Dakar, Senegal Report of what it's like to live there - 03/21/13
Personal Experiences from Dakar, Senegal
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?
New York City. It's an 8-and-a-half hour direct flight. Or, you can fly through Europe (usually Paris).
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. Government and lived in Dakar from 2011 to 2013, a fourth expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
My commute to work is about a 20-minute walk. If you're working in Dakar, it's usually no more than 20 to 30 minutes --- although, of course, there are some days when it's worse. Housing is a mix of houses and apartments, which are newer. There is lots of new construction, mostly houses.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Most stuff is available, but not if you're loyal to a particular brand. Definitely a lot of specific things you have to hunt for a bit more or make yourself (such as corn tortillas). Prices for some stuff can be on the high side --- especially for quality cleaning goods and anything that really only appeals to expats.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Hair conditioner and peanut butter. Yes to all. Taxis are usually never more than $6.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a range of restaurants and fast-food places, but they are not really familiar chains. Restaurants can be expensive here. You can spend anywhere from $2 to $45 on a meal.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Malarial mosquitoes. I keep a lot of food in the freezer.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the diplomatic pouch at the US embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Easily available. Costs range from $20 to $200 month, depending.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. There's one main gym (Club Olympique) and lots of smaller gyms all over the city. Lots of other exercise options from yoga to tennis. Lots of running.
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?
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There seem to be a few non-denominational ones as well as at least one Baptist service.
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?
You need French. The more the better.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It's not a city set up well for people with disabilities. Lots of buildings with stairs and no elevators. Lots of narrow aisles.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes to all. Taxis are usually never more than $6.
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 don't drive here and take cabs everywhere. Most people seem to have 4X4's (not strictly necessary for Dakar but nice for when you're out of the city). I've gotten stuck in the sand a few times when out with friends who weren't in a 4X4.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, but the speed can vary. I pay about $70 a month, although I know there are more expensive, faster options out there.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Easy to buy and cheap, as is phone credit.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
They seem to come and go in waves. It's much easier if you speak French. If you don't, you'll mostly be looking at jobs at the U.S. Embassy --- and those can be hit or miss.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual at work. Business formal for more formal and public events. You can wear shorts on weekends.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Down south in the Casamance, there are some concerns but nothing in Dakar. There have been protests, especially during the 2012 elections and near the university, but it's rarely more than a few burned tires.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria's probably the biggest, and diarrheal diseases. I've been fortunate to not have either and I don't take malaria meds .
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?
Probably moderate to unhealthy. During harmattan, there's just a haze/cloud of inescapable dust, and it seems like there are more and more cars; so it's unlikely to get better.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot to warm to mild. Humid. There are a few months a year when it's downright pleasant --- and even chilly at night (definitely bring a few sweaters and a jacket). But it's never cold and in the warm months, it's very hot. This is all for Dakar. Outside of Dakar it can be unbearable. Rainy season generally lasts just a few months, but this past year, it seemed like it hardly rained at all.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
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?
Restaurants. Parties. Music. Nightclubs. Dinner parties.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's a great post for singles. There are lots of singles in the expat community, so there's always something to do --- and there are tons of restaurants and clubs. This is a good post for families, in the sense that it's safe, easy travel to the States and Europe, and there are lots of other families here. That said, I'm not sure there's much for kids to do on weekends (not a lot of parks, for example), and spouses who don't speak French are at a real disadvantage.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It is good in the sense that Senegalese don't really discuss those matters and don't really ask about your personal life, so you can kind of live and let live. There's a large expat gay/lesbian scene but I'm not sure how comfortable many of them are being out to their host country counterparts. There is no physical affection shown in public, but men and women don't do that either.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Race: No. Religion: No. It's a majority Muslim population but there's a lot of tolerance. Gender: I haven't had any issues, but I work in public health and am well aware of the many gender issues that do exist here.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The food, the music and the people who are amazing to work with.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
As mentioned above, there is the restaurant and music scene. Beach weekends are a quick getaway. There's the resort with baobob treehouses. St. Louis for the architecture and jazz festival. Craft and art shopping. Accrobaobab for ziplining. Bandia reserve is not that exciting if you've done safaris in East and Southern Africa, but it is still fun. Goree.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Art. Recycled art. Fabric.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Living right on the ocean. Amazing music scene. Interesting and diverse art scene. Great food (my favorite is mafe poulet). Amazing bread and pastries. Easy travel to Europe and to the U.S. Incredibly kind people. Safe. A culture that prizes hospitality. Warm (okay, hot for a few months a year, but I prefer that to cold).
11. Can you save money?
Yes, though it's not the cheapest place. Travel is easy in the region, but it's not cheap.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Of course! I wish I was staying longer.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
Anything you are brand loyal to.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Eh, the Lonely Planet guide book is available, but it could use a serious update.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
I haven't seen it but have heard good things aboutLittle Senegal and Tey. You can skip Black Girl.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Senegal is amazing. It doesn't move at the pace of some other cities and it doesn't have the same amenities as a Nairobi or a Jo'burg but it has so much to offer once you're comfortable with its pace and rhythms. It's also rapidly growing and there seems to be a lot of positive energy around the current government.