Antananarivo, Madagascar Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Antananarivo, Madagascar

Antananarivo, Madagascar 07/16/20

Background:

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

No, fifth post in 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?

Long hard expensive flights to US, 30 hours travel time to get to East Coast via Paris

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3. How long have you lived here?

Four years.

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

UN.

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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 house with garden. Horrible traffic. 5km can take 1 hour.

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

Good supply, wide range of products imported from France.

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

Had everything we needed.

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

Fairly good selection of restaurants with low prices but did not frequent them as did not want to deal with traffic.

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

No.

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Daily Life:

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

Forget mail service. Packages do not arrive. DHL available but expensive.

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

Easily available but important to verify with references. Had a very bad experience (a lot of money stolen), followed by very good experience.

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

Tennis, riding, not expensive.

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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?

Yes.

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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?

French is needed. Malagasy appreciated but not needed.

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

Yes.

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Transportation:

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

Expats do not use public transport.

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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?

Need a robust car, lots of potholes.

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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?

No problem.

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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?

Good service with Vet Clinic.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Orphanages.

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Health & Safety:

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

Relatively safe.

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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?

Health care only ok for basic stuff.

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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?

Horrible air quality from terrible traffic and seasonal burning of fields.

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4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

The daily grinding poverty can be depressing in my opinion.

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

Nice climate, comfortable temperatures, cold nights during the winter months (it can drop to 8 degrees Celsius). Not humid.

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Schools & Children:

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

Very happy with ASA, very nice new facility, engaged staff.

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

Very few opportunities. I found a great piano teacher and painting teacher who came to the house. Tennis can be organized.

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Expat Life:

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

Relatively large expat community. Lots of French. Mixed morale.

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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?

Week-end get togethers in each other’s gardens.

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

For single people no. For families ok if you are ok with spending a lot of time at home.

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

Malagasy tend to be reserved.

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

There is a very elite upper class contrasted by masses of poor people.

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

Seeing the lemurs, Île St Marie.

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

Visit to lemur parks.

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

Comfortable climate, apart from rent the cost of living is low.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How very poor it is, how polluted it is, how bad traffic is, how long and expensive flights are to Europe and US, how corrupt it is, how difficult it is to achieve development results.

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

No, I found Madagascar incredibly depressing.

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

Illusions about coming to an Indian Ocean Island on par with Mauritius, Seychelles or Reunion.

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4. But don't forget your:

Air pollution monitor and how you will cope with daily images of depressing poverty (families living next to trash dumps) and starving homeless dogs.

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

Read about the very particular culture to help you understand the Malagasy mentality better and why the country remains as poor as it is.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Be prepared for coming to one of the poorest countries in the world with a system of governance that in my opinion serves the country’s elite.

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Antananarivo, Madagascar 03/02/17

Background:

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

Third expatriate experience, all others in sub-Saharan 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?

A brutal 30 hours to the east coast of the US, via CDG Paris.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1.5 years.

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

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?

We live in the SIDI apartments in Ivandry. Our 3-bedroom apartment is frankly the nicest house we've ever lived in, including the US. Modern finishes and amenities, beautiful porches/backyards, nice gardens, good security, utilities included. I'd recommend it if your budget allows. The only unfortunate thing is that the gym/pool isn't included, and it's actually quite expensive (think DC/New York membership prices).

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

If you're willing to compromise on brand and a little bit on quality, you can find almost everything in Antananarivo with a few exceptions. Occasionally stuff will be in stock for brief periods only - the good cheddar cheese, certain beers, flour tortillas, etc. But overall, the grocery shopping here is pretty good. Imported stuff is similar to US prices; anything local (meat, fruit, vegetables, some staples) is dirt cheap.

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

We shipped stuff that's typically not available in Africa: refried beans, jalapenos, BBQ sauce, good beer, salsa, dill pickles, black olives, etc. Also toiletries where we're brand-sensitive: face wash, shampoo, lotion, etc.

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

The restaurants here are pretty good and very inexpensive. There's a lot of good French/European food, some Italian, and several good Asian (Korean, Thai, Chinese) places. Lots of pizza. Takeout is neighborhood specific -- for us in Ivandry, it's pizza and Korean food, though I assume you could also get takeout from the Chinese and Middle Eastern places.

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

Even after 6 years in sub-Saharan Africa, I'd never experienced mosquitoes like the ones here, which come out in huge swarms at dusk. Very few during the day or at night, but there's about 1.5 hours in the evening where I avoid being outside during the mosquito season. Also, oddly, I have found the mosquitoes to be worse during the dry season than during the wet season. Maybe I'm crazy.

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Daily Life:

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

Through the US 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?

In our experience, household help is relatively highly-skilled and inexpensive. Nannies, drivers, and housekeepers all earn between about $100 and $200 per month.

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

There are quite a few private gyms and also yoga studios around Tana. I can't comment on quality/price.

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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?

We use credit cards at the grocery stores. Local ATMs are safe to use, but the maximum you can withdraw in any single transaction is 400.000 MGA (about $120), so be sure your bank won't charge you exorbitant transaction fees.

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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?

French is pretty useful for restaurants, taxis, etc. and of course absolutely necessary professionally. Malagasy wins you lots of points, even if only greetings. Some folks get by on just English.

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

Yes.

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Transportation:

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

Local taxis are very small and pretty uncomfortable for tall people. They don't have seat belts and frequently carry water bottles full of gas in the trunk. However, in my experience they're safe so long as you don't pull out your cell phone near an open window. You can get most places in Tana for less than $6.

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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?

I'd go with a small SUV - something with high clearance for the potholes, but small enough to easily maneuver/park in Tana.



Traffic in Tana can be a nightmare, especially during the rainy season. A few times a year, your 45-minute commute may take 3-4 hours in the evening. Don't get in the car unless you pee first. Bring a book. Be patient.

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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?

Yes, Telma offers fiber that gets us about 3 megs to the US. Usually good enough to stream standard definition TV/movies. Infrequent outages but be prepared for them anyway... get a backup 3G router from Orange.

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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?

Bring an unlocked phone and get a local SIM.

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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?

Local salary scales are very, very low by US standards. Spouses who work on the local market work for international NGOs who pay international salaries. Very few US Embassy spouses work on the local market; most take jobs at the Embassy.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots of folks volunteer at orphanages or do arts and crafts with local kids.

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

In my experience, dress here is less formal than in most of mainland Africa. For work, business casual is typical except for important meetings or high level officials/representatives. At the Embassy, many folks wear suits, but this is atypical for Madagascar.

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Health & Safety:

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

Just petty theft in and around town.

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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?

I wouldn't want to have a medical emergency here. Basically all complex cases require medical evacuation. Some simple cases become complex due to treatment received locally.

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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?

Not terrible for a developing-country capital city. Wood burning and brick-making in the cold season may affect some people. Diesel fumes while sitting in traffic.

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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?

The weather in Tana is beautiful; rarely too hot and rarely too cold. The sun is pretty intense year-round, though, so be sure to bring sunscreen.

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Expat Life:

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

Lots of dinners and get-togethers at people's houses in the evenings and on weekends. Hanging out by a pool. Meeting up at bars and restaurants. Running and walking groups, including an active Hash. Decent nightlife, or so I've heard. Lots of group day trips or weekend trips to places around Tana -- Andasibe, Ampefy, Mantasoa, etc.

