Windhoek, Namibia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/12/16
Personal Experiences from Windhoek, Namibia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
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?
Gainesville,Florida. Approx 20hrs of flying.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My husband and I work at the U.S. Embassy
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The housing is really nice here. Houses are large and most have swimming pools with tarps and heaters. the houses have good security systems. They also have braais (african bbq). It is hilly and rocky here so many of the yards are covered in rocks (ours has no grass) and the driveways are often steep.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are very available at stores such as Checkers, Fruit & Veg, and Spar/Super Spar. The grocery cost is a bit higher because almost everything is imported from South Africa. There are a few familiar brands. Most items can be purchased locally. They do not have a frozen-food section with ready-made meals like we do in the U.S., so most things have to be made from scratch. They have chicken, beef and game. Turkey is only available around Thanksgiving. They have a large German section in many grocery stores, with German meats/sausages and chocolates.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Honestly, I have had no problems in ordering from Amazon and having items shipped to post. If it is an item that can not go through the pouch (such as glass or an item with a battery on the outside) then somebody going to and from the U.S. will typically take it from or bring it to post for you.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Nothing here is fast. We recently got a KFC, but there are no drive-through restaurants. Food is reasonably priced.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
The only problem that we have had are ants inside the house. I have noticed this with most of the embassy houses.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is very affordable, approximately US$12-US$15 a day.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a very large gym here called Virgin Active. It has several locations. They have a website for more information. A membership is less than your typical U.S. gym, but I would not call it inexpensive.
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?
All major credit cards are accepted here. When possible it is best to pay in cash, as there have been a couple of instances (not with Americans) of stolen card numbers. This was reported to have happened several times at a restaurant and to have happened at a pharmacy (although the pharmacist was arrested). When using an ATM, you just need to be aware of your surroundings.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are a few churches that are offered in Afrikaans or German only, but there are also a lot of English-speaking churches. The Welcome Packets offered by CLO contain the names of churches that preach in English.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You don't need to know the local language. Almost everyone speaks English, as it is the official language. People here speak Afrikaans, German and tribal languages as well as English.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Possibly. It is very rocky and hilly. A lot of the embassy houses have very steep driveways and un-level yards. Some of the homes have stairs leading up to the front door.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
I don't know of any trains. I don't know of any Americans who use the buses, and I would recommend against doing so. Taxis are not always safe, although they are affordable (about US$2 for a one-way-trip). Most people needing a ride call a service like dial-a-cab or Brandberg Service. These services are safe and reliable.
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?
I would definitely recommend a vehicle with off-road capability (4-wheel drive) if you plan to travel at all (or go to lodges or for game drives). Most people have vehicles that are capable of going off road, as Namibia is desert and is largely rocks and sand. For local driving any vehicle would be fine.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High speed 4g internet is available. It cost about US$100 a month for unlimited service (although they do throttle it back once you start reaching certain limits).
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The main cell phone carrier is MTC. You can either get a contract through MTC (if you receive a work phone it will be through contract with MTC) or pick up an MTC/Tango pre-paid chip and pay-as-you-go. You just need to make sure that the cell phone that you bring has been unlocked by your previous cell phone carrier, as they are not allowed to unlock cell phones here.
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?
Incoming pets do not need to quarantined if coming from the U.S. There are good vets here. There is a vet located directly next to the U.S. Embassy.
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 are a few people who work outside of the embassy, but most of them do telework. I believe we currently have one AEFM who works on the local economy.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
The embassy has a summer-hire program. There are also several Americans that volunteer at orphanages in Katutura.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Windhoek is rated high for crime. Crimes here are generally petty theft (pick-pocketing and robberies - cell phones are often targeted). We rarely see violent crimes here. Most crimes are crimes of opportunity (such as leaving a purse sitting on a car seat).
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is very good here. We have been impressed. Our dentist and GP are amazing, as is the children's ENT. My daughter had her tonsils removed by a local ENT here, and he did a wonderful job. For major health issues we have had a couple of employees MediVac'd to South Africa.
