Cotonou, Benin Report of what it's like to live there - 10/10/15
Personal Experiences from Cotonou, Benin
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Moscow, Hyderabad, Maputo, Bogota, Guatemala City, Port au Prince.
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, via Paris or Brussels. Overnight plus most of one day.
3. How long have you lived here?
5 years. 2011-2015.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
U.S. Government housing: 15 minutes from the Embassy. Single family homes with walled yards. Some with swimming pool. The housing pool in Cotonou is the worst maintained I have ever experienced in more than 20 years with the Foreign Service. The "customer service" is atrocious (nonexistent). Constant blackouts, generators that don't work, continual house fires that aren't taken seriously, leaking water tanks, rat infestations, cockroaches, mosquitoes, water pipes leaking into closets and from ceilings, etc, etc, etc.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Expensive imports are available from France and a few other countries. Local foods are a limited range - except that there is a good variety of vegetables available in the local markets.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Canned mushrooms. Good chocolate.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a variety of international options. About US$30 per person, average.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
My house and neighborhood were very severely infested with mosquitoes.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available and not expensive.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a gym at the U.S. Embassy which is free for employees.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
I have not. There are ATMs, but I don't know people who use them.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need French in order to function. Other local languages are not necessary.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, it is not very accessible. It would be nearly impossible if you were in a wheelchair.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
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?
One with high clearance. A SUV is necessary in some neighborhoods, and if you want to travel outside the capital.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You can get one on the local market.
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?
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Orphanages. Church related activities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Western dress is fine, except that women should be slightly more modest (skirts to knees).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No serious ones.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Almost no medical care available in country. Plan for medical evacuation if necessary. Malaria, parasites, digestive issues, infections.
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?
Poor during some seasons. I purchased an air filter.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Warm. Two rainy seasons.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small and low.
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?
Eat dinner out or at each others' houses.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes to all, but you will have to make your own fun/activities no matter who you are.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
NO. Unless you want to hide who you are. People here are extremely prejudiced.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. Extreme discrimination against women. Common sexual abuse of school age girls. Domestic violence is extremely common.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
None. I have not enjoyed living here.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Songhai organic farm in Porto Novo.
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?
Mostly nice weather. Can grow a garden year round.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, if in employer provided housing and if you eat on the local market and not from import stores.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
good shoes. They will be destroyed by flooding during the rainy seasons.
3. But don't forget your:
mosquito repellant. sunglasses, French language skills.