Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania Report of what it's like to live there - 08/22/11
Personal Experiences from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No- Puno Peru, Lima Peru, La Paz Bolivia, Accra Ghana, Kathmandu Nepal, Dhaka Bangladesh
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 US. It's a relatively simple transfer through Amsterdam, about 20 hours in the air, plus transfer times. Amsterdam (and KLM) offers the best timing for connections. I find London (and BA) somewhat awkward. Zurich (Swiss) was great, but there arfe fewer flights a week.
3. How long have you lived here?
2 years (2009 - 2011)
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Job at an international NGO.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most expats live on the Penninsula. Traffic downtown is horrible, and can take 45+ minutes to get to the office if you work at the UN or one of the downtown embassies. It takes less than 10 minutes if there aren't many cars on the road. The American Embassy and many NGOs are in the opposite direction, so the commute time is very short.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are very expensive, but you can find everything (down to Keebler cookies and Purina Dog food). It is all imported from the UK and the Middle East. Local meat is of decent quality, and there's a fabulous Italian deli that sells good eggs and wonderful home-made pastas. Bring Mexican staples if that is your thing.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Not so much in the way of fast food. Subway is the only US chain, although Steers and Mary Brown's do the hamburger thing. Lots of good upscale restaurants including French, Ethiopian, Italian, Lebanese, Chinese, Grills, Seafood, Japanese, Korean, Thai, etc. Local food is very bland, but Nyama Choma (grilled Meat) and a Kilimanjaro (beer) always hits the spot.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
The large Indian community means vegetarian options are widely available (you can even get a Paneer taco at the sole Mexican place). Italian Deli carries good Tofu available in bulk.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Malaria is a big problem, although it is getting better. Many expats do not take prophylaxis, but they do sleep under a mosquito net or with a strong fan.
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?
Cheap and available, although English can be a problem. Tanzania has some pretty strict labor laws regarding time off and pay, so sometimes expats feel their staff is taking advantage of them (by never coming into work).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, Colosseum is very popular but pricey. The U.S. Embassy has a gym on the compound.
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?
Credit cards are rarely accepted and usually carry a 5% service charge. ATMs are readily available and generally safe, although there have been some scandals recently. Just check your account regularly for irregular charges (particularly withdrawals from ATMs in Eastern Europe or Nairobi), and be mindful of people around you watching you enter your PIN.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
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?
More than you think! Swahili is deeply ingrained in Tanzania and, while English is taught in schools, even relatively well-educated people are very uncomfortable speaking it. Unlike in many other African nations, most of the younger generation do not grow up speaking a tribal language, only Swahili, so they aren't comfortable switching between languages. Learning to at least bargain in the market place and hold a basic conversation will go a long way.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Roads are rough and sidewalks are non-existent. Many buildings do not have escalators or elevators. But people are very accommodating of those with disabilities and are willing to help out or make special arrangements.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses are crowded and drivers are crazy. You take your life in your hands every time you get onboard, but not they are not particularly unsafe from a security point of view. Taxis are a lot more expensive and often seem like they are falling apart. Ask around for a good driver and call him exclusively. If he can't make it, he'll send a nearby friend to get you for the same price you normally pay him. You'll save money and feel much more secure.
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?
Roads are HORRIBLE, even in Dar. As bad as the traffic is, and as much as I want to tell you to get a little car, you may well need a monster SUV just to get in and out of your house. I've had to drive in mud puddles that COVERED the hood of my Rav-4 sized vehicle just to get to the main road from a friend's house in a good part of town. That being said, I took my small SUV all over the country with no problems... though 4-wheel-drive did come in handy. Make sure every piece of glass is etched with your VIN or license plate number... if it is stolen you can go downtown to buy it back, just don't bring a cop with you or all the vendors disappear.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet got significantly better with the advent of the SeaCom cable, however it remained very expensive... all providers price by kilobyte used (both up and down loaded), so even though the bandwidth is now good enough to download a movie, you'll end up paying a fortune for it! 3G modems are fast and very convenient. I used one exclusively for my home internet use and was amazed to be able to get online in pretty remote parts of the country.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cell phones are cheap to buy and cheap to operate. Vodacom and Airtel (formerly Zain) are a bit more expensive but have bigger networks.
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?
