Lusaka, Zambia Report of what it's like to live there - 05/18/08
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?
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I work for the U.S. Government.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Direct flights from Lusaka to Heathrow on British Airways -- about 10 hours. Have to connect in Johannesburg, South Africa or London to fly to the U.S. - takes about 30 hours.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most expat houses have large yards, swimming pools, and service quarters. Commutes tend to be 5 - 15 minutes from most expat neighborhoods to most of the embassy and NGO offices. If you have the misfortune of working downtown, you will encounter unpleasant traffic and might have a 30-45 minute commute.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can find most everything you need here. Prices tend to be higher than the U.S. (a liter of milk currently runs $2.50 -- roughly US$5 for 1/2 gallon) and the most common brands are produced in South Africa.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
By and large, we shipped in what we needed. Kids' presents are expensive and poor quality, so we would ship in more of those. We've had to order a variety of camping gear (local prices are high and quality is not comparable to the gear we're used to in the U.S.).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Dining options are limited and expensive. There are a variety of South African fast food chains, a handful of decent Indian restaurants, about the same number but slightly lower quality Chinese restaurants, and a variety of other local restaurants. Dinner for 4 (without drinks) at one of the Indian restaurants runs about US$100.
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?
Skill levels vary widely, but there are plenty of people willing to work in your home. You can get decent household help for around US$175 - $200/month.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
We've had difficulty getting our US ATM cards to work in most of the ATM machines here. We generally don't use our credit cards (even with tourism operators) because the possibility of credit card theft is very real.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Local TV and papers are in English. Papers run about 75 cents. Subscription to South African DSTV service runs about US$70/month and you can get both BBC and CNN in addition to a range of entertainment and sports channels.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would not be easy to get around.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
You drive on the left-hand side of the road (like in the U.K.).
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Most people do not hail cabs on the street, although the tourist hotels are able to call cabs for service.
3. 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?
If you want to do any traveling, I'd recommend buying a diesel 4x4 equipped with an expedition roofrack. If you can, invest in a vehicle with an auxillary fuel tank as gas and diesel prices are significantly higher in the provinces than in Lusaka. Outside the major cities, it is far easier to get diesel than gasoline. Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi are all very popular. You can import left-hand drive vehicles.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
There are a handful of ISPs -- Zamnet tends to be the cheapest and least reliable. Microlink and AfricaConnect (doing business as iConnect) offer better service at about US$75-$100/month for limited bandwidth. We tend to use our Internet only at night and on the weekends -- most of the time we have no problem using video-conferencing services. Upload speeds run about 85 kbps, download speeds are about 275 kbps.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
We use skype.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
Government of Zambia appears to be increasingly concerned about the number of expats holding NGO jobs. As a result, the work permit process can be a major hassle.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Most expats tend to dress in business casual at the office and for entertaining. Professional Zambians tend to dress a bit more formally.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Compared to other places we've lived and taking into consideration developing country standards, I think it is good. Vehicle pollution is a problem as is unrestricted burning of trash and yard waste.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Carjackings in Lusaka are not uncommon (although nothing compared to South Africa). Thieves don't hesitate to reach into an open car window if you're stopped at a light and leave something valuable open (but unlike South America, thieves don't routinely smash your windows to get at your possessions). In the expat areas of the city, women feel safe enough that they will go out running between sunrise and sunset without a second thought (although runners tend to try and stay off the busier streets given the absence of shoulders and sidewalks and the poor driving of many Zambians). If you exercise basic common sense, you can probably live here for two - three years without being a victim.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Outside of the rainy season, most expats don't worry too much about malaria in Lusaka. At the same time, it makes sense even in Lusaka to sleep inside malaria nets. There are a few American doctors in private practice in Lusaka (lots more are involved in aid work), but most people go to South Africa for anything other than routine check-ups.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Rainy season runs from December to March -- this year, the rains seemed to last 5-10 days in a row.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Most Americans (in the NGO and the embassy community) send their kids to the American International School of Lusaka (AISL) from kindergarten on. However, many embassy Americans send their kids to preschool and pre-K at the International School of Lusaka (ISL) because ISL's fees are significantly lower than AISL and the Embassy doesn't pay for education before kindergarten.
ISL tends to be very popular with Indian families that have been resident in Lusaka for years -- while it's true that many of the brightest kids at ISL obtain spots in very competitive US and other international universities, I think most American parents would find AISL's facilities, staff, and resources better than ISL's. LICS has a devoted following because of its community-oriented approach to early education -- unfortunately, it is not conveniently located for most of the American expat community.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I'm not sure.
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
A couple hundred Americans in Lusaka between U.S. government, aid organizations, and missionaries. Large number of Europeans engaged in government and aid work. Lots of long-time Indian residents.
2. Morale among expats:
I think most people are happy with the pace of life and climate. The lack of dining options and the high prices are a bit of a downer at times, but most people find ways to deal with those complaints.
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?
With the pleasant climate, there are lots of outdoor receptions, barbeques, etc.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Lusaka has a comfortable climate that allows families to take advantage of their yards most of the year. Between the cost of living and the slow pace of life, I'm not so sure this is a great assignment for singles or couples.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Don't think so.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Lots of amazing safari opportunities. However, even mid-range safari companies currently charge US$120-150 per person per day for fully inclusive safari packages, so don't expect to be going on a safari every long weekend.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Zambia doesn't appear to have much indigenous crafts -- most of the crafts on sale here are actually made in Zimbabwe.
9. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Belief that life in Africa is inexpensive.
3. But don't forget your:
Camping gear, kids birthday presents.