Praia, Cape Verde Report of what it's like to live there - 09/08/12

Personal Experiences from Praia, Cape Verde

Praia, Cape Verde 09/08/12

Background:

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

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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?

Saint Petersburg FL. Shortest direct flight is via Boston and takes a total of ten hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

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

(The contributor is affiliated with the US Embassy and has been living in Praia for 16 months, a first expat experience)

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

The Embassy has palatial houses all within a ten minute drive of the Embassy. Everything in Praia is basically within 20 minutes of everything else. The houses are way, way too big. Most do not have yards. They are made of tile and concrete block and leak in the rainy season.

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

Very expensive. Everything is imported except the tuna and the eggs. You will need your COLA.

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

More white vinegar for cleaning and food disinfection purposes. One shouldn't eat the veggies and fruit here without first bleaching or otherwise disinfecting them.

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

Nothing recognizable to a Westerner. I think this is the last remaining place in the world without a McDonalds. However, junk food is widely available i.e. pizza, burgers, chicken, chips. CV'ers love their ice cream.

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

Not too many. Some roaches, ants and critters in the houses. Mosquitoes and flying bugs in the rainy season. Bring bug spray, but it's not that bad.

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Daily Life:

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

Dip pouch. Local mail service is a joke.

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

Cheap and widely available.

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

Yes, Embassy has a nice gym and pool. There are also private gyms. CVers love to exercise.

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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?

It's a cash society, only the tourist hotels accept major credit cards. However, I have had no problem using the ATMs to get cash from my US bank. Others have not been so lucky - I think it depends on your bank.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

None that I can tell. The Mormons are a big presence here so maybe they have an English language service?

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

None.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Lots. Many people speak English but you really need to know some Portuguese or Kriolu to get by here.

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

Impossible. Forget it. Cobblestone streets, lots of rickety staircases, no elevator in the Embassy, no sidewalks in many neighborhoods, and where there are sidewalks they often have random gaping holes with rebar sticking out.

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Transportation:

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

Buses and taxis are very affordable. They are not very safe from a Western perspective (no safety belts, overcrowded etc.) but I've never heard of someone getting hurt/robbed on a bus or taxi here. No trains here. The ferries are safe and relatively affordable. The Fast Ferry, despite what some uppity expats here may say, is very comfortable and a good deal.

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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 is not necessary but nice during the rains and for excursions out of the city. Diesel is better than gasoline. And definitely something you don't mind getting dinged up and scratched. There are no import restrictions for diplomats. For everyone else, you'll pay a huge customs fee to import a car. However you can buy a car here for a pretty reasonable price.

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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?

Yes! Thank goodness! ADSL here supports Skype video and streaming video, if you can believe it. A 10GB package costs about 30 bucks a month.

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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?

Just buy one here. Or bring your unlocked iPhone but don't be surprised if someone tries to jack you up for it.

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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?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Very bad.

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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?

No.

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

Western casual

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Health & Safety:

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

Petty crime, assaults and robberies are on the rise but, again, it's not that bad. Be smart. Don't go out at night alone and lock up at night.

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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?

Medical care is poor here. Medevac to Dakar, Lisbon or Boston for anything remotely unusual i.e. a really bad toothache, pregnancy, weird muscle spasms.

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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?

Good to moderate. The brumaseca (sand storms) in the winter can aggravate allergies. Most cars spew black smoke but it's a small city so there isn't too much air pollution from cars.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

January to August is hot and dry without a drop of rain. From August to October there can be pretty regular rainstorms but it's generally clear and sunny. In November and December there are occasional rainstorms. Average temp ranges between 60s and 90s F. May and June before the rains are the nicest months.

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Schools & Children:

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

French and Portuguese. I hear the French are militant but good and the Portuguese are OK. I dont have any kids in the schools here.

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

None, as far as I can tell.

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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?

Hire a nanny. A full time "empregada" will cost you about $300 per month.

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

I believe the Embassy CLO is organizing a kid sports program.

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Expat Life:

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

Pretty small, less than 100 people probably. But it's a tight community.

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2. Morale among expats:

Fair. Praia is isolated with poor infrastructure and for many Westerners there is "nothing to do." All of the little frustrations (slow customer service, language barrier, bugs, power outages etc etc) can build up to really hurt morale.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Mostly at home but there is a huge nightclub scene considering the size of the country. There are also cafes, pick up soccer games, sidewalk card games, beach gyms, hanging out blah blah.

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

Families and couples yes. Singles no.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Dunno. Probably not a "good" city but there are openly gay Cape Verdeans. CV is a pretty relaxed place and is striving to be more modern so homophobic behavior is not common or at least isn't overt.

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

Asians are not well-liked here. My colleague is Chinese-American and seems to be having a hard time. Everyone else seems to get along fine.

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

Seeing the volcano on Fogo, hiking the ribeiras on Santo Antao, off-roading, boat trips.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

See the islands! Santo Antao is difficult to access but worth the trip - it's a revelation. Fogo is easier to get to and gorgeous. Drink grog, go to the beach every day, fish, swim, hike, party with the excellent locals

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

Grog. Amazing coffee. The best canned tuna fish you will ever eat. Locally made linen items. Local music recordings.

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

Climate, very easy-going lifestyle, can save money if you don't travel, people are super mellow and friendly.

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11. Can you save money?

YES! If you don't travel outside of CV and buy local products you can save money here. If you buy all imported Western products and escape to Lisbon or Boston every two months you will not.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No freaking way. I'm a city person and need more action. Beach lovers and the lazy will love it here.

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

Sense of urgency to get things done. Expectations of good customer service. Rum. Tuna. Volcanic rock collection.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen. Patience. Bug spray.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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