Libreville, Gabon Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Libreville, Gabon

Libreville, Gabon 07/23/14

Background:

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

This was our second overseas posting with the State Department.

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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?

East Coast of the U.S. 8 hours to Paris and another 8 hours down to Libreville. Royal Air Maroc, Ethiopian, and Turkish are other possible connections from the U.S.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We lived there just under 2 years departing in June 2014.

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

With the U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Embassy housing is a mix of newer leased houses...some quite nice. All are close to the Embassy. The Embassy owns a six-unit townhouse complex called Sabliere with a big yard and great pool. Houses on the complex are from 1980 and are showing their age but still the best options for families.

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

Virtually everything is imported so grocery stores are easily double the U.S. cost. That being said, stores are wellstocked and there is little that you can't get if you're willing to pay for it. There are some quite large grocery stores as well!

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

Peanut butter, more car parts...you'll be surprised at just how plentiful the grocery stores are.

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

Fast food is African street food including grilled meats with rice...depending on the strength of your stomach. Many cafes, several Lebanese places, some Chinese, a Chinese buffet (!), some good European choices. Cafe meals will run you US$15 per person. A meal at the nicer places is easily US$40 per person for the basics without drinks. TripAdvisor has some of the places listed.

Warm French pastries are a must have!

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

Ants and other bugs but the main issue is mosquitoes which carry cerebral malaria! Don't come here expecting your home to be bug free.

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Daily Life:

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

We use the very restrictive pouch for the Embassy.

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

Roughly US$400 per month for a full time maid/nanny. Some cook, some don't....speaking French is necessary. Work quality varies wildly!

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

The Embassy has a gym and there is a membership gym with many exercise classes and tennis downtown at Club Saoti. Quite a few expats belong to Club Saoti. There is also a golf course in town but its over US$100 per round.

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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?

Most everything is cash-based and the few places that take credit cards often have broken machines. We used the ATM at the Onomo Hotel regularly with no problem. There are a couple of other ATMs around town that people use. The Embassy has a cashier for its employees to exchange money.

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

There is 1 English/French language protestant church about halfway between Sabliere and the boat port called La Porte. mbassy families are aware of the church. It is sponsored by a church in Tucson, AZ.

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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?

Almost no one speaks English in the city. You will need to learn basic French to get around at all.

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

Potholes, broken, if any, sidewalks, etc....someone with a physical disability would really struggle here.

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Transportation:

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

There is a train that runs across the country but I only know of 1 person who has taken it. Local bus service ended years ago. Taxis are an option but you must speak French and negotiate before entering. Taxis are usually in very poor condition but are an option.

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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?

Bring a Toyota and you'll be fine. There are proper mechanics mainly in the industrial zone that have excellent facilities and can do a lot but they are expensive. There is a local equivalent to Auto Zone that had an okay selection of car parts and accessories. If you can bring spare oil filters, fuel filters, bulbs, belts, etc...better to bring if nothing else because of the cost. Four-wheel drive is necessary if you're going out of Libreville.

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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?

Prices and service are so much better that what they were just a few years ago. Most people put up with Gabon Telecom paying US$80 per month for 4mb service. 8mb is also available....at least that's what you pay for, actual speeds can vary wildly. Ipi9 is a satellite internet service that is slower, but another option.

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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?

Sim cards are cheap and sold everywhere. Phone plans can be purchased with data.

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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?

Some teaching opportunities at the local schools are available to Embassy EFM's...limited overall.

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

Business casual unless you have outside meetings.

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Health & Safety:

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

Be wise as in any city but Libreville does not have the infamous crime problems that plague most big African cities. Places with expats are generally safer. My wife shopped and drove by herself every day with no problems.

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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?

Medical care is dicey and even broken bones may require a medevac to South Africa. The big issue is malaria courtesy of a large mosquito population.

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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?

Air quality is good but hot and humid. July is spectacular with cool breezes coming off the ocean.

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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?

July is incredible with highes in the upper 70's F but dry. Rainy season starts in September and lasts through May with incredible downpours. Other than July, it's just hot.

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Schools & Children:

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

The school situation is getting better. Families send their children to Franco Brittanique (French school up to grade 12 in the French system all in French), the American school is plagued with management problems but is an option, Ecole Ruban Vert is an new international school that is coming online. It is imperative that you understand the school choices for your family before you move here.

