Cotonou, Benin Report of what it's like to live there - 01/28/17
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?
I have lived in Europe and Asia for over 10 years.
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?
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
USG housing is small to large houses, typically with a yard with a high wall around it. Housing quality varies ENORMOUSLY within the USG. Some people have seaside mansions with swimming pools and huge yards in gated communities, while others have tiny, poorly maintained houses closer to the center of the expat area. In general housing is poorly maintained, even dangerous at times.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local goods are cheap, imports are expensive.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Chocolate, organic foods, whole grains.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a good range of different types of restaurants available.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Huge swarms of mosquitoes. Cockroaches. Mice. Lizards.
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?
Relatively inexpensive. Housekeepers, cooks, nannies, and drivers are all available.
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?
I use cash.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need to speak French to live here.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I think attitudes would not be a problem, but It could be limiting physically, as most places aren't accessible. But you could make it work.
1. 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?
Something with high clearance, as the roads in the "downtown" are dirt - which turns to about 9 inches of thick mud, covered with several inches of water almost every day during the rainy season. (That's right, the same people who have the crappy houses also have to wade through mud to get in their front gates....)
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. One or two weeks to install.
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?
You need to be able to speak French, in general.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Religious ones (Catholic).
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Casual for men.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
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 very poor, and the US Embassy does not have a full medical unit.
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?
No issues. except for the generator in my yard that blows exhaust directly into my bedroom window.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The French-speaking expat community is larger and more active.
2. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think it's fine, as long as you are not very open. There is prejudice and discrimination in Benin.
3. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
The country is very strongly Catholic, and other religions (or atheism!) are not well tolerated.
4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Getting to know local people, trying new foods.
5. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's quiet and calm.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I had known that USG management was in such bad shape. Housing, shipping, etc, etc, - all those things that make life a little easier (or just tolerable) - are badly mismanaged. Keep in mind that you will pretty much be on your own in terms of ensuring that your shipments arrive, getting things fixed in your house, negotiating with your landlord, etc. This is fine, but you should be prepared not to have the support a USG employee would have in other posts.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. I would move back to Cotonou, which I think is a nice little city, but only with a different organization, or if the USG management team completely changes.
3. But don't forget your:
French language skills, full set of tools to fix your own house (if with USG).