Maputo, Mozambique Report of what it's like to live there - 04/07/14

Personal Experiences from Maputo, Mozambique

Maputo, Mozambique 04/07/14

Background:

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

No. 6th expat post.

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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?

Los Angeles, CA; 24 - 36 hours depending on route. LA-DC-Jo'burg-Maputo; LA-DC-London-Jo'burg-Maputo; LA-DC-Lisbon-Maputo.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years (2011-2013).

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

U.S. Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

The U.S. Government houses families and people with pets in single-family homes. Singles and couples without kids generally live in apartments, condos and townhomes in Somerschield II. The housing is clustered around the same areas, which makes it convenient for car pooling and house parties, but not good for your privacy.

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

Groceries are expensive compared to DC but the quality and prices of fresh produce are very good and there are fruit and vegetables vendors all over the place. You can also get fresh seafood delivered for almost nothing. I was disappointed to discover that Mozambique does have its own dairy industry, so non-UHT milk is expensive and imported from South Africa.

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

Paper products, cleaning supplies, chocolate chips, basic first aid meds like pain killers (lots of fake drugs on the market), and books (they are very expensive locally). Everything else is pretty much available either locally or in South Africa and Swaziland.

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

There are a number of surprisingly good restaurants in Maputo - you will quickly discover all of them. This doesn't mean they are not worth visiting several times.

Most of the South African fast food chains are present except Nando's which is just a poor and expensive imitation of traditional Mozambican peri-peri chicken (once you've tasted that, you won't want to eat Nando's ever again)!

Mozambique has surprisingly good pizza.

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

This is a malaria prone country. I didn't experience any problems with mosquitoes but I know many of my friends did. I actually had no insect problems at all.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO.

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

It is fairly cheap, however, you get what you pay for. The work ethic is poor and the quality of work is also poor. As a result, you will invest a lot of time training someone. Labor laws favor the employee so dismissal is also difficult. There is a legal minimum wage but locals tend not to pay it while working their staff for long hours, so the expectation is that foreign employers will pay a lot more but for less work. Also, expect your employees to regularly ask for "loans" and "advances." Remember too, in December, employees expect a month's bonus.

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

I used the Embassy gym but there are a couple of good gyms and personal trainers around town. Mozambicans are very fitness-oriented.

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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?

I rarely used mine. It is predominantly a cash economy. Restrictions on how much foreign currency locals can take out of the country were tightened in 2012 so locals will often offer favorable rates to exchange currency with you directly.

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

I believe all the major monotheist religions have at least one service available in English.

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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?

You really should learn more than the basic level of Portuguese. Mozambicans will be your best cheerleaders and they love to help you with your language without being mean about it. People speak a lot more English than they do in other Portuguese-speaking countries because Mozambique's neighbors are all English speaking. Many Mozambicans also fled to those same neighbors during the civil war. Many government officials speak very good English but will conduct meetings in Portuguese on principal.

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

Yes. Infrastructure is very poor for everyone.

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Transportation:

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

U.S. Government people cannot use them. Besides, they are terrible.

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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?

Given how bad the roads are, the frequent flooding, a high cleance, second-hand vehicle is the way to go. Many people imported their cars from Japan and were able to sell them for the exact same price on departure (how often does that happen?)!

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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?

Yes, but "high-speed" is relative. Most people use TV Cabo, which is fine when it works, but if you ever need customer service, good luck! Their service standards are appalling. Others use Intra. Intra's customer service is very good, but its set up costs are high and its speed is slower than that of TV Cabo.

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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?

Bring an unlocked phone with you and get a local SIM card. Networks often go down so Mozambicans will often have two phones (one for each of the major networks: Vodacom and M-Cel). Phones can be bought on the local economy but they are often cheap fakes. There is also a lot of phone theft, particularly if you have the latest of any of the major models (iPhone, Galaxy, etc).

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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?

I think it depends on which way you enter the country. I believe if your pet transits via South Africa, it will need to be quarantined there. Mozambicans have a rather shocking fear of dogs so kids will often provoke your dog because they don't know how to interact with it.

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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?

Yes and no. This country has a very poor professional class due to low education levels. Expats could fill the gap but protectionist labor laws make it difficult for foreigners to get work permits even if their skills are needed. This means locals with professional skills are often not loyal to any organization and play them against each other to get higher salaries.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

This is a poor country still recovering from a protracted civil war. There is a desperate need for community assistance. The trick is to find a work-life balance because this is a society that has become accustomed to hand-outs so they will take every ounce of your time available. You have to learn to say "enough."

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

Mozambicans pride themselves on dressing well so they tend to find our "business" attire a little too casual. Mozambican women's business dress tends to border on the provocative.

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Health & Safety:

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

Crimes of opportunity like car break-ins and mugging. Also around the holidays, particularly Christmas/New Year, armed gangs attack restaurants and rob everyone inside. There have been spates of kidnappings and armed house break-ins. Rapes are underreported but occur frequently (not on the scale of South Africa though).

