Harare, Zimbabwe Report of what it's like to live there - 01/23/24

Personal Experiences from Harare, Zimbabwe

Harare, Zimbabwe 01/23/24


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

Have lived and worked in Southeast Asia, the Pacific, South America, the Gulf, North Africa, and West Africa.

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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?

Flights out of Zimbabwe are limited. All flights off the continent connect through South Africa, Ethiopia, or Zambia. Zimbabwe has direct flights to seven countries, and all of them are in southern or eastern Africa. Traveling off the continent involves long flights with long, unpleasantly timed layovers, and the flights themselves are rather unreliable.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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4. What years did you live here?


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

U.S. Mission

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

In my opinion, U.S. Mission housing needs improvement. Previous reviews citing excellent housing refer to a prior housing pool before the Embassy changed locations. I cannot emphasize enough how much previous reviews do not apply. I've served in posts ranging from 0% to 30% differential (Harare is currently 25%), at a lower rank and with a smaller family, and this is the smallest, worst housing I've ever experienced. I thought we were just unlucky until I saw other Mission members' housing. If you have six or more children, you can expect to have palatial housing, but not necessarily in great condition. Otherwise, regardless of rank, your housing will be cramped (and, from what I have seen, in poor condition). In my experience, yards tend to be large (though not always) but full of hazards. Most houses include a pool, which may or may not be functional/safe to use. Commute times average 30+ minutes.

In my opinion, there are health and safety hazards that are severe and never resolved.

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

Zimbabwe contends with runaway inflation, which makes it difficult to say from week to week (or sometimes day to day) how much things will cost. Everything is expensive compared to most other countries in Africa. Compared to Washington DC, produce tends to be relatively reasonable. Quality can vary. Staples like rice and other grains are on the expensive side.

Meat, depending on quality and how safely it is produced, can be reasonable to expensive. Dairy is hugely expensive and poor quality. Locally produced butter (which is barely edible even if used only for cooking) costs upwards of $25 per pound. Imported butter costs upwards of $60 per pound. Household supplies are expensive, poor quality, and typically include unsafe ingredients.

The bigger problem is availability. Zimbabwe is incredibly food insecure, and shortages of basic food are common. This will likely worsen over the next couple of years as the economy tanks and drought conditions endanger agricultural production.

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

Wish we'd brought more cleaning supplies and liquids in general.

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

There's a variety available: Chinese, some sushi (meh), Indian, Greek, burgers, pizza. None are excellent, but they tend to be passable.

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

Yes. Rodents, venomous spiders, venomous snakes, mosquitos, termites, poisonous toads/frogs, flies that lay eggs in your skin... this is a short list of pests, every single one of which will be a problem inside and around your home, probably repeatedly/persistently. A notice recently informed the Embassy community that these issues are our responsibilities and we are on our own (but we're not allowed to contract our own exterminators...). Most homes have huge gaps under/around doors and windows and big holes in the walls.

Monkeys are a problem (and a dangerous one) for some residences, but not all, as far as I can tell.

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic pouch, which (as always with pouch) has a lot of restrictions. Local postal facilities are not reliable, though I believe some people have used DHL successfully when they had to.

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

Finding help is easy. Finding competent help is another story. I have found that staff tend not to be resourceful or teachable, and it is very frustrating. Zimbabweans pay about $90/month for gardeners and maybe $120/month for housekeepers/cooks/nannies. It seems that US Mission staff pay on average 4-5 times that amount.

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Hahaha. Ha. No credit cards. No cash bills that are older than 2016. You would have to be a complete fool to use an ATM here.

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

I am aware of a variety of Christian denominations and a Buddhist center. Not sure about others.

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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?

Not much, and it is hard to find competent language instruction.

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

Severe difficulty, yes.

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

Embassy staff and families are not allowed to use public transportation or all but two taxi services (that rarely respond).

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2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?

Whatever vehicle you can get when you arrive. If you don't arrive during the dominant transfer season, you are likely to be out of luck. Ideally, a 4WD with high clearance. Roads here are beyond horrendous. Bring extra tires.

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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. It is unreliable and speed varies depending on... mood? Random outages are common. The cheapest package costs about $250/month and that price will continue to rise. It is ridiculous. I would be concerned about trying to use it to work from home or homeschool.

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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?

Most non-Zim plans won't work here, so get a local sim.

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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?

No. There are no qualified veterinarians. There are a lot of veterinarians; none are competent. Please take this seriously. Your pets will be in danger here. Importing pets can be difficult. There is no official quarantine, but application of entry/import rules is arbitrary at best, and the bilateral relationship is poor. This means that retaliation often targets diplomats on a personal level, and that can mean your pets.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Several, particularly working with orphaned children or rescue animals.

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

Casual in public, business attire at work, the Marine Ball is the only formal event I know about.

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Health & Safety:

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

I think local medical care is a joke. The Health Unit has nice staff, but in my opinion needs to be better prepared and equipped.

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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?

Anything beyond a small cut would require medevac; however, it is difficult to get medevac'd when it's needed.

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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?

Mostly good, but less good when trash and/or fields are being burned.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot September-December, rainy and warm from then until April, then cool and dry until June, cold and dry until September again.

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Schools & Children:

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

Harare International School (HIS) is the supported school. There is also a French school and there are various local private schools, most of which have a religious angle. In my opinion, HIS academics are mediocre at best. Discipline is a serious problem, and in my opinion, it seems that rich Zimbabweans get away with violence at school. Facilities at HIS are in poor shape, and they don't have basic things that most international schools should have, like a real running track.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

HIS tries, but they don't really have staff that are properly qualified to carry out accommodations.

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3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

HIS has a variety of after-school activities. Horseback riding is available locally, along with tennis lessons, and music lessons (quality not great).

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Expat Life:

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

There's some overt racism (in both directions), but mostly I've found Zimbabwean easy to socialize with.

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

There are laws targeting LGBT people. I would not want to come here if LGBT, or especially bring an LGBT child here.

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

There are things for sale. They tend to be expensive, poor quality, and not very interesting. In general, it's kind of shocking how expensive poorly made products are here.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How that most of the interest in serving in Zimbabwe is based on a reputation that was valid 20 years ago and, in my opinion, no longer applies.

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


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