Djibouti, Djibouti Report of what it's like to live there - 05/23/22
Personal Experiences from Djibouti, Djibouti
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Not our first. Have lived in Senegal, Ethiopia, and China as well.
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 DC. Traveling back to the US is a long, difficult process. It takes at least 24 hours and requires 2+ flights with layovers.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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?
Housing for the US Embassy is a mix of stand-alone houses and compound living. Some have gardens/plantings, but none have a true yard, as it's too hot for grass to grow here. Houses are generally moderately-well sized, but not luxurious, and maintenance issues require pretty constant attention. All houses are within 10 minutes of the embassy, and most are less than a 5 minute drive. The school that most children attend (QSI) is in the same neighborhood as well. The lack of traffic and commute is one of the best parts of living here.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Things are expensive and not always available, but what is available is generally of good quality. We have two major French supermarkets, which stock French groceries and supplies. Fresh vegetables and fruits are hit or miss, so we use a lot of frozen alternatives, and occasionally something surprising (like sugar) will be out of stock for a couple months. You learn to buy multiples of anything you like, to tide you over until it comes back into stock. Overall, it's not bad.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Favorite sauces/marinades/dressings. Everything else will generally come via mail or be available locally. This is a consumables post, so you can ship oil/flour/canned goods/etc. in bulk.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are 5-10 restaurants that most expats go to and order from. A surprising amount of Asian fusion, French, Indian, Lebanese, Yemeni fish, a great pizza/burger joint, and one 'fancy restaurant' that everyone goes to for celebratory dinners. KiKi Drop is the new food delivery app, which has made life a lot easier on the past year or so.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Insect activity is very house-by-house. We have ants, but very few mosquitos. A house down the street may have tons of mosquitos and no ants. It's a developing country: you will probably share your space with insects at some point (bring ant bait).
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic mail and FPO via the US military base.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most people have a housekeeper. Families with children often have a full-time housekeeper/nanny, while families without children or singles usually hire someone on a part-time basis to help keep the dust under control. Help is not very expensive (under $1k per month for full time), but most only speak French/Somali. It's quite difficult to find household help who speak English well.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a gym at the US Embassy and classes/facilities that US Embassy personnel can access on the military base for free. For non-US Embassy personnel, you can purchase a membership to the Kempinski gym/pool, but it's very 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?
We do not use credit cards here. There is an ATM at the embassy and non-Embassy personnel often use the ATM at the grocery store.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are a wide array of English-language services on the US military base, which are open to mission personnel.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need very little local language here. The expat community is so concentrated that the few restaurants/hotels/stores we regularly frequent all have English speakers on staff. There are French language courses at the embassy, and I have seen ads for private tutors on Facebook.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be very difficult to live here with a disability. There are no sidewalks, very few paved parking lots, no accessibility considerations.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We are not permitted 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?
4x4. Recommend Toyota, as getting replacement parts for any other type of vehicle is difficult
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
I believe the current embassy houses are already wired and internet can be initiated quickly. It's not very high speed, and it's very expensive, but it does generally work.
Any new houses added to the housing pool can take months to get wired. In that case, many people will use WiFi pucks and just run 4G from a SIM card.
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. You will buy a local SIM and load it via scratch-off cards. Overall, I have found it to be much cheaper than US cell phone plans. I also kept my Google Voice number so I could make phone calls to US numbers and rely on that for all of the authentication/verification texts required to access my US-based accounts.
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 is one vet clinic, which can handle basic vaccinations and care. 'special needs' pets would not be a good fit for Djibouti. There is no quarantine upon arrival. Any pet care for travel is generally arranged within the embassy community among friends.
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?
