Praia, Cape Verde Report of what it's like to live there - 09/20/18
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 is our second overseas assignment as a family. We have also lived in Skopje, Macedonia.
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 call Boise home. It takes about 30 hours to get there on 4 flights: Praia to Lisbon, Lisbon to Newark, Newark to Denver, and Denver to Boise. We fly United because TAP is a partner airline.
3. How long have you lived here?
We have been in Praia since May 2016, and will complete our assignment in May 2019.
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 HUGE! We have 6 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms over three floors. One bedroom is used as a guest room, and two others are used for storage: one is called Costco and stores our consumables, the other stores holiday decorations. Every home I've been in is spacious, with ample room for the occupants. We do not have a compound, but many of the homes are close in proximity to one another. Several homes have small pools, but no green space. I think there are only two homes with non-tiled outside areas.
A typical morning or evening commute to the Embassy by car is 10-15 minutes, depending if you hit "rush hour". Some walk or ride a bike into work, but it is not common to do so.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries can be expensive. We live on an island with almost no natural resources, so everything is brought in. You can always tell when the boat has come in because EVERY store has the same new items. There's no guarantee that you'll be able to find things regularly, so if we see something we like, we stock up as much as we can. The most difficult to find and most expensive items are things like celery and iceberg lettuce. When we see them, we buy the good ones and plan our weekly menus around them.
Meat is expensive! We don't tend to purchase from the grocery stores - there is a place that imports meat that is frozen. We trust them, and purchase large slabs of beef to take home and grind ourselves. The local hamburgers are gross, so we press our own patties.
As for household supplies, you can find a decent amount of items here. The quality is so-so, with local staff telling me they won't buy things like toothpaste at the grocery store or Chinese shops because they're knock-offs. I don't know this to be factual, but it also doesn't affect us, since we have consumables shipments.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We took advantage of every single pound of our consumables allowance, and with pouch, we can get everything we need. We bought everything we needed for all our holiday baking, as that is nearly impossible to find here. Anything liquid you think you'll need, bring it, and bring too much!
Any time we go back to the States, we bring home frozen items like hot dogs, chicken, bacon, and sausage. We have good coolers that ensure the meat will stay frozen for the 30-40 hours it takes to get home.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are several restaurants that are popular. They serve a variety of chicken, pork, some beef, and seafood options. There is one restaurant where we get takeout almost every day for lunch. It offers grilled chicken, rice, fries, salad, and some other things like ribs and other cuts of pork. For our family of 4, we spend about $13-$15 for the meal. To go out to dinner, we can plan on spending between $20-$40, depending on the place (we also don't drink alcohol). Food delivery has just started up, and most of the good restaurants participate. Trying to explain where you live is fun, as there are no addresses. There are no fast food restaurants in the country.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We have ants and cockroaches. Pest control keeps them at bay.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We are pouch only. Receiving takes about three weeks, until we start getting close to Christmas. Sending packages is near impossible. I have brought the USPS flat rate boxes with me, but it takes three-six weeks for it to get to the destination. For mail, we tend to wait until someone is heading to the U.S., and send already stamped letters with them to drop in a box. There are always TDYers (temporary duty folks) coming and going, and they are always happy to take letters back.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Availability of house help is good, but I can't give a cost. We only employ someone to take care of the outside of our home on a part-time basis. We pay him 10,000 Escudos, which is about US$100 per month. This is slightly higher than a typical salary for the country. Others within the community have housekeepers (part-time and full-time) and nannies.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a decent gym, but there are also local gyms that are close to most residences. I don't know the actual cost, but I do know that they are not expensive.
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 used, except at hotels. We rented a car on Sal once and had to pay in cash! Most people cash checks at the embassy and use cash. A couple people have opened local accounts to make it easier to pay staff and school fees. The local account comes with a debit card that is accepted everywhere. We have only used an ATM once in an emergency, and we gave it a thorough check before we did.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
None that I am aware of.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You NEED the language! Portuguese is the official language, but Kriolu is the local language. Tutors can be a bit pricey. We tried 2 different tutors, and weren't happy with either of them. With both of my boys needing language for school and Portuguese not offered, we dropped our lessons so they could concentrate on what they need for school.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Wheelchair accessibility is unheard of, even at the embassy. The 2 buildings are old and only have stairs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are approved and cheap.
