Bangui, Central African Republic Report of what it's like to live there - 06/03/18
Personal Experiences from Bangui, Central African Republic
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
First time in an Africa post. Have lived in several other regions as an FSO.
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?
US. Flights usually go through Paris before a direct to the US.
3. How long have you lived here?
Bangui was a one-year assignment for me.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
The US Embassy in Bangui is considered hard-to-fill and the vacancy offered the right position at the right time.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is contained in an enclave of two-story townhomes, across from the Bangui river and next to another set of housing belonging to the UN mission there. Commute to the embassy is not more than 5-10 mins, and at the time of my assignment was in an armored van. However, I was also able to take motorpool from home and it's a great alternative when you don't want to be in a school bus setting.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There were two grocery store options at the time I lived there, primarily with French products. If you employ household staff they are better able to buy things on the local market for you. Don't forget to clean your vegetables with bleach.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Unless you do a lot of cooking/baking and have certain preferences, you can adapt to what you can find locally, or just ship yourself items via pouch (as long as it's not prohibited).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
A smattering of restaurants that are well known to the expats exist, of varying quality and levels of service. The Chinese restaurant is amazing and the food is remarkably authentic. Most of these places are great just simply for being there and open and available. You need to have zero expectations for living in Bangui.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Everything I received was sent through pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is fairly inexpensive; it's finding someone who can speak either speak French (and not the local language of Sango) or English. It will, however, be extremely difficult to find anyone who can speak a decent amount of English.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a gym in the former residence, and you can purchase a membership to that facility. There is also a gym in the Ledger Hotel, Bangui's only decent hotel.
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?
I only used the ATM when I was unable to make the hours for the embassy cashier.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Church is in French. There is a cathedral in Bangui; the city has its own bishop, and Pope Francis even visited. For all that the country lacks, it has its own diocese.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French is best.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
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?
During the time I was there, we were not able to drive anywhere.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
While I was there my internet came primarily through a hotspot, which you would buy as many phone cards as possible to maintain. You could get service but it costs too much and was less reliable than what you'd get through your hotspot.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I only used the local Orange service.
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?
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?
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
You can pretty much wear whatever you want. It was amazing to see what people thought they could get away with; locals, expats, and the Americans at the embassy.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
From what I've heard, it ranges from petty crime to carjacking to murder.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
You can easily catch something that will have you going to the toilet for days and unable to keep anything down. Malaria is very real and there always seem to be those who forgot to take their pills.
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?
People burn garbage for days here.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Peanuts are abundant here.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
You can get the blues all year round here. This is the poorest country in the world and things seem to get tired fast.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's usually always hot, and then there's rainy season, which is hot and wet and dirty and flooded.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Very little. There is a lack of even basic electricity.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
If you enjoy seeing the same people every day, everywhere, then I imagine you will have a great time. You need to carve out your own personal space; otherwise I'd be concerned the gossips will try to be involved in your personal life so they can entertain themselves.
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?
Typically at one of the few local "clubs." The scene can get old and tired very quickly, unless you enjoy drinking so much you forget about how old and tired everything is.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Absolutely not. It's a good city when you want to save money for those extravagant vacations.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Watch the news. There is violence between Muslims and Christians.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
I fully appreciate the all of my R&Rs out of this place. Being able to go to the gym on a regular basis was extremely helpful.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
If you can take a trip to the waterfalls do so. I enjoyed the pool at the Ledger on a regular basis, particularly their swim-up bar.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Maybe some art.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The danger and hardship pay.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How incredibly tiny the embassy is and how quickly everything would become familiar. In my opinion, the level of poverty and lack of infrastructure cannot be understated.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Creature comforts (make sure you can send them through pouch or you have included an adequate amount in your shipment).
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Very few books exist focusing solely on CAR (there is only one, actually -- "Making Sense of the Central African Republic"). and little is covered even in Pan-African journals.
6. Do you have any other comments?
I don't think it's worth it, unless you are trying to stack cash. Even, in my opinion, you may question your decision. Beware of the "big fish in a small pond" phenomenon here, your perceptions could be skewed.