Gaborone, Botswana Report of what it's like to live there - 07/08/16
Personal Experiences from Gaborone, Botswana
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
We have also lived in Mexico, Colombia, India, and Panama.
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?
We are from California. We normally fly from Atlanta to Johannesburg - which is 14.5 hours there, 16.5 coming back to the U.S.! Add another hour to Gaborone. It's dreadful.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
We are a tandem couple working at the U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We have a 4 bedroom house in a small compound of 4 embassy houses. We have our own pool (also small) and garden. We have good storage space in the garage, but otherwise none. The bathrooms and closets are tiny! The house is without character, but perfectly suitable for us. A nice back patio to spend time in the wonderful Botswana climate.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can find everything you need here - just not everything you want. It's not unusual to go to the store and you can't find tomatoes, or eggs. Or even bread! But it will be there tomorrow. You just have to get there when the truck from South Africa gets in. But if you're willing to look, you really can find almost anything. Costs are lower than US, but not cheap-cheap.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Baking items like cupcake wrappers and decorations.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are several good restaurants in Gabs, and we go to the same ones often. Chinese, Indian, Italian. However there are no "great" restaurants. There just isn't the market. The great chefs are all up in the safari camps in the Delta. Fly to Cape Town (often) if you're a foodie.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are a remarkable number of mosquitoes for such a dry place. Good thing they don't have malaria. Also flies are a real annoyance.
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?
We pay about 250 USD for full-time care of three children and all housework. It's incredible.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a small but adequate gym at about 250 USD/year. There are modern gyms here with great facilities, but it will take a drive to get to them.
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?
All are useful and safe.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Botswana is a very Christian country. Lots of English speaking churches of every denomination. There is also a sizable Muslim community. Others I'm not too sure about.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Very little. Very few expatriates speak Setswana.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, but less than in other countries. There are designated parking spaces, and the US Embassy is accessible. One would have to research the accommodations to their specific needs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local busses are crowded and probably not too safe. Calling cabs is safe, hailing not terrible but not great. Everything is affordable here, including car hire.
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?
We have 2 cars, one Prado and a Toyota Prius. The city is fine for driving an economical car. Anywhere outside it's nice to have a little more clearance. Overall, the roads are good here. "Smash and grab" robberies are not uncommon - we are always encouraged to lock doors! Carjacking is unheard of though.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is a problem - very very slow with low bandwidth. If you're planning to work from home take this into consideration. It works, it's just slow...
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?
There are good vets and kennels. A lot of dog lovers here. We adopted a street dog here and she's been wonderful. t's expensive to get animals in and out (shipping) but can be done.
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?
Spousal employment is virtually impossible. It is extremely hard to work on the local economy without some kind of "in." If your spouse is employed at a diplomatic mission and you have an "exemption" from work/residence permits, it's much easier. Without that, I've heard of spouses being unable to find even volunteer work. The U.S. Embassy has several good, substantive jobs for spouses.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Many people volunteer at the pet shelter. There are also some children's charities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
People dress in business wear at the U.S. Embassy and Government of Botswana. It's not an overly conservative culture but people dress relatively modestly. Women can definitely get away with skirts above the knee and sleeveless shirts, especially in summer and in social situations. But business meetings are pretty formal.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
People should take typical security precautions. There are home break-ins. Keep valuables in safes. Always hide purses or other valuables in cars, and take care at stoplights at night - this is when people sometimes get "smash and grabs." Home alarms and barred windows/doors are recommended. Crime isn't as bad as South Africa but it does happen. I walk around the city during daylight often and feel very safe - as a woman I am never harassed. Still, one should always take common-sense precautions.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Botswana has one of the world's highest HIV prevalence rates. You'd be crazy not to take real precautions for that. There are a couple of good hospitals and high quality doctors, but people are regularly evacuated for things like appendicitis. Many expatriate women have their babies here. High risk or complicated issues though should be evacuated. Pretoria is nearby.
The U.S. Embassy does not have a full time practitioner. Many conditions are not evacuated and it is assumed people will take care of issues in Pretoria on their personal time, including mammograms, digestive issues, dental care. Many U.S. mission personnel get frustrated by this.
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?
