Praia, Cape Verde Report of what it's like to live there - 02/02/11
Personal Experiences from Praia, Cape Verde
1. 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?
There are direct flights twice a week to Boston with the local airline (TACV). The flight takes approximately 7-8 hours. On returning to the US, staying overnight in Boston is necessary as the flight lands too late to connect. TACV is safe, and relatively inexpensive ($600-1000 USD roundtrip), but it is known for delays. Otherwise, we fly through Lisbon (daily flights from Praia) and then from Lisbon to Newark or Philadelphia, which costs twice as much and takes 12-14 hours to get to the US and 24 hours or more to get back, due to a long layover in Lisbon.
2. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
(The contributor works for the U.S. Government in Praia and is about halfway through a two-year assignment, a third expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The U.S. Embassy housing pool is evolving,---moving toward supplying larger houses with outdoor space. One even has a small pool. Nothing in Praia is very far from the main downtown area. Commutes average 10 minutes, more or less.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries and household supplies are about as expensive as in the States, or a bit more depending on what you purchase, since everything is imported. That being said, things appear and disappear often, so you never know what you are going to find. For household goods, I usually use the diplomatic pouch or bring everything with me. This is a consumables post, and we ship a lot of specialty and ethnic items (mostly Mexican and Thai) and liquor, beer and wine, as the selection gets very old after a little while and liquor can be quite a bit more expensive for lesser brands than in the States. The fresh fish is wonderful, and I am getting more and more courage to cook it all!
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are many decent restaurants around town with cuisine that includes churrasco (barbecued chicken and pork skewers), Italian food and pizza, grilled fish, Portuguese food, plus local cuisine in both casual and more formal settings. Also crepes, one delicious Indian restaurant, and a couple of Chinese places. Cost range is from $5 USD per person to $30-40 USD per person for dinner, depending on the restaurant you choose. There are no fast-food chains, and restaurant eating is never really THAT fast, but you can eat out and get decent food for reasonable prices. The options get old after a while, but as the city grows, restaurants do pop up!
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are mosquitoes, but malaria is not a major problem. There are less than 100 incidents per year, and we are not entirely sure if they are local cases or if they arrive from other places in W. Africa. Dengue outbreaks are a problem during the rainy season. Ants can be a problem in homes, but they are easily treated. And flies are quite a nuisance in the summer.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I use the U.S. diplomatic pouch. Things from Amazon.com take about 2 weeks to get here, sometime less if we are lucky, and sometimes more during busy times of the year. There is no local mail delivery service, but you can rent a mailbox at the post office for a nominal fee. International mail delivery service from the States takes about 4-6 weeks IF it gets delivered at all.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Almost all expats have an "empregada" who cleans and/or cooks for them. We have a wonderful empregada who works 8-3 on Monday through Friday for about $250-$275 per month, including insurance and social security. She will stay longer for parties and helps with shopping, which is immensely important in the beginning if you do not feel comfortable with the local language.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, a couple. They range from $25-75 USD per month, depending on the plan you choose, but they are adequate. Also, the U.S. Embassy has a small gym that they are working to renovate. There is a big workout culture here with lots of people running and walking before and/or after work.
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?
Credit cards are accepted at VERY few places (maybe one upscale restaurant) and at hotels in Praia. You can also use credit cards to book travel. When credit cards are accepted, VISA is the only option. MasterCard stopped working, and everything else should not even be considered. I use the embassy cashier to get money, so I don't use an ATM card. ATMs are easy to find but, in my experience with guests, they only function with Visa debit cards or ATM cards with the PLUS logo on the back. To buy groceries and things without using cash, you would need to open a local bank account and get a debit card (called vinti-quattro).
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
No religious services are in English as far as I can tell, but there are Catholic Churches and Seventh Day Adventist Churches.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
No English-language newspapers are available. On the local cable you can get CNN International in English with Portuguese subtitles, and on the local premium cable subscription there is BBC World and Fox Life, which has a lot of popular US programming, including Glee, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, American Idol, etc., but they run about a season or a half a seasion behind. US Embassy personnel have the option to pay to have AFN installed in their homes.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
A lot. The local language is Kriolu (based loosely on continental Portuguese) but everyone understands Portuguese, as well. Sometimes people will answer in Kriolu, which can be hard for some of us. I have learned some Kriolu, which helps with my daily shopping and working with my empregada, who is a great teacher. Learning numbers, food names, and general salutations is a must! Very few people (only young people, those who have lived in the US) speak English.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The roads are all cobblestone, so it would be difficult to have a wheelchair. There are no handicapped-accessible buildings as far as I can tell.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There is a bus system that is privately owned but operates like a public bus and costs about $0.50 per ride. It can be very crowded and hot, and expats rarely take it (though I have :)). Taxis are EVERYWHERE, very easy to flag down, and affordable. Rides around town are about $2.00, and it costs about $10 to get to the airport. I find both options to be perfectly safe during the day, but I have never really had to travel at night by myself. Women should not do that here.
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?