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

None.

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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?

Franco Brittanique has a preschool program. One family sent their child to a small preschool call Padouk in the Sabliere area but it is a local preschool. Check with the Embassy for the most recent info.

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

There are sports options as part of the international school Ruban Vert. There are other options including horseback riding and some art classes.

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Expat Life:

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

Expat community varies. There are a lot of French families living in town. Bechtel has a large presence with about 100 Americans in Libreville. The Embassy has 20 employees.

Embassy morale has been dreadful for over a year necessitating a visit from FLO to help workout the problems. This was due to 1 person and his handler who have thankfully departed Post so the Embassy can begin to heal. However, I suspect the recovery process will take some time.

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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?

Self entertaining is what you'll be doing most of the time. I've mentioned some of the other things earlier in this report.

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

Keep in mind there is no mall, no parks, no movie theater, no play places. You will be spending a lot of time self-entertaining, going to friends' houses, or going to Point Denis to the beach. Embassy families have the benefit of the Sabliere compound for entertainment or the Beach Club across the street.

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

No idea.

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

There is an underlying animosity towards the French and some of the Lebanese businessmen in town but it was never manifested in a way where I saw it.

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

Learning African French, seeing untouched jungles, enjoying French pastries, no cold weather, beautiful African beaches nearby.

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

Point Denis beach across the bay for a day away, whale watching in the fall, tortoise watching, forest elephant safari during a long weekend at Nyongie, weekend trips to Lambarane, long trips to remote areas if you are up for it, many national parks (expensive and hard to get to), great French pastries, a fair selection of 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?

Cool African shirts, African masks, safaris to untouched jungles.

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

No one has ever heard of Gabon so you'll be living in a place that is relatively unheard of except those who saw Survivor Gabon a few years ago. Much of the jungles in this country are literally untouched and unexplored and are stunningly beautiful if you have the time and money to get out. The city of Libreville is quite laid back and crime is low so you'll get to experience West Africa but in a much smaller city.

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10. Can you save money?

Probably not considering the cost of everything.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I didn't realize how isolated we would be. Flights out of Gabon are almost US$1000 per person no matter where you go so we spent a lot of time in Libreville.

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

Probably not...I need a city with a little more to do.

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

Winter coats and English.

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4. But don't forget your:

Love for French pastries, bathing suit, bug spray, sunscreen, sense of adventure.

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Libreville, Gabon 10/24/13

Background:

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

This is our third expat experience. We lived in Kuwait City, Tunis, and now Libreville.

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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?

London is home, but to get to Libreville you must travel via Paris or Frankfurt. 12 hours including the layovers.

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3. How long have you lived here?

3 years.

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

We came here on contract with a large construction firm.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Our company put us up in town houses in the center of town. These were newer and in decent condition and fair construction standard. Other expats we know live past the airport in the Sabliere area in single family houses. The American Embassy employees live in an older townhouse compound near the Beach Club in Sabliere.

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

Expat grocery stores are available but more expensive than the UK. We found most things we needed, but you pay for them. Check out Mbolo, Sans Gel, CKDo for large stores with a good selection.

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

More mosquito spray.

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

Eating out is expensive. La Dolce Vita has two locations. Many Lebanese restaurants. A zillion pastry shops with some of the best pastries you will ever eat. Some surprisingly good Chinese food and a few African places. We like L'Odika and Le Mississippi.

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

Mozzies with malaria are very serious! Less dangerous, but annoying are the ants that we can never get rid of in the kitchen.

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Daily Life:

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

Our company had a mail service that allowed us to send mail to the UK.

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

Relatively inexpensive compared to UK, but they don't seem to work very hard or fast. We paid £200 per month for a full time maid who also made lunches for us.

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

The expats we know went to Club Saoti downtown, but not sure of the costs...but everyone seemed happy with the facilities. You'll also find individuals teaching gymnastics or yoga or dance, but speaking French is a must.

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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?

There is an ATM near Sans Gel in Sabliere and an ATM in the Onomo Hotel near the American Embassy. We used both with no problems. However most restaurants and stores will be cash only. There were reports of some hotels skimming credit cards so we don't even try.

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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?

Very little English is spoken. You need French!