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

It's definitely a great post for families with kids... there seems be a lot going on for kids 4 - 13(ish?). But I wouldn't rule it out as a couple or single, there's really a lot to do here if you're open to exploring.

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

Better than many African cities... the Malagasy are generally a live-and-let-live people.

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

Getting out of Tana and seeing the rest of Madagascar is essential. You can go in any direction - north, east, west, south - and have a wonderful trip. I would highly recommend getting off the beaten track and avoiding the big resorts.

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

We love going out to Ferme d'Ivato (an organic farm) on Sundays for a long lunch and a walk around the farm. Also, there's a local drag racing culture that we happened upon one weekend out in the country... day-long races at an old airfield outside of Tana. Lots of fun.

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

Yes - people buy a ton of souvenirs/gifts here. Gems and handmade jewelry; stones, fossils, and petrified wood; cashmere; baskets and raffia items; wood carvings and furniture; etc.

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

A jumping off point to the rest of the country. And really, Tana itself is a beautiful town... great vistas up on the hills.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

We had not anticipated how difficult it would be to get to really get to know Malagasy people... much harder than other countries we have lived. People are very friendly and welcoming, but also quite reserved. I think sports (soccer, basketball, rugby) would be the best entry point, if I could do it over again.

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

Absolutely. Wish we could stay longer.

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

Disney-inspired romanticism of a tropical island paradise (the closest rainforest is a 3 hour drive and the ocean is 6 hours away... Tana is a burgeoning developing-country capital in the mountains)

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, hiking shoes, and some $$$ savings for airplane tickets around the island.

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

BBC did a great three-part series on the wildlife of Madagascar that's worth checking out.

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Antananarivo, Madagascar 06/15/16

Background:

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

Second post. Previous Tirana, Albania.

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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?

Seattle, USA. It's a long long way to Tana from Seattle! Via Paris or via Johannesburg, SA are primary routes, though possibly some new options coming up. IF you have a pet... it's via Paris baby!

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3. How long have you lived here?

Since summer 2015.

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

Diplomatic.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Totally varies on your timing and who just moved out- some houses small others bigger. Housing pool is decent though layouts are funky and decisions on room sizes by the builders are baffling...how big should your bathroom be?

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

For the most part groceries are decent here--French influence? Good choices, decent quality. Best of all the bread is good and meat cuts recognizable and without bits of bone/ gristle. You can get most familiar things, cost is pretty good mostly.

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

Depends on your need for comfort items. Though we have a gracious consumable allowance, there is plenty of choice here in most areas. You cannot ship liquids by pouch in any quantity, so that is a consideration for consumables. Beer here is light and mostly the same, whatever the brand. Brew your own, or ship it in if you appreciate microbrews. Wine and spirits are freely available either in country or via duty free.

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

There are some decent eating options in town and some choices close to the typical expat housing area in Ivandry. Costs of eating out are very reasonable. There is not much in way of takeout. Some pizza delivery, though in our experience pizza here is a bit on the sad side, though hits the spot when starving!

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

Since Tana is in the Highlands, we are above the malaria zone, so antimalarials are not really needed here. If you go out of town though, malaria is present throughout the country. There is Plague here (bubonic and pulmonic) but you have to really be in a bad setting to be exposed to that. Schistosomiasis is in virtually all standing fresh water

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Daily Life:

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

Fortunate to get dip pouch-service. Have not used local mail service.

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

Cheap and plentiful--the usual range. Many expats have housekeepers, gardeners, some have cooks at least part-time, those with younger kids employ nannies. Many people have a driver too, though the needs for that might diminish after you have been here a while. It often seems like these employees come with the house or vehicle. Not all speak English... so best work on your French language employer skills!

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

Minimal facilities here. Couple of gyms, not super cheap apparently. There is a local athletic track that people can get into easily for free. If you are self directed, there are plenty of running and biking opportunities (mountain bike primarily, though the roads out of town are not too bad or busy...so maybe road bike???)

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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?

Minimal use, thoough bigger hotels and grocery stores will take them. For usual places, cash is it. ATM's are around and safe to use (at least as safe as anywhere else)

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

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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?

Business is in French. Locals speak Malagasy first and most will speak some French. English is rare! Language classes are available

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

Yup. Infrastructure is dire, roads bad, sidewalks even worse. No ADA rules apply here. It is bad enough if you are a normal pedestrian, let alone dealing with a physical disability!

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Transportation:

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

Local taxis and vans are rickety, barely intact and usually jam-packed. Cheap to take a taxi, is it safe? Your seat belt might not work and if you ignore the hole in the floor while holding the door closed, you should be good... Very few trains in Mada, though a couple exist.

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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?

Roads are harsh here. Potholes and mud can be maddening. A tough late model SUV, preferably 4WD with some clearance height. Traffic is heinous (understatement), parking and maneuvering tight, so leave your monster SUV at home. Fuel is not cheap, diesel better. Toyota king of the heap.. plentiful landcruiser, prados and so forth just like everywhere else in Africa. Easy to get spares and repairs- though not clear how trained the repair folks are here...Probably not thinking they are ACE certified!

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Phone & Internet:

1. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Unlocked phone + sim card. We use our iphones, they work fine. Plenty of mobile plans here, 3g in capital. Not too expensive.

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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?

A few decent vets here in town. Plenty of expats have dogs and cats here.

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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?

For DOS folks, plenty of EFM jobs at embassy. Outside there are many NGO's that could use help.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

This country has huge humanitarian needs. If you have the time, and money is no object, someone can use your help!

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

Pretty casual around town. Shorts are fine, nobody really seems to care. Typical embassy-wear and formal requirements.

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Health & Safety:

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

Typical security concerns from petty crime and theft. Not too much in way of violent crime, certainly, not aimed specifically at expats. This is a poor country though (most families live on less than $2 a day) so prudence and respect should be used when venturing out.

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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 a bit rough. Embassy has a health unit with FT medical provider and medevac to Pretoria at the first sign of something 'good,' so that should tell you something. Emergency services are minimal, no 911. Trauma services are dire... have medevac insurance!!! There are a few clinics that provide reasonable primary care, but even with a good provider, the equipment and supplies are minimal. Medications often from France are actually decent.

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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 can be really poor during Sept-October. Many fires in hills or with brick firing along the digues. Often inversions trap air in city. Rest of the year is not too bad.

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

Nothing special from my experience.

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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)?

No, usual expats in way remote place issues. Be aware there are minimal in-country mental health services 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?

In Tana, winters are cool (60's F) and summers are pleasantly hot (80's). Humidity is low... so actually quite nice. It is hot and humid in the coastal areas 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?

American School of Antananarivo, Lycee Francais, British International School. The Lycee is big with lots of facilities. The American school is pretty small, with minimal sports/ advanced facilities. moving to a bigger campus in 1-2 years, things should improve dramatically. IB curriculum.

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

Unknown- check with the school.

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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?

After school programs at ASA. Many folks at post have younger kids and use local preschools- either French or English speaking. Seem happy with what they are getting.