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?
Most all of us currently at post have an SUV. Roads are improving, but it's still nice to have the extra clearance. We have a Hyundai, and brought most of the parts we thought we would need. Others we needed, we brought in a suitcase after a trip to the U.S. Parts can be found here, but are more expensive. There is a Toyota dealership, so many bring Toyotas as parts are easier to get at a more reasonable price. We brought tires in HHE, and are so happy we did! Bigger tires are very hard to find, as most vehicles here are little cars.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
"High-speed" internet has just been installed in a couple homes. It is not available to everyone yet. My husband arrived before me, so I can't say how long it took to install. Since we have have fiber optic internet installed, we have gone from 10 MB download to 30 MB download. Each has been sufficient for Netflix. Upload has gone from 3 MB to over 10 MB, which has improved the functionality of Skype tremendously.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone. There are two options, and most go with CV Movel. 1000 Escudos (about US$10) gets you unlimited calls and texts to others in network, and 7 GB of data each month. Plans don't auto renew, but it's a small thing to go pay each month. We have kept our Vonage line in order to call friends and family in the States.
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 a couple vets in country that people use on a regular basis, and I think they are decent. There is no quarantine on entry. I've been told food is expensive and not great quality, so plan on bringing some and setting up a recurring order.
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?
Most spouses/partners work at the embassy either full or part time.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are very few volunteer opportunities, especially if you don't speak the language.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
We are on an island, so the dress code is all over the place. It is mostly business casual. For women, dresses, skirts, pants, capris. For men, dress pants and a button down shirt. Men rarely wear ties to work unless there is an event. At nice events, I have seen people in jeans and even shorts! It's really all over the place. We don't have Marines, so no formal ball each year. There are times when we can get more dressed up, but it's never formal.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The security threat is high in country due to crime. We just got 24 hour guards at our residences. I've heard that robberies on the streets are done at knife or gunpoint. They seem to be looking for electronics. I don't wear flashy jewelry, but I've never heard of anyone having jewelry stolen.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The medical care in Praia is awful. We have a local doctor on staff, and some private clinics that can do labwork and take x-rays.
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?
The only time air quality is bad is when dust blows from the Sahara. It's a couple months during the year. Even having 2 with allergies and breathing issues, it hasn't been a huge deal. We do limit our time outdoors, but inside is fine. We have a couple air purifiers we use in bedrooms at night. Overall, air quality is great!
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
We have environmental allergies in our house. We made sure to bring all the medicine we need. The biggest allergens are going to be the acacia trees and dust. Rainy season is only in August/September, so there isn't anything else really blooming during the year.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Spring to fall is hot and humid. Winter is comfortable with less humidity. Lows in the winter are around 60, and highs throughout the year are the 80s. The humidity really affects the heat index, but it's not as bad as DC, Miami, or Houston.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are no supported schools at post. There is a French school that some have sent their children to, but your child needs to already know French. My boys did online school.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Karate is available, and we've been told there is soccer somewhere, but we've never found it. If your child doesn't speak the language, it can be difficult. There are some classes like dance and gymnastics at one of the gyms for younger kids.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The embassy community is small with 12 Americans, and the expat community is also small. Morale is pretty good; I think everyone tries to find their own things to do, and right now we have a lot of introverts at post who like to spend time at home.
2. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We have loved getting out to the other islands and exploring what each has to offer; they are all so different from each other!
3. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
We love going to San Francisco beach to boogie board, and up to Tarrafal to snorkel.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but probably not with teenagers.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Your winter clothes (unless you plan to travel during winter).
3. But don't forget your:
Boogie boards, snorkeling gear, and swim suits! Also, bring your patience - island time is a real thing...