Bangui, Central African Republic Report of what it's like to live there - 01/02/12

Personal Experiences from Bangui, Central African Republic

Bangui, Central African Republic 01/02/12

Background:

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

No.

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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?

The best itinerary from Washington DC is Air France to Paris (8 hours) and then Paris to Bangui (7 hours), but it's only once a week. Other connections are through Casablanca, Nairobi, and Addis, but these are marathon trips.

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3. How long have you lived here?

A year.

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

U.S. government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Expat quality housing can be quite expensive and rare. Even the best properties will have deficiencies. That said, nothing is really that far from anything else and there's no distinct expat neighborhood.

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

Very limited. There are a few groceries in town which stock western-style products, but they're off brand and very expensive. Fresh cheese or other dairy products are lacking.

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

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

There is no fast food. For expat-style food there are maybe a dozen reasonable choices. Beer is cheap ($2-$3 for a large bottle) and you can get lunch for $8 to $10 and dinner for $10 to $20. If you want to eat like a local, you can spend $1 or $2.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

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

Obviously mosquitoes, and this is a malaria zone. All sorts of other critters as you'd expect in equatorial Africa.

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Daily Life:

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

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

The trick is finding someone reliable and trustworthy. That said, help is cheap. A full-time housekeeper is around US$60/week.

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

Yes, but they're fairly basic.

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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?

There's no opportunity to use them - cash only.

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

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

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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?

You need to know French. Don't come here without it. If you know Sango, even better.

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

Don't even think about it. Even the most mobile of travelers will be challenged by the crumbling roads and awkward building access.

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Transportation:

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

Safe? Not really. Affordable. Yes.

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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?

A 4x4 with reasonable ground clearance is advisable. Even in the city center, many roads are dirt and heavily rutted. Japanese brands like Toyota or Nissan are supported.

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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?

The maximum speed is 512Mb, but it's largely unaffordable. You can get a nights/weekend 256Mb plan for around $100 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?

It's a GSM network like most of the world. Bring a quad-band unlocked phone and you'll be fine.

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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)?

There are a couple of vets who will visit your house by moto. There are no kennels so find a friend who's willing to take your pet.

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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?

Within the diplomatic and government community it's usually a suit and tie similar to a European dress code. Among UN and NGOs a bit more casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

Petty crime in the city. Watch your backpacks, cellphones, etc. Kids may sometimes try to open your car door while you're stopped and take whatever is loose. Upcountry there can be active rebel conflicts with roadblocks and associated 'tolls'. Overland travel to certain parts of the country is not advisable.

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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?

The quality of medical care is poor. Don't get sick and don't get injured. People get Medevaced for even the most basic care.

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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?

In the dry season the dust and ash from brush fires can be problematic, not just for your lungs but inside your house, car, etc. There is no industry or traffic and so no real smog.

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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?

Dry season is November through April and rainy season is May through October. It's temperate year round with lows of around 20C and highs in the mid 30s.

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

Small, but tight. There is a sizable UN presence and quite a few NGOs.

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2. Morale among expats:

It depends. Some are miserable and some thrive.

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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?

Restaurants or house parties. There are a few late-night clubs which are populated mostly by locals.

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

I know plenty of people who came single and left either engaged or in a serious relationship. I've found singles and couples tend to do a bit better than those with kids. The concerns over education, healthcare and social activities for families can be difficult. The singles scene is mostly drinking beer, eating out, or hosting house parties.

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

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

There is an underlying tension between Christians and Muslims that occasionally erupts, but it is generally subdued. If you're white you will certainly stand out here, but it's not particularly a problem.

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

Traveling 'upcountry' to the provinces, which gives you a pretty good idea of how poor and remote a country this is. There's Bangui and then there's the rest of the country and one is not like the other.

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

Depends on what you call interesting/fun. There's Boali Falls but that can get old. The river is accessible by pirogue. There's a mediocre golf course and tennis club.

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

Manioc?

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

It's one of the more low-key capital cities. Little to no traffic, you can get anywhere in less than 15 minutes; the cost of living is relatively cheap and the people are friendly.

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11. Can you save money?

Absolutely.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

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

Credit cards.

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3. But don't forget your:

Stash of DVDs, books and other things to keep you sane.

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Like I said, people can either thrive here or totally crumble. Despite this being a capital city, it wouldn't even pass as a mid-size town in many more developed countries.

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