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

Sidewalks are generally in poor shape if they exist at all. Ramps are non existant and people with disabilities don't seem to be taken into account when buildings are built.

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Transportation:

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

We used taxis frequently and they are safe in terms of crime, but is poor condition and poor driving skills. However, they insist you wear your seatbelt in the front seat. Taxis stop to pick up people along the way unless you arrange for a direct trip. As an expat you will pay more. Learn the local prices for taxis and pay only that amount. The taxis are not required to pick you up so you may go through several taxis before one will take you.

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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?

Bring a Toyota or other common car and bring as many spare parts as you can. There is an area of town with mechanic shops that can do routine repairs, but they can be expensive.

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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 was improving right as we left. Gabon Telecom is the most popular with horrible service. Speeds are available up to 4mbs when it works. IPI9 is a new satellite Internet company just coming online. We paid about £75 for 4mbs per month with Gabon Telecom.

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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?

SIM cards are cheap and you have many options for mobile companies.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

The Gabonese we worked with dressed quite nice, but our company dress was generally more casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

The city is surprisingly safe as long as you are in well traveled areas and keep your smarts about you. Some locals we worked with reported break ins, but we never found an expat who had been victimized.

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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?

Malaria is bad so take your meds. Hospitals are quite dodgy except for Al Raffa in downtown which seemed to be able to handle minor items. Our company had a doctor on staff and the Americans have access to a doctor at their Embassy.

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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?

Clean, but humid air. The dry season air is crisper and lovely and feels good to take in.

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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?

June through September are dry with cooler weather. It's very nice. The rest of the season is hot and rainy.

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Schools & Children:

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

We do not have children, but our understanding is that school choices are very limited unless you are a fluent French speaker.

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

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

It varies. Once you get past some of the difficulties of working here it wasn't so bad. Our company morale was pretty good and we made good friends who worked for an agriculture firm Olam and they loved it. The American Embassy morale seemed quite low during our time in Libreville, but we were friends with some of them and they seemed to survive. We also became friends with two Lebanese couples and the Lebanese community was quite happy.

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

You really need to know how to keep yourself busy as there is little to do in Libreville. We kept busy with friends from work and some American and UK expats. Lots of dinner parties to keep from being too bored.

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

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

There seems to be some tension between the local Gabonese and the French expats, but nothing serious.

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

Seeing elephants close by in the elephant reserve and we were lucky enough to see some of Gabon's famous surfing hippos and the giant turtles.

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

The beaches outside of the city are nice as the beaches in Libreville are filled with trash. We had a friend with a boat and we loved going across the bay and exploring back in the lagoons. Whale watching is amazing in the dry season! If you are up for an adventure head to the national parks. As I said, there's not much to do in Libreville but if you work at it you can pass the time. Take the time to get out and see the country. It's beautiful!

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

The city is quite small and activities are limited. We found a good group of British and American expats and our company has been helpful in developing friendships. There are some restaurants in town that make for a lovely evening. Point Denis is a beautiful beach 30 minutes across the bay from Libreville. Gabon has numerous national parks with West African wildlife. It's a bit of a challenge to get to the parks, but an enjoyable experience once you get there.

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8. Can you save money?

If you make £1 million per year, yes. Otherwise you'll probably break even if you have a decent job and get out to see the country.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

There is so little on Gabon on the Internet. I wish someone had a guidebook on Libreville. I wish my French was better, too.

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

Although we are glad we visited, we need someplace a little more exciting. Probably not.

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

Expectations of a busy life.

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4. But don't forget your:

Bug spray and your sense of adventure...and your camera!

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Libreville, Gabon 04/12/12

Background:

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

Yes.

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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?

Home is Oklahoma. From Oklahoma you fly to usually Chicago or somewhere on the East Coast. Then 8-9 hours to Paris or Frankfurt. Then, 6-7 hours to Libreville Gabon on either Air France or Lufthansa.

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3. How long have you lived here?

20 months.

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

Government position.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Nice apartment and condo living. It's very expensive if you pay for it yourself. I would suggest living outside of downtown in Sabliere or somewhere on the beach.

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

Groceries are very expensive no matter where you go.

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

Peanut butter, maple syrup, French's mustard. Cleaning supplies. Snacks.

