Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania Report of what it's like to live there - 06/03/17
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, Scandinavia, South Asia, and the Middle East.
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. KLM via AMS or Swiss via Zurich. The trip is anywhere from 25-30 hours depending on connections.
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?
Houses are large. A mix of stand-alone housing and multi-house compounds. The compounds can be noisy/chaotic, but you have built in support. Commutes most of the year are not bad (10-20 mins). However, as with most things in Tanzania, quality work and/or maintenance are not high priorities. Thus, during and for weeks after the rainy season (MAR-MAY) the roads wash out and it becomes an absolute mess, causing significant delays/frustration.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Expensive and inconsistently available. That said, if you hit the routine 5 spots most expats shop, you can tend to find most stuff. Combined with a solid consumables shipment and DPO, it is manageable.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
As usual, bring ethnic food speciality spices/items as the selection is limited. The exception would be for Chinese food items, which seem to be available due to the large Chinese population.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a few dozen restaurants in the expat rotation. Delivery is theoretically possible, though there is no comprehensible address or street sign system in Tanzania, so explaining where one is located can routinely be a challenge which prevents delivery.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Hahahahaha. YES! Again, its a malarial swamp in tropical Africa. Bugs are everywhere, all the time. hat said, one can find manageable ways to deal with them.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. Surprisingly quick considering its Africa. (7-10 days for most Amazon packages.)
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Ubiquitous and affordable. Though don't expect great English skills for most.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The US embassy gym is available and has recently been upgraded. The employee association at the embassy has an awesome pool. There is a gym at the Coliseum Hotel which is open to the public, but I don't know the costs.
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?
Not widely accepted, not always safe to try. However, the ATM's at the large expat shopping centers don't routinely have issues any longer.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Numerous Christian (Protestant and Catholic) services. Mosques are readily available. No Jewish services of which I am aware.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. Local language training is available.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. People without disabilities have issues making it around this country!
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Very little in Tanzania is "safe" by Western standards. However, tuk-tuks are cheap and readily available.
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?
Small SUV at minimum, 4x4 or AWD highly recommended.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Smile, 4G coverage. Unlimited-ish high speed available for less than 100 USD per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Easy to get, cheap to maintain.
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?
Not sure. Lots of folks have dogs, but getting them in and out seems to be an issue due to the airlines, not the TZ government.
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 expat job market appears to be undergoing significant negative changes due to the current TZ administrations policies. Getting formal work visas as an expat spouse can be a significant challenge. Work at the embassy appears available.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Unsure, but given the ridiculous state of things in TZ, and the massive amount of poverty/health issues, I am sure options abound.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
High crime rate. Travel on foot, particularly at night, is not advisable. Most of the crime to date has been property based (robbery, smash and grab, etc).
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The city is located on a flood plain in a malarial region...so, yes. Its a CAT-5 malaria post. Dengue fever can be a problem. That said, both issues typically impact the local populace much more so than expats due to the sleeping conditions of most locals.
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?
I haven't noticed any significant health impact.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I don't know, but if I had them, I would have whatever I needed with me throughout the day. You cannot count on the cooks to wash their hands properly, much less avoid touching nuts.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Does frustration with the "pole, pole" (slowly, slowly) culture count?
No? Okay, well then as far as the seasonal stuff goes, there are 2.5 seasons here. Ridiculously hot and humid for about 7 months, rain for about 2, and a glorious 3 months of relatively mild temperatures and amazing sunny days.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There are 2.5 seasons here. Ridiculously hot and humid for about 7 months, rain for about 2, and a glorious 3 months of relatively mild temperatures and amazing sunny days.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are two international schools (IST and DIA) and a French school. There seems to be an ongoing issue with getting visas renewed for the foreign teachers due to the current TZ administration, so I have no idea how that will play out and what the subsequent impact on quality will be. The only consistent complaint I have heard from parents here is that the elementary school bus comes ridiculously early (0600) due to traffic getting to the elementary school. The secondary and French schools are located near the housing areas and thus doesn't have the same issue.
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?
