Maputo, Mozambique Report of what it's like to live there - 07/27/14

Personal Experiences from Maputo, Mozambique

Maputo, Mozambique 07/27/14

Background:

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 South Asia as a diplomat and in the UK, South Africa, and Guatemala as a student.

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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?

California - I found the best way home was to fly through Jo'burg (basically a mandatory stop anytime you leave Maputo) to London and then to LAX. There are also direct flights from Jo'burg to Atlanta, DC, and NYC.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2012-2014.

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

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?

There are houses, some with swimming pools, and apartment buildings. If you have children, you are more likely to get assigned to a house. Married couples without children and singles frequently get an apartments. The housing is not bad but also not "AF fabulous" like most other AF posts, so know that in advance.

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

Groceries got a lot better by the end of my tour. Nearly everything is imported from South Africa with an imported price tag to match, but as many travel to South Africa frequently, it's easy to grocery shop there for much cheaper. Personally, I didn't travel to South Africa JUST to grocery shop - although many did - as I found all the products I wanted in Maputo and couldn't justify the cost of the gas to shop in SA... but every time I passed through SA, which was about every 4-6 weeks of average, I did a big shop and filled up our freezer.

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

I was very happy that I shipped a lot of dry goods (toilet paper, paper towels, canned beans, flour, sugar, etc) - not because it's not available in Maputo but because it is much more expensive. I wish I had shipped more plastic items (like tupperware) because they are outrageously expensive for some reason. But really, with Amazon and the pouch, you can get whatever you want.

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

Food is expensive in Maputo and the restaurant scene is uninspired. If you want basic food - such as grilled/fried chicken and limp french fries - that is easy to find and relatively cheap (US$5-7 for a plate of food). There are a ton of seafood restaurants, as well as the fish market, but it can be pricy (US$15-20 for a plate of food, minimum) and surprisingly not great quality. South Africa, on the other hand, is serious about culinary arts and there are awesome, cheap restaurants there (with amazing, cheap South African wine!)

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

Mosquitos with malaria is the main one. You need to take malaria meds throughout the entire tour (although many choose not to - but at their own risk as malaria IS present in Maputo!)

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Daily Life:

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

Widely available. Most hire empregadas (housekeepers) either full-time or part-time. We paid about US$100/month for a part-time empregada (3x/week) and US$250/month for a full-time nanny.

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

Yes, there are private gyms as well as a gym at the marine house. There are a few good yoga teachers around town, and many run/bike the marginal (although RSO would probably warn against this.)

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3. 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 didn't experience any problems.

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

You may not need to know Portuguese but your life will be greatly improved if you do - just to be able to talk to Mozambicans, as many don't speak English. That being said, my husband never learned the language and he survived 2 years but did rely on me to do basically all of the talking!

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

Yes, but it's honestly probably better than most African cities. The proximity to South Africa means there is good medical care very close.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are ok and there actually is a local train that I rode more of a tourist attraction than as a form of transport. But, really, you need a car.

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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?

Best is 4WD - there is a lot of off-road driving, especially if you're trying to get to a cool beach. Most people have Toyotas that are easily serviced in South Africa.

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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?

My husband relies on internet for work and - although he frequently found it frustrating as he frequently had to switch services depending on outages - it was doable. We paid about US$100/month for TVCabo, plus he had dongle SIMS for two of the cell companies in town that he used whenever TVCabo was down (about once per week on average).

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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?

NO! This is a big deal, so please read if your spouse wants to work. The USG does NOT have a bilateral work agreement with Mozambican so the only jobs available are at the Embassy. We were one of the lucky ones as my husband telecommutes for an American company.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Plenty - there is so much need everywhere - you just need to figure out where you want to help. But in terms of organized volunteer opportunities, I'm not aware of many.

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

Fairly casual. Work is work so you need to look professional, although half-day Fridays are casual days.

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Health & Safety:

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

Maputo is rated critical for crime and for good reason - there were about 3 armed robberies of popular expat restaurants in my two years there, not to mention multiple reports of muggings on the street (but nearly always in the places where the RSO warns not to go). You definitely need to follow the RSO briefings and be aware. That being said, we encountered zero problems in our two years there - as do most everyone else.

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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?

Malaria is a health concern. Medical care in Maputo is ok and South Africa is only a few hours away for anything that can't be dealt with locally.

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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?

Pretty good with the ocean breeze. I previously lived in crazy/dirty South Asia so my perspective may be skewed, but I had zero complaints.

