Monrovia, Liberia Report of what it's like to live there - 06/23/16
Personal Experiences from Monrovia, Liberia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. I have lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Kenya.
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?
East Coast USA - requires connection in Brussels, Casablanca, or Accra.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
USAID Foreign Service Officer.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Large apartment, five minute walk from embassy, near old embassy compound with gym, tennis courts, and swimming pool. Walking distance from a few hotels/restaurants. Housing is rundown but improving daily as it is a focus of the Embassy GSO. Some houses have ocean views.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Western groceries are a bit expensive, but COLA more than makes up for the difference. I was VERY pleasantly surprised by the variety of grocery items available here compared to other places I've lived. Produce is disappointing in the grocery stores but one can find good items in local markets, the embassy Friday market, or Grain Coast Farms, a local CSA.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I did - but wine, liquor, and good beer. Pet supplies if you need them. Everything is available in Monrovia but it is often less expensive to take advantage of consumables shipments (if you are lucky enough to have it) to stock up on bulk items and liquids that can't be sent through the pouch.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Not a huge number of restaurants but a fair variety - Lebanese, Thai, good sushi, Ethiopian, Syrian, Vietnamese, fresh seafood, Indian, Bangladeshi, salad/sandwich/coffee shops to name a few. Cookshop.biz is a great food delivery service that I use frequently. Pandora's Basket is a nice option for good local food and a great place to meet expats and locals.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I use embassy mail services - I think that using the local mail is possible, but not reliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very inexpensive - most have house cleaners, some have cooks, drivers, nannies, gardeners as well.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are a few gyms in town - since I've been here I've participated in yoga, zumba, spinning, squash, bootcamp, running, boxing, and other random fitness classes. There are groups that play soccer, touch rugby, basketball, African dance and drumming, and volleyball. There are two golf courses, and several deep sea fishing operators. There is also a local Hash House Harriers, and a hiking club, though these seem to wax and wane depending on interest and leadership. There are definitely options and getting better by the day.
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 accepted at some places - namely supermarkets and the big hotels - but for the most part it is a cash based economy. ATMs are somewhat unreliable as they frequently run out of money and have high associated fees. That said, many people use them but it's always a good idea to have a bit of cash on hand.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Liberia is a VERY religious country and an English speaking country so no problems here. I have not personally attended any religious services beyond a few events for colleagues.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are a few local taxi services that are very 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?
In Monrovia you can get around with most anything, but outside of Monrovia four wheel drive and high clearance vehicles are advisable. Due to the close relationships with the U.S. there are a large variety of cars here, so parts are not terribly complicated though they do tend to be more expensive and less quality. Good idea to bring some basic spare parts if you can.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes - it's fast, but it is expensive and sometimes unreliable. Installation was not complicated for me as I use a hotspot sort of system and for the most part it works well.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Three companies - Cellcom (Orange), Lonestar (MTN), and Novaphone. Many people have two as they have varying functionality outside of Monrovia.
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 quarantines and there are at least two expat vets (Norwegian and Ethiopian). Sometimes medicine and equipment are not readily available, so good to bring extras if your pets have any issues or need medications. Getting pets in and out of the country is a bit of a hassle, but no special requirements and not unlike getting them out of any 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?
Some spouses work in the Embassy or with USAID partners or other organizations.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Some people volunteer with orphanages, and the Embassy arranges some volunteer opportunities through the CLO and FAST programs. There is a local branch of the Rotary Club which focuses on volunteer opportunities as well.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dress code is typically business casual in embassies and government offices and fairly casual with NGOs/USAID partners. Liberians are smart dressers and there are occasions for formal dress both in the embassy community and in the community at large.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Occasional muggings, particularly outside bars and clubs and other crimes of opportunity. But overall, I have personally felt safer living in Monrovia than other parts of Africa or in large U.S. cities.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Available medical care is not ideal and medical and dental evacuations are common for fairly routine issues. The embassy community benefits from an on-site medical unit. Non-embassy expats require private insurance and often visit Aspen Medical, a private provider in Sinkor.
3. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Due to the heavy rainy season, mold is common, so people with mold allergies may have issues.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Monrovia is the wettest capital city in the world - there are heavy rains between April and December with a few breaks. It is hot and humid pretty much year-round, though the rains provide some respite.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Fairly large expat community (particularly for a town this small) between the diplomatic community, UN agencies, and NGOs.
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 are a few bars and clubs in town, a few restaurants, and many people host smaller gatherings at their homes. There are a few book clubs, and events are regularly advertised on the Liberia expats google group. It's not hard to meet people in Monrovia if you put a little bit of effort into it.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
There are a number of young single people, couples, and families with small children, particularly given the overall size of the city. For all of the categories you need to be prepared to proactively search for things to do and be willing to make your own fun. If you are willing to do that, it can be a very rewarding place.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I understand there is a small community but it's definitely under the radar and not broadly accepted in Liberian circles.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Good friends and a sense of adventure will take you a long way.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Great beaches, surfing, camping trips, deep sea fishing, hiking Mount Nimba
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Definitely not a shopping post, but there are some very interesting and uniquely Liberian crafts - anything made with lappa (wax print fabric), quilts (lappa fabric and African designs but employing Southern USA quilting patterns - interesting given Liberia's history), and bookshelves/bars made out of old canoes are popular among expats.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Being so close to the ocean and fresh seafood is a definite bonus and it really is a beautiful country. The beaches are beautiful and very close so you can go for just a few hours as long as the sun is out.
Liberian people are opinionated, outgoing, resilient, and genuinely care about the development of their country. On a professional level one has access at the highest levels of government which is exciting.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely. It's been a challenging post, but ultimately a very rewarding one.
2. But don't forget your:
Sense of adventure, patience, and rain boots!
3. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Books: Another America, Journey Without Maps, American Warlord, Little Liberia, Long Story Bit by Bit.
Movies: Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Firestone and the Warlord, An Uncivil War.
4. Do you have any other comments?
Liberia is not an easy place, but with a good attitude and a sense of adventure it can be very rewarding.