Children who attend Windhoek International School are not held to the same vaccination standards as most U.S. Children are. Some vaccines that are required for schools in the U.S. are optional for children who attend WIS. There have been several outbreaks at the school - none from mission children - of things that American children are vaccinated for. It is my understanding that the children who got sick had not been vaccinated by choice.
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?
Good but dry. Many families get humidifiers upon arrival. Our children had nose bleeds on and off for a few weeks but, after the adjustment period, they were fine.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
My husband suffers from seasonal allergies. They do have allergy meds here, but they don't come with the decongestant component. A lot of times you have to buy several medications and combine them, as they do not have as many combo meds as we do in the U.S.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and dry - desert.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Most of the U.S. Mission children,including our 3, attend Windhoek International School (WIS). The website is www.wis.edu.na They have classes starting at Toddlers (age 2) through high school. They also offer after school care. WIS has the PYP (primary years program), A middle school program, and an IB Diploma program. WIS recently hired a new director, who is making improvements to the school. All three of our children are in pre-primary and we are happy with the education that they are receiving. Children in middle school and above are required to bring their own IPads to school. The school does everything electronically. Teachers have class blogs that explain the weekly schedules. Parents are also told to download the D6 Communicator, which is an App that the school uses to communicate with teachers and students. I have been a member of the PTA at the school for over a year now so I have been involved with the administration and staff. The PTA is very pro-active. We also currently have an AEFM who is a member of the Board of Directors and would like to continue to have a representative like this at the school. One area that the school could improve is in its sports program. The new director is working to bring sports programs and competitions between other schools to WIS. There are some after school activities such as drumming, guitar, karate, cooking, and Lego Club (to name a few). WIS is the only school in Namibia that operates on the Northern Hemisphere Schedule. There is transportation to and from school through the embassy.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Every in-coming child must first go through a school assessment. During the assessment it will be determined what grade/level the child will be placed in. There are special needs children that have been placed in grades younger than there age following these assessments. Many of the special needs children have a support person that stays with them and assists them throughout the day. It is the responsibility of the parent to find this person as the school does not provide one. There are not any specific special needs classes. Special needs children attend classes with non-special needs children.
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?
Most people have nannys/houskeepers and/or cooks. It is typically the domestic helpers that watch the children. These services are very affordable and generally cost approx US$12-US$15 a day.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are sports programs available for kids, but these are not associated with the school. Windhoek International School is working to change this with the help of the new director. Soccer is available, as are swimming, karate, horse-back riding, dance and gymnastics. With some of these activities children have the option to participate competitively or non-competitively.
Please note that there is a swim club called Dolphin’s Swim Club. This club is reportedly good for older children. However, they are known for holding younger children’s heads under the water for disciplinary purposes (such as for not listening or crying). If you do not approve of these disciplinary techniques then you may wish to reconsider enrolling young children in this swim club.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
the size of the expat community is small. The morale is OK. There are a few issues that effect morale. I will say that customer service in Windhoek is non-existent. This is, in part, due to the fact that a lot of the companies are monopolies. The lack of competition affects customer service. Service is also generally slow in terms of getting services started in your home and ordering at a restaurant.
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?
Game drives, local bars, CLO activities, Spa days (they have places that offer manicures, pedicures, massages and so forth. Just make sure they are licensed, as they are not required to be licensed in Namibia).
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a great city for families with young children. There are many activities outside of school such as swim clubs, karate, gymnastics, ballet, horse back riding lessons, soccer and music lessons. There are several large play areas that recently opened (Funky Monkey and Joyful Noise). These places have cafes where parents can sit and eat while children play on climbing structures. Joyful Noise is located inside of the Maerua Mall and parents can drop off their children while they shop. There are two malls in Windhoek. Maerua and Grove. The Grove Mall is new. Both malls have movie theaters. I have heard some families with teenagers complain that there is not as much for older children to do in Windhoek as there is for younger children and that there older children are bored at times. For singles and couples there are bars, karaoke Nights, and some events at Warehouse theater and FNCC. These events usually involve music, poetry, comedy, and other performances. CLO functions are generally well attended as Windhoek is small. These events often include painting and jewelry making with local artists, wine tastings, holiday parties, meet and greets and so on. People also like to leave Windhoek on the weekends as there are many lodges with game drives close to Windhoek (many people do day trips).
