Luanda, Angola Report of what it's like to live there - 08/31/14
Personal Experiences from Luanda, Angola
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Germany and Kosovo.
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?
Washington, DC. Trips generally take 24 hours, however the U.S. Embassy can get seats on a charter flight run by the Petrol Industry that runs direct from Luanda to Houston, and then you can connect through there. The charter flight is populated by oil workers, and upgrades to business class are about US$700, which also allows you to check more luggage. They also take dogs - any size and breed - for about an extra US$100 to $200. Our dog was more than 100 pounds, not including the crate, and he was US$200 or less to ship. Care and attention by the airline of our dogs was great. Much easier and simpler than transiting through Johannesburg. The J-burg flight is hard -- it's about four hours to J-burg and then another 15 to either Atlanta or NYC. Another note, many travelers will check full-size coolers filled with meat and other perishable food.
3. How long have you lived here?
2011 to 2013.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. State Department assignment.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The quality of housing has vastly improved for U.S. Embassy personnel. Mostly apartments, many of them quite nice. There are some free-standing homes, but do not expect yards. To have a nice yard with plants, you will need to hire a gardener to wash off the dust. Then there is the commute. Those with high school kids send them to the International School but that commute can be as much as two hours each way due to traffic; because the city is so overpopulated for its infrastructure a rain storm or a single accident can shut down traffic for hours. But traffic is a constant problem. Some of the newer housing units are, at most, three miles from the Embassy. But because of security concerns, personnel or discourage from walking. The commute is regularly more than an hour. Meanwhile most of the oil workers live in compounds on the outskirts of town near the school, so the commute does not affect them. Angolans are also known for their loud parties that go until 5 a.m.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
This has improved greatly with several larger grocery stories opening as well as South African chains. There is a smaller grocery store near the Embassy that people use and there are individuals who resell fruits and vegetables on the street. When buying local produce that is in season, the quality is good and prices reasonable _ this would be pineapples, bananas, mangos, lettuce, avocados, onions, peppers tomatoes. Meat is very expensive, nearly all is imported and quality is hit and miss -- much of it is covered in freezer burn. Again one of the bizarre situations is if you want to buy local shrimp, it is very expensive; but a pound of shrimp imported from Mozambique is much less and will cost about US$15 per pound. American products cost about 30% more. Wine is very cheap from South Africa and Portugal and hard booze is cheap too - no tax. The U.S. Embassy has a pouch and Amazon is a lifesaver. Advice would be to pack as much liquids and cleaning products in your HHE and use Amazon for everything else.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Anything liquid. Pouch and Amazon work for everything else. Also whenever we would travel, we would fill our bags with meat that we would freeze and then just put in our checked luggage. Any of the goods in the local stores are very expensive (US$70 for a pair of shoes made in China; US$200 for a dress that sells at Target for US$30.)
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a few KFCs and Bob's Big Burger --- a milkshake will set you back US$5. There are local restaurants with local cuisine that are decent but may not be the most sanitary. A lunch will cost about US$15. The top-end restaurants will cost about US$100 and the service is bizarre. For example at the Marine Ball, which we paid at least US$150 per ticket, the "cheese table" included Kraft singles wrapped in plastic, they ran out of silverware and the steak was cold ...oh and they ran out of wine. Or one of the upscale restaurants in luxury high rise near the Embassy had a monthly prix fix dinner for US$60 per person. But when we went in a group, they tried to charge us US$80 per person, they explained, because we were in a group and the prix fix only applied to people who were not in a group. There is a Tex-Mex restaurant that opened near the Embassy. The owner uses friends flying the petrol charter to bring in food. Food is OK; margarita is about US$10 and a dinner of tacos, burrito etc will run US$20.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch. About three weeks transit time.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available but costly, quality and reliability is varied. If you are part of the diplomatic community, you will pay more. Expect to pay between US$8 and $10 an hour; there is no live-in help. Maids often arrive late due to traffic and there are regularly sicknesses and deaths. Services vary from traditional housekeeper who only clean to nannies to those who also cook and will do your shopping. Quality is a big issue. Our housekeeper was reliable and honest and had worked for other diplomats but I had several suits ruined after they were thrown in the wash.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Embassy has a small gym. There are private gyms but unsure of costs.
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?
They are accepted and there are rare ATM machines. But this is primarily a cash economy.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
A lot. If you don't know Portuguese you will have a hard time.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. The streets, even for able-bodied people, are challenging to negotiate.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
They are not safe and are off-limits. They are also very dangerous. On nearly every trip to southern Angola, I have seen a van-taxi or a vehicle that has crashed on the road and people either dead or injured.
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?
Big and heavy with 4WD is the way to go as the roads are in poor shape and the driving is precarious. That said, some people have done absolutely fine with a Toyota Corolla. The mechanics here are quite good. But bring as many spare parts as you can --- tires, oil, filters etc. It is VERY easy to bring a car/vehicle and sell it for what you paid for it. Cars are very expensive on the local economy.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
I don't know if you would call it high speed. We were unable to stream, but could regularly download videos via Apple TV, but it might take a few hours. For about US$120 per month we were able to stream music and had good success downloading movies.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring something unlocked. Lots of folks bring unlocked iPhones and then use pay as you go. Skype to talk with folks back in the States. You can also buy a cheap phone and use it for prepaid calling.
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. This is a country where it is very easy to bring in and take out your pet -- just make sure you use the Houston express. No kennels, but people rely on friends. The vets are very rudimentary. That said, when my dog got some sort of pathogen and he became extremely lethargic, I went to what looked like a back-alley vet, and they fixed my dog up very, very quickly. Gave him a series of shots --- I suspect powerful antibiotics and a dewormer and he was fine. I also had a colleague who blames a vet for killing his dog because the vet could not detect his pet had tick bites. Still at another vet, they refused to treat my dog because I didn't have a muzzle for him nor did they sell or have a muzzle.
