Praia, Cape Verde Report of what it's like to live there - 10/30/16
Personal Experiences from Praia, Cape Verde
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
This was not my first expatriate experience. I've lived in China, the Dominican Republic and Spain.
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?
Washington, D.C. There are two main ways to get from Praia to D.C. and there are advantages/disadvantages to each one.
One route is via the national airline, TACV where you go from D.C. to Providence, Rhode Island and then from Providence to Praia. The advantage is that it's a much shorter route on the latter leg (6-7 hours), the disadvantage being that TACV tends to be unreliable; you often face cancelled or delayed flights.
The second route is via Lisbon. There used to be a D.C. to Lisbon direct flight but that ended in August 2016. This route now would require about 3 legs and take about 24 hours depending on layover times. The advantage being that flights tend to be more reliable and the disadvantage being, of course, the length of time it takes to get to post.
3. How long have you lived here?
A little over a year.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. State Department.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Like others have said, the houses are large here, even for families with 2 or more children. They tend to have at least 3+ bedrooms and ample entertaining space. Our house, for example, is probably the most modest out of the housing pool and we have an office and 3 bedrooms. Houses tend to have a small backyard/front yard space and some have small pools. The housing pool is slowly being "updated" to include newer homes that also have very nice views of the ocean. That being said, many of the houses require continuous maintenance and that can get annoying after awhile. Many of the homes are in walking distance to small restaurants and other points of interest.
The commute times to the Embassy is about 10 minutes no matter where you are. Many people really enjoy being able to drive back home to eat lunch with family.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
I was actually surprised by how affordable groceries and other goods are here. Freshly baked bread is 20-30 cents a piece, really good Cabo Verdean wine (we recommend ChÄ) and Portuguese wine is anywhere from US$5-$15, and locally grown fruits and vegetables are also very wallet-friendly. Papayas, mangos, and bananas are all grown locally and affordable. There are also a good local goat cheese and sausage here that are very cheap and delicious. In general, though, most food such as canned and dried goods and cleaning supplies are imported from Portugal, France, Turkey, South Africa and the Middle East, among other places, and they are still quite affordable. You can even find cream cheese here on good days.
The one thing to be careful about is meat. We tend to buy our meat from only one place - which is the same place restaurants and more well-off locals/expats - tend to shop. It is more expensive, but not by much. Overall, we've been happy with the food availability. Whatever we can't find we purchase on Amazon.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
There isn't a lot of variety in terms of cuisine here so bring things that will add variation to your weekly meals. I would bring tahini, pita chips, peanut butter, mixes to make chili and fajitas, different types of nuts like walnuts if you bake, boxed comfort foods (for us it's Annie's Mac and Cheese), BBQ sauces, Heinz Ketchup, etc. We also tore through our Sam Adams pretty fast :).
For household items, it's worth finding out ahead of time if you will have a pool and if so bring pool maintenance supplies because the quality here is terrible. The paper supplies here also leaves a lot to be desired so if you're picky about that sort of thing, paper towels and toilet paper. This is also a post where you will need a car so standard car maintenance supplies such as extra break pads, air filters and an extra set of belts. Don't forget to bring lots of mosquito repellent. It's good to have a full supply of medicine for common ailments - fever, indigestion, cold/flu.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The restaurant scene here is one-note but improving! The standard fare is fresh fish with rice, steamed veggies and french fries, but there's also lots of places where you can get a decent burger or pizza. A favorite thing to do is to go to a local grill and get meat on a stick or charbroiled chicken. No food delivery services, and take-out options - if you want speed and convenience - are limited.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
The major issues have to do mostly with ants and cockroaches. When we first moved in the ant problem was terrible getting into our foodstuffs and all over our sink but with ant baits and spray they are now under control. Overall, pretty minor. Some houses also have problems with small mice.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch. I'm not sure about local postal facilities. I sent something to Tblisi, Georgia in the local mail once and it was received fine.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
The cost of household help is embarrassingly affordable. An "empregada" who comes three times a week for 4-6 hours/day is paid around US$160 a month + social security benefits. Many empregadas are great cooks; ours cooks a couple lunches each week. Household help is easy to find due to high unemployment rates. The Embassy keeps a list of vetted household help. People typically employ help to upkeep pools, gardens, homes, and care for small children.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is an amazing workout culture here in Praia. You can walk out and see at all times of day and night people running, jogging, or doing group aerobics outside with a view of the Atlantic. There's also a few trails that run out of the city which are nice to explore during the day.
