Dakar, Senegal Report of what it's like to live there - 04/14/22
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?
This was our first tour but we're a pretty international family to start.
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?
Alexandria, VA. Dakar was a straight flight to JFK on Delta or Air Senegal. Because Dakar is a hub city it is very easy to get out of and go to other interesting places. There are direct flights to Cabo Verde, Paris, Spain, Portugal and even Dubai and Istanbul.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
Almost two years.
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Diplomatic Mission (US).
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
For the US diplo community the housing is varied but old. Houses here tend to be dark. There are pockets of US housing in close to the embassy, close to the big American school, and more central/downtown Dakar: closer to cooler things but further away from the Embassy and school.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are several grocery chains here, Casino and Auchan being the two bigger ones. Groceries from these chains are expensive, a bit above DC grocery prices. You can find pretty much everything but it will come at a cost. Forget good fresh berries. Also the availability of produce is very seasonal here. You will only get avocados during certain times of the year and during mango season you will be up to your ears in mangos. For fresh produce the fruit and veggie stands are the best. If you really have a hankering for some American products the American Food Store is usually well stocked with just about anything you might need; just be prepared to pay double or triple the price for it.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Lipton iced tea mix. Kids snacks like fruit roll-ups and peanut butter cheese crackers.
Stuff is available here, it's just very expensive
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
So many! Sharkys, La Plage, Mer a Table, Chez Fatou and Ngor Pieds dans L'eau are good lunch spots on beach road. Lulu Cafe for fresh salads and yummy local dishes. Restaurant Farid, Le Lagon, le Club Union and le Relais de Paris for nice dinners in Plateau. Shadys, Noliane, Caliente and India Gate for good take out.
I've barely scratched the surface here. We've found delicious Italian, Japanese (sushi and ramen), Indian, Thai and "Mexican" food here...there are really so many options.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Yes. Especially if you are on the ground floor, expect more. We've had our share of cockroaches but nothing too bad.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We used DPO which is usually good, except it will get backed up every couple of months.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Help is abundant and inexpensive here. Many people have house keepers, cooks, nannies, and drivers. You can also find people that do all of the above. English-speaking help is also available but more in demand so harder to find.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Club Olympique is great for tennis and has many options for activities for the kiddos, the US Embassy has a gym and there are also other gyms around (on beach road or further toward plateau). The gyms are in the mid-range, price-wise.
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?
This is a cash heavy economy. You can safely use credit cards at the grocery store and fancy restaurants and even at the big chain resorts in Saly, but really nowhere else. ATMs are also not the most reliable and muggings have been known to occur.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is an immigrant Catholic parish where English is spoken: Parroisse St. Dominique. There is at least one Protestant/Ecumenical one where English is spoken. Otherwise it is mostly French.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French is key but Wolof will make the day-to-day street life easier. In my experience, cab drivers usually did not speak French - or did not understand my expat French enough to be able to communicate effectively.
However, many people here learn neither and get by.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I would say yes because the streets are so poorly paved. Sidewalks are used as de facto parking places and in my experience, there is garbage and debris everywhere.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are safe but often dingy and you will likely be inhaling fumes as you drive. There are chartered buses that seem to be nice and safe, but a lot of expats use the local TATA buses (the white ones).
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 is nice because you will be off roading a lot. Paved roads are not a constant thing here, however a lot of people get by in regular cards.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet here is great. we have access to all of our streaming services via VPN. The installation process can take a few weeks but, in general, Orange is very thorough in their service.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I have Google Fi and a local sim here. The local sim helps when I want to give directions for take out or have to call a local doctor's office. Cell plans are absurdly inexpensive here. With the scratch cards for data I pay 20 USD a month, maximum.
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?
Yes, you have options here of great vets and facilities. There are vets that will come to your home and places you can go where they will be well-equipped to treat your pet.
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?