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

Minimal. Best be creating your own opportunities!

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Expat Life:

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

Decent spread of expats due to all the NGO's here. Makes for fun social interactions, not just with co-workers. Morale seems pretty good.

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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?

Make your own! There is an active local Hash group. A number of folks are active mountain bikers and seem to find plenty of opportunities for getting out and about. Usual expat social scene. Plenty of lemurs and amazing national parks to visit... however, travel times are usually very long due to distance, traffic, poor roads...

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

Plenty of singles, some night life. Plenty of families with younger kids. Tougher for high school aged kids... not much to do without transport, few places to 'hang out'

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

Seems fairly benign, but not qualified to comment.

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

No.

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

This is an amazing place. There are trips all over the place to be taken here. Read the Bradt Guide or Lonely Planet for suggestions.

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

Limitless mountain biking!!

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

Some interesting craft items for sure.

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

It is remote, difficult to get around or through due to traffic, extreme poverty, dire infrastructure.... yet people are friendly, especially if you make an effort in Malagasy, courteous despite their daily struggles.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

All, part of life's rich tapestry. Roll with the punches!

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

Sure, we actually extended our tour a year, if that tells you anything!

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

Roller blades and your sense of entitlement!

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4. But don't forget your:

Bring your bikes- the commute is much quicker on a bike through the fields than sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, bring cool weather clothing (winter here is cooler than you would expect for the tropics!!!!), a good attitude and sense of adventure!

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

Bradt Guide and Lonely Planet Guides to Madagascar. 8th Continent is good read too, but makes more sense once you are actually here!

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6. Do you have any other comments?

This has been an interesting experience for us. We wanted to do something different and this checks that box pretty well. Still lots to go see and do before we leave!

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Antananarivo, Madagascar 10/23/15

Background:

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

I have lived overseas before.

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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?

U.S. - at least 1.5 to 2 days of travel to get back home.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1.5 years.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

A mixture of houses and apartments. Most require a 45-minute to 2-hour commute, depending on the rainy season and road damage.

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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 several grocery stores (Dutch and French chains) that carry a good selection of items.

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

Most items are available through Amazon Prime/Pantry. Specific dish liquids and some other items are restricted by post.

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

Zero fast food. Ordering take-way generally requires an hour-plus wait, making it not really worth it. Cuisine here is mostly French and Malagasy. There are a few Asian/Indian-inspired places of exceedingly mediocre quality. Going out to eat at one of the fancier places at night involves driving on unlit streets, trying not to hit people, then wending your way back through the streets, which may or may not be sporadically lit by bonfires in oil drums (surrounded by prostitutes and their tiny toddlers).

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

You name it, Madagascar has it. Ants, mosquitoes, 3-4-inch cockroaches, termites, locusts...

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Daily Life:

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

Via diplomatic 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?

Quite inexpensive. We pay our household help beyond the top of the local scale and it's still very affordable. Among the local household help community, the Americans are the expat employers of choice because we pay very well and are "nice".

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

The U.S. Embassy has a nice gym, but it is not open to the public.

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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 ATMs accept Visa cards only. This is still very much a cash-based society. Some upscale restaurants/salons accept cards, but it's always a good idea to bring enough cash.

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

Not sure. I know some attend local Catholic/Christian/Mormon services, but cannot confirm that they are in English.

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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?

French is a must. Some general pleasantries in Malagasy are always appreciated.

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

Absolutely. This is a country with zero traffic lights, massive potholes, and no sidewalks, peopled by a crush of carts, humans, and barely-functioning vehicles.

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Transportation:

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

There is no real train service. Most taxis are 1960's Citroens and Renaults left as a legacy from French colonial times. Many times the interiors are stripped bare, and they have so much filler on them they resemble the Adobe from the Saturday Night Live skit. Taxi-bes and Taxi-brousses (City buses and overland buses, respectively) are verboten for us to take.

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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 small SUV with high clearance. Nothing brand-new.

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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?

Currently $130 USD per month for internet service that sporadically goes out.

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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 (puces) are widely available.

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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. There is one vet that many people use. They were able to provide basic services, including putting our ancient and ill cat to sleep.

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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?

Nope.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Orphanages.

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

Business at work. Expat casual in public. Most people on the street sport Goodwill cast-offs.

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Health & Safety:

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

The standard third-world routine - pickpockets, etc. Local-on-local crimes seem to be getting more violent, and some tourists have been targeted, though mostly just robbery. Poverty is endemic here, and for the lighter-skinned people are seen as walking dollar/euro signs. There is no shortage of soul-crushing, grinding poverty.

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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?

Numerous. I think there may have been two solid months since arriving that my children weren't hacking or had runny noses. We are a healthy bunch, but we are no match for Madagascar. I can't tell you the number of times I had to consult Dr. Google with the query "is this just a bad cold, or is it the Plague" (yes, they still have the Plague here).

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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?

Depends; awful in traffic (taxis/buses belching black smoke) and during the burning/charcoal/brick season, when the city is bathed in haze.

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

Air quality during the brick/burning season might exacerbate any issues. Watch out for mold/mildew in your house during the rainy season.

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

Mild. Averages 70 degrees, not terribly humid, sunshine most days, even in rainy season. The nice weather here is by far one of the advantages of post.

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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 American schools and French schools. A good mix of both kinds.

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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?

Yes. The American School charges $10,000+ for preschool, so many parents opt for the French-based schools that are more affordable.

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

Some through the schools.

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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 comprised of individuals from the U.S. Embassy and various NGOs and international organizations (banks, mining, etc.)

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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?

Not much. Stare at the walls of the compound. Go out for walks and get gawked at (and occasionally groped) by the locals.

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

Singles and couples seem to do okay. Families with older kids who have built-in social circles through the American/French school seem to keep themselves occupied. Families with babies and toddlers seem to suffer, as there is not much here to do, especially with the restricted mobility that comes with having little kids. Not to mention the constant illnesses and terror that come with a minimally verbal ill child and complete lack of basic healthcare services.

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

Homosexuality is still frowned upon here in Madagascar, though the embassy has been trying to educate the community.

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

The ability to fly away to a better destination.

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

Once you've been to the lemur parks, it's all about saving your money to get out of the country.

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

Cashmere (sourced in Mongolia, knitted by locals), dinosaur bones/fossils, petrified wood, gemstones, various carved wood items.

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

Nice weather year-round. Terrific thunderstorms during rainy season. Adorable babies everywhere you look. Inexpensive fossils, gemstones, cashmere.

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9. Can you save money?

Absolutely.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How hard it was going to be. How constantly miserable we were going to be. How there is a complete lack of things that children need for healthy growth/development/blowing off steam (even the most basic of parks). The complete lack of infrastructure means that even trying to "get away" by taking a short drive is beyond frustrating, making road trips not worth it. If you're bringing an 8 to 13-year-old-kid who doesn't get carsick and enjoys barely-passable washboard/potholed roads, you're in luck! Those bringing toddlers and babies...godspeed. You're in for a long, isolating tour. The days are long. The years are long. And you're stuck in your walled compound.

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

Absolutely not. I would rather spend a year in a war zone away from my family then subject them to living here again. This experience has siphoned off a good portion of my soul.