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

No fast foot, but lots of great restaurants though they are expensive. For a family it is going to cost about 40 - 60 dollars for lunch. A night out for two will be at least US$200 dollars with drinks.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

There are organic and some allergy friendly foods available at the bigger grocery stores, but not tons. It is expensive. There are not many organic vegetable or fruits available and if there are, they would be really expensive.

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

Mosquitoes and more mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

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

US Embassy, because we work for the embassy. I think you could use DHL here.

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

Very available and cheap. We have a nanny, cook, and cleaner

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

Yes, two or three gyms. There is a small studio for yoga, Pilates, and dance.

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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?

You will not use a credit card much. There are ATMs when they work. The fees can be as much as US$15. This is a cash society!

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

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

No newspapers. There is maybe one or two English-language channels on the local satellite TV.

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

French is spoken exclusively. If you want to be comfortable and function outside of your home, you need some French.

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

It would be very difficult.

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Transportation:

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

No local taxis are safe. They are plentiful, but not safe or reliable. You need your own car. This is not a pedestrian-friendly city. The train is used, but is not reliable. No buses.

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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?

High clearance SUV. We have only used our 4 wheel drive maybe once, so it is not a must.

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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?

Expensive like $200 per month. The only good fast internet is Gabon Telecom. The others are satellite and they are not fast enough to SKPYE or watch videos.

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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?

No recommendations. You just need an unlocked phone that you can put a local sim card into.

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Pets:

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.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Good. There is a good French-trained vet who speaks English well.

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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?

Yes.

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

More formal than US. The local Gabonese dress up.

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Health & Safety:

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

No.

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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?

The quality of local medical care is not very good!

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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?

Fine. Not perfect, but not bad at all.

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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?

Wonderful. It is really hot February to May, but otherwise it is really nice.

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Schools & Children:

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

American International School is nice. It is growing with the increasing number of expats growing in the country.

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

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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?

There are a number of good French preschools. Nannies are numerous and cheap.

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

Some with the French Military, such as rugby. There is swimming at Saoti. Gymnastics and lots of tennis.

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Expat Life:

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

Large and fun.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Good.

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

Yes, for young kids! It would not be so great for teenagers. There is plenty to do, but it is very expensive.

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

Sure. I have seen openly gay couples around town,

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

No.

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

Sette Cama in Loango National Park is a truly amazing trip! Neyonie is a great easy weekend trip. Getting to know expats from all over the world. Learning French language. Being immersed in another culture.

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

Beaches, beaches, and more beaches. Point Dennis on the other side of the estuary has great beaches and resorts.

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

Lots of great local artisinal wood crafts. The African material is beautiful and plentiful.

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

Experiencing African culture. Meeting a lot of great expats from all over the world. Beautiful beaches outside of Libreville. Wild life such as elephants, hippos, monkeys, buffalo, etc.

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11. Can you save money?

No.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Sure. Great things to see and do. We were here with two young kids for two years and it was perfect. I am ready for a change but I will really miss it here.

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

Credit cards. bBd attitude. If you want to be happy here, you can be very happy. If you chose to be unhappy here, you will be unhappy

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3. But don't forget your:

Mosquito repellant. Sunscreen. Adventurous spirit. Patience.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

A round-trip ticket back to the US is US$2500-3000. It is expensive to travel within Africa and within Gabon but worth it.

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Libreville, Gabon 08/03/11

Background:

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

no, Bangladesh, Japan

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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?

Texas. 10 hours to Frankfurt, 7 hours from Frankfurt to Libreville

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years May 2009- June 2011

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

government (department of State)

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Depending on traffic, 20 minutes is good. Over an hour is bad. There is really only one major route, so when the president is moving, the road gets closed down, causing a lot of traffic jams. Housing is big and nice.

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

You can find almost anything if you are willing to pay for it. EVERYTHING (including most fruit & veggies) is imported. Groceries can be very expensive, but if you are with DOS this is a consumables post. We brought everything (canned goods, alcohol, shampoo,toilet paper, baking supplies) with us. I was told early on that if you see something in the stores you like, then buy multiples, as it may not be there again. Most stores offer French products. There is a small American store (not embassy operated).

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

Food comforts from home, car parts (tires, wipers, oil), BBQ charcoal, all baking supplies.

