Lusaka, Zambia Report of what it's like to live there - 03/03/15
Personal Experiences from Lusaka, Zambia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Seventh expat experience. Lived in Europe, Middle East, far East, Africa, Indian sub-continent...but never in Central or South America.
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. Most people either fly to/through South Africa and onward to Europe and then to the U.S. or to/through South Africa (Jo'burg) on a non-stop to Atlanta, which is one of the longest flights around. It's a brutal 16 hours and 55 minutes, but it does get you to the U.S. earlier by a few hours. It's a toss-up as to which is the less uncomfortable route and everyone has an opinion. Either way, it will be well over 24 hours, easy.
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?
Housing is less than ideal. Many homes are somewhat dilapidated and old-fashioned and more than a few are small and most are dark. Nicer more modern housing is on some of the compounds, but they tend to have smaller yards and little privacy. As the weather is so nice much of the time having outdoor space is really a good thing. The housing isn't terrible, but it isn't great either. You'll be happy enough as long as you don't have too high of expectations for your housing.
Also the roads are getting busier by the month and as there are no sidewalks you will be sharing that very narrow road with pedestrians, bicycles, mini-busses, school kids and slow moving trucks by the thousands....it can be quite scary at times, trying to avoid them all. For embassy people the commute isn't too bad as you will be going the opposite way of most traffic in the mornings and evenings. Driving through downtown, though, is typically slow and should be taken into consideration when planning to go south or west of Lusaka. It's worth it to leave before 6:00am to avoid the traffic if you are able to.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
I think groceries and supplies are expensive, but at least everything is available and of decent quality.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Pizza Hut just opened! Every other pizza place in town is wood-fired thin crust or very mediocre South African chains so this is kind of a big deal. Subway is here too, although I have never been. There are also other South African fast food joints: Wimpy, Nandos, Fishaways, etc., and several independent restaurants of every variety. The restaurant options are many but only a few are standouts. There are excellent Indian and Thai restaurants, some really good steak places, a fusion/fresh/organic restaurant that's good (but lacking in ambience) and a few other restaurants that are a notch above good but Lusaka is not a town for great dining.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
In Lusaka there isn't malaria, but outside of Lusaka (where all the activities are) there is malaria so prophylaxis is recommended when traveling. Also, the tse-tse flies can be really really awful in some parks. If you are not familiar with tse-tses, they are similar to horseflies in that they bite. But somehow the bites seem much more painful. Many people have distinct reactions (swelling, itching, pain, oozing) that can be quite dramatic. Tse-tses can carry sleeping sickness, although that seems very uncommon. Also, they are practically impossible to kill or repel. You may find very large cockroaches, ants, flatties (flat spiders) and various other insects in your house--and skinks and geckos trying to solve that problem for you too.
1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most people have at least part-time domestic help and many have full-time help, especially if childcare is a factor. Not so many people have cooks, but gardeners are needed, either full-time, if you have a big yard, or part-time if you are on a compound/sharing.
Domestic help and gardeners are inexpensive in Lusaka.
2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
I can't say, I haven't used them. I have heard (and seen) that the ATMs can misbehave by not giving you either your card back or money.
3. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. You will seldom come across a person who doesn't speak English and you never will in shops/business.
4. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. No sidewalks, few handicapped parking spaces, many steps and few ramps. Difficult or impossible access to many buildings and businesses for those who are physically challenged.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
None of those are recommended or safe.
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?
Any type of vehicle will work in Lusaka despite potholes and speed bumps, but if you plan on going out of town many roads are dirt and especially during the rainy season more difficult to navigate.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed Internet is theoretically available although most people have at least occasional issues if not outage, sometimes for weeks. It is not inexpensive, but I don't know the amount/month.
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?
Work permits are necessary and obtainable. Pay is not commesurate with pay in the US. I know of expats locally hired with NGOs and schools, but not in local businesses.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
At work business casual is the norm. Zambians tend to dress nicely all the time, but are perfectly accepting of even the most casual of outfits. When out in the bush or visiting South Africa you may still see men wearing short-shorts. This is probably not a style you will want to adopt.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crime is a problem and care should be used in locking up, using your alarm, being aware of your surroundings. For the most part, crime seems to be non-violent, but not always. Carjacking does happen and you should drive with windows up and doors locked. Having said all that, we feel safe here and haven't experienced any serious problems.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Local medical care is not up to western standards.