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

Illusions of DreamWorks animated movies.

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4. But don't forget your:

Antidepressants/coping mechanism of choice.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Look, it's Anthony Bourdain being a gluttonous turd in front of starving children! Whee!

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Friends and colleagues who have served in West African posts think that Madagascar is a cakewalk in comparison. Some singles love it and find ways to keep themselves busy--whether flying to other countries or getting massages. Locals I have spoken with say that things continue to go downhill for Madagascar. There are a lot of institutional issues that need to be addressed before Madagascar can start moving in a positive direction.

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Antananarivo, Madagascar 03/19/15

Background:

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

It was my first expat experience the first time I traveled here, and I've also lived in Paris, Galway, Islamabad and Kigali.

This post would be tough if you didn't have a decent level of French. It would be even better if you could master some basics in Malagasy (which is pretty easy to learn).

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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 base is Washington DC, and the typical routing is via Paris. The other main options for connections are Bangkok, Nairobi, Reunion Island and Johannesburg.

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3. How long have you lived here?

A total of 3 years.

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

I've lived in Tana six times over the last 15 years, each time for a different reason, and most recently as a researcher.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Excellent availability of groceries. There are major international grocery stores with products from Europe with a bit of a markup. The local fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, poultry etc are varied, excellent quality and reasonably priced.

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

The options here are limitless. The best would be to pick up several guidebooks, then ask your friends once you arrive to take you to new places as they open. Good food is not lacking in Tana, and it's possible to eat very cheaply or expensively depending on what you want. Elite restaurants are probably around US$20-30 on average without alcohol (places like Lavaranga or Chez Mariette's [the latter a cordon bleu certified chef who blends traditional dishes with French cooking techniques]). Slightly less fancy high end places are maybe US$12-15 (La Boussole, Ku De Ta). Average for restaurants that draw middle class locals and expats would be around US$5-8 (Gastro Pizza etc). Simple local cuisine in a "hotely" is around US$1-3.

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

The usual assortment of insects (lots of mosquitoes) and quite a few indigenous ones you won't recognize. Once I found a moth plastered to the underside of my sink that was bigger than my hand. The older wooden plank floors in traditional and historic houses around Tana are favorites with fleas, so take precautions (for your mattress as well).

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Daily Life:

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

The public mail service is slow and items are often lost/waylaid en route. DHL, FedEx and UPS are available and reliable.

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

Several of the hotels offer membership deals to use their gyms. There are also quite a few other gyms around town.

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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?

Most banks have ATMs in major cities around the island. It's a good idea to have an ATM card with a chip in it rather than just an American-style strip as it will work in more machines. Smaller towns may not have an ATM. In my experience, most stores and restaurants don't accept cards unless they're in major hotels, with a few notable exceptions (like many of the high end stores in the upscale Zoom shopping center in Tana). Carry cash.

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

You definitely need French - English is not used much. Malagasy is helpful but not necessary for most interactions, but if you shop at local markets it would be useful to pick up some basics, which are easy to master. You'll win quite a few hearts!

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

Tana would be a very difficult city for someone with physical disabilities. The city is full of hills and rickety 150 year old stone staircases. Large sections can flood in the rainy season. Traffic is slow, including public transport, consisting of private taxis and group taxi minibuses. The latter you have to step up into and they're crowded and hard to maneuver in. Getting around downtown on foot is often preferred because it can be faster, but the sidewalks (where there are any) are usually crammed with street vendors, leaving no option but to walk in the street dodging traffic.

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Transportation:

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

I've never had a problem with local transport. It's generally safe. The main issues are some recent concerns over bandits hitting group taxis on national routes between major cities at night, although I hear this is improving. The group taxis have dealt with it by forming convoys so they don't travel alone. Police also sometimes offer to ride in the vehicle if there is a particular concern. The other main issue is the drivers getting drowsy on the road. It happens every once in a while that there's an accident because of this, but it's the exception.

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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?

A small SUV with 4WD is a must during the rainy season, especially outside of Tana. The roads are often in poor condition for long stretches (even the paved roads, and those are few outside of Tana). Japanese parts and servicing are easy to find in Tana.

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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?

Yes, this is available... costs are coming down regularly. Best to check once you arrive in country.

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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?

Cell phones are cheap and easy to find... no problems here.

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Health & Safety:

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

The main concerns are similar to other big cities - petty theft, mainly, so keep valuables out of sight/reach. Don't drive around town with your windows down as it invites purse snatching. Violent crime is relatively rare in Madagascar, but don't take unnecessary risks. Now that the political crisis has been resolved

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2. 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?

Generally I find the air quality to be moderate in Tana. The rain, breezes and high altitude help to keep the air reasonably clean, but many cars pump out a huge amount of exhaust, and it's not enjoyable to have to walk down a sidewalk alongside stalled traffic or have a toxic bus blow a black cloud your way as it labors up one of Tana's many hills. Definitely avoid walking through one of the city's two tunnels, which trap the exhaust.

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

Climate is very comfortable - for me, ideal. Because the sun is intense but the altitude keeps things cool, and because Tana is full of hills and stairs, while walking around town it's easy to have sunstroke/dehydration without realizing it. Keep lots of water on hand and drink throughout the day if you're walking.

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Expat Life:

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

Speaking as a single, this is a great post for singles. I've made lots of local friends, which is of course the best way to get to know the place. Nightlife here is a lot of fun. There's European style techno, hip-hop and pop music clubs, lots of clubs that play Malagasy + African music, lots of live cabarets, piano bars, and even the occasional concert featuring an international artist. There are tons of great restaurants serving all kinds of cuisines, pool halls, karaoke, dance/spoken word/theater etc events at the Centre Culturel Albert Camus or Centre Germano-Malagasy, an upcoming American Cultural Center that will have a movie theater in it, lecture series at the university and hosted by various NGOs, art galleries, several public pools, plenty of places to watch or play sports (rugby is an especially big sport here), all kinds of exhibitions, hira gasy and other traditional events... there's plenty to do if you know where to look to find out about it.

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

Intolerance and prejudice are the norm toward the gay and lesbian community, unfortunately. But there is an underground scene. If you carefully explore, you can find it, and it's a lot of fun (mainly revolving around house parties).

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

There are some biases among a certain proportion of the population. Historically, there was a certain trend for the more fair-skinned/Austronesian-origin Malagasy to view themselves as superior to Malagasy with darker complexions, but this is diminishing. There was also historically some animosity among Malagasy toward the Indo-Pakistani and Chinese populations, who became prominent in commerce over the last century. How much these things still influence day-to-day interactions or would impact you would largely depend on the attitudes of any given individual you meet - it varies a lot and there's been a push among the younger urban generation in particular to leave the past in the past. I'm not aware of any prejudice against Muslims - they're a minority that has long been established on the island. Men and women are fairly equal in general in Madagascar, although there are some traditional gender roles that persist in some families, which some women find limiting. Both genders are well represented in the public sphere and generally both have a say in the family sphere.

