Harare, Zimbabwe Report of what it's like to live there - 02/22/20
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?
No, I've also lived in Latin America, Europe, and Asia.
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. It's close to 24 hours, with a few different route options. Harare is just a one hour flight from Johannesburg, which connects you to the rest of the world. Direct flights to Cape Town, Lusaka, Nairobi, Addis, only a few others from Harare.
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?
Harare's expansive suburbs feature big houses and big yards. Pools and tennis courts are common. It's not a huge city, so commutes usually aren't too bad: 40 minutes being at the upper end. My drive to the Embassy is about half that.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Great selection of fruits and vegetables, and they are cheap. Good meat, too. Anything imported is expensive (though South African wine is reasonable).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Not much. Just think about specifically American (or other national) flavors you think you might crave. There are Chinese shops in town, but not a great selection of other Asian ingredients. This is a great place to grow your own garden...
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
A number of restaurants do delivery, including a great Thai option. Fast food options are limited to KFC and a few local chains of dubious quality.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Big harmless flat spiders that usually just sit still high on your wall are common. Ants now and then. Flies. Mosquitos (though Harare is safe from malaria due to elevation, not true for other parts of country). Adorable millipedes. termites (flying ones emerge from the ground and fill the air after the first rains).
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch. Amazon orders usually take fewer than two weeks. I would not consider local post...
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Expatriates are still typically paying the same USD salaries they did a year ago: around US $200-300. Over the course of the past year, Zimbabwe introduced its own currency which crashed, along with local incomes. I have seen a poll suggesting locals are paying their domestic staff about a tenth of what expatriates pay. So there is some debate on whether folks should pay the going rate, or keep paying the same USD salaries (which means domestic staff get paid much much more than say... teachers). Locals are really suffering in the current economic situation; who knows where things will stand a year from now.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are gyms and sports clubs. Many outdoor activities. The weather here is generally perfect.
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?
International cards are rarely accepted. ATMs rarely have cash and typically don't accept international cards anyway. When there is cash, expect a long line.
The money situation here is... bonkers. Hopefully it will be fixed within a year or so. The country used to be dollarized, but now there is an official local currency and USD transactions are illegal, but the reality is that most places still happily accept USD and will give you a fair exchange rate. The official exchange rate is NOT fair, and you will lose value when you exchange for local currency (using either mobile money, a bank card, or cash in the rare instances when you can find it). This explains why the USG gives a high COLA at the moment.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Folks speak English. Literacy is high. Some Shona, though, will help you win friends in Harare!
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be a challenge. The infrastructure of the city was great like 30 years ago, and probably still not ideal for folks with disabilities then, and has only declined.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are safe taxi services you can order by phone or app, but not hail on the road. Locals kombis (minivans)are quite dangerous.
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?
To take advantage of the beautiful countryside, you need an SUV. Around town, anything goes. Potholes can be problematic, but a lot of folks have tiny Japanese cars for commuting.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes! We have fiber, and can stream to our heart's content. It was ready when we arrived.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Brought an unlocked phone. Local carriers are 3G speed or so (the phone will say LTE, but its a lie). WhatsApp is ubiquitous. The government shut down the internet for a few days during protests in early 2019.
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?
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?
Many opportunities at the US embassy. Salaries on local economy are low, and there are skilled workers here.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are local and international NGOs, aid organizations.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Office environment is formal or business casual. Generally they follow British customs (judges still wear horsehair white wigs!).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
it's quite safe right now, especially relative to neighboring South Africa. That said, with the economic crisis, crime is getting worse, and there is a risk of deeper instability.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Private medical care is quite good, and Johannesburg is close in case of medevac for something serious.
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?
Great. Some wood/trash burning sometimes, but generally it feels great to be outside in the glorious weather.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Not much specific to say... peanuts are common here...
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
The political violence has been terrible in this country. Mosts of us just read about it but live in a bubble. Some of us interact directly with victims. It can take a toll