Cotonou, Benin Report of what it's like to live there - 02/17/20

Personal Experiences from Cotonou, Benin

Cotonou, Benin 02/17/20

Background:

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

This is our fifth post and our third 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?

USA. DC to Paris and then a long layover and Paris to Cotonou = roughly a full day.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Six months.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

US government housing is very nice - larger and better quality than we expected. About half of homes have pools. Everyone has a nice yard. Commute is negligible - 5-10 minutes at most.

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

Erevan Supermarket has European imports at moderate to high prices. We can get things like corn flakes and brie cheese, but the costs add up. There is a small gluten-free section. Local produce is limited compared to the US and seasonal, but also very high quality. Local paper products are inexplicably expensive or poor.

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

More spray bug spray and snack food. There's nothing that you truly can't get here, but it's nice to have recognized brands for cleaning products, kids snacks, and other things. We rely a lot on canned veggies and soup from home because they are so much less expensive.

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

Shamiana is the best indian restaurant on earth. Pizza, Lebanese, and acceptable Thai options deliver. For dining-in, lots of options, including exceptional Chinese, Russian, sea food, etc.

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

Mosquitos!

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Daily Life:

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

We use the DPO. Local mail is not adequate. Many people have friends carry things on flights or buy space in people's suitcases to Paris.

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

Exceptional household help, especially child care. Most families employ at least 1 person, some have a nanny, cook/cleaner, driver, and gardener. A fair-to-high rate is 5,000 CFA per day -- right now that means our nanny gets about $250 USD a month for 50 hours a week.

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

There are gyms but I've never been inside of them.

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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?

No. We use credit only at Erevan.

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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 makes a huge difference. Out and about, you will not find english speakers except among the elites. Tutors are available. Speaking Fongbe, even a little, delights people but is not expected.

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

Yes. It would not be impossible, but most buildings are not accessible. Many have one small step at the entrance that would be navigable for someone with a cane or walker, but not a wheelchair. I think wheelchair accessible bathrooms would be like unicorns.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are safe, easy, and pretty expensive. Locals use moto taxis that I do not consider 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?

Four-wheel drive with a high clearance if you plan to leave Cotonou or even get out of the main city center.

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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?

MTN is pretty good. It tends to slow at the end of the month, especially around holidays.

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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?

We use MTN.

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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?

Beninese tend not to like dogs, although there are certainly people here who have them. No quarantines.

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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 work would be very hard to find unless you are in the development sector.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots of opportunities to work with kids, art, and culture.

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

Pretty informal. Women dress more modestly than in the US (usually covering knees), but attitudes are pretty tolerant. Black pants and a shirt work for almost any occasion.

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Health & Safety:

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

The political situation seems to be rocky and deteriorating.

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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?

Malaria is a threat 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?

Air quality during the harmattan is truly terrible. I wear a mask and sleep next to a filter. I've been told that this year was the worst people remember, but everyone I know has had a respiratory or sinus infection.

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

There's growing awareness about food allergies here. Peanuts and shellfish are common ingredients, although they can be avoided.

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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)?

Not especially, although this is a small post and people get a bit stir crazy.

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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?

It's hot! Sometimes more and sometimes less, but hot.

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Schools & Children:

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

QSI has a moderately good reputation. The French school is known for being a pretty harsh environment. My son attends a smaller Montessori-like (French language) school that he loves.

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

There are few resources available. For younger kids, Racines des Ailes does a good job.

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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?

Lots of preschool options.

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

Yes, especially compared to other small posts in the region. Great swim coaches, music lessons, Parkour, etc.

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Expat Life:

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

Small. Morale is moderately 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?

Game nights, happy hour, pool parties. Many people do formal dinner parties.

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

There are very few expat singles here, but there is a lively social scene and a lot to do. Families with younger kids tend to be very happy here because of the great household help, outdoor space, and social options.

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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?

Not as much as elsewhere. White expats are welcome here and there is a long and rich history of descendants of slaves returning to Benin as tourists or to resettle. Women face prejudice but (generally) not hostility.

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

Not too much, especially compared to the region. The only explicit biases I've heard are against Muslims.

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

Ouidah, learning about Voudou, Bab's Dock and natural environment. Being outside all the time in general.

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

This is not a shopping post, but people who are interested in art find their niches.

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

No traffic, lots of small adventures, great fruit, great family post.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely.

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

Warm clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Mosquito squatter.

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