Nouakchott, Mauritania Report of what it's like to live there - 01/06/23

Personal Experiences from Nouakchott, Mauritania

Nouakchott, Mauritania 01/06/23

Background:

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

Not our first experience. Have lived in SE Asia previously.

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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?

Home is in the United States. There are no direct flights to Mauritania from the U.S. Just about any trip home will require a stop in Paris, and depending on where you live in the U.S. another layover. It’s also possible to connect through Istanbul or Morocco.

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3. What years did you live here?

2022-Present.

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4. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is typically humongous villas with no storage space. Usually folks will just turn a spare room into their closet space. There has been a lot of housing turnover in recent years as newer and more updated options get added. Many, but not all, have pools. Many have flat roofs with decks people like to hang out on. It’s Africa so build quality isn’t to USstandards, but GSO and Facilities are quick to respond to issues. Every house has a generator.

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

Based on previous posts, I was expecting the worst when I arrived but have been surprised by the availability of goods. Since we have arrived a few new grocery options have opened. Just about everything in Mauritania is imported. Most stores stock French or Spanish brands, so if you aren’t picky about brand, you can find most things you might need. When the first place I walked into had Nutella, good quality flour tortillas, and a decent selection of spices/seasonings, I knew I was going to survive. Just be sure to scoop up something you’re interested in. Sometimes it can be weeks to months before it gets back. Make friends with store owners as they will tell you when shipments are arriving.

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

Liquids. We shipped them in our consumables but still found ourselves longing for a few things. Otherwise the pouch is solid and easy to get dried goods in quickly (like 10 days). The employee association has a decent store that stocks beer, wine, spirits, and mixers, and you are also able to order through their vendor 4 times a year if there is something more specific you want. If there are expensive American beers you can’t live without, add them to your consumables. The vendor stocks them but American craft beers will often be marked up 200%. European brands of beer/wine/liquor will often be cheaper than the what you would pay in the US or Europe.

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

Other posters are right in that there are fairly limited options. There might be five or six places the community cycles through that have a safe reputation. The beach has a solid seafood restaurant. Fast food drive thru here is terrible and consists of bad hamburgers and pizza. There is decent Indian food, a fantastic Lebanese restaurant (probably the only food place I will miss), and a couple of good French options. Our family has had more home-cooked meals since arriving to Mauritania than at any other point in our life, and we are grateful for it as we have gotten quite good at making a variety of things we never would have attempted otherwise.

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

Ants are everywhere. Buy/bring baits. A few people have complained about seeing roaches but in our time here we haven’t seen a single one in our residence. During the short wet season flies swarm any outdoor gather you might have with food, but thankfully that’s a short season.

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic pouch. Supposedly we are getting DPO in 2023 but it has already been pushed back a handful of times. I’ll believe it when I see it.

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

There’s a decent pool of help, many that surprisingly speak English from places like Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Lots also from Senegal. It seems rare to have a local Mauritanian helper. A nanny or a housekeeper runs about $300 a month. Many also have gardeners that make about $100 a month but they will come multiple times a week, wash your car, and often clean your pool.

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

The US Embassy has small be solid gym with cardio equipment and free weights. Some folks get in on soccer games with other embassies. When the weather is cooler the HU also runs a weekly volleyball game. This isn’t a great city for running but its very doable within the embassy compound or at the beach if that’s your thing.

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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?

Don’t think I have ever seen a credit card used here. Mauritania is a cash-based society. There are some ATMs but most people use the cashier service at the embassy.

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

None, but there is a Catholic church that runs in French. Many mosques, all in Arabic. Some folks in the community will have their own private non-denominational Christian service.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

The national language is Arabic and the local dialect called Hassaniya is unique to Mauritania/Western Sahara. Even for Arabic speakers it takes time to pick up.

