kicks in.
Local salary scales are disappointing to me.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are volunteer opportunities with orphanages, schools, and women's groups. Your volunteer work will need to be approved by post.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dress is business casual. Formal dress may be required for certain government meetings.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I haven't had any problems with security, and you are generally safe. There are reports of smash and grabs at red lights in the evening, and as well as people stealing gas from parked cars.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No. The health unit at the embassy handles minor issues and serious conditions get referred to Pretoria in South Africa.
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?
Good air quality. Normal hay fever for allergy muddlers. The times of year when you expect to suffer change and you may end up taking allergy medicine year round.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Environmental - you may have to take medicine year round.
Food allergies - speak very slowly when ordering food and ensure the restaurant understands your allergies.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Perfect weather year-round. The weather is somewhat spring like all year round. When the sun is out, the weather is beautiful. It can get a little chilly in the evenings. We arrived in July/August, which is winter. I did not expect the evenings to get as chilly as they did.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The community is a moderate size and everyone is SUPER friendly. Morale is good. There is a little anxiety about moving to the NEC.
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?
The CLO organizes monthly coffee hours, wine/cheese, and mixers with other embassies. Check the Elephant ear biweekly newsletter for all the activities. There are sewing clubs, kennel clubs, golf clubs, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a family post. There are family friendly activities EVERYwhere. I think couples without children will have to look for fun. This isn't really the scene for singles. No DC or NY style HH after work.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Men are often referred to as "Boss" regardless of whether or not they are the boss.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The Game Drives have been amazing. You can see so many animals. Zim has hidden gems all over the country. Victoria Falls is the most touristy, but there are house boats along the Zambezi river, Rhino treks, The Ruins of Great Zimbabwe, etc.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There is hand made silver by Patrick Mavros. Zimbabwe has one of his two workshops and you can see how the silver is made. There are also artisans that make amazing teak wood furniture.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The capital is extremely slow paced and there is not a "foodie" culture here despite all the fresh food.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Maybe, if I had kids and was looking for a good place to raise kids for a couple years.