Lusaka, Zambia Report of what it's like to live there - 05/17/16
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?
Paris, France; Chennai, India.
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. No direct flights, connections in Amsterdam, Dubai, or Johannesburg. The Johannesburg route is faster but the flight from the U.S. is long. Expect the trip to take 18-26 hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Spouse of U.S. government employee.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most of the housing is on the side of town near the embassy and the American International School. Houses are either stand-alone with their own walled-in gardens or on small compounds with shared grounds. I believe that all current properties come with some private garden space. Commute times to the embassy range from walking distance to 20 minutes by car.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local produce is good and cheap. Everything else is imported from South Africa and the cost varies based on the exchange rate. Most things are available, except black beans, Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Since we have DPO and many items available in the commissary or on the local market, I can't think of anything other than certain kinds of produce we can't get.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Pizza Hut, KFC, Nandos Peri-Peri. There are also quite a few good Indian and Chinese restaurants in town given the sizes of those two expatriate communities. You can also find good Ethiopian and Thai. Prices are comparable with those of similar restaurants in the U.S. If you want local food, it will be steak with nshima (similar to thick grits) or grilled chicken.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes are prevalent but many only take anti-malarial drugs when traveling outside of the city. Otherwise, ants and cockroaches can pop up at certain times of the year.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic Post Office (DPO).
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Widely available and fairly cheap. Full-time housekeepers and gardeners charge anywhere from $150-250 per month.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms are available (not sure of the cost) as well as tennis and golf clubs. The embassy has a very nice gym that is free to use if you are affiliated with the U.S. mission.
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?
ATMs often run out of money but are typically safe to use. Some of the larger grocery stores and restaurants accept credit cards, but Lusaka is a mostly cash-based economy.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Several Christian denominations and community churches, but there are not many options for more progressive Christians.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None, but a couple of words in either Bemba or Nyanja will get you smiles.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Definitely. There are few sidewalks and even fewer ramps in the city.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are available and safe as long as you have the number for a reliable driver. I would not trust any other form of local transportation as minibus drivers are reckless and often drunk.
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 SUVs tend to be the best due to poor roads, especially if you plan to self-drive in the national parks. There also many tall speed bumps around town, so anything with a low clearance might have difficulties. That being said, try to avoid large SUVs because parking spots are tight.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Available but expensive: $100-$200 per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone and you will have several options for pay-as-you-go or monthly plans.
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 quarantine for pets but make sure you have all of your documents in order before you arrive. Customs officials do not shy away from euthanizing pets that are not properly cleared in advance. There are several good veterinarians in town and they offer kennel services at a very reasonable rate. Also, if you have any household staff you trust, they will often be happy to pet-sit while you are away.
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 good opportunities in public health, NGOs, and education. Other than that, many people telecommute.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Many: wildlife, children's services, health, teaching.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dress in Lusaka is fairly conservative, with women tending not to wear skirts or shorts above the knee. In general, Zambians dress more formally than Americans so you will see many people in suits or business casual attire out and about.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Lusaka is rated as having a high threat of crime, which seems hard to believe when you are out during the day. That being said, it has this rating for a reason. Apart from petty crime, burglaries are on the rise, and there have been several instances of violent crime targeting expats. If you take the same sorts of precautions you would in Washington, D.C., you should be just fine. Lock your car doors and use your alarm system.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The health care available in the country is consistently bad. Even at the expensive hospitals, patients are not satisfied that they are receiving correct diagnoses. Anything more than routine care requires a medical evacuation to Pretoria. That being said, the embassy has an excellent health unit that helps staff and their families navigate the system.
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 during the rainy season but can be quite dusty during the dry season. The air can also get smoky when the temperature dips below the 60s as local people burn garbage.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Some seasonal allergies when the trees bloom. Otherwise, nothing of note.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is fairly temperate ranging from 40s-70s F during the Northern Hemisphere summer and 60-90s during the rest of the year.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are several international schools in town, but most embassy families send their children to the American International School of Lusaka. The school has a close-knit community and nice facilities. I have worked there as a substitute teacher as well as at the International School of Lusaka as a middle and high school teacher. While ISL has a great primary school, I wouldn't recommend it for secondary students as there is high turnover among the upper-level teachers. It is just difficult to predict what the quality of teaching will be like from year to year.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There are options for learning support at the international schools, but not for any severe learning disabilities. Kids with physical disabilities will have difficulty getting around given the layout of the campuses.
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?
Some preschools are available but I am not sure of the cost. Many people also employ nannies to help with child care.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Soccer, swimming, horseback riding, basketball, volleyball.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expatriate community seems fairly large; we have been here for three years and are still amazed at how many people we don't recognize at big expatriate events. Morale greatly depends on your flexibility and how well you can entertain yourself. Some people really like it here (we extended for a fourth year) while others can't stand it!
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?
Going out to dinner, "night markets" with local food vendors, cook-outs, travel.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for anyone who enjoys the outdoors and doesn't mind making their own fun. Families and couples seem to have a better time than singles, but there are communities for everyone. The options for nightlife are quite limited but seem to be increasing.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. Zambians tend to be very homophobic and will openly express their prejudice without a second thought. People suspected of homosexual acts continue to be jailed and put on trial. This would be a very difficult place to be "out."
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Zambia calls itself a Christian country but there are also sizable portions of the population who are Muslim or Hindu. I have not witnessed any religious prejudice but have a sense it might be lurking just beneath the surface. While there is not overt gender prejudice, many Zambians (and Southern Africans in general) tend to default to traditional gender roles. For example, in a staff meeting, I was told that the department was happy to have a woman on the team to make the tea...
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Visiting the elephant orphanage, walking with cheetahs, fishing on Lake Kariba, game drives in South Luangwa National Park (and having a whole pride of lions walk right through camp), visiting Victoria Falls.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Lilayi Lodge just outside of town offers an excellent restaurant with special events during which they bring winemakers up from South Africa. They also boast an elephant orphanage and low-key, predator-free game drives and walks.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Mud cloths, baskets, "chitenge" fabric, and other local curios.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather is nice most of the year, with one rainy season lasting from November/December to April. The rainy season is not like a monsoon, but more like Florida thunderstorms that roll in every afternoon for an hour or two. Another advantage is qualifying for the local rates at safari lodges and in national parks. This can make the occasional safari affordable enough for families. The housing is also a nice advantage: mostly stand-alone homes with pools.
Avocados everywhere! We even have two trees in our yard.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, as long as you take advantage of local rates when you travel and don't buy too many imported products.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How expensive it would be to travel within the region. Plane tickets to any of the neighboring countries will cost at least $500-900.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a heartbeat!
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectations of traffic laws: two people in a row will always go at the stop sign and after 6 PM a sizable number of drivers will be intoxicated.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience: people here are usually friendly and always want to know how you are doing before getting down to business.
Mosquito repellent and camping gear. (If that's your thing; if not, bring extra money to go "glamping" at game lodges!)
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Unfortunately, there aren't too many books written about Zambia. "Don't Let Us Go to the Dogs Tonight" by Alexandra Fuller is a compelling read but takes place several decades ago.