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

Making local friends; volunteering at the English Teaching Program in Tana and exploring Madagascar with its Mountain Climbing Club; visiting national parks, trekking and camping; incredible live music and nightlife; participating in local festivities like a famadihana, weddings, and the traditional new year celebration; discovering delicious local dishes; weekly visits to the colorful neighborhood market; meeting and learning from local painters (there are lots of great artists); strolling the historic neighborhoods of Tana taking in the architecture; visiting historic sites around the highlands (the 12 sacred hills etc); learning to play the valiha.

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

The main tourist attractions in Tana are the royal palace (Rova of Antananarivo), the Ambohimanga UNESCO world heritage site, and Lemurs Park. For a nice afternoon escape I really recommend visiting the 12 sacred hills, including the villages of Ambohidrabiby, Ambohidratrimo, Alasora, Imerimanjaka and Ilafy. For a longer day or weekend trip the options are many: Lake Mantasoa and the ruins of the 19th century munitions factories there, the hot springs and Lily waterfall at Ampefy, and the beautiful waterfall and paths around Queen Ranavalona's summer palace at Tsinjoarivo, to name just a few. This is a beautiful, safe country for exploring off the beaten path.

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

There are beautiful local woven cloths called lambas that look great framed. Local silver bracelets are also very striking. There are lots of local gemstones of high quality, although not especially cheap unless you know the going prices and can assess quality and bargain hard (the pink sapphires are outstanding). Much of the art sold in artisan markets is mass produced but art galleries like Roses et Baobabs have one of a kind pieces of top quality (paintings, sculptures, drawings etc). Local musical instruments are available and fun to learn.

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

Madagascar is truly a unique place. As an island, it doesn't share its culture with anywhere else, although the influences are evident from Indonesia, East Africa, India and France. The wildlife and landscapes are spectacular and the high endemism makes it a truly incomparable paradise for hiking, camping and other outdoor activities. There's great natural diversity from one part of the island to the other, and you could easily spend a full tour here only traveling within the country and still not see everything there is to discover.

The weather is excellent in Tana. In summer temperatures can creep toward 90F with heavy afternoon rainstorms that create spectacular sunsets and clean the air. In winter it's usually clear and sunny, around 70F degrees in the daytime and in the 40s at night, but it never snows (frost happens rarely). The spring and fall are sunny and mostly clear and in the high 70s/low 80s. There are all kinds of excellent seasonal fruits and veggies, and lots of flowers in Tana (and the national parks!). The way the countryside looks can vary dramatically according to the season.

The culture is distinctive and vibrant, and I really enjoyed discovering the music, dancing, cuisine, local customs and worldview, and historical sites, which are numerous and well preserved relative to several other places in Africa. Having lived in other African posts, I feel Tana has as much or more to do within a day's drive than most others, although those who've only ever lived in larger/more developed cities might find the options limited.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Can't wait to go back.

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

The Bradt Guide to Madagascar is the best by far in English. Lonely Planet also has some complementary information in their guide. In French, check out La Petite Fute, Routard, and Le Guide Bleu.

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3. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Watch the documentary on Mahaleo, the island's most beloved musical group.

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Antananarivo, Madagascar 04/24/13

Background:

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

This is our 5th expat experience. We have lived in Sevilla, Spain; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Yamaguchi, Japan and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

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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?

We consider our home base to be Washington DC, but our family is in Texas. Washington DC is a full 24 hours of travel at best. Getting on to other cities can add about 6-8 hours of additional travel, depending on where in the US you're going.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We have been here 10 months.

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

My husband is a US Embassy employee.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Almost all families are in houses, but some are in newer apartments. The houses are old, and many have longstanding structural, plumbing or electrical problems. That said, they are all unique and kind of quirky---and have hardwood floors. If you're willing to just accept this as reality, then you can really enjoy where you live. The houses all have fantastic yards. Most people have beautiful gardens, and almost everyone grows vegetables. Some people have fruit trees. The commute time to the embassy averages about 30 minutes, but it can be much, much longer with traffic. It is possible to bike (or even run) to the embassy through the rice fields (avoiding the main roads - mountain bike recommended). For those who are sporty, this is an excellent option, as it is safe and the route is beautiful.

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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 get almost anything you want here, but you rarely, if ever, will find American brands. Most brands are South African or French. Our friends coming from other African posts think the supermarkets here are great; those coming from Latin American, Asia or Europe seem to complain more. If you're with the embassy you can order many things through the pouch. You also get a consumables shipment. There is an awesome farm that sells organic produce and farm-fresh eggs and naturally raised chickens, ducks, rabbits and sometimes pork. You can order from their website and they deliver to Ivandry! Each of the three main supermarket chains has a small organic section. The cost at supermarkets depends on what you buy. If you shop simply and don't go overboard on imported goods, then the costs are high but not outrageous. Most imported goods are shockingly expensive - $10 for cereal, $5 for a small bag of shredded cheese, $8 for a small bag (1/4 cup) bag of walnuts. It's kind of annoying at times to have to pay so much, but we don't spend our money on much else, so it hasn't been that big of a deal.

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

Maybe tires. We shipped our preferred toiletries and a few food items that we weren't sure we would be able to get, but we could have been fine without them (we would have simply paid more here).

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

There are no fast food restaurants - no chain restaurants of any kind, really. But there are lots and lots of great restaurants with wonderful atmosphere and good food. The food tends to be very French.

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

There are lots of mosquitoes from July through November. While there is no malaria in Tana the mosquitoes are very aggressive, loud and painful. You must sleep under a mosquito net, and even then the constant buzzing is really annoying. But, from December through May/June the mosquitoes all but disappear - you can go without a net, especially if you have window screens (all US Embassy housing has screens). Other than that, there are the typical bugs: ants, roaches (no hissing ones that we have seen), and lots of very interesting bugs that you've never seen before. Except for the mosquitoes, the insects aren't bothersome, and most are actually quite fascinating.

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Daily Life:

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

The US Embassy has pouch but no DPO.

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

Domestic help is readily available and extremely affordable. This is a very, very poor country and even if you're paying your staff at the top of the local income scale, the pay is well below what you would be used to paying almost anywhere else in the world. There is a sizable Malagasy nanny/maid community that works primarily with Americans. They tend to be kind (loving with children) and warm-hearted. Many of them speak English, but if you have some basic French it's an advantage.

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

There are several gyms. The US Embassy also has a gym, a pool and basketball courts. There are tennis courts in Ivandry.

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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 can use credit cards without too much worry. Most places take Visa but nothing else. ATMs are relatively safe, but most official Americans use the embassy cashier.

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

I think there are Catholic and maybe LDS services in English, but I'm not sure.

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

Many people have satellite tv, but we don't. I have no idea about the cost.

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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?

You can get by here in French, and it's an advantage to have it in Tana, but Malagasy is without question the primary language. My husband and I both feel that our French skills (we had 5 months of French at FSI) have gone down hill since arriving here. If you have any opportunity to study Malagasy while you're here (even to just pick up a few words) it would be well worth your time.

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

Many - it would be practically impossible to get around the city.

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Transportation:

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

No. Robbery and theft are common. Taxis might be slightly safer than buses, but the taxis are all Renaults from the 1960s and are very lacking in general safety features. US Embassy personnel are forbidden from using public transportation of any kind.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

4x4 is ideal - especially if you plan on traveling outside of Tana. Smaller 4x4s are better for the small, winding streets of Tana, but you can get by fine with a mid-size.

