Niamey, Niger Report of what it's like to live there - 07/07/13
Personal Experiences from Niamey, Niger
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
3rd expat experience
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?
US- one full day of transit with a transfer in Paris.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is fine here, and commute time is not bad as long as you miss the rush hour. Due to an influx in aid workers and diplomats, the housing prices in town have gone up -- though this can vary depending on what type of housing you need.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Expect nothing, but you will find there are some good options -- though nothing is certain. Sometimes the only fruit available are apples and mangoes or bananas. Some decent cheeses are imported from France. Other things are also imported, so it is generally marked up in price, and the heat often takes its toll on the goods. Get a good cook and have them shop, cook and clean for you. Go to grocery stores for fun on the weekends just to see what you can find.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Any comfort foods or things you enjoy. Lightweight active wear. Lots of cheap dress clothes, if you are going to work professionally, because your clothes will be ruined by the end of your time here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Food is not fast here. There are a few decent restaurants, though you end up paying about the same price per meal as in a decent restaurant in the US. You can eat dirt cheap if you like local food. I'm adventurous, but a couple times was enough.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes during the rainy season. Bring your malaria meds because you'll be far away from a hospital that's up to standards.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DHL is really the only way to go unless you work in an embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Tons available, though finding good help can be challenging. Try to get an employee from someone who is leaving or already gone. The cost depends on what you have them do and how long they work (of course), but a full-time maid/cook can cost between $200-300 a month, and a gardener/poolman/driver can cost between $100-250. Again, this really depends on the quality of the person you get. You can find a part-time maid willing to work 20 hours a week for $100 a mo, but they will likely not have any experience and may cost you more in the long run (ruined clothes, other problems).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, but they are nothing like what you are probably used to in a developed nation.
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?
CASH. Only cash. There are only 2-3 ATMs in the city. Everyone uses cash, nobody uses credit or debit cards.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is a Sunday evening church service called Niamey English Worship Service. Find a missionary -- there are lots of them in town -- and they will likely know when and where they are meeting.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French is very useful. Very few people speak English. No need for Zarma if you're just doing normal work/life in Niamey.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It is not a good place for a person with physical disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis seem to be safe and are cheap, though they will try to gouge you if they know you're a foreigner.
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?
4x4: You will actually put it to use here, and then you will feel silly that you (like so many people in the United States) own a 4x4, when we actually drive on paved roads. If you are on a tight budget, buy a little itty-bitty car and just accept the fact that you'll get stuck. But in no time there will be a crowd of locals around you trying to help you get unstuck in exchange for a little money.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High speed is a very relative term. Internet is getting better here, but don't think you'll be streaming anything during your time in Niger.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
SIM cards here are cheaper than anyplace I've lived- 50 cents to a dollar will buy you a new one, and you can recharge them easily. If you want to play it safe, go to the actual store (Orange, Airtel and Moov are the main providers) and register your number so it won't get shut off -- which may happen if you buy your SIM card on the street.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There are some vets, but no kennels. Nigerians would only ever use dogs as guard dogs. They consider them to be unclean animals that they'd never let into their homes.
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?
Not unless you've always felt called to sell kleenex and phone cards at one of the city's stoplights. However, the schools are always looking for volunteers and are willing to pay top dollar (read: you'll be volunteering, or at best making $10 an hour).
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Pretty casual in public. Anyone who tells you that only prostitutes wear pants here probably works for one of the more conservative mission organizations, and you need not heed their advice. However, the women in Niger are starting to use head coverings more often, a practice that was non-existent 20 years ago. So no short skirts, ladies. Otherwise, if you are working in an embassy, dress is business-casual to business, depending on your position.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Terrorists and on-edge government security forces are both concerns. Niger borders Mali, Libya, and Nigeria, and there are terrorist elements in both -- some of which have conducted attacks within Niger.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Best health care is from the missionary doctors. If anything major happens, you'll need to be on the first plane out.
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?
Great, except when there are sandstorms.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Remember the advantage of how it never gets cold? Do you like getting home from work and putting shorts on every single day? Do you hate snow and love blue sky? Do you like dripping with sweat within twenty seconds of leaving your house? Then Niger is the place for you. There are two seasons: the dry and wet, and while there is a "cold" season, the temperatures then still get into the 90s.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is a french school, a missionary school and an international school. The international school is extremely expensive, and the quality of teachers doesn't seem to be at the same level as it is at the other schools in terms of the amount of experience held by teachers.
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?
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There is a soccer game on every corner, every day, all day.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Sizable. Between the Americans and the French, there are quite a few -- or maybe it just seems that way since all are mostly confined to Niamey.
2. Morale among expats:
Pretty amazing, considering all they are facing (sandstorms, intense heat, rolling blackouts, living in the least-developed country in the world, with no cheap flights or opportunities for travel/vacations). People make the best of it by meeting up for a meal at the American Rec center (on site at the American School) or at one of the restaurants. There used to be a hash run, but now no public invites have been given after the security situation worsened. It's almost like expats realize that if they let their morale go into the crapper, then it will really suck, so everyone stays pretty positive and tries to have a good time!
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Go clubbing, just to say you did.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for anyone who likes staying home and doesn't care to travel much.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not terrible, not great.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Nigerians are generally very welcoming to all.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The people are very kind and friendly. There is not a lot of traffic. There are amazing sights to see (nature, cultural festivals) but with the new security situation, most expats are confined to the city of Niamey. There are some great restaurants in Niamey -- Indian, Italian, and French are some of the most popular.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Sand dunes. The last herd of wild giraffes in West Africa. Parc W, a national park just a couple of hours from Niamey. There are a couple of good restaurants. Drive to Burkina Faso (8 hours). Fly to Agadez to see an interesting city in the North. See camel racing in Niamey -- and traditional wrestling as well.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Tuareg jewelry and leather goods, furniture -- sweet african stuff that you design and they build.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
People are very kind, it never gets cold, the country is teaming with a unique culture and can truly be like stepping back in time -- as it is ranked last by the UN's Human Development Index. Driving through the town during the dry season is more like off-roading, and driving during the rainy season is more like fjording a series of small rivers. But his is all actually a lot of fun if you have the right attitude!
11. Can you save money?
Don't go out to eat, and don't take vacations anywhere, and don't do any therapy shopping on Amazon. There isn't really anywhere else to spend your money, so it has to stay in your bank account!
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
There are other places that aren't as rough to live in but are considered similar or worse. If you're looking to rough it and have a unique experience, go to one of those. If you don't have a choice, then make the best of it, and you'll find yourself surrounded by people who are in a similar position. I would still come here, especially if the duration was just for 6 months or less. Any longer and you'll likely get cabin fever.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter coat and your desire to travel around this amazing country and experience its different cultures. Chances are you'll be quarantined in Niamey for the duration of your stay -- unless you have a work trip. Nearly every missionary who was out in the bush or in northern Niger has either returned to Niamey or left the country. Short day trips to see the giraffes, or weekend trips down to Parc W, are the exception to this.
3. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen. Aloe Vera. And positive attitude!
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Fair Game- Niger has a brief cameo of a faucet that spews nasty looking sludge. It's actually a pretty accurate portrayal.
5. Do you have any other comments?
The glass can be half full here. But remember: in this heat, the water in a half-full glass will quickly evaporate.