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

No fast food at all. Most restaurants open late for dinner (8pm). There are a lot of French restaurants, as there is a strong French influence. Also: Chinese, Italian, Japanese (sushi), Lebanese, American (sort-of). Fresh seafood. Anywhere from cheap side-of-the-road local cuisine to very expensive "5 star" dining. Baguettes are a staple.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

There is an abundance of fruits and vegetables, but I am not sure about organic or allergy-friendly foods.

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

Mosquitoes with malaria.

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Daily Life:

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

I never used the local post, as the embassy provided mail services.

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

Local help is available but is much more expensive than in other developing countries, as the cost of living is high.

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

Yes.

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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 didn't take chances, but I know there were a couple ATM machines. Didn't use credit cards locally. Did a lot of online shopping through the embassy pouch, and our credit card numbers were stolen, but that could happen anywhere

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

No, but there are local catholic, protestant, and muslim services.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

No. Only French. But I think some people had satellite for English TV. We just had the three AFN (Armed Forces Network) channels.

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

There is little to no English, so French is a definite asset.

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

Lots. The sidewalks (if there are any) are in poor shape, and many buildings do not have access for wheelchairs.

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Transportation:

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

I never took a train or bus. Taxis are relatively safe but aggressive, and you must barter for a fair price (in French) and insist on a private ride, or the driver will fill the car with passengers along the way. ALWAYS agree on a price BEFORE departure.

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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?

Bring an older SUV, as fender-benders are common. Driving can be very aggressive. In the city a car would be fine, but as soon as you are off the major roads a 4 x 4 would be best. Reasonable mechanics are available but can be expensive. Gas is expensive, and fuel companies go on strike often, so keep your tank full. Imported cars are expensive, so people will line up to buy your vehicle. I have never heard of a carjacking, but foreigners are often blamed for accidents, even if they are not at fault.

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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?

High-speed? Not really. Internet service was unreliable and expensive. Frequent power outages often meant no internet.

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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?

Got mine locally (pay as you go), and it was fine. Phone cards can be purchased almost anywhere, including from guys on the side of the road.

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Pets:

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?

Our cat didn't.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There are two vets that we went to. Happy with both.

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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?

No, especially if you don't have French. Certified American teachers would be an asset to the American school.

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

It's hot, so wear light material. I wore skirts almost every day and sandals 24-7.

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Health & Safety:

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

Not really, it's a fairly safe and politically secure country. Just use common sense.

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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?

Adequate. EMS services are not great. Ambulance drivers are not trained.

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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?

Good. This is a very sparsely-populated country.

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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, humid, and long rainy seasons and short dry seasons. I preferred June - July as it was cloudy and not as hot. My husband preferred the rest of the year, as it was hot and sunny.

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Schools & Children:

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

American International School of Libreville. I taught there. It was a K-8 when I was there, but I think they are expanding it to a K-10 this year. It follows the American curriculum and is accredited. It is a small school with dedicated staff. Small classroom size, but most classes are combined (i.e Pre-k-k, 1-2, 3-4 etc). But as a certified teacher, I know there are many benefits to multi-age classrooms.

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

AISL has many students on Individual Education Plans. There are many stairs, so it would be difficult for students with physical needs. To my knowledge, the French schools do not accommodate learning disabilities well.

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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?

Pre-K offered at AISL and at French schools. Nannies are affordable. Many embassy families chose the French system for children younger than kindergarten age, as it was more affordable.

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

Yes, but mostly offerred only in French.

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Expat Life:

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

Small.

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2. Morale among expats:

Moderate to high.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Restaurants, bars & clubs, beach, bowling, tennis, and pool parties.

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

Great for American embassy families with young children. The compound has a great play area and a nice pool. There is not much to do for teenagers, but it is great for couples and families that like get-together's with friends and boring weekends. Many bars and clubs, but nightlife doesn't get started until very late and often goes into the early morning hours. Restaurants open late (8pm) and dinner can be a 3-hour affair. A very SLOW pace of life.

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

From what I have been told, the Gabonese government is anti-homosexual and are trying to legislate laws against homosexuality. That being said, I knew two separate (expat) gay couples that lived there, and to my knowledge they felt safe and secure. The international community was accepting.

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

Gabon is primarily a Catholic country with a strong Muslim population. The government recognizes holidays from both religions, and I never saw any religious problems. I do not know if there is any representation from any of the other major religions.