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?
The air quality is good for the most part. But during the dry season people burn grasses, yard debris and fields to promote new growth and the smoldering of whatever is buring can be pretty unpleasant and lingering.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Really nice weather. Lusaka is fairly high at 4,200 ft. so it doesn't get too awfully hot. Winter weather never gets to the freezing point or even near to frost. The rainy season lasts from November to March, but it seldom rains too intensely and generally not daily. Most days are really nice and weather seldom is a factor to consider when making plans. Travel outside of Lusaka will typically be to lower lying areas though, and it will be significantly hotter.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large expat community with most people probably with NGOs, schools, and other non-governmental agencies. Morale is excellent, especially for those who love their job or love getting out in the bush/travel. But even the people who don't find safaris/travel particularly interesting seem to like Lusaka because it really is easy to live here.
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?
Having people over or going to friends' houses for a braii (outdoor grilling), movies, school oriented events. Some families/friends travel together. There is the Hash House Harriers club, a group that bicycles, a walking club, dog-training club, polocrosse and riding, etc. etc. Lots of clubs for lots of interests.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Lusaka is a very quiet town and there is not a lot to do. There are many restaurants, but only a handful that are really good, and there are malls and other shopping but generally speaking it can be kind of boring if you don't like barbeques and hanging with friends. Having said that, I think the city is equally good for all. If you have a particular interest you will probably find a club or individual who shares it. Lusaka is a quiet but pleasant place to live.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I have seen. Zambians seem to have fewer issues than many when it comes to race. There is a Christian majority here but all religions seem to be well accepted.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Definitely camping. It is impossible to explain just how wonderful it is to be at a campfire listening to hyenas whooping and hearing hippos tearing at the grass just outside of the glow from your fire. Or how amazing it is to quietly move to your vehicle or tent as elephants decide to make your campsite home for a while. It's weird to realize you are more comfortable hearing lions at night than silence---because at least you can judge that they are probably distant enough if you 'must' leave your tent for a potty run. Sometimes it is both exhilarating and terrifying to camp in the bush, especially when we are often the only people around for miles and miles. It is an unforgettable experience and I doubt I will ever, anywhere, enjoy camping so much as I have in Zambia. Do consider it while you are here, even if you have never camped before.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
One must travel outside of Lusaka to do most of the "fun" things. Livingstone, where Victoria Falls is, has an endless amount of adrenaline and other activities such as bungee jumping, white water rafting, the gorge swing, helicopter and microlight rides, walking with cheetah, etc. etc. but Livingstone is a 6-7 hour drive or a plane flight away so I am not sure you can count it as being in the area. Going to the game (National) parks is an absolute must and you should go as frequently as possible if you find you love it, but prices are spectacularly high. Camping, as mentioned above, will allow you to get out more frequently without going bankrupt. And although scary and actually dangerous too I do recommend a canoe safari of at least two days' length. Tigerfishing is a big deal here too, on the Zambezi and also on Lake Kariba.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
African handicrafts of all types, although I believe much of it actually isn't local at all but instead brought in from several other countries.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The Victoria Falls. South Luangwa, North Luangwa and the Lower Zambezi National Parks for safaris, the gorgeous peaceful rivers (the Zambezi and Kafue) which compel you to fish, canoe and go on sunset cruises. Camping in the national parks with nothing but nylon between you and all those loud and more-terrifying-at-night animals. How incredibly beautiful the natural world is in Zambia and how you can feel like you are the only person for miles around when you are out in the bush. Zambia doesn't have the safari destination name some other African countries do but that doesn't mean you will have a lesser experience. In fact, the lack of crowds and the intimate bush lodges will spoil you for anything else. Lots of people travel to Zanzibar, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and other "regional" cool vacation spots.
9. Can you save money?
Probably, if you never leave Lusaka.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely and with no hesitation.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Hopes for a big city nightlife or intensely exotic cultural expereince.
3. But don't forget your:
Travel guide and desire to explore this still uncrowded and unspoiled part of Africa. Willingness to stay in lodges that don't have electricity or cell phone reception (but that still manage to pamper you completely).