Banjul, The Gambia Report of what it's like to live there - 06/24/14

Personal Experiences from Banjul, The Gambia

Banjul, The Gambia 06/24/14


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, my wife and I previously lived in Khulna, Bangladesh for two years.

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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-Brussels-Banjul. Please note that the Brussels Airlines flight always stops in Dakar now but you don't have to leave the plane. It takes 22-24 hours in total. There is also a DC-Dakar and NYC-Dakar flight but the layover is very long if you fly from Dakar to Banjul or vice versa.

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3. How long have you lived here?

7 months.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?


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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Embassy leased houses are fairly large, detached houses. Most are in Brufut, which is a 30-minute commute from the Embassy and a suburban-type area. I prefer the housing in Fajara and Kotu...less of a drive and you have real Gambian neighborhoods.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Groceries are diverse and relatively cheap, although European imported goods are much more expensive. You have more of a selection during tourist season but we haven't noticed anything essential going missing from the shelves during the off season either. I would for sure stock up on laundry detergent and soap products before coming here.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Vanilla extract, laundry detergent, nutella, items from King Arthur's Flour (baking supplies).

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Fast food: Delicious and Le Parisienne in Fajara are good. Around US$4 for a decent, fast meal. For high quality, slower food, I'd highly recommend going to Ngala Lodge or Gidas. Probably US$15 or less for a great meal.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Lots of mosquitoes at different times of the year. I recommend investing in a canopy-style mosquito net that is attached to a top frame. Also note that malaria really does exist here and I know European expats who have suffered through it. Take malarone or another prophylaxis.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Diplomatic pouch, 50 lbs or less.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Domestic help is relatively cheap (US$100 or less a month for full-time work). However, you have to be careful about finding staff who do good work and take pride in it. We inherited a gardener from another embassy staff member and it was a horrible experience.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

As noted in previous reports, the Elite Fitness gym is still the best. I'm not sure why they haven't invested in A/C yet.

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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?

Do not use ATMs or credit cards here. It's a cash only society at the moment.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None, but a little Wolof or Mandinka goes far. If you just speak English you'll skim the surface of society here.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

No sidewalks or easily accessible entrances. People with disabilities get by but it's exceedingly difficult from what I've seen.

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1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

No trains or buses for commuters around the town. Taxis can be dangerous and the driving isn't stellar from what I've seen.

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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?

Toyota and Nissan are the best here for spare parts, etc. I would recommend a "true" 4WD car (where you can shift from 2WD or AWD into 4WD). Some of the dirt roads are very bumpy and the rainy season doesn't help.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, 4Mbps for around US$75 a month. I highly recommend Qcell who now offer residential internet service. I have tried Netpage and Unique Solutions in the past. Both were subpar and customer service was horrid. The speed of internet here is slow in general but you can stream Netflix if you have VPN service. NOTE: Skype, Viber, and other VOIP services are blocked here (as of March 2014).

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Yes, bring a phone that allows you to switch out the SIM card.

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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. Quality pet care is available…there's a German vet named Meesha. There is also a kennel out near Sandele that my friends have used and said it's great. US$100/month for one dog I think.

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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?

If you are an employee of the U.S. Embassy, there is no bilateral work agreement.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Volunteer opportunities at schools, orphanages, and educational farms.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Casual. Gambians appreciate professional dress here though and you are treated with more respect when you dress for the part.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

No. I don't feel unsafe here at all.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care here is below Western standards. Anything that requires specialized care would be a medevac situation. This is by far the most challenging aspect of life here.

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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 big urban areas in South or East Asia. People burn trash a lot and even though I'm close to the ocean, I hardly ever smell the salty ocean air as a result.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

November-April is consistently lovely, around 70-80 F degrees and it hardly ever rains. July-September is the big rainy season. I haven't been through that yet but I hear it's absolutely beautiful even though it can be a bit chaotic.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

BAES is a good school for Pre-K up to middle school. High school age kids would probably find it more challenging here. Our son is 4 years old and loves Pre-K at BAES. Great student/teacher ratio, very multicultural student body, and attentive teachers.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?


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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?

See above. Also, you can pay a full-time nanny for US$100/month or less here, so childcare in general is very affordable.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, some are available through Elite Fitness. Sports programs are also available for older kids at BAES.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Small size expat community. If you like living in seclusion or enjoy smaller circles, you'll be fine here.

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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?

Beaches and restaurants. Limited, but still fun in my opinion.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Most of the U.S. Embassy staff have families. I don't have personal experience living here as a single, but it would be difficult. Small expat community and limited nightlife options.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

No. You would have to be very discreet.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

None that I've seen or heard of.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Going to Baboon Island and checking out the chimpanzee refuge project, hanging out in the Bijilo Monkey Park, and relaxing at the lovely eco resort called Sandele. Restaurants are truly cheap and amazing here as well...I rarely spend more than US$10 per person even for nice meals.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

I would recommend going south of Brufut for more secluded beach experiences. Also, try going to the Chimp Rehab Project and staying overnight with them for great views of chimps and hippos. Do not settle for a guide who is not part of the Chimp Rehab Project staff...they don't have the same access to the islands.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Meh. Some good art but overall you can find much better art and handicrafts elsewhere in West Africa. You can buy nice music instruments like a balafon and jimbeh though. Cheap too!

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The weather and the beach are fantastic advantages. We also save a lot of money but we typically avoid higher cost items that are imported from Europe/USA.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes, absolutely. Just don't go out for every single meal and try to buy local produce and groceries.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

That VPN service is almost a necessity.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, for sure. Probably only if I was in a family situation though.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Need for constant excitement. If you need a variety of places to go and different things to do, get ready to embrace change.

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4. But don't forget your:

Easy going attitude. No one likes an up-tight expat around these parts of the world.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Our Grandmothers' Drums: A Portrait of Rural African Life And Culture. It's by an English author who was here for about two years. Revealing book about the culture.

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