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

Jungle safari, trip to the island nation of Sao, Tome & Principe, seeing a sea turtle lay her eggs, a local tribal dance group.

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

Beach, nature parks, jungle trekking, getting clothes tailor-made, going to the market.

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

Local masks that have danced in ceremonies.

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

Beaches & ocean; nature & animals; most embassy houses have an ocean view; great restaurants; slow pace of life

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11. Can you save money?

Depends on your lifestyle.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes! Definitely. But I returned with our 2-month-old daughter and the malaria risk was very stressful on me. She was so little that the thought of putting her on an anti-malarial drug bothered me (CDC recommends a minimum weight of 22 pounds for using malarone), and the chance of malaria kept her in doors for the last few months of our tour. I would try to stay clear of malaria zones with a newborn.

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

winter clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

mosquito spray, umbrella, sunscreen and sunglasses.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Libreville, Gabon 07/16/10

Background:

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

No - lived in Bangladesh and Japan as well.

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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?

Home = the United States. There are now two reliable options for traveling to Libreville - via AirFrance (Paris) and Lufthansa (Frankfurt).Lufthansa has better service and is cheaper.

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3. How long have you lived here?

15 months.

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

Government - US Embassy.

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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 is one main road, the Bord de Mer. When it gets messed up, the city slows to a crawl. Commutes are generally not good, but not horrible eaither. Libreville is a city of less than 700,000 - so its tiny by most standards.

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

Availablity is good - even some American groceries are now available through specialty stores. However, most stuff comes from France and Gabon imports almost everything. Prices are very high.

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

Vanity and luxury foods just to avoid the high prices in the markets. More bug spray and OFF!

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

There is no fast food in the country. All resturants are going to take at least an hour - usually more. All resturants will run you about $20USD for a basic meal with options pushing the price much higher.

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

Mosquitos. Ants. Sand flies. Bot flies.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch.

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

Available and moderately affordable - however little english ability is in the country so expect to have to speak in French with your household help.

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

Yes. There are a number of options.

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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?

Dont. Its just better not to.

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

No.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

No.

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

Lots. French is necessary.

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

Electricity is haphazard - so elevators are a gamble. There are few ramps. Overall, its not very accessible to people with challenges.

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Transportation:

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

They are safe and affordable - but not very comfortable.

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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?

4x4.The Bord de Mer is fine, but once you get off the Bord you want something with robust tires and good clearance.

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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, but calling it high-speed is stretching it. Its expensive.

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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?

Coverage is sometimes poor and spotty. Be warned.

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Pets:

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.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

No.

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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?

Not really.

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

It's a very conservative society. Anything official will involve a coat and tie -even if it is 95 deg F and 100% humidity.

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Health & Safety:

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

Not really - its safer here than anywhere else I have lived.

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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?

Medical services are poor. Any major medical issues will need to be addressed in another country.

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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.

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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 and humid. During the summer months is dray season when the weather is often quite nice (and cooler than the States).Dry season brings seasonal alergies, though.

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Schools & Children:

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

AISL - its small but profesionally run and the only one that offers a first-rate western education. Its expensive - as is everything here.

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

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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?

Nannies and some of the French schools offer daycare.

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

Not really.

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Expat Life:

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

Moderately large for the size of Libreville. Mostly French.

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2. Morale among expats:

Moderate.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Its all about going to resturants and other people's houses. There are some clubs which seem to be popular.

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

Yes. Its safe. There is a small nightlife scene that focuses on the clubs... but Libreville is not the most exciting place. If good resturants and quite weekends are your thing, this is a good place to live.

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

It's not great - but there is no active discrimination. That said, Gabon is a conservative catholic society. Draw your own conclusions.

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

Not really.

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

Traveling to Luango National park (nyonie).Quite beautiful and accessible if you are already in Libreville. Visitng Makokou was also fun - the Ogoue River is an amazing sight there.

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

Resturants. Jungle treks.

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

Art. There is some very stunning contemporary art for sale in Gabon.

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

The restuarnts are top notch. Its a very safe place to live. Some safari options.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes - despite the prices the relatiove difficulty of getting outside Libreville and the few things to do in the city means its not too hard to save money.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. It is safe. Life is at a slow pace, but not hard.

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

Internet addiction.

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3. But don't forget your:

French survival guide.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The Brandt Guide is the best.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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