French is the language of commerce and business that most expats will be dealing with, so it is worthwhile to pick up some French. The reality is most interactions will be at restaurants or at the grocery store, which are fairly formulaic, so the vocabulary you need for these things isn’t extensive and there are individuals that get by with google translate and very limited language.

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

Yes. The US Embassy is likely the only building in town that can cater to individuals with disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

Nope. Public transport is off limits. The Embassy has a motor pool service you can use for your entire tour for a very small fee per trip. Some officers go their whole tour using it, and even when you have a car it is quite handy.

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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?

4Runners seem to be popular here, as are other regional Toyota models like Land Cruiser Prado. Even in the city it’s beneficial to have something with clearance and all wheel/4 wheel drive. Would definitely recommend buying something from a departing officer if you can.

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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?

Most residences now have access to Fiber internet that allows multiple people to stream at pretty high speeds. Some outages but not very often. Costs about $100 a month so about the same as a similar service in the U.S. Many have commented it is the fastest internet they have ever had in the developing world and even compared to some Western countries.

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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?

I use Google Fi to keep my U.S. number, which has been really handy for maintaining bank accounts and when travelling around the region/Europe/wherever.

Post also provides a local phone.

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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 quarantine, most of the issues getting pets to post seem to have to do with European airlines requirements. During Covid it was apparently a nightmare but is getting better. No clue about Vet service, but considering the quality of care for humans here is pretty substandard, I can’t imagine it would be good for animals.

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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?

There have been more EFM openings advertised and folks that can fill them. As always, the clearance process seems to be the biggest hurdle for people being able to start.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are a few NGOs here and several folks have been able to volunteer without much trouble.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

At work its very much business casual unless there is a high-profile visit. In public, it is a conservative Muslim country. Even Western women don’t wear anything too revealing. The beach is a different story and expats can pretty much wear whatever they would at home.

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Health & Safety:

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

Not really. There are lots of beggars, but they are harmless. Typical good judgement like any place will get you far. There are places in the US where I feel far less safe than I do in Nouakchott. Every house also has a 24/7 guard. Gendarmerie are in just about every trafficked intersection of the city, particularly around where all the embassies are and diplomats live.

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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 Health Unit at the embassy can handle most basic issues and primary care things. It has been the most accessible Health Unit we have encountered in the FS and the staff will go out of their way to help you if there is something you need. Care on the local economy is substandard even if there are a few Western-trained physicians and one western led clinic scattered around town.

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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?

Seasonal allergies can flair during the winter months when sand from the Sahara blows in. Air quality is fine for most of the year but there are definitely days when the AQI can be some of the worst in the world. It is solely from sand/dust. Man-made pollution isn’t really an issue.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

If you have food allergies be prepared to bring your own items. Restaurants likely won’t accommodate and finding what you normally would use to cook might be difficult on the local economy.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Nothing that would seem out of the ordinary. It is a fairly isolated country but the community is very connected and supportive. There are also short flights to the Canary Islands (1.5hrs) if you need to get yourself a mental break from Nouakchott.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

July to September is really hot and when it rains a few times during that period, it also gets very humid. Outside of those months, the weather has been the treat of the tour. Dry heat, swimming year-round is easy, and while your friends and family are freezing for half the year, you’re enjoying a cold Corona at the beach/pool.

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Schools & Children:

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

There is an embassy sponsored American School of Nouakchott (AISN). Feelings on the school depend on who you ask and what grade your child is in. Some teachers have been great, others….not so much. Thankfully, the board of the school recently made some administrative changes to the staff, brought in some more experienced leadership that is familiar with the region, and everyone seems to be pleased with the school. I WOULD NOT bring a high school-aged child to post as the class sizes are very small. For elementary and middle school, the school is solid and recently had quite a few upgrades/additions to their buildings.

Other options include a French program a few kids attend. These people seem happy with this option.

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

There isn't much. This is a post for Class 1 medical clearances and the school is small with not enough infrastructure for more advanced education needs.

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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?

