Banjul, The Gambia Report of what it's like to live there - 06/10/13
Personal Experiences from Banjul, The Gambia
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?
Washington, DC - about 20-24 hours (DC to Brussels - Brussels to Banjul). Try to arrive on a Wed. or Friday to avoid an additional layover (Freetown, Conakry, or Monrovia)
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?
All of the embassy housing are single family / detached homes. 80% of the homes have pools. A majority live in the Brufut area, with a few in Fajara and Bijilo.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are a few bulk grocers that import from COSTCO or Europe. Produce is available on street corners and availabilty depends on the growing season. You can get most of what you want in The Gambia, it just depends on how much you want to pay for it.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More bug spray and sunscreen. Liquid cleaning and laundry supplies. Everything else is readily available or you can get through pouch. You may want to bring spare auto parts.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
No fast food, but plenty of sit-down restaurants. The nicest meal will cost at most $30.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Everything imaginable and they come in waves. Mosquitos are the biggest problem and drug-resistant malaria strains are present in The Gambia.
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?
Very affordable - between 2500 and 3500 Dalasi (about $80) per month for either a gardener, maid, or chef.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has two small facilities and there are a few options on the local market. Elite fitness is the most popular, but the building does not have A/C. Additional the Fajara Golf Club has a variety of athletic options (tennis, pool, badmitten, golf, and raquetball.
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?
Avoid - embassy staff can use the embassy cashier to get cash. The Gambia is a cash economy.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, catholic, presbyterian, baptist, and other services are available.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes - but local papers have different priorities with what "is news." Recommend checking online news sources.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None at all - The Gambia is a former UK colony so they speak English. That said, learning Wollof or Mandinka goes a long way to win over the locals (but a smile and wave also works if you are intimidated by languages).
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many - The Gambia's infrastructure is not built to accomodate those with physical disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We are encouraged not to use any public transportation. That said they are affordable, but shared. A taxi will not take you door to door and you often need to take 2 or 3 taxis to get somewhere.
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?
SUV with 4-wheel drive. Recommend bringing a Japanese make/model. A Ford dealership recently opened. The embassy mechanic can work on most POVs on his off-time, but parts may be hard to find for some vehicles.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes and it is affordable, but not high-speed. We pay about 60-70 USD per month for 1MB. There are frequent outages and we rarely get the speed we are paying for.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Africell, Comium, and QCell are the local pay as you go providers. They are very affordable. We use Skype for international calls.
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)?
There is a German vet that is excellent and provides high-quality care.
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?
There are plenty of volunteer opportunities, but local pay is low and there are few opportunities outside of NGO or teaching positions.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual. On Friday's Gambians dress up.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The Gambia is an incredibly safe place. Culturally, the recognize that tourism supports the economy. As such, locals look out for foreigners and often fend off would-be trouble makers. My wife feels somewhat concerned walking by herself, but the dog has mitigated some of that. You might get the occassional hassling from a local bumster, but that is the extent of it. Additionally, petty theft takes place.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is poor and it often takes a long time to get treated. Anything serious should be medevaced.
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?
Unhealthy, but not as bad as other West African countries. The majority of the Embassy housing is along the water, so the ocean air clears out a lot of the smog. That said, trash burning, is widespread and no vehicle emmissions requirements create poor air quality (but beautiful sunsets).
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Warm year around. Between the 60s and 80s November through April (the dry/tourist season) and the 80s and 100s May through October (the rainy season). Heavy rains occur in July and August.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
A majority of the embassy families use BAES, which is run by a Canadian couple and receives funding from the embassy. The President's daughter attends this school, so security is also a strong point.
2. 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?
Unsure about availability of preschools, but nannies are available and affordable.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large UK/EU; small US - significant number of Lebanese, Turkish, and Taiwanese.
2. Morale among expats:
Fair to good; it depends on the weather.
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?
Social life revolves around food, drinks, sports, poker, or official events.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a great location for families with you kids and couples. Singles may find it challenging here, especially women. The Gambia is 90% muslim and traditional male/female roles are still prevalent. The nightlife is nice, but minimal with about 4 clubs. Additionally, the expat community is small, so options are limited.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Absolutely not! Read the Department of State's Human Rights Report.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
The Gambia is very tolerant when it comes to various racial and religious groups. It could easily serve as a model for religious tolerance (at least in the greater Banjul area). Further up-country is said to be more conservative. Gender prejudices still exist, but are not as overt as some places.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Up-country trips to Janjang Bureh, Basse, etc. Fishing trips and boat rides to Kunta Kinteh Island. The availability of West African produce is great.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Beach, restaurants, up-country trips, bird watching, swimming, golf, tennis, football (American and International) at the MRC, basketball, fishing trips. The Bijilo monkey park is a must! and if you can Baboon Island.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Fabrics and woodwork; typical West African pieces.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The people are welcoming and it is a very small expat community (especially, American expat). The weather between November and April is amazing. The beaches are fantastic and for West Africa, there are plenty of high-quality restaurants and hotels. Tourism is a driving force in The Gambia.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes - but only for two years.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Cold-weather clothing (but pack a few sweaters)
3. But don't forget your:
Bug spray and sense of adventure.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?