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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?

The regular internet service is quite slow but passable for reading email, news and Facebook. It is annoyingly slow for watching YouTube videos. Skype works fine. It costs about $70 per month. Fiberoptic connection is available, but that is much more expensive - however, those who have it swear it's the key to their sanity. There are at least 3 internet providers. Most US Embassy families use Telma.

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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?

Cell phones are the norm here and are affordable. If you bring a phone from the States it's easy to get it unlocked for a small fee.

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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)?

There is one good kenneling facility run by a South African woman. Her vets on staff are okay. She is incredibly loving with animals, knowledgeable and helpful. We kenneled our dog with her for 10 days, and the care was excellent.

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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?

I'm not sure. Probably not - the economic situation is quite bad.

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

Casual. Dress at the embassy is normal business wear.

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Health & Safety:

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

The security situation here is constantly in flux. Around Ivandry you can safely walk/bike/drive without any worry during the day. In the evening, you could walk safely from a friend's house, but it wouldn't be wise to do it alone. Outside of Ivandry in the evening/night you wouldn't want to walk, and even when driving you must be very alert. During the day we feel safe going just about anywhere, but we always lock our doors and remain alert. Downtown at night it would not be safe at all to walk anywhere, but driving with friends to popular restaurants or bars is rarely a problem. Kidnappings occasionally happen, but they seem to remain isolated to the business community. Petty crime is a problem everywhere, but for the most part you will feel safe if you remain aware of your surroundings. Also, there's a history of periodic political violence, although the political situation has been relatively stable since we've been here.

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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?

People seem to have problems here with environmental allergies from mold, pollen and dust. I think that if you are asthmatic it might be difficult here. Everyone we know gets mild to moderate stomach problems from time to time - usually from ingesting something that wasn't properly cleaned. You do not need to take anti-malarials in Tana, but you should take them when traveling many places outside of the capital. The embassy has a good clinic, but all major medical problems must be taken care of by medevac (usually to South Africa). Medical care here is very limited.

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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?

I would say it depends. In general the pollution is quite bad. Most of the U.S.Embassy housing is in the Ivandry neighborhood on the north end of Tana. This provides a bit of protection from the pollution compared to other parts of the city. In the city center the pollution is bad enough that you wouldn't want to drive with your windows down. But typically, around our home, we can have the windows open or enjoy being outside and (except for days when people are burning trash) the pollution isn't especially bothersome.

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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?

As with anything, this depends on your perspective. We find the weather here to be very mild and one of the highlights of living here. Summers (during the North American winters) are rainy with some really incredible afternoon storms. It can get warm, but not too terribly hot. The humidity is usually not that bad. The winters here (during North American summers) are dreary at times and very, very dry and dusty. It can be quite cold at night, but during the day it's comparable to Colorado in the summer.

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Schools & Children:

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

Almost all US Embassy children go to the American School of Antananarivo (the French school is also an option, but I only know of one family sending their children there). The American School is located in Ivandry and is easy access from all of the family housing - you can walk (although part of the walk is on a busy road), and there is also an embassy shuttle that picks up the children in the morning and takes them home after school. The primary campus houses grades 1 through 12. Preschool, Pre-K and Kindergarten are in another villa about 1/2 mile from the main campus (in the neighborhood). The school day is from 7:45AM until 2:45PM. The school is working to become PYP certified. I would say overall the American School is average. The major advantage is that it is close and the community is small. Our children have really benefitted from such a small campus - they feel able to navigate the school and know many of the teachers by name. The principal and director know every child by name(!) and there is a very informal feel to the setting. There seems to be a real enthusiasm from the community and many opportunities for parents to get involved with the school. Academically, I think the school is fine but not spectacular. There is a real hit-or-miss situation with the teachers - some are the best we have seen anywhere, and others are surprisingly uninspiring. So, from this perspective, it feels like an average American public school. All in all, we're happy because our kids are happy, but we won't leave here considering it to have been the best educational experience they have had (nor the worst).

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

I think this is minimal. There is one teacher who does some special-ed instruction, but my impression is that it is very limited. It would definitely be worthwhile to look into this by contacting the school directly if you have a child with special needs.

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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?

Most people send their preschool-age children either to the Early Childhood Center (ECC) at the American School or to Kids Academy (where instruction is primarily in French). The ECC is a bit expensive, so Americans tend to use it only for Pre-K and above. We have a child in Pre-K at ASA, and he has made great friends and is enjoying his time there. There is only very minimal foreign language (e.g. French) instruction, since most of the children are learning English for the first time. Kids' Academy is much, much cheaper, and all of the children I have known who go there (and there are many expat kids who go) have learned a great deal of French. It is more like a really nice daycare. Based on comments of friends who have their children there, I would say that if your child is under age 4, this is an ideal setting.

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

Yes, but they are very limited. The ASA offers after-school activities (mostly for grades 2 and higher), but the schedule is completely dependent upon finding volunteers to sponsor the activities. And, frankly, the activities are really just a chance for kids to play - the quality of actual instruction/coaching is limited. This seems to be fine for elementary-school kids, but if you have a middle schooler or high schooler that is really into sports, then they will have a hard time with this. Soccer players will have much more luck than those who play other team sports. There are opportunities for kids to participate in non-school-related activities, but it can be difficult to find them, and the quality, again, is hit or miss (and the instruction is almost always in French). There is a horseback-riding facility that gets high marks from the French community, and there are excellent private music instructors (especially violin and piano).

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Expat Life:

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

Very large - mostly European (French). Some Chinese and Russian. There are very few Americans.

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2. Morale among expats:

This varies widely. LIke anywhere, it just depends on who you talk to. This can be a difficult post - it's far away from everywhere, the cost of travel in the country and out is astronomical, it's very, very poor and there is not much to do. But, within our social circle people are really happy - we have all kind of decided to make the best of it. The advantage is that we all have children between the ages of 10 and infant and we just get together and enjoy time having a drink and letting the kids play. And, despite the uncertain political situation, it's pretty safe here. The climate is nice. It's a lot like living in a small town - and the morale reflects that.

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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?

As previously mentioned, the best thing to do is hang out with friends. The upside is that because there isn't a lot to do people are always organizing events (sports, game nights, book clubs, etc.). The CLO at the embassy organizes tons of events year-round that, compared to other posts, are attended by embassy and non-embassy, Americans and non-Americans alike.

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

To be honest, Tana can be a "boring" place to live. There is not much to do if you're looking for nightlife. So I think families tend to fare much better - especially if they have kids in the American School. We have found that we have made lifelong friends here - both within the embassy and without. I think that if you're not connected with the school it would be a lot harder to find things to do, and in that sense it would be more difficult for singles or couples without children.

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

There is some anti-gay prejudice among the Malagasy population. We have gay friends here who seem to have had no problems, but I don't know specifics about how they were personally received by the larger culture/community.