AISN has preschool available but it’s fairly pricey. Most families with kids under 5 send them to a French preschool which is highly regarded and very affordable.

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

Yes. There is a music teacher at AISN that can teach guitar and a few other instruments. Many kids take Tennis lessons, soccer, and swimming is also popular.

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Expat Life:

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

It’s decently sized among the French and Spanish communities but there isn’t a huge American presence outside the embassy. The expat community as a whole is pretty tight knit, and after you have been to a few social gatherings will realize you are circling around with the same people. That can be good and bad, but for the most part I have enjoyed the expat community.

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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 isn’t much to do on the local economy in terms of entertainment but the embassy community and expat community as a whole does a great job of planning lots of social functions and events. The beach is popular, BBQs at the embassy pool. The Community Liaison Office (CLO) always has something going on and there always seems to be a dinner or a wine and cheese event to attend every week. Honestly, I thought I was going to be in a sleepy post with nothing to do and I feel like my social calendar is more full than ever (this is largely thanks to the great community at post).

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

Definitely a great post for families. Lots of younger kids and the community surrounding them is solid. That said, the community is very inclusive of everyone, including couples and families, so no on should feel left out.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

I’ve been surprised by how many friends I have made among the expat community and with some of the local embassy staff (especially those that have experience abroad). Ethnic tensions between the ruling “white moors” and most sub-saharan African groups can bubble up from time to time.

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

Not for one to live openly or freely. Even a heterosexual couple would draw unwanted attention for holding hands and kissing in Mauritania. That said, there are multiple members of the LGBTQ community within the larger expat sphere, and they are welcome members of this small but very inclusive community.

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

Yes. It is a very conservative Islamic Republic. Not as strict as say Saudi Arabia, and there are women in government, but as above, ethnic tensions exist. Most of this will not really impact a diplomat much, but I could see diplomats of color being more heavily scrutinized in social situations, though I have not heard examples of this happening.

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

Trips to St Louis in Senegal and camping trips to Banc d’Arguin are beautiful retreats. Really though, the Embassy community makes this post top notch. Morale is high and there is always something going on.

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

We bid NKC highly simply because of the proximity to the Canary Islands, and that has not disappointed. In a very short flight you are back in Europe with all inclusive resorts which are incredibly affordable.

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

Not really. Anything you find locally was likely made in Senegal or Morocco. The CLO puts together a local artisan fair each year where you can find some locally made products, but most of our purchases this tour have come from Senegal.

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

For being a large city, it has a very small-town feel. Commutes are short. The work-life balance at the embassy is phenomenal and the community is top notch. I feel like most folks moving out here have set their expectations appropriately, and as a result, there aren’t any diva’s a post that have never left European soil that sour the community experience.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How vibrant the social scene is here. I thought I would be bored out of my mind, but the community has made this post a real gem. Nouakchott is not an easy place to live, but the people here make it really enjoyable and are quite bonded.

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

Definitely (said with enthusiasm). I’m not sure I would ever bit Nouakchott again simply because there are so many other places I would love to see, but through and through, Nouakchott has been a fantastic post to the point I worry about future posts having dud communities compared to here.

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

High stress work environment. The work is fantastic and meaningful, but you will be able to enjoy your free time as well.

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4. But don't forget your:

Camping equipment and favorite beer/alcohol.

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

There isn’t much on Mauritania in English. There are a few French YouTube vloggers that we watched before moving out here that gave us a fun look at life in Mauritania. Just search Mauritania and Nouakchott in YouTube and watch what pops up.

There's also a new documentary you can find on YouTube if you just search "Mauritania, the Conveyors of the Desert | Deadliest Journeys". It's fascinating and shows how resilient the people are.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

This post is a gem. If you are looking for an opportunity to take on more responsibility while also maintaining a good work-life balance, it is worth coming out here. If you can find happiness on a beautiful white sand beach with a cold beer in your hand, you are going to have a great time here.

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