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?
Very hard to find on local economy. Anyone in the Embassy who wants a job at the Embassy can have one.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Plenty of opportunities if you speak Portuguese.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Professional. Angolans like to dress up.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Lots of street crime. Runners have had their watches and shoes stolen; people have their windshields shattered with spark plugs while waiting in constantly grid-locked traffic. People visiting the bay will often get their bags stolen by motorcycle bandits. The street in front of the Embassy is off limits as people are regularly the victims of strong-armed robberies.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Yes. Malaria is very serious and many people take drugs to combat malaria and use mosquito nets. There were multiple people who got malaria while we were in Luanda. Other people were afflicted by other pathogens. Most people, even for minor medical issues, are medevac'd to South Africa. Although there is a private hospital run by the oil companies and well stocked with technology, the doctors, reportedly, are not well trained in the equipment. One of the reasons there are restrictions on driving is because in a serious car accident, the chances you would make it to the hospital in time due to traffic and road conditions you would not survive.
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 wouldn't say unhealthy in terms of true pollution but it can be difficult due to burning of trash and constant use of generators.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very short rainy season in January-April; the torrential rains are quite deadly as there is virtually no street drainage and manhole covers are often missing. Poorly constructs houses are known to collapse and many homes leak. It virtually does not rain. Lost temp are probably in the low 70s F; with temperatures during the hottest months in the low 100s F.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No personal experience but people have been generally happy. There is a Portuguese school a five-minute walk to the Embassy for kids below high school age; The high school is also good but commute times for kids can be a nightmare.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Don't think there are any.
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 embassy families have tried to hire a live-in nanny and a very small number have used the preschools, which are suspect in quality. There was an attempt by the Embassy to get access to a daycare run by the Petrol Industry but that was unable to be brought to fruition. Tragically, one local staff member had his child die at a daycare center. The child fell into and drowned in an open, unlocked water cistern at a day care center. Nearly all house have cisterns due to lack of a reliable public water system.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community is medium sized and fairly tight knit. You have the Diplomatic community and the oil company expats. If you get lucky, the oil co. expats invite you to their compounds and to use their company boats. But this is a post where you have to make the best of it. You really need to get out every three months to preserve your insanity. The environment can be daunting
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?
Lots of staying in and hanging out with friends; going to the beach (there are private beaches linked to restaurants/clubs in Luanda), going to Embassy for picnics, the pool and to play volleyball; there is one first-run movie theatre with films in English. There is a bowling alley where it costs US$20 a game and the power often goes out.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a tough environment for everyone but probably best for couples, singles and families with holder children. This is a very difficult post for those with young and preschool kids. There are no green spaces except for one private pay-to-use park with play structures near the Embassy and the Embassy has a pool and a swing set. Those with small kids are very claustrophobic.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I have had several gay and lesbian friends who were quite content.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Angola is still emerging from its civil war, and people just treat each other poorly. I REGULARLY would see people leaving the nightclubs at 5:30 a.m. and just start throwing rocks at each other.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Best adventure was going to Cabo Ledo and paying a local to catch fresh lobsters that we grilled at home. Plus the Embassy community was very close with lots of socializing. A visit to "Shipwreck Beach" to see the rusting hulks. Whale watching. Although I didn't partake, Angola is known for its world-class marlin fishing. Luanda has an annual 10k run on New Year's Eve that is wonderfully intense. The prize is a car and the Angolans go all-out in a madcap race that takes place in 90F degree weather.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Beaches and surfing at Cabo Ledo; buying seafood that is freshly caught for you; there are few waterfront restaurants that are special but will cost several hundred dollars per person. Getting away to Cape Town, Johannesburg or Nambia are special treats. Airfare is always expensive at least US$500 per ticket. Camping at the beach.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
You can save money; if you want to experience a true hardship post where you earn your differential, this is is. There are some local crafts but they just may be items brought in from other countries. The beachfront camping is adventurous and pristine; there is a great beach and surf break in Cabo Ledo about a 3-hour drive from Luanda, but that is about it. You are not allowed to drive at night so you have to do day trip or stay overnight. There are some very nice restaurants in Luanda but they will be expensive and in most cases the service will cause your mouth to hang open in terms of rudeness. There is one top-notch seafood restaurant _ with lobster flown in from Canada, crab legs from Alaska etc. A truly good meal for two on the water will cost about US$250. The weather is pretty good, although it can get rather hot and then being outside can be difficult due to the constant-running of generators and trash
10. Can you save money?
Yes. The irony is that while travel outside of Angola and activities are expensive, most people just stay put and make due with what you have. You get a 50% COLA but there is just little to spend it on.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Day-to-day life is very, very hard. I have never seen a country so covered in trash and filth. People are very rude and disrespectful. Although there were many unforgettable experiences, the time and challenge to do them is taxing. Want to go to Shipwreck Beach? Plan two hours each way in stop-and-go traffic, your car may be broken into while you are there and you will be harassed into paying a "guide." Want to go to dinner across town? Expect a two-mile ride to take nearly two hours, the service to be poor and there is a chance little will be on the menu. That said, there can be some welcome discoveries and enriching experiences --- they will just be rare.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Idea this is the Africa of the movies. This is a country riddled with corruption still emerging from a civil war with Luanda having been built for 300,000 people but now populated by more than 3 million. They killed off and ate all their big game animals during the civil war. You will see people passed out or dead along the road. The housing quality is very poor ... local staff regularly are dealing with the loss of power and water for days.
4. But don't forget your:
Ability to look at the bright side.
5. Do you have any other comments?
Day-to-day life is very difficult. The work environment and your colleagues are great but prepare yourself to be worn down.