It's fine. It's a relatively small city - only 250k people.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
I love the climate here. It is dry. Summers are very hot but dry heat, winters get all the way down to freezing, but by mid-day it's sunny and warm. Very comfortable. It rarely rains.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Schools are a big problem in Botswana. If you are with the U.S. mission you should contact the State Department Office of Overseas Schools before you decide to come here.
There have been improvements and if you're involved, your children can have a good education here. There are options. Find the right match for your kid and apply. The facilities are much poorer than any international school you've ever seen. They are much more "local" than international. (There are some good things about that.) Teachers are often poorly trained in things like classroom management. All schools struggle with attracting and keeping international teachers. Still, this need not be a deal breaker. You can make it work. You just have to work a lot with your kids and the school.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Very little. There is a local Christian school with some well-trained special needs teachers. Otherwise there are very few services.
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?
Pre-schools are probably better than other schools! There are many choices and most parents seem happy. Our daughter went to a Montessori school which we loved. Transportation is not provided though - this is a challenge.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Through the schools, yes. There are others, but transport is always the challenge. There is swimming, piano, Kumon, horseback riding, some crafts, but you are going to have to work out how to get them there.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small but intimate. That is a nice thing about Botswana - we all seem to know each other.
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?
In Gabs you have to "make your own fun." Dinners and parties at people's homes seem to be a large part of socializing. There are some lounges at night - they get a bit skanky after dark.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
In my opinion it is not a good place for singles - but I'm married. The HIV prevalence must be a serious consideration when dating here. Having said that, Gabs has a well educated and sophisticated (and handsome!) population, so it's not impossible. Peace Corps Volunteers marry Batswana in droves! Singles tend to hang out together - and it's a great place to travel if you don't have to pay for children. So it's not terrible. This post is best for DINKs. If you have disposable income and a partner to safari with, you'll be in heaven.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Botswana is remarkably tolerant - especially considering the region it's in. Technically homosexuality is illegal, but Batswana are very tolerant and never prosecute. It's almost a "don't ask don't tell" society. There are a couple of prominent organizations who activate for LGBT rights. I think one could be comfortably gay here, but would have to be careful about displaying it.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I actually think this would be a great place to live as an African-American (full disclosure: I'm white). The country is 97% black, and a middle income country, so I love that my children's teaches, doctors, neighbors, are all black. I sometimes feel like my black colleagues get a little more welcome at representational events than me, though they tell me they have their own issues of people wondering where they're from, etc. Again, Botswana is wonderfully tolerant. You see Muslim dress, people of all racial groups, people seem to live and let live here. While it is a patriarchal culture that suffers from high levels of gender based violence, this doesn't seem to touch the expatriate community. I've had nothing but respect here as a woman. I've never once been harassed on the street - unusual compared to other locations.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Clearly the wildlife. There is truly nothing like the extraordinary experiences you can have on safari here. This is a once in a lifetime experience.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The Okavango Delta is one of the most spectacular places in the world. It should be on everyone's bucket list. The prices are also extraordinary. Doesn't matter. Save up and go. You will never regret it or forget it.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
No. Many of the crafts here are imported from other countries. Don't bother. Spend your money on a good camera and go on safari instead.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Gaborone "Gabs" is safe (relatively), quiet, calm. I walk to work almost daily and never, never, get harassed, panhandled, even noticed. It's amazing. My kids love it. You can see stars at night. You get to know people. It's totally different from a big city. No malaria, clean, easy. Just easy.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
It doesn't have the charm of other African cities. It lacks the chaos but also the energy and vibe. Batswana are a tranquil, somewhat closed people. Not as openly warm as people in other African countries, even close by like Zambia or Malawi. But the calm, cleanliness, and modernity is nice too.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely. The travel experiences from here are spectacular.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Umbrellas - it never rains. Plans for saving money - you'd be wasting your time here. Children? Just kidding. But seriously - if you have disposable income - this is your place. And if you have children, you don't have a lot of that.
4. But don't forget your:
Money. Lots of it. Spend it traveling to the Delta (safari), Pans (nights under the stars), Vic Falls, South Africa. There is SO much to do in South Africa. Save up time and money.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Everyone recommends the ladies detective agency books. Those are good and a good representation of the slow pace. The Michael Stanley mystery books are similar.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Come. This is a great post. There is interesting, substantive work at a small embassy if you're with the US mission, and if not, you'll make some friends who are! The wildlife and other travel opportunities are extraordinary. And it's really, really easy to live here. So come.