The embassy has a recreation center with a very nice heated pool, tennis court and play area for children. The gym is okay, but I personally prefer the local gyms such as Health Club Korpore which have nice facilities including pool for around US$35/month. You can also get tennis lessons and personal training quite easily.
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?
This is a cash economy so you will very rarely use an international credit card. We use local ATMs sometimes and haven't had any trouble, but we usually take out cash from the Embassy which we feel is more secure. You also avoid fees that way. If you choose to open a local bank account it is possible to get a local debit card that works at most stores and restaurants.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
To get along well you would need a basic working knowledge of Portuguese, though Kriolu would be even better (and get you street cred while you're at it). That being said, many people don't speak either language and get along just fine. Many people here, especially if they are university educated, speak English. Both local language classes and tutors are widely available and affordable.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. The cobblestone streets and relatively poor building infrastructure would make it difficult for those with wheelchairs, for example.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local taxis are generally safe and affordable, though we haven't really taken one since our car arrived. You can get most anywhere in Praia for US$2-$3. There are local buses but haven't found the need to take them.
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?
I would recommend bringing a car with high clearance such as an SUV and a brand like Toyota where spare parts are readily available especially if you are planning on going down roads less traveled. The roads in town are slowly improving (i.e. getting rid of old cobblestone roads to paved ones), but they can still be tough on your suspension and tires. The roads outside the city though to other places such as Tarrafal or Cidade Velha are excellent (except in the short rainy season where there are lots of repairs being made).
Some people we know have had minor collisions and all have had a relatively easy time getting their vehicles repaired.
We've had little issues with people stealing minor things like windshield wipers so bring extras of those. I haven't heard of anyone being carjacked here
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is available through CV Telecom, but it could definitely be improved. Download speeds are generally fine, but upload speeds (what you need to Skype, upload files, etc) are so slow. We've had technicians come out to the house several times. Manage your expectations. Overall, it's fine.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We use unlocked smartphones and purchased local sim cards. Plan to spend about $20-$30/month for phone with 3G capability. For calling home -- or anyone in Praia for that matter -- most everyone uses Viber. Some use WhatsApp (less common) and Facebook Messenger. We also have a Vonage line with a U.S. area code.
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's a great veterinary service called Bons Amigos that will come to your home to treat pets for fleas, intestinal bugs, etc. They work on a donation basis -- typically around US$15 - $20/month, not sure how much it is per visit. They also have a local clinic, but I heard it's best for them to come to you. There's lots of strays here and you will frequently see families adopting dogs and seeking out Bons Amigos to treat them.
There isn't a local kenneling services available but some vets will take care of your dog for a fee.
No quarantine required. Cabo Verde is rabies free.
Other considerations: There aren't many options in terms of dog food, treats and medicine. We brought our own dog food, treats, flea and tick meds, ear cleaner, extra collar and leash, etc.
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?
The embassy makes a fair effort to find employment for those spouses and partners who want them, and a good number of partners do take advantage of that. Others either stay at home with children or start small businesses. Someone else stated here that it is easy to start a local business here and I agree. People are eager to buy or learn about things that are different. Not too sure about local salary scales, but people don't earn a lot; the average educated worker can make US$400-500/ month.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Yes, I'm sure there are, but haven't explored that. I would imagine you would also need to speak Portuguese (formal language) or Kriolu ("informal" and more widely spoken language)
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
At work, it's business casual unless you're in a formal meeting. In public spaces it's pretty casual. You will see lots of people walking around in workout wear, sweats, shorts and tank tops running their errands.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
It depends on what your level of tolerance is and where you are coming from, but overall the data support that crime is slowly increasing. A recent newspaper article stated that crime rose either 13 or 16% in the past year, but most are "crimes of opportunity" as opposed violent crime. We know people who have been robbed in the daylight but it's because the thieves wanted something that looked valuable such as a laptop or purse. All embassy houses have guards now and many other expats have chosen to contract with residential security guards. In general, be aware of your surroundings, and driving around at night and you'll be fine.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There have been a number cases of Zika here and a couple cases of babies born with microcephaly. If you are planning to become pregnant or are already, check with your medical provider. Pregnant women are most at risk in their first trimester.
