Khartoum, Sudan Report of what it's like to live there - 03/02/15
Personal Experiences from Khartoum, Sudan
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, lived in Japan, Spain, various Gulf countries, and Australia.
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?
East Coast. It takes a full day to go there each way. The Khartoum-Istanbul-Dulles is a new one, and some prefer the Khartoum-Doha but the flights out of Khartoum are consistently delayed by at least 45 minutes and that causes missed flights. There is a two-layover one with Khartoum-Cairo-Amsterdam(Schiphol)-Dulles but it's miserable and takes two days to travel each way (four vacation days lost).
3. How long have you lived here?
Over one year.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. Embassy assignment.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There are mostly townhouses and stand-alone villas. Those are quite nice. There are also apartments, which are less desirable. All housing is in Khartoum proper (no bridge crossing required) and commutes can be from 15-30 minutes depending on traffic.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The costs are more expensive than you might expect. The prices (despite our reduction of the Cost of Living Allowance recently) have gone up. The Sudanese pound fluctuates and most Western goods are unusually expensive.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Bring a very robust consumables shipment and as much as you could possibly need in your household shipment. There are no goods that you can buy here that are good quality, whether it's furniture, sports equipment, or household items.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are two restaurants that are sure not to make you sick. Topkapi (Turkish cuisine) and Ozone (continental cuisine and a bakery). Everything else is hit an miss for cleanliness. The cost is low for both and the food is of good quality.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Malaria mosquitoes are a big problem, otherwise it's not much else aside from roaches, flies, and ants.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
There is only the diplomatic pouch. There is no DPO, so mail takes about three weeks to get here (with countless restrictions--research diplomatic pouch restrictions for details), and you can only send out flat mail and tiny boxes that also take about three weeks to arrive in the U.S.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Depending on what you need, the help is mostly Ethiopian and costs about US$175/month. That's for cleaning, cooking, and two days a week. It can range from US$100-225 depending on what you ask for and the quality of the help. You can get recommendations when you're here.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is the main compound gym, which is sufficient to get you in shape. There is nowhere to run because of the security risk, so runners should plan to do something different while here.
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?
Due to the sanctions you cannot use your cards here. The sole source of money is through the Embassy cashier.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is Catholic service in English, and possibly others.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You should know some Arabic, but most Sudanese speak very basic English so you can get along okay in most places.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. The absence of sidewalks and ramps may cause trouble for people with mobility issues. Also, a visuall impaired person may have difficulty getting around for the same reason. The only reassuring factor is that there is nowhere to go, which could allow someone with physical disabilities to do okay here.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
All public transportation is prohibited.
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?
No privately owned vehicles allowed. Transporation is through the motor pool.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
The internet is of varying quality. There is DSL and WiMax, about US$50-150 a month. It's quality is poor at times but can be fast enough for streaming movies with a VPN (with a lag and lengthy buffering). Depending on where you are it may take a while for them to install it.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring your own unlocked smart phone. You can use the Embassy's SIM card and pay for personal calls and data service. It's extremely inexpensive and works reasonably well.
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?
There is one vet who's good. Pets don't have to be quarantined. You will have to get neighbors to take care of your pet. If you can, avoid bringing your pet since it's hard to ship it out, and with the travel and how long it takes it's very hard on both you and 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?
Possible NGO work, but there are restrictions that may prohibit this.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Possible opportunities, but there are restrictions that may prohibit this.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dress is business casual at best. In public is doesn't really matter, Westerners are not held to the same standard regarding covering up.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Aside from terrorism there is a lot of political instability rooted in economic troubles. Protests can happen at any time and tend to be directed (mostly by the government) towards Westerners. Despite this, we might be losing some of our danger pay.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria, a lot of food and water borne illnesses, skin conditions, what have you. The local medical care is terrible. You'll have to get out of the country to see a real doctor for almost anything.
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?
It's extremely bad. The city is under a perpetual smog of burning trash, especially near the Embassy. About six months out of the year the haboob dust storms are ever-present causing a lot of dust allergies.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Dust allergies are the most common thing. Then you're subjected to burning trash at home and at work, which causes other issues.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's comfortable and marginally cool from late November through February (think 65-75F degrees), but by the end of February through October it's about 80F at night to 110F during the day. It can go higher, but 110F seems to be a normal day during this period.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are a couple of American schools here, but since there are currently no children associated with the Embassy, no one has experience with them.
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?
No children allowed with Embassy personnel.
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?
The American community is not very large, one quarter of which are the American school teachers, half is mostly Embassy, and then others. Morale is not very good; living in Sudan and various other issues keep morale low.
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?
There is nothing but private entertaining to do. You may get invited to a wedding here and there, but despite their popularity they're quite boring.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It doesn't make much of a difference. There is *very* little to do here. There are some NGOs that may provide dating opportunities for singles, more so for males than for females. Bringing a partner with you will make your life easier, but your partner should be working since there is nothing to do in the city and will suffer from boredom fairly quickly and you'll have to deal with it.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. There is an underground culture that allows for homosexuals to go out relatively openly. There are cultural norms that allow men and women to be alone with members of the same sex without question, which is not the case for people of opposite gender.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Most Sudanese accept Christians since there are several churches of various denominations here (despite the infrequent bulldozing of some), and Western women who don't cover up are not harassed in public. There is prejudice within the country against those of "African" decent such as the South Sudanese, but this does not affect people of various ethnic backgrounds so long as they are from other parts of the world.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Travel outside of Sudan.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
One trip to the Pyramids would suffice. There is also camping along the Nile, and diving in Port Sudan with international companies working there.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Nothing. This is the space between the Arab world and Africa, so you can't get anything of note that isn't from China or Kenya.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
10. Can you save money?
Mostly, but you'll want to take vacations where you'll spend it, and you'll do a lot of online shopping.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
To save your leave time. Save as much as you can starting now so you can come here with the maximum hours. Since you lose two days of vacation that the Embassy won't give you for travel back and forth to the U.S., and you'll want to take three day weekends and as many trips out of the country as possible, you'll need those hours.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Nothing. Bring it all, you'll be taking winter trips to go ski (so bring cold weather clothing), you'll be doing all sorts of entertaining, taking up knitting or origami, and you'll need as much as possible to keep yourself entertained.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience, and your consumables. You will find that getting a clean meal is very difficult; the cafeteria serves dirty food, and you'll struggle to learn how to prepare a decent meal for yourself from what you can buy here. Having consumables will make your life better.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
The Devil Came On Horseback and "The Four Feathers" (1939).
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?