Harare, Zimbabwe Report of what it's like to live there - 12/08/13
Personal Experiences from Harare, Zimbabwe
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Tenth expat experience: three in South Asia, two in Latin America, two in Europe, one in Africa, one in the Far East, and one in the Middle East, one in Kansas.
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?
Seattle. 22 hours. Either via Amsterdam or via Jo'burg-Atlanta.
3. How long have you lived here?
30 months this time so far; I have lived here for 40 months before between 2000 and 2003.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. State Department.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The housing is among the best in the Foreign Service. The actual houses can be old (average age is 50 years), but the plots tend to be large with lots of trees and flowering plants. Most have swimming pools, some tennis courts. The neighborhoods are quiet. The embassy, the school, shopping, your friends are generally about a 15 minute drive away.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available, although the brands are 90% South African, not U.S. or European. Prices are similar to those in the U.S.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots of fried chicken, pizza, and hamburger joints. Some decent restaurants too, but you will have gone to all of them in the first couple of months of living here. Chinese, Thai, Indian, Portuguese, Italian, and middle eastern are the ethnic choices. U.S. prices.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Very few flying insects. Most houses don't have screens; they aren't necessary.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Via the diplomatic pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
US$200 a month, live-in.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. U.S. prices.
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?
I use my U.S. Visa cards in ATMs here on occasion. Barclays, CBZ, and Stanbic take them. However, the machines are old, and sometimes eat the cards I've been told, although it's never happened to me. I also have a local Barclays Bank account and use a debit card from them. US$5 a month fee if you set it up through the U.S. embassy FMO. Quite first world: you get a courtesy text message on your cell phone within a few minutes of using it. Most restaurants and stores take such cards.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is all you need, although some Americans study Shona for the enrichment.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Few sidewalks. No infrastructure for those with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Trains and buses are not recommended. They are crowded and the drivers dangerous. Taxis I use quite often, but one should not hail them on the street. The ones from the major hotels are safe, almost always with seat belts. I maintain a list of trusted taxis on my cell phone. U.S. prices.
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?
SUVs give you the most versatility, however regular sedans are sufficient and equally as common. Plenty of diesel and unleaded fuel is available.
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. There are lots of veterinarians and kennels in town.
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?
The pay is quite low.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Coat and tie for men at the Embassy, however, most of your contacts won't be wearing such.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Some crime but nothing like in the major metropolises on this continent. I never lock my car.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There is a Regional Medical Officer assigned to Harare. Local facilities are reasonably good.
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?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Mild. Lowest temperature at night during the coldest month (July) is 45 Fahrenheit. Highest during the day during the hottest month (October) is 80 Fahrenheit. In general, all year round, the daytime temperature doesn't stray that much above or below 70 Fahrenheit.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is a well regarded international school - 65% expat, 35% local that has a U.S. curriculum.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Good ESL program.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large expat community. Morale is high. You can socialize solely within the expat community--it's large enough for that--or you can ignore it and seek out Zimbabweans. Most expats do both.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Wonderful for families. Good for couples. OK for singles, but this is not a big city: the night life is limited.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Same sex acts are illegal and attract jail sentences, and the president crudely rails against homosexuals occasionally, so be careful. See, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_by_country_or_territory.
However, I've known several gay people here in my two assignments--direct hires, LES, and local Zimbabweans--who live normal, although quiet lives.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
No. Zimbabweans are very much aware of their racial differences. It's part of their history. But they are also instinctively tolerant of each other and of foreigners, despite the ruling party's constant playing of the race card. Although Harare is a small town, there are all the same ethnic and religious groupings you'd find in any US city: blacks, whites, east Asians, south Asians, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, Mormons, and so forth. Makes for better restaurants.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
It's an out-of-doors place. You come here for the game parks, fishing, hunting, etc. You can have a BBQ on your patio 365 days a year. Don't come for big city culture, because it's not here.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Game drives. They'll change the way you look at zoos forever.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Zimbabwe teak wood furniture, Shona stone sculpture.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's relaxing. No air pollution, very little traffic, polite people, balmy weather, sunny skies.
9. Can you save money?
Yes. Between the high differential and COLA, it was easy to save.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. This is my second tour in Harare, I'd come a third time. Several of the officers at the Embassy now are on their second tours here, including the Ambassador and the USAID mission director. The majority of Americans assigned here extend their tours once on the ground. There's something about Zimbabwe ...