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I do not know. I am unaware of anybody who fits in to this category. That being said, in my experience, Namibians are very accepting.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I have not noticed any problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices here. Namibians tend to be very accepting, family-oriented people. There is some tribalism. There is a large German influence here, so there is a really good mix of people. I was surprised when I arrived to find a very large blond-hair/blue-eyed population. There are also a lot of inter-racial relationships.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
It is a beautiful place to live. The houses are large and most have pools with tarps and heaters. Most houses also have lapas and braais (African Bbq). People are very friendly to foreigners. This is a smaller post so people get to know each other well and CLO events are typically well attended by Americans.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are many amazing lodges and game drives close to Windhoek where you can see giraffe, zebra, oryx, wildebeest, rhino, warthogs, springbok and other animals (Goche Ganas, Heija, Okapuka, Naan Ku Se). if you venture out a little further (2.5hrs - 4hrs to Erindi or Etosha) you can see elephants,lions and Kudu as well. If you drive to the coast (about 3.5hrs from Windhoek) to Swakopmund or Walvis Bay then there are camel rides, 4-wheeling over the dunes, the beach, and a large children's play area (SanMilAri)amongst other activities.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are a lot of places where you can buy hand-made/locally made crafts. There are also a lot of wood crafts and bead crafts that you can bargain on.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It is beautiful. People are friendly. English is the official language. There are lots of amazing animals and game drives. The current exchange rate is highly in our favor with signs of even more improvement. The weather is very dry (although there is a rainy season from Nov-Jan). Windhoek is currently under-going a water crisis. We have been mandated by the City of Windhoek to stop watering laws, washing cars and filling pools.
10. Can you save money?
The exchange rate is in our favor right now, and it appears that this might continue and even improve.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
There are no 24-hour businesses at all (with the exception of hospitals). The entire town (with the exception of the bars) shuts down early. Most stores are closed by 5/6pm everyday, with the exception of grocery stores, which are open until 6/7pm every day. On Sunday everything closes in the afternoon.
Around the holidays almost everybody leaves Windhoek for the coast or other vacation destinations. The grocery stores and some restaurants are open, but many businesses shut down (including the local government). It is difficult to get a doctor's appointment during this time, as most of the doctors are on leave and most offices are down to 1 doctor. I had to call 7 different doctors' offices before I found one available to see my son (who had a fever of 105F).
The RMO and RMO/P are not at post. They are in South Africa and come by every few months for visits or if there is an issue. There is an embassy nurse at post, but she cannot prescribe medication. Gas cannot be purchased by credit card. Almost every gas station is cash only.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes! We tried to extend :-) There were at least two other families that were/are here while we were (they both have young children) and they also tried to extend.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Warm winter/snow jackets. It does get chilly here in the winter, and I would recommend bringing a jacket or light sweater, but thick, heavy jackets and boots are not needed.
4. But don't forget your:
sunscreen (although they do sell it locally). They don't sell dryer sheets here, so I frequently order those from the U.S. as well.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
I didn't see any.
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
I didn't read any.
7. Do you have any other comments?
Namibians are BIG red-meat eaters. People say that "vegetarian" for a Namibian means chicken and fish. It may be hard for a vegetarian to find items on the menu that don't contain meat. Renting vendors is relatively inexpensive here, which is great for children's parties and PTA & CLO activities. I have rented a bounce house (about U.S. $50 for half a day), cotton candy/snow cone/or popcorn machine with the accessories and operator (about U.S. $50 a day), a carousel/large battery-operated train that seats 5 children at at time (about U.S. 65 a day)..coin operated cars, bubble machines, chocolate fountains and such. All are very inexpensive compared to most U.S. prices. There are also face painters available for hire (although these are a bit more expensive).
Remember: they drive on the opposite side of the road here, and that takes a bit of getting used to.