Without question, I would bring an SUV. Within Praia, the side roads are cobblestone and are not always well maintained. Plus, when traveling around the island it is great to have the clearance and flexibility of four-wheel drive. Diplomats can ship cars in with no duty fees, but otherwise taxes are extremely high on imported cars. Toyotas, Volkswagens, Suzukis, Mercedes and Peugeots are most common, and some even have dealerships here. We have a Jeep, and we brought our own air filters, windshield wipers, motor oil, etc., with us. Parts for cars are hard to find AND very expensive, so I would bring extra batteries, tires, etc., if you are worried about your car.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed internet is available at about the same cost as in the States. The only problem is that you receive an allotment of bandwidth (maximum 15Gigs per month) which runs out quickly if you are downloading or viewing videos. The overage charges are outrageously expensive and compound quickly. The internet (like electricity) can be unreliable and go out without any warning.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked cell phone from the States and buy a local SIM card. You can either subscribe to a local plan or pay as you go. There is no data service here yet, but it seems to be coming soon!
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
This is a great place to adopt a pet, as there are many street puppies and kittens that need loving homes. We found a sweet and loving puppy that we will be taking with us. That being said, there is vet care but it doesn't live up to the US standard. Male dogs will have no problem with the neutering surgery, but female dogs have had some issues with their spaying surgery. Some Americans just wait until they return to the States to take care of these things. You can get all the vaccinations and micro-chipping that you need to travel with the pet.
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?
It is very difficult to find jobs on the local economy, especially without the language. There are very few jobs at the US Embassy for spouses. But this is changing. There is more industry moving in, and the US Embassy is growing. Also, there are always opportunities to teach English. So if you are interested in doing that, bring supplies.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Petty theft happens but violent crime is rare. It is like living anywhere; you just need to be alert to your surroundings.
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 a definite problem in Praia, with few services available. The U.S. Embassy has a locally-engaged doctor who is extremely knowledgeable, makes house calls, and is realistic about the limitations and so will medevac you for anything that appears serious. There is little to no malaria, and I do not take prescription medication for malaria but the Peace Corps does. Dengue fever is a problem during the rainy season. Other than that, there is little presence of the communicable diseases that cause problems in other parts of Africa.
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?
In the city there are many old cars and buses with terrible exhaust. Outside of Praia the air is cleaner.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is a French School that has received very mixed reviews. I do not have children, so I do not have first-hand experience with the school. However, mothers I am friendly with have pulled their children out of the school and home-school their children instead. The U.S. Embassy will warn families with school-aged children that this may not be a post for them.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
None that I can see, and I am a special education teacher.
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?
There are local preschools and daycares that Cape Verdeans use, but I do not know about the quality or price.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small but present. There are many Europeans from various embassies and a sizable presence from the UN.
2. Morale among expats:
People seem happy and make the most of it. Whenever we all get together we have a great time. Some people stay for five years or even longer. The sun and warm weather certainly help the mood!
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?
There are many bars and restaurants that have lively scenes at night. There are a few places that have live music every night or certainly on weekends. There are also clubs that are very popular, and they can be fun if you are willing to start the party at 2 a.m. They are ghost towns before then. Throughout the year there are concerts and festivals outside, and throngs of people flock to them. Cape Verdeans love to party!
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think this is a great post for couples without school-age children or couples who have already raised a family. Singles have mixed reviews. The city is so small you know virtually everyone, so dating can be difficult.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It seems to be, though I am not sure there is a gay/lesbian community. Cape Verdeans are very accepting.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not overtly toward expats at all.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
This is certainly "Africa-Lite" or more like the "Afr-ibbean." The people are kind and not aggressive, so it is easy to shop and walk around during the day by yourself. Each island has a unique flavor, some with incredible beaches and more established tourism. This is a peaceful, quiet country with kind people and---for a developing country---a decent lifestyle.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Go to the beach for snorkeling, swimming, or just lying in the sun. There are two decent---but small---swimming beaches in Praia. About 15 minutes away is a beautiful, longer white sand beach with a nice little restaurant. About 20 minutes in the opposite direction is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cidade Velha (Old City), which has interesting historical significance and is a gorgeous place to see the sunset. There are two different markets, one for fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat and the other for various "stuff." On the other side of Santiago there is the beautiful white sand beach of Tarrafal (the most beautiful beach on the island), and on the way there is a natural park with several beautiful hikes and campgrounds. There are other various sites around the island, including more traditional cities, a black-sand beach, and one of the oldest Kapok trees in the world. I would not say there is SO much to do, but we find ourselves very busy with beautiful places to visit. The other islands are all unique and beautiful, so traveling to them can keep you busy on weekends as well. Flights between islands are about $100-150 roundtrip, and hotel prices vary, with the most expensive being about 100 Euros per night. At this point I have been to five of the nine islands, and in the next year it is our goal to see them all!
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not much. Local fabrics, wine and coffee, paintings, grogue, and Havana Flip-Flops.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather is fantastic most of the year, November until June. The summer is quite hot and humid, and the rainy season starts in August/September but is short, only lasting through October. Many days of sunshine.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, if you make good choices and don't travel too much.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
ABSOLUTELY! We have had a very good experience here and wish we didn't have to leave! We love our home, our empregada, and the weather!
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
winter coats, stiletto heels (not fun on the cobblestones), and day planner, along with your need for things to be done on time.
3. But don't forget your:
sunscreen, bug spray, love of adventure, and patience.
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Testamento (has English subtitles).
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Cape Verde Brandt Guide.