Yes, there are about a half-dozen at varying price points which cater to the expat population. This is a nanny post, so "after school care" is not really a thing.
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?
Large, as TZ is one of the largest foreign aid recipients in the world. Therefore, most of the countries which are large aid donors have missions here and all the aid implementing organizations are also represented here. Morale is seemingly entirely tied to your previous experiences/expectations (as usual). For Africa, Dar is a fairly nice place, with lots to do and much available. However, that "for Africa" caveat is nothing to take lightly. The infrastructure is not up to Western standards. This isn't simply a smaller version of Nairobi and is nothing like South Africa. Morale within the development workers is good. Families with small kids appreciate the affordability of help. However, the daily frustrations of living in Tanzania and dealing with the local system tend to wear on people.
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?
Beach, house parties, bars, etc. The social scene here is really active. Affordable child care means the mid-30's crowd gets to act like they are in their 20's again! The yacht club is popular if one plans to here long enough to make the cost worthwhile.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
The single folks I know here have found it a challenging place. Couples without kids have really enjoyed it. Families with kids make up the majority of the population.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. While being an LGBT expat is much easier than being an LGBT local, the government has begun a systematic crackdown on LGBT persons, including arrests, public shaming, etc. Expats are not entirely protected and multiple diplomats have been "asked to leave" with the threat of PNG if they refuse.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
For expats, no. Otherwise, while TZ doesn't have massive issues around tribal identity like much of Africa, there are brewing social tensions between the large muslim population and the government. There is a problem with killings of albino people. Women are still mostly forced into traditional roles and denied real opportunity. Outside of Dar and Arusha, this country is ridiculously poor, with limited infrastructure, massive corruption issues, a sub-standard educational system. TZ is struggling to feed itself: malnutrition remains a significant impediment to nearly every attempt to advance/change things.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
There are some incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities here. Nearly everything people come to Africa to do/see is available in Tanzania. However, getting to those things is not easy or cheap.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The Indian Ocean is five minutes from my front door.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Zanzibar is known for its wood working.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Domestic help is cheap, though the skill set is not on par with one gets in Asia. Beach access. Short commute. As most folks who have served in AF say, the embassy community was great. We made many friends here and most folks are incredibly welcoming. The USEMB population in Dar is big, so most folks can find their niche.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The "gem of Africa" saying that people throw around is misleading. If you are an AF hand, it may be true. However, if your expectations for life overseas have been shaped off-continent, even in many parts of the developing world, Africa can be uniquely challenging.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
It would depend on my other options. If the other options were in Africa, then yes, this is better than most. If you have the option to be off the continent, then I would likely take it (with obvious exceptions...looking at you Bangladesh!). We made some great friends and saw a few things once can only see in Africa, but I don't see us coming back to AF.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothing, sense of timeliness, and logic.
4. But don't forget your:
Bug spray, sunscreen, sense of adventure, and patience.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
In comparison to many other parts of Africa, there is not a ton of good books on modern Tanzania. Most Tanzania-focused western literature is about wildlife.
6. Do you have any other comments?
For work: Tanzania is only really important as it relates to the aid/development/public health. From a POL/ECON/SEC perspective, it doesn't merit significant time/attention from Washington. (Nor should it, I suppose). Don't underestimate the lingering distrust from the Cold War (US and TZ were on opposite sides); Tanzania's unwillingness to be seen as giving into Western demands (wether they are good ideas or not doesn't really matter); the resentment from the foreign aid dependency cycle; and the numerous issues associated with the general relationship dynamic we have established wherein the aid money continues to flow in almost entirely decoupled from our policy goals and despite significant regression on priority issues by the Tanzanian government.
Also, the government continues to talk about moving the capitol to Dodoma. (They have been talking the same non-sense for decades, so who knows if it will ever actually happen). However, if the Embassy does ever move to Dodoma, I would not accept an assignment there. It is a fine, small African town...in the middle of nowhere, literally hours from anything to do, and with all of three restaurants at which to eat. It may improve over time, but it will be decades before it offers anything like the amenities of life in Dar. (And you can't move the ocean...so, that will be an issue).