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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?

Gorgeous weather most of the year. It can get hot in the summer but it was never unbearable, and there is a rainy season with a few bad rainstorms each year. But overall the weather is lovely. One complaint is that the sunrise/sunset times are strange - rising very early (4am-ish) in the summer and setting very early (5pm) in winter. I didn't like that the sun had already set in winter by the time work was done, as I preferred to walk home but only felt safe doing so in daylight.

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Schools & Children:

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

I have no personal experience but I know most are happy with the American school.

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2. 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?

Yes, preschools are available and many choose to use a preschool part-time. But really, almost everyone relies on hiring nannies. Our nanny was wonderful, spoke English (many don't), and had 15+ years of experience for US$250/month. But I also know that we got lucky with a great nanny from the start whereas many of my friends went through quite a few nannies before they found a good fit for their family.

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Expat Life:

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

The expat community is huge - especially when you consider the large amounts of Portuguese and South Africans who live in Maputo permanently. Overall, morale is good but really varies. The morale within the Embassy community is just ok - the Embassy itself is separated across multiple buildings throughout the city and the lack of a unified workplace really shows in divisions in the community as well (but they will soon start construction on a NEC). As I already mentioned, many travel out of town frequently so that contributes to a lack of a sense of community as well.

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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?

BBQs, pool parties with grilled seafood, group camping trips. And plenty of nightlife and live music, if you're into that! (Just be prepared to stay out late!)

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

It's a good city for everyone but it really depends on what you're into. If you're single, I would really only recommend Maputo if you love late-night drinking and dancing - the nightlife is excellent, but starts REALLY late (past midnight) and so was simply too late for me and my husband to hang. As I mentioned, the travel opportunities are great which can make up for a lack of things to do in Maputo (other than enjoy the nightlife), but I found it difficult to find a good community in Maputo as nearly every weekend everyone was either out of town or sleeping off the previous night. Maputo is a good post for families due to the great weather, affordable household staff, and awesome travel (your kids will think seeing giraffes and elephants in the wild is a totally normal weekend activity!)

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

Compared to other African posts, it is good - Mozambique is more tolerant than most African countries and there is an open gay scene.

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

Mozambique is generally a pretty tolerant country and Maputo is a blend of many races, religions, and cultures. There are a lot of Europeans in Maputo, as well as Mozambicans of European descent. The Mozambique government prides itself on its religious tolerance and there are churches/temples for nearly all religions/denominations.

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

As mentioned above, the travel! Game viewing in Kruger National Park is a definite highlight, as is peaceful weekend breaks in Swaziland, and of course gorgeous Cape Town (one of the few destinations not in driving distance - but only a short flight away).

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

If you're into water sports (sailing, kitesurfing, sport fishing), Maputo has a lot to offer. Overall, though, I think the city is fairly boring and that's why so many get out of town so frequently.

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

Mozambican capulanas - a beautiful fabric that is also used to make cool, unique crafts like rugs, clothing, jewelry, etc.

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

The amazing travel opportunities! There is SO MUCH to see and do within just a few hours drive from Maputo. Half-day Fridays at the Embassy help get out of town for weekend trips. Maputo is 2 hours from Kruger National Park and beautiful South Africa, 3-4 hours from peaceful, mountainous Swaziland, and 2-8 hours from an endless supply of gorgeous Mozambican beaches. You can travel as much as you want and never run out of amazing destinations just a few hours drive from home. The flipside is that everyone does travel a lot and that means the community in Maputo is not as strong.

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10. Can you save money?

Of course, it depends. It really depends not just on how much you travel, but also at what level (are you camping most of the time or staying at 5-star hotels?) And how much do you eat out? If you're mainly cooking at home, and traveling cheaply, I think you can save money but it will be close.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I wish I had know that working at the Embassy would be challenging for a variety of reasons - there are a lot of Management issues that are slowly getting sorted out with a great current Management team.

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

This is a tough one - it wasn't what I expected and I don't have any interest in going back. But for two years, it was awesome to explore that area of the world. And I love speaking Portuguese!

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

Winter clothes.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, camping gear, love of road trips, and appreciation for fine South African wine.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Blood Diamond was partially filmed in Maputo, although it won't tell you anything about Mozambique. Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" on Mozambique is awesome and fairly accurate.

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

Anything by Mia Couto, anything on Mozambique's civil war - which is really important to understand if you're trying to figure out the country.

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