There are very limited jobs outside the embassy. A number of spouses have done full-time telework, but the time zones are difficult to manage. Most spouses work within the embassy and there are a good number of positions available.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are a few volunteer opportunities, but most are in French.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Djibouti is very casual. Business casual, no blazers, is standard at the embassy. Suits are very rarely required. The Marine Corps Ball is the only formal event I can recall, and most attendees wore suits rather than tuxes.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I have never felt unsafe here. It is very quiet and there are no significant crime issues.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Mosquito-borne diseases are the biggest risk. There are very limited medical facilities. The embassy has a NP, who can do vaccinations and preventative care. For US Embassy personnel, the military base will provide emergency services, but everything else requires a medevac.
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?
Overall very good. There's a dusty season during the summer which can irritate people eyes, but there's very little concern about pollution.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
This is a developing country, and I would have concerns eating out at most restaurants if I had a serious allergy here. However, it's no worse than any other developing country.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Not in particular. This is a small, hot city in Sub-Saharan Africa. Some people struggle to adjust, but it's not specific to Djibouti.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is gorgeous from November to April, and brutally hot/dusty from May to October. There is very little rain and almost no greenery.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are a number of international schools, but only one that is accredited: QSI. Almost all the US embassy children attend that school, with the exception of older children, who sometimes go to ISA because it has a larger student body for middle-school and high-school. QSI is quite small, about 40 children total including the preschool, and teaches combined grades. For elementary school, we've been very happy. The teachers have been great and the small classes mean the kids are getting really individualized lessons. For children in middle school or high school I think it would be difficult: there are very few children here in that age group, so it would be difficult socially and academically.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
While I believe that they would work hard to support special needs requirements, the schools here do not seem to be resourced/structured to provide specialized services.
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?
QSI has a wonderful half-day preschool program starting at age 3. Any day care/childcare outside of that program is generally provided by private nannies. There is a local preschool/creche program, but it's across town from the embassy and only a handful of embassy families have enrolled their children over the past three years.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Most activities are organized with the US Embassy community for mission personnel. There are often weekly kids' soccer and playdates/storytime at the embassy playground and library. For older children, they can enroll in the activities at the different schools, but they often take place on slightly different schedules and at different locations around town, so it's not a widely used option.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There is a very large French military presence, but a very small expat community outside of that.
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?
There is very limited interaction/clubs in the expat circle: it tends to be quite insular within each embassy, with the exception of school-based interactions. The major activities in common focus on diving/snorkel trips during the winter. There are a few social events that are widely attended (e.g. wine and cheese night at the major hotel)
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for families of young kids: it's safe, small, and there are a large number of other young kids in the embassy community for activities. I gather that many singles/couples get very bored. There are some good travel opportunities, but you need to be able to make your own fun here.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Probably not. LGBT lifestyles are not accepted here and the social scene is so small that it would be difficult to find that community.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
There is very little opportunity to engage with locals outside of a work context, given the linguistic barriers and lack of structured social interactions. Because we all live in gated houses/compound there is no real ability to meet your neighbors.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not with regards to working/living here as an expat. Djiboutians are very tolerant of different religions/races, particularly for expats. However, this is a conservative society, and I'm sure that there are a number of issues for women and immigrants that expats are not experiencing first-hand.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Whale sharks. Sables Blancs. Snorkling/diving. Dubai.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Go swimming with the whale sharks as many times as you can. Go to Sables Blancs to spend the night. I've heard great things about Neem Farm as well.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not really. There is a surprising lack of handicrafts. Most of the cultural items to buy are actually from Yemen or Ethiopia.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Djibouti has been great for our family. It's quiet and safe, there's great outdoor opportunities for half the year, the school is wonderful for elementary-aged kids, and it's so small that you get back all the time you would spend sitting in traffic in any other city in the world. Djibouti's role as host to so many militaries and it's location make the political/military issues really interesting from a work perspective.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
You have to be able to make your own fun here: bring games, pick up a hobby, plan trips, attend social events, invite people over for coffee, whatever it is that works for you. The heat is no joke, so plan to spend a lot of time indoors.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Jackets and high heels.
4. But don't forget your:
Good humor and sunscreen.