The embassy here employs a local doctor. There is also an RMO based in Senegal who makes visits.
The medical care for physical and mental health here is of poor quality compared to back in the U.S.
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 here is very good though it does tend to get quite dusty here especially in the winter and spring months. People with allergies should bring the necessary medication with them if they have issues with dust.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate for most of the year is dry and in the high 80s and 90s with very strong sun. Bring lots of sun protection! This is great if you are a beachgoer since almost everyday is a beach day though there are days when it is very windy.
The rainy season starts up in August and ends in October. This is my favorite time of the year because the entire island of Santiago becomes lush and green. Some parts of the island even have waterfalls.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We don't have children; most families tend to send their young children to the local French or Portuguese school, or do homeschool.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are local sports teams for soccer and also ballet classes. There are a few outdoor spaces just for children with playsets and people selling popcorn and cotton candy. Lots of families take their kids out camping or out on daytrips to other parts of the island. There's also a movie theatre that plays children's movies.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community here is small; made up of people from Portugal, USA, France, Senegal, Brazil and other parts of Latin America. The overall morale here is pretty good.
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?
People tend to go out to local bars and clubs where there are live concerts almost every week. Cabo Verdeans love listening to and participating in live music so don't be surprised if you see a spontaneous concert spring up while you're having dinner out one night. The club life starts later around 11 or 12 a.m. and there are seasonal events where you'll have people partying for 3 straight days! There are local groups for expats but they tend to thrive or die depending on who is around at the time.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Single people would have a tough time here if you aren't "plugged into" a social group here just because there isn't a ton to do, and the community is quite small. Lots of couples (with managed expectations) do well because there's lots to explore here and on the other islands, and it's easy to get to Europe. Families also seem to do well because of these reasons.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
People coming from wealthier countries in the north with lighter skin will have more unearned privileges than those coming from poorer places such as Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal. You will notice this from the moment you board your plane to Praia until the time you leave.
There are problems with gender inequality everywhere, but as a wealthy expatriate woman in Cabo Verde local inequalities will not affect you as much.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Going to Fogo Island in Cabo Verde and climbing / descending the Pico de Fogo in the morning. Spending the night inside a caldera.
Going to Maio Island and spending a romantic weekend watching the sunset over the ocean.
Exploring Santiago (Praia) island in the rainy season and seeing the huge green mountains encased in sleepy clouds.
Learning about the amazing local products grown and produced here - wine, cheese, sausage, coffee, bread. All the basic food groups.
The easy access to Portugal (4 hour flight to Lisbon) and exploring Lisbon, Coimbra and Evora.
The many, many weekend trips to the beach. Just pack a small bag and go!
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
See "highlights" above.
Also add the many local concerts at bars and in restaurants. Cabo Verde has a wealth of talented singers and musicians. Just go out and enjoy.
There are also a few people here who have taken the extra time on their hands to cultivate new hobbies such as fishing and motorbike riding.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not as much as compared with other posts. The main things we purchase for gifts include coffee, wine, simple woven textiles, and music. On other islands such as Sao Vicente (the cultural heart of Cabo Verde where Cesaria Evora is from) you can find artwork by famous artists and some unique handicrafts.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The easy, affordable laid back lifestyle. The pace moves much more slowly here and it takes awhile for some people to get used to. For some, it's a bit off-putting how little there is to do but if you have the right perspective it's one of the main advantages of living here. The easy access to the beach and water is also pretty amazing. We keep towels, screen, and a mat in the back of our car all the time in case we're in the mood to head to the beach.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How small Praia actually is and the lack of diversity that is here. After awhile, it can feel constricting and isolating seeing the same people, going to the same places, and eating the same food. It puts the onus on the person to seek out new adventures whether in or out of the country, meet new people, and make an effort to keep in contact with loved ones back home. Many people thrive here while others ... do not.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Desire for constant stimulation.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, mosquito repellent, beach gear, and desire to seek out adventures and new people
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Brandt Guide to Cabo Verde.