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

Yes, but they tend to be within the Malagasy community. Generally, the darker your skin the more likely you are to be discriminated against, but this seems to apply more to Malagasy than to expats. There is a large ethnic Indo-Pakistani community (some Muslim, some Hindu) and there is a certain amount of prejudice against them from other Malagasy. There also is a certain amount of discrimination against anyone who is perceived to be Chinese or African. In general, there is the assumption that "vazaha" (foreigners) are French, and there is certainly an amount of dislike that can go with that. There are really no apparent prejudices against Americans, but people may not even consider the fact that you could be American.

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

Without a doubt the highlight of our time here has been the friends we have made. This is a very tight-knit community from our perspective, and because it can often feel like a small town, you find yourself seeing people you know all the time. Unlike the other places we have lived, here we have found that our social circle is much more diverse (i.e., not all American and not all Embassy). This is a nice change. Unfortunately, these highlights have little to do with Tana or Madagascar in particular....except for the fact that, perhaps, with so little to really do here you find yourself spending more time with friends and family, compared to other posts where there is a lot to do.

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

There are some good restaurants and fun places to enjoy a drink with friends. For the most part, the best thing to do in Tana is to make really good friends and hang out at each others' houses. We find that every weekend we are completely booked up with parties, dinners, brunches and playdates, but we almost never go out. Shopping can be interesting at the local markets, but it's not something you would do often. There are some fun places within 4 hours where you can go to spend a long weekend. These places have opportunities to see lemurs, hike and relax.

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

There are tons of cool things to buy here - Raffia baskets, wood crafts, embroidered goods, stones.

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

The primary advantage is simply that this is Madagascar - one of those places you will likely never go unless you're doing a tour here. There are lots of amazing things to see, but, they are much more difficult to get to than we ever imagined. The weather in "Tana" is perfect. The culture is unique, and Tana itself, while a bit rough and tumble, is quite interesting. Being here also gives you a chance to travel to other islands in the Indian Ocean at a (relatively) inexpensive rate.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes - there is not much to do. But, if you do travel a lot this might be more difficult.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, but we wouldn't want to come back here for a future tour. We have made wonderful friends here, and really, it's Madagascar! But it's very far from home. I think it's safe to say across the board that the distance of Madagascar from everywhere, combined with the cost of travel, is the single most significant factor that makes this a difficult post. Our kids have been incredibly happy here - I think it will be more difficult for them to leave than for my husband and I.

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

skateboard (there's limited pavement here), your desire for order and infrastructure, and your assumption that you will be traveling far and wide through the Malagasy bush. You can travel here and have wonderful adventures, but it is very expensive and the infrastructure is quite lacking - this is not a place especially designed for tourism.

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3. But don't forget your:

sense of adventure (despite the difficulty, it's worthwhile to try to travel here), warm clothes (it's chilly on winter evenings), Malagasy phrase book, and your patience.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

I think there is a British or perhaps a National Geographic documentary, but I'm not sure. The Dreamworks movies don't resemble Madagascar in any way.

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

None really - there aren't many written about Madagascar. It's good to have a good guide book (Bradt is excellent and Lonely Planet passable) and good books on local birds, flora and fauna.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

The current political situation is very difficult, and life here could change in an instant - for Malagasy and expats alike. It's unfortunate because you can look around and see such promise, but decades of mismanagement have left much of the country inaccessible and the population increasingly poor and uneducated. Geographic isolation and economic desperation make the future of Madagascar unfortunately uncertain. It's very sad because without a doubt this is a beautiful country with incredible people. It's worth it to consider a tour here, but come prepared for uncertainty.

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Antananarivo, Madagascar 04/13/10

Background:

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

I have lived in Dhaka, Manila, Budapest and Jerusalem.

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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?

The trip from DC to Tana is about 24 hours with layovers. Flights are generally either through Paris or Johannesburg.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Many foreigners live in the neighborhood called Ivandry. Embassy employees live in either houses or apartments. The apartments are new, modern, and very well appointed. I like them a lot. The embassy just moved locations and it takes about 25 minutes each way (no matter what time of day).Without traffic, it takes 15 minutes to go from Ivandry to downtown.

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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 three major international grocery store chains (two French, one South African) which stock nearly everything. There are also local markets where you can get meat, fish, veggies and fruit. I find the food to be relatively cheap, as long as you aren't buying only American-branded cereals and the like.

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

None that I can think of.

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

There are no American fast food chains. There are many pizza joints, however. The food here is excellent - if you like French fusion. A main course at the nice restaurants will cost about $7. A main course at the nicest and most expensive restaurant in town is only $20. Eating out is a night in and of itself. With wine, appetizers, and desserts (all of which are amazing) a meal will take about two hours to eat. There are many ethnic restaurants here, including Thai, Chinese, Italian, Korean, etc.

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

Even though I've always heard about them before arrival, I have yet to see a Madagascar hissing cockroach!

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Daily Life:

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

I don't use the local mail system. The embassy has a 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?

Household help is very good and very inexpensive. I pay about $60 for part-time help. Maids often cook as well. In my experience, they are very reliable, hard working, and a true asset.

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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?

Only one bank accepts Mastercard at their ATM. The rest accept only Visa. I've used credit cards at the grocery store and some higher-end tourist shops. It's a cash economy, though. The highest note is equal to $5, so you'll be carrying around a lot of cash.

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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?

There's one English language newspaper, but it doesn't really provide any news from what I can tell. There was satellite tv from South Africa available, but that has been out of service for a few months now. No word on when/if it will return.

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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 pretty essential for daily living. There are people who don't speak it, but I use it daily. A few words of Malagasy are nice. Many people outside the major cities do not speak much French.

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

People with physical disabilities would not be able to manage the city. It's built on many hills and there are stairs everywhere. There are very few sidewalks and many of the streets are cobblestone.

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Transportation:

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

There are no local trains and long distance buses are not recommended. They are uncomfortable, take a long time, and are becoming unsafe. Taxis are ok and relatively safe.

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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 vehicles are the best. I have a Rav4 and love it due to the size. The roads are very very narrow (add to that the lack of sidewalks and everyone and everything being on the road with you), and I can't imagine driving a larger vehicle. That said, many people have large SUVs. Toyota is best, as there are many dealerships and repair shops.

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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 expensive and of bad quality. I pay $70 for ADSL that is quite slow. It's fast enough for Skype, however. Madagascar was recently connected to two underwater fiber optic cables. I hope that the speed will soon go up and the cost will soon go down.

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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?

Everyone needs a mobile phone. SIM cards are easily available, as are cards for topping-up credit.

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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?

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

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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?

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

Business and business casual at work. In public, anything goes.

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Health & Safety:

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

Security has gone downhill since the 2009 coup d'etat. Armed robbery, which was nearly non-existent two years ago, is now unfortunately fairly common. Foreigners are almost never targeted in that crime, however. Petty crime such as pickpocketing has gone up sharply. Although crime isn't nearly as bad as in most other places in Africa, it's much worse than it was.

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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?

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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?

Technically Tana is a very dirty city. However, I haven't had any respiratory problems. Sanitation is nearly non-existant, however, and public urination and defecation are common sites.

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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?

The weather is great. It's about 85 degrees in summer and 70 in winter. It can get cold (45 or 50 degrees) at night in winter, however. All Embassy housing has either heaters or fireplaces. The sky is almost always clear and bright blue. It can be quite hot and humid on the coast.

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Schools & Children:

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

I have no kids in the school but have not heard good things about it.

