Praia, Cape Verde Report of what it's like to live there - 12/27/17
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?
No. We've had previous tours in the Balkans and India.
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?
Montana. The most reliable connection is on TAP airlines via Lisbon. Praia to Lisbon is about 4 hours, then a flight to Newark, Philly or Dulles (7 hours), followed by 5 hours to Seattle or Salt Lake. Departures/arrivals to Praia are often around 1 a.m. and the Lisbon layover is frequently 12 hours. You can take a free layover of up to three days on TAP in Lisbon or some people check into a day hotel near the airport. There is also a direct to Providence/Boston from Praia, but TACV airlines frequently cancels and delays flights, so be careful with your connections.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Our house is amazing: very modern, built directly on the ocean, with a garage, pool, and a finished basement. Housing in general here is quite good, with lots of space. Many homes have ocean views. Commute is a cinch -- about 5-8 minutes each way; many at post go home each day for lunch. Traffic is relatively light and roads in the city are good.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local produce is abundant and cheap with a wide range of fruits and veggies in the green markets. Fish, not surprisingly, is extremely fresh and cheap (line caught by local fishermen). The tuna and serra are awesome. Many other products are imported from Portugal or Spain. Quality varies and selection can be spotty due to erratic shipping schedules. We were expecting higher prices due to being on an island, but most items are comparable in cost to the U.S. Good selection of Portuguese wines.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We're grateful for the consumables allowance and shipped most cleaning supplies, paper products, motor oil, and many cooking supplies, especially ingredients to make Asian/Mexican food. We cook a lot at home and many specialty ingredients cannot be found here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Praia has a decent range of restaurants, but no American fast food chains. Lots of grilled fish and seafood (you can get a thick slab of grilled tuna with all the trimmings for about $10). Also good pork and passable steaks/burgers. Portuguese-style bakeries with excellent and cheap bread. There's a new food delivery service in Praia. Very little in terms of ethnic food choices.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
It's the tropics: ants and cockroaches are not unusual. But it's also very dry here, so there's not much to worry about. Houseflies get really annoying in the rainy season, but they don't bite.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch. We've sent a few items to Europe via local postal service and the price and speed have been adequate.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most people employ at least a part-time maid. Unemployment is high and local salaries low. We pay our maid about $350/month and she's amazing and reliable (this is a higher salary than most professionals on the local economy). Being able to speak a bit of creole is really helpful.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The U.S. embassy has a recreation center with a small gym, but a very nice pool and tennis court. There are many gyms in Praia ($30-40/month), including free gyms along city walking paths. The city also has two very nice beaches. Cabo Verdeans are typically very healthy and half the city seems to come out around sunset for jogging and walks. Some members of the mission have hired personal trainers at a modest cost.
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 not widely used, except at some of the larger resorts. ATMs are common and I've never had a problem using them. Some people set up local bank accounts to be able to use the local debit card, which is used everywhere. It's a fairly modern banking system.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Doubtful there's anything, other than possibly through the growing LDS Church presence.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Portuguese is very important. Creole even better (easily picked up if you have a foundation in Portuguese). Tutors are available and affordable. English is pretty rare here, outside of the main touristed islands of Sal and Boa Vista.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. There are sidewalks, but not always in great shape. Even the embassy lacks an elevator.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are everywhere and pretty cheap ($2 or less to get just about anywhere in Praia). Domestic airline is also pretty reasonable, with many flights between islands costing $80-120 roundtrip.
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 a Toyota 4Runner and love it here. The longest road in the country is about 40 miles (on this island), so it's not like we're burning through too much fuel. You can manage here without 4WD, but it's nice to have something a bit bigger to explore the hills and hidden beaches.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Post has been good about having Internet ready on arrival. It's fast enough to stream videos and make video calls. Can be erratic in speed, though.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I use an embassy-issued phone, but my spouse has a local phone. It's easy to set up and buy credit.
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?
Decent vet care with housecalls. Conditions at the animal hospital are fairly grim. Stray dogs are a major problem in Praia and at least one person at post has been bitten. I walk daily but carry a stick for protection. We've adopted a street dog and support a local NGO that's working on spaying/neutering. The city of Praia holds periodic roundups/euthanasia of street dogs.
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?
Nobody currently works on the local market. Salaries would be quite low. Hiring freeze has made it tough for those seeking work at post.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Yes, with an orphanage or animal welfare group.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual most days at work. It's hot and sunny here year round, but Cabo Verdeans dress pretty well so there are times you need to wear a jacket and tie and just hope the sweat doesn't soak through. It's particularly hot and humid from July - October, during the brief rainy season.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes, muggings and break ins are very common in Praia, with expats being prime targets. This is no joke and you need to listen carefully to advice from the RSO. No recorded terrorist attacks, though.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Until 2017, malaria was almost unheard of here, but this year Praia had at least 300 recorded cases. In 2015, there was a widespread Zika virus outbreak. Basic medical care is decent in Praia, but there are nine islands, so transport can be dangerously slow to get care. Most people need to medevac to Lisbon or London for anything. This is not a good place if you need frequent or specialized medical care. No snakes or dangerous critters and we haven't heard of a shark attack since we've been here.