No, but you need to get an import permit prior to arrival (available on arrival, but it will seriously slow things down). Check online for the required vaccinations and treatments, make sure your pet is up to date, and send a copy of their shot and de-worming record ahead of time to be approved by the Ministry of Agriculture. They'll stamp it and give it to whoever is helping you with those sorts of things. Bring a copy with you on the plane, and have the person meeting you bring the original, and then you can basically just stroll right out of the airport with no hassles.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There are two good vets, one Tanzanian and one Italian. Both will board animals but have limited space. There are a few farms out of town and up in Arusha that will board dogs for extended periods of time, but I don't know how pricey they are. Pet food is extremely expensive, but you can get it, even some specialty brands. There are a few nice pet stores. If you don't have a dog, there is a rescue group (Dar Animal Haven) that is very reputable and can help you find a pet. Tanzanians are cautious with dogs, and your employees may be uncomfortable with them, but I never had a problem bringing my dog with me pretty much everywhere. Many restaurants allow dogs in the outside seating areas. Be respectful and keep your dog on leash in rural settings, particularly villages, so as not to scare anyone. Cats are everywhere and are generally tolerated, but be careful because black cats may be persecuted or killed.
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?
Yes, with the caveat that labor laws are extremely strict. It is very difficult (though not impossible) to get a work permit, and it may be impossible if you have a diplomatic passport (depending on the embassy... Americans have an agreement with the government allowing spouses to work, the Germans do not, so there are a lot of bored German housewives/husbands around).
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Somewhat conservative, yet more casual than expected.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Muggings happen at Coco beach or downtown, but only when you obviously are carrying something. I jogged most days and was never hassled.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria, other tropical diseases. There are a few decent urgent-care places, but anything major requires medevac to Nairobi or South Africa. There is only one (occasionally working) decompression chamber, and it is in Zanzibar. So be very careful diving.
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- most expats live on the Msasani peninsula, or otherwise by the sea, so consistent ocean breezes blow away the smog from the horrible traffic, roaring generators, and burning trash.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Lovely year 'round... a bit hotter and stickier in January (upper 90s) a bit cooler and breezier in July/August (low 80s).
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?
Very, very large, and very diverse.
2. Morale among expats:
Good! (except for those who do not like the ocean).
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?
You will go to lots of house parties and some good bars, but watch out for aggressive prostitutes. Hash House Harriers is always a good place to meet some really great people, learn your way around Dar, and have fun. Yacht Club is the hub of many people's social lives. There is also a very energetic club scene, but it doesn't get started until 2am, even on weeknights.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Better for families and singles than couples, strangely enough. There are lots and lots of family activities (beach, pools, waterpark, etc), and a lively social scene for singles and young active couples, but not a ton of things to do for more 'settled' couples without kids.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It seems okay. As with the question about religion and race, people in Dar are fairly cosmopolitan and accepting of differences. Outside the city, especially along the coast and in Pemba (Zanzibar), there are more conservative Muslim communities where PDAs would be frowned upon no matter what your orientation is.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not overtly. Dar is fairly cosmopolitan, with large Arabic, Indian, and African communities living fairly peacefully with each other, and all religions.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Snorkeling with whale sharks in Mafia, Diving in Mtwara, train ride to Zambia, and Safaris.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
In Dar it is all about the water, as it is very difficult to get out of the city. Save your hiking boots for climbing Kili, and don't bother bringing a mountain bike. Bring a surfboard instead, or kite surfing gear, scuba gear, snorkeling gear, and all your beach paraphenalia, as you will use them every day. Join the yacht club and learn to sail. The bay is ranked as one of the top sailing bays in the world, and there are Regattas for all different classes. You can also dive with the yacht club for just the cost of gas and the air fill (but bring your own gear). Diving instruction is available at White Sands or on Zanzibar. Zanzibar is a mere 2.5 hours away by Ferry. It is much easier to get out to Zanzibar than it is to go inland. If you don't like water, there is a pretty intense club scene, but otherwise not a lot of activities.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Safaris will eat any savings you make, but there are also good handicrafts. If you have a shipment home, there is beautiful furniture made from old dhows.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Safaris, particularly access to the less traveled and utterly fantastic Southern Circuit (Ruaha, Mikumi and the Selous). it is worth it to go to the Northern Circuit (Serengeti, Ngorongoro, etc.) once to see the migration, but in the north there will be an average of 30 cars to every lion. In the south you'll see 30 lions for every car. Also fabulous beaches, Zanzibar islands, Mafia islands (whale sharks) and world-class scuba diving.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, if you are careful. Some things are cheap, but restaurants, groceries (in the big shops), and many services are expensive.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a heartbeat!
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
land-based activities (like mountain bikes) and winter clothing (unless you plan to climb Kili and/or Meru).
3. But don't forget your:
patience. There is no hurry in Africa!