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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?

There are over 20,000 French on the island. There are only about 1000 Americans. Most of the French here are men married to Malagasy women.

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2. Morale among expats:

Morale among my friends is quite good here. We all love(d) it here.

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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?

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

I think this is a great city for everyone. Heterosexual single men have many dating opportunities. Women and non-heterosexual men might be frustated with the scene. That said, with a good group of friends, there are boundless opportunities. There are many excellent restaurants and several clubs and bars. There's a lot of hiking to do in and out of the city. There are several tennis courts and two larger clubs with pools, equestrian facilities, etc.

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

It is not a good city for them. There is no open gay scene of which to speak.

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

I have not heard of, nor experienced, any problem with prejudices. There are some anti-French sentiments, however.

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

The domestic travel has been outstanding. I've taken countless day and weekend trips and have barely scratched the surface of what there is to see. Mainly there's beaches and hiking. I also love the food here.

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

Eat out, travel, hike, camp, etc.

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

Vanilla, scarves, wood carvings, gems/jewelry, rocks, petrified wood, etc.

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

The weather in Tana is amazing. Because of the altitude, it never gets too hot or too cold. The skies are almost always clear and blue. The traveling opportunities are country cannot be rivaled. There is so much to see and do - you will never be bored.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes. Even with all my traveling I have saved a lot. An insider tip: book domestic flights more than 14 days in advance for a 40% discount on fares. With the 40% off, the fares are somewhat reasonable, without it, they are prohibitively expensive and not worth it.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely. I have loved it here.

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

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3. But don't forget your:

patience for traffic, guide books, sense of adventure.

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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?

This is a hardship post, and given its isolation, difficult traffic, dirtiness, etc., it can be a difficult place to live. But if you have the right attitude and enjoy all that it has to offer, it can be the most amazing place you've ever been.

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Antananarivo, Madagascar 12/08/08

Background:

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

No. Maputo, Gabarone, Maseru, Dar es Salaam, Kampala, Monrovia, and Ouagadougou.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

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

Travelling with spouse.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most expat families live in a standalone house, not commune. The main suburb for English expats (including American) is Ivandry. The French and Mauritian families generally are spread anywhere in the city. Traffic is not bad, except in the centre city and around an area called Devil's Triangle (road leading North of city towards COT country club). Roads are really bad though, especially in the rainy season. Children and pedestrians are everywhere.

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

Availability good - mostly all French imports. South African supermarket chain of Shoprite there, so south african products available too. Fresh products availability good, but cleanliness limited. Relative cost...hmmm...this is difficult since I don't have a country base/index to compare it to. Fruit and veg cheap. Lets say my monthly grocery bill (excluding household cleaning supplies and alcholic beverages) came to about around 2,000 euros. Please bard in mind that we are a family of 3, and lived off imported goods, hardly shopped at the local markets (much cheaper) and only bought imported dairy products.

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

I can't think of anything that I missed having.

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

No real good restaurants that I can mention, except La Varangue, Palladios (consistent food quality and service, italian place)

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Daily Life:

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

By postal service, snail mail. Have sent to Europe, South Africa and England. All arrived - but only sent mail, no packages.

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

Good. Househelp around 100 Euros a month. The american families tend to pay more than the francophone families - maybe due to the fact that the help speaks English.

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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?

There are ATMs. They are not always operational. In the 2 years of having a card, the 6 times I tried to withdraw, I was successful twice. Credit cards are accepted, mainly VISA .Cash is king.

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

Yes. Not sure which denominations, but there is a weekly ENGLISH catholic service.

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

Not sure since it was provided for us.

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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?

French would be good. Not much english around at all. Local language, Malagasy, a real bonus on the markets, touring, etc, but French would be better.

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

A lot. There are hardly any facilities for physical disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

Took local taxis (called a Taxibe in city and Taxibrousse outside city) and cabs. Both safe. The Taxibe's very crowded and not really roadworthy by western standards.

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2. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

The right hand side. Or whatever side there is nothing 'coming at you', like livestock, trucks, etc. Or wherever there is a road. Joking, but a reality especially after leaving the city's outskirts.

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3. 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 less computerized the better - the more mechanical the better. Toyota landcruiser, Hilux/pickup, Mitsubishi, Nissan Patrol, 4x4s etc.

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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?

It is available but didn't find it high speed? Maybe a few seconds faster than dialup modems...

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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?

As above and watch your phone - nice item to swipe and a common occurence in shops, restaurants,on the street, etc.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Mobile phone is good. Landline company Telma not bad either though. Mobile companies Orange and Zain (ex Celtel) both good and expensive.

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Pets:

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

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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. Cost of living rather high though, not sure the salary would provide for standard of living?

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

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate to bad - actually Antananarivo was voted as the 3rd dirtiest city in a 2008 Forbes Report. The litter and sanitation are bad.

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

Not really, except for pickpocketing. House breakins and carjackings are rare to none.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Malaria is not common (and most say not found) in the capital of Antananarivo, but a big problem on the coasts. Typhoid cases are during every rain season. Cholera cases in the rainy season. Pollution is bad and there is a general lack of good hygiene.

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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?

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Schools & Children:

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

I have only had experience with the preschools. There is a good French International School and an American School. The French School has the better reputation, but have not had experience with it.

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

None really that I know of.

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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 good private preschools available, francophone and anglophone. Jaques Prevert, Kids Academy and the American International School (has a nursery section). I used Jaques Prevert and found it good, although travel time is terrible to get there. Then I used Kids Academy (new school very close to our home) and found it really good too.

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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, but couldn't give you numbers or percentages.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good. Easier among families, since a lot in common.

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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. Pubs, restaurants, nightclubs, country clubs, etc.

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

Both. There are not many "quick" weekend getaways though due to lack of roads, but a lot to do.

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

Yes, I saw that they were left alone and could continue as they wished.

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

Not that I saw. Most of the Malagasy that I encountered told me that they preferred to work for non-Indian families due to bad treatment and pay, but I cannot prove this.

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

Go Karting, Off road biking, cycling, rainforests (walks), quad bikes, flying (there is an aeroclub there to hire aircraft from), Country clubs - horse riding, swimming and tennis mainly. Also see that river rafting/kayaking picking up there. Exploring the Hauteville area of Tana is fantastic with all its stairways. The birdpark at Tsarasaotra (a RAMSAR site) is beautiful.

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

Curios, gemstones, Wooden (but then you are probably supporting deforestation!), Rafia products like baskets, etc.

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9. Can you save money?

That depends on your standard of living, but yes, it's really possible.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

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

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3. But don't forget your:

Rainboots, coat and umbrella for the rainy season...sunblock and insect repellent.

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

Bradt guide was accurate. Birding guide. If you can, bring a butterfly guide. There are also over 1,000 species of orchids, so if you have a guide - else buy limited guides (in french and Malagasy) in country.

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

Bradt guide was accurate. Birding guide. If you can, bring a butterfly guide. There are also over 1,000 species of orchids, so if you have a guide - else buy limited guides (in french and Malagasy) in country.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Have fun and don't try to rush! Also, the Malagasy usually didn't respond well to anger/shouting - they see it as a weakness.

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