Monrovia, Liberia Report of what it's like to live there - 11/17/17
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, Kingston, Jamaica; Accra, Ghana; Kampala, Uganda; Kigali, Rwanda; Lilongwe, Malawi; Belmopan, Belize; Nairobi, Kenya; Harare, Zimbabwe.
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?
San Francisco, now KLM have started flying directly to Monrovia again. It's approximately 7 hrs to AMS then 11 hrs to SFO.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Diplomatic mission and business.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We have a townhouse in a gated community, approx 10-20 min commute to the US embassy depending on traffic. It can be longer if there is any kind of incident but these seem reasonably rare. Other US embassy housing is mainly apartments, the majority right by the embassy but also some with a similar commute to us. Those with a commute are closer to the school(s). I have heard rumour of some stand-alone houses but not seen one. I think size-wise most places are 'average' for us embassy housing, quality probably a little below average due to the harsh environment and unavailability of quality materials and workmanship.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very poor availability of fresh fruit and vegetables that are not locally grown, very high prices for very very poor quality. Locally available fruit is good and cheap but seasonal, think mangoes, pineapple, pawpaw, bananas, passion fruit, citrus. Vegetables are more limited due to difficult growing conditions, sweet potatoes are available but not great, cabbage, cucumber, some small tomatoes and onions, potato greens, squash are the staples and available most of the time. Oh and lots of very hot peppers.
All other non-fresh items are available, usually, at high prices. This includes lots of US brand goods; canned foodstuff, jams, sauces, etc etc. Cleaning supplies also available but not the selection of brands and not everything all the time, pet food also available.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We shipped everything we needed but got some of the quantities wrong, should have brought more laundry detergent, dish washing soap and pasta sauce.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a great delivery service which will bring food from almost any restaurant for little or no extra cost. However, the quality of most restaurants and takeaways is average at best. Lebanese food is the most abundant and best quality, there is Thai, Italian and Sushi at the few larger hotels but it's expensive and in my opinion poor. There're a couple of average Indian restaurants and reasonable (authentic) Ethiopian. There is a Korean place I've not tried and a selection of Chinese places. Liberian food is often very spicy, but hearty and cheap.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I think most housing will have some degree of ants and roaches. The embassy will arrange spraying.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We have US embassy privileges, the pouch used to be quick and reliable but recent changes mean we ware waiting much longer. I have used DHL as well which is quite expensive, $90 to send a letter to the UK.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Readily available but the quality varies greatly so look for recommendations. Driver, housekeeper, nanny is typical each around $300/mth plus extras like school fees etc etc.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
All embassy staff have access to a large gym, most housing has a pool, possibly a tennis court, maybe it's own gym (ours has). There are local gyms ranging from local boxing clubs to fancy modern well equipped places. Again prices are high for the latter, I think $70/mth+
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?
No and no. No, no and probably. Only the few big hotels take credit cards and I would avoid using them even there if you can at all avoid it. There are few ATMs, especially outside of Monrovia but I think they are safe to use, depending on location and time of course.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Certainly there are Catholic and Anglican churches, SDA and probably many more. This is a country where religion is big.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None, English is spoken by almost everyone in Monrovia, usually as a first language. The accent and dialect do take some getting used to.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, there is no provision of any kind for anyone. Lots of the accommodation is in apartment blocks without lifts.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses and taxis available and cheap but NOT safe. Ditto motorcycle taxis and 3-wheelers. I would have to be very desperate to use any. No trams or trains.
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 used Toyota SUV, Rav4, 4runner, Land Cruiser. Anything else, forget it. Availability of spares, servicing, repairs is too difficult. Make sure the car is in great mechanical condition before you ship it, suspension and running gear particularly and bring filters and brake pads if you can. Service it yourself if at all possible. The roads, even in Monrovia, are not good for a saloon car but you could get away with a Corolla or Camry.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
In Monrovia high-speed internet access, $150/mth, is good and easily installed, for free. We stream Netflix without too many problems.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We use local mobile providers which are cheap, for good 4G and international calls, on a pay-as-you-go basis. There are two main providers competing for business, many people have both to take advantage of different offers.
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?
Paperwork needs to be in order before coming (at Monrovia end), this can be time consuming, plan ahead. No quarantine. There is at least one European vet The environment is harsh, very hot very very humid ALL the time. I don't think this suits some dog breeds.
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?
I am a civil engineer and work locally but had the job before we were posted here. Most others I know work at the embassy. There are NGO and specialist positions here though. Medical professionals, health and agricultural sector experts and engineers could possibly find well-paying positions. They may be outside of Monrovia though.
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?
'Business casual'? Suits are rare outside of senior government.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No different to any city. There are some former combatants with drug problems who beg, particularly around some of the supermarkets, and I've been told they can be dangerous but I've not seen any issues myself.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria, take the pills. There is a private health care provider who can cope with quite a bit (certainly they can replace a dislocated shoulder) and evacuate for those they can't. We have experience with them and the doctors and nurses were great.
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?
Usually the heat and humidity distract from most other forms of pollution but in the dry season Nov-Apr the Harmattan wind brings fine sand particles from the Sahara. Everything gets covered in dust and visibility is greatly reduced. This tends to dry out skin, bring lip balm, but I've not heard of other health issues.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
See above, and if you eat any food prepared locally nothing can be guaranteed.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
The rainy season is long and very very wet, bring puzzles.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and extremely wet (May-Oct), or extremely hot (Nov-Apr).
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The American school is well-equipped and people seem happy with it. Our kids (K and 1G) go a Lebanese school , slightly less well equipped but we're happy with it. We chose this because at the time we came, just post-Ebola, there were very few kids the same age as ours at the American school. The Lebanese school is also closer all the housing.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
I think most people have nannies but there are pre-schools, don't know about the cost. There is after school care available at my kids school but it's expensive.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are some, martial arts, dancing I know of. Not a huge selection though.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's a small community, working in what can be quite a challenging environment. It therefore attracts the adventurous type so morale is usually good.
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?
The Hash House Harriers is always top of my list. I understand there is a running 'club' as well. Apart from that it's kids birthdays and the usual holidays/festivals. You have to make your own fun.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Any of the above who are reasonably adventurous outgoing and not too fussy will be fine.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
No more so than anywhere else.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Golfing at the Firestone plantation, a trip to the beach at Robersport. I know people go big game fishing in the dry season but I've not done it yet.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The local beaches are not great, pollution, rip tides etc but a shortish drive towards the airport they are a little better and there are 'resorts' providing food and drink. Usually busy on dry season weekends.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I'd been working here for a number of years before moving with the family so knew what we were getting into.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Jacket, tie, overcoat.
4. But don't forget your:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Another America, The History of Liberia; James Ciment. Charles Taylor and Liberia; Colin M Waugh. Chasing the Devil; Tim Butcher. A Journey Without Maps; Graham Greene.