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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?

HIV is prevalent as is malaria. This is a promiscuous society and safe sex is an absolute necessity. HIV/AIDS may no longer be the death sentence of the past but is it really worth being on harsh drugs for the rest of your life?

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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?

Fair. It will get worse once more infrastructural development comes into play but for now, it's fine.

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

The "winter" months are beautiful with zero humidity and temperatures in the 60s and 70s F (teens and low 20s C for our metric friends). The summer months (October - February) are hot and humid. You will want your AC on.

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Schools & Children:

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

AISM (American International School of Mozambique) is the preferred choice for U.S. Government families, foreign diplomats, and much of Mozambique's elite. However, there are other less expensive international schools in different languages that people also like. Kids and parents alike appeared to really like AISM and the school community was very strong.

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

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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?

I had no experience with preschools. For very small children, people empolyed nannies.

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

Yes especially associated with AISM.

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Expat Life:

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

Large community initially consisting of NGOs and aid workers, but with the gas industry, there are more gas related companies sending employees and their families.

Morale is relatively high due to the relaxed lifestyle.

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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?

Beaches, BBQs, houseparties, regional travel, and dating (plenty of that to be had). There are some "luxury" resorts along the coasts but they are EXPENSIVE! Everyone should go at least once though.

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

This is a good city for most people. Men (married and single) particularly enjoy Maputo for its very liberal sexual attitudes. Watch your husband/boyfriend like a hawk; Mozambican women are very sexually aggressive and don't really care whether the person is in a relationship or not. Women too, single or not, will be regularly propositioned. The prevailing view is, as a foreigner, you have a lot of disposable income that you are willing to share with a lover.

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

Mozambicans are less conservative than their neighbors. Members of the LGBT community will not be treated with open hostility, but they will generate a lot of private discourse. We often mistake the lack of Mozambican antagonism towards LGBT persons to mean accpetance, but I did not find this to be true. Rather, Mozambicans have bigger things to worry about and take an attitude of "if you don't bother me, I won't bother you."

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

Yes, but they are often so subtle that if you are not on the receiving end, you could be persuaded into believing Mozambique is the "Rainbow Nation" that South Africa purports to be. It is a chauvenist culture so men of any race will always get more respect than women. For years, Mozambicans were conditioned to be subservient to Caucasians, therefore African Americans, particularly women, often complain of poor treatment with preference shown to their non-black compatriots.

The subtlety of the discrimination is masked by the general good humor of Mozambicans, but is tedious nonetheless. Caucasians should not be fooled into thinking the submissiveness means the locals like them, it's just an affectation Mozambicans assume in order to avoid "problems." Mozambique has a significant mulatto population which appears well integrated. However, when alone, the black population have been known to make disparaging remarks about mulattos.

Under communism, religion was illegal, therefore religious intolerance doesn't really exist because people are still trying to figure religion out. Even Islam in Mozambique appears to have very "flexible" rules and does not adhere to the strictness it has in other countries.

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

Trips to Cape Town. Flights around Southern Africa are not cheap so you won't save money on travel but Cape Town is definitely worth the splurge.

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

House calls by masasge therapists!

No "hidden" gems, but trips to Kruger Park and the glass factory in Swaziland are a must. Sundowners at the Polana Hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean ... blissful (but expensive)!

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

Peri-peri chicken (forget Nando's, it is just fake Mozambican chicken)! Seafood here is out of this world! Guard your money carefully; Mozambicans have no qualms about asking you for large quantities of money with absolutely no intention of giving it back.

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

The food was really good especially the seafood, chicken, and cashews. The Embassy also observed half days on Fridays which meant you could take advantage of mini-breaks to neighboring countries. The easy access to South Africa and Swaziland was great if you just needed some decent shopping and an opportunity to speak and think in English!

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10. Can you save money?

Yes, if you don't leave the country every other weekend. The local crafts are "okay," but the quality is inconsistent. Neighboring countries have a wider variety of crafts of significantly better quality.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Mozambicans are very friendly.

I do wish I had known just how poorly educated people are though. There is a lot of qualifications inflation. Anyone with a modicum of education is referred to as "doctor," but you quickly realize that many of the fundamentals one takes for granted cannot be assumed.

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

I'm not sure. I didn't hate it, but I certainly did not love it and was frankly, relieved when I left. Constantly being asked for money and favors was tiresome. Inconsistent service delivery was frustrating. However, the openness and friendliness of the Mozambican people was refreshing.

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

Expectation of anything ever happening in a timely manner or repairs being done correctly the first or second time. Leave behind heavy winter clothing, but do bring light jackets and sweaters.

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4. But don't forget your:

Patience and sense of humor.

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

Some people like Mia Couto but I found his books hard to read in Portuguese.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Maputo is not representative of Mozambique. The quality of life deteriorates the further away from Maputo you go.

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