The US embassy has a lot of job opportunities. Again, Dakar is a hub so there is also a robust international org and NGO community here. You can easily telework because the internet is fast and cheap.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots of volunteer opportunities as well, and there are orphanages and local NGOs.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The US Embassy events are pretty relaxed but Senegalese in general dress very well. And on Fridays everyone (e v e r y o n e) is dressed to the nines with their nicest boubous (local Senegalese formalwear).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
People have been mugged; use your common sense and be aware. Other than that this place is really very safe. By and large Senegal does not have a scammer culture. They are not trying to cheat you and are generally very honest and welcoming.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The air here can get pretty bad especially around the harmattan season. People with allergies to dust and asthma should tread carefully. Houses here are not well-sealed, so the dust is literally everywhere.
Otherwise the range of medical services here is pretty wide. Remed24 and SOS Medecin will send a doctor to your house within a few hours. People will medevac for serious procedures and for childbirth.
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?
Air is a problem. The dust here can get very bad and can impact your health if you are susceptible. Take air purifiers.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Peanuts are the #1 agricultural product of Senegal. That said there are people here that manage with their peanut allergies.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Dakar can be wonderful but, in my opinion, can be very suffocating what with all the traffic, dust and garbage everywhere. No seasonal blues but some people seem to have a hard time adjusting.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There is a wet and dry season. In Dakar it doesn't get colder than 63 degrees during the "winter" dry season and it can get as hot as 95 degrees during the wet "summer" season. Winter (coldest months) is generally from January - March. Summer (hottest months) from September - November. Wet season is supposed to run from June - November but climate change is altering that.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
This post is great for families because you also have great school options. ISD is the big American school with excellent facilities and a rigorous academic program. The school is honestly fantastic and they did a GREAT job handling the pandemic. Dakar Academy is a Christian-based school that follows the American curriculum that is also great. There is also a big French school here, Jean Mermoz, that expats send their kids too. Finally there is EAB - Ecole Actuelle Bilingue - that is also considered to be a very good school. There are several preschools and day cares as well
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ISD helped us find an occupational therapist for our son who comes to the school and works with him. Dakar Academy does not turn away kids based on their needs and will work with closely with the parents.
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?
They are all available and people have generally been happy with their choices. I'm not sure of the prices.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are a few reputable soccer academies but unfortunately for girls it can be tough as they are predominantly with boys. There is a gymnastics academy here that is well equipped. You can easily find classes in martial arts.
Generally the Club Olympique and the French military base offer the widest variety of activities for kids. ISD and Dakar academy also offer after school activities.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community here is very big, vibrant and diverse. There are sizable English-speaking, French-speaking and Spanish- speaking expat communities here.
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?
Live music in the evenings, happy hours by the beach, running clubs, and weekend activities such as softball and soccer. There are surf schools and surf clubs. There is a decent golf course and lots of stuff to do.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
All of the above. There is just a lot to do here. It's especially great for families though because of the range of activities and the quality of the education. The only downside is the lack of green space.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Easier than other places but still pretty tough. Overall, though this is a very tolerant culture.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. Senegalese are very tolerant and mind their own business.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Nothing outside of what you might normally see.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Weekend getaways to the beach are essential. Sine Saloum for the mangroves. Goree Island for the architecture and the rich and important history. Ngor Island for a fun day of hooky. Bandia for a fun light safari expereince. Accrobaobab for ziplining and general fun for kids. Cap Skirring for the long beach.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are a lot of nice hotels in the sine saloum area that offer a different pace than what Dakar does.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes. You can get clothes made here cheaply. The wax fabrics are beautiful and the woven baskets are a must.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Household help is inexpensive, you can get away to the beach any time of the year...there is always something to do.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The amount of dust and garbage. One of the neighborhoods is also not fully-paved which, in my opinion, makes for a weird dystopian experience of luxurious living among potholes in dirt roads.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Road rage. The traffic here can be stressful, but Senegalese are not aggressive drivers, so don't be a jerk.
Also, things are often not available or break down. You might get to a restaurant and find they that are out or don't have half the stuff they offer on their menu. They will always be apologetic about it, so take it with grace.
4. But don't forget your:
Common sense and awareness, sunscreen, and air purifiers.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
There is a documentary on Amazon about the annual pilgrimage to Toubab Dialaw; I recommend watching.