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?
From November to March, Cabo Verde gets nasty dust storms blown over from the Sahara (300+ miles away). Many people suffer from respiratory ailments during this time. Not a good place for someone with asthma. The dust storms can last more than a week and will ground domestic flights, but it's not constant and usually the sun peeks through each day. For most of the year, it's very sunny, dry and breezy.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Lots of dust here. Shellfish and peanuts are common.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
People who stick to Praia tend to get island fever pretty quickly. It's also a very, very small post, which can be challenging. People who get out and enjoy the people, the music, the ocean, and nature tend to thrive here. Traveling to the other islands, or even a daytrip out of Praia, tends to be enough to dampen island fever. The only way to catch the winter blues here is to lock yourself in a dark room, which might also be a sign of other mental health issues. The sun shines almost everyday of the year.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
SUN! Praia typically gets less than 10 inches of rain per year and almost all of it from August to October. The rest of the time is sunny, with daily highs in the 80s and lows in the upper 60s. It's often windy. For a few weeks each winter, we wear sweatshirts and pants when eating at outdoor restaurants at night, otherwise it's shorts/flip-flops.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Our daughter goes to Les Alizes, the French School. Although she's had a couple of good teachers, there's no way I'd recommend this school. They've had constant changes in administration, classes are crowded, and a curriculum that doesn't seem to be followed. There are no English-language schools here. Some new Portuguese schools that appear to be promising. The quality of education and medical care are two very important factors to consider if you're looking at this post. I would not bring an older child here unless you plan to homeschool. If you bring a younger child here, plan to supplement their education.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
None that we know of.
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?
Little experience with them, but we know others at post who have been happy with pre-schools.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, through the school and Brazilian cultural center.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Only a small number of other diplomatic missions here. Fairly large community of Portuguese professionals. Cabo Verde and Portugal have a complicated relationship, but in general the Cabo Verdeans are very welcoming of foreigners. For those who get out and enjoy the country, morale is high. People who tend to stay at home or at work all the time have a harder time here. Morale at post is good, though we're a tiny post, which means a bad apple can spoil the barrel pretty quickly.
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?
Easy to socialize here with locals. There's an active hiking club. Lots of beach activities. People are friendly and open. If you're open to this, you'll have no problem socializing.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families with young kids tend to love it here. Some single members at post (of both genders) have dated, while others find the town to be too small for this. Couples who like adventure sports seem to have fun. It can be a tough place for spouses without work.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There's a small but active and open LGBT community, especially on the island of Sao Vicente. There are laws to protect LGBT rights, but it's still a conservative, Catholic country. People are pretty laid back here, though, and don't seem to care too much. In terms of the neighborhood (West Africa), this is a very open place.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Mostly Catholic and Nazarene. A small percentage of Muslims. Traditionally, the islands have welcomed Jews who've been expelled from other countries, but there's not an active community here. Gender equality is a bit tricky here. You see women in positions of power in politics and business, but still very male dominated.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We've loved our time here and have traveled to all nine islands. Each island is very unique: sleeping in a hotel built atop cooling lava in Fogo's caldeira, chilling on the quiet beaches of Maio, celebrating Carenval in Mindelo, trekking in Santo Antao, reaching zombie-like levels of relaxing on Brava, bobbing in the crystal clear waters of Sal, hiking the mountains of Santiago... I can drive home for lunch from work most days. On weekends we walk down to the beach or kayak in the harbor or pitch a tent on a black sand beach. What's not to like? It's been a wonderful place for my family and me to explore. The people are beyond friendly. The music is awesome. The food is great. But the key has been getting out of Praia. The work can be really intense at such a small post, so it's good to play hard on the weekends.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
It's simple: visit each island. Avoid the mega-resorts during tourist season on Sal and Boa Vista (though they can be really fun with kids during the summer months). Santiago has so much to offer: Tarrafal, Rui Vaz, tabanka festivals, Kriol Jazz Fest. Also: Find a friend with a fishing boat!
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not really. Some decent painters on the islands.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's quiet and close to work. As a tourist, I probably wouldn't spend anytime in Praia. There are better places.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Not really. We love the outdoors and expected to enjoy the beaches and hiking here. That's come true. If you're a homebody or really need museums, theater, ballet, chances to wear formal clothes, then this isn't a good place. Some people really do struggle with mental health issues here because it's a very small post in an isolated place. But this is an awesome place for the right people.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Snowshoes, traffic rules, and sense of urgency.
4. But don't forget your:
Smile, sense of adventure, sunscreen, fishing pole, tent, snorkeling gear, telescope, and ingredients to prepare your favorite dishes (the tuna and corn stew is awesome, but every night?).
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Listen to the classic mornas and check out the lyrics. You'll learn a lot. Visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Music is key here: Cesaria Evora, of course, is a national icon (and on their $20 note). Also give a listen to Tcheka, Bau & Vogina, Elida Almeida, Fogo fiddle, Tito Paris, etc., etc. This is a good way to get a taste of the national emotion: Sodade.