Cotonou, Benin Report of what it's like to live there - 08/22/18
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. I grew up overseas and served in six other posts before this one.
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?
USA. About 20 hours with connection through Paris.
3. How long have you lived here?
More than one year.
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?
Housing has improved substantially. Almost all housing is pretty big and decent quality with major upgrades, well over standard, even for African posts. Sometimes better looking inside than outside. Usually with big yards, sometimes with pools. Everything is around five minutes' commute from embassy or school. Housing also close to a lot of expat shopping, restaurants, bars, entertainment.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
A good number of stores with almost unlimited supplies, though somewhat expensive and occasionally supplies run low. Cotonou is lucky enough to have a huge hypermarket alongside embassy housing.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None; this is a consumables post. Just get good info from those here for what to ship.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Restaurant & bar scene pretty good and slowly growing. Lots of Arabic, Indian, and French options but also a number of other options.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes are endemic. Bring or buy lots of repellent. Some houses have to be bombed occasionally for cockroaches but generally controls them reasonably well.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO available but a little slow.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Full range of good, reliable household help is very affordable. Cooks, housekeepers, gardeners, nannies, drivers are often typically retained because of their availability and affordability.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a small, but adequate gym, half basketball court, running track, small soccer field, and swimming pool. There are also a small number of other gyms available for under US$100/month.
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 only use cc at the hypermarket; never had a problem. Most of the other large stores selling foreign goods also take cards. Most of the rest of the economy is cash-only.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Relatively few; most everything in French or local languages.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Benin is working to be Bilingual by 2020. Although that may be a little ambitious, with Nigeria dominating next door, some people in the capital in shops, stores etc that expats frequent have a little English.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. There are few if any fully accessible facilities (although the new U.S. embassy is definitely fully-accessible).
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Motorbike taxis are off-limits to embassy personnel and not recommended. There are a number of well-marked, clean safe taxis that RSO approves. Buses etc absolutely not.
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?
Best decent clearance, 4x4. Most main roads are pretty decent but to go to beaches and other distant locations best to have 4x4.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Embassy provides temporary internet as a courtesy for a few days/weeks until you obtain it. Monthly cost is around US$85-90/month (after tax refund). Speed is usually adequate but can be less great especially if you go over the 150GB limit.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local provider. The embassy provides employees phones and prepaid chips can be easily obtained for others.
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?
Not too many vets but the few there are cater to expat community and make house calls on fairly short notice. About U.S. vet prices or less. The vet is pretty decent but have to double-check work.
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?
At the moment, the embassy has EFM jobs unfilled. The embassy is fairly small and so EFM jobs are not unlimited. Outside opportunities fairly limited to American school and NGOs.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Quite a few very worthy volunteer opportunities with many NGOs and other local charities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Formal dress to formal events such as diplomatic events. The embassy has varied dress code based on office.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is the safest AF post I've been at (I've lived in AF for many years), although you always have to be self-aware and not do anything that would make you an easy target. It's not recommended to go to the city beach, though suburban beaches are fine.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Local medical is very inadequate. The embassy clinic has a wonderful local doctor and U.S. nurse supported by RMO in Accra. Most serious, life-threatening conditions require medevac.
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?
Decent except during 1-2 months of harmattan. Not much traffic in upscale section of town. No major industry.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I'm not aware of any major concerns. I know of some families with members who have gluten intolerance who manage.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Quite hot all year round but less so in summer. Rains most of the year except winter and early spring. Light harmattan December - January.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
QSI runs a small but fairly good school K-8 and expanding. The British school offers higher classes. The French schools are in French.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Very few options available.
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. Good, reliable nannies are readily available for very affordable rates.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Reasonably sized but not huge. Large French, Lebanese, Indian communities.
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?
There are few good standbys such as Code Bar and Sanctuary that are pretty good. For the more adventurous, many others abound as well. Lots of places for live music. Full American-quality movie theater runs the latest flicks for very low prices.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
All the above. Families with kids above grade 8 face schooling challenges.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
The government of Benin accredits LGBT couples and expat LGBT couples are widely accepted, but the local LGBT community is underground and not readily accepted.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Benin is extremely ethnically and religious diverse and tolerant. Gender equality is a different matter, with women struggling to establish true equality, although expat women are more accepted.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Being able to go to the beach nearly every weekend. Getting to know the expat community here.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
A number of decent resorts outside town. In the north, safaris.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Quite a few great works of art for those willing to pursue them. There's also a lot of less high-brow handicrafts, artwork.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Calm, peaceful, relatively safe. It's a five minute commute to work and around most restaurants, bars, etc. Pretty decent housing. Interesting work. Decent differential.
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:
3. But don't forget your:
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Vice-Roy of Ouidah (historical).
5. Do you have any other comments?
Travel back to US or Europe a little expensive but have some airline competition that offers cheaper options. 2 R&Rs for 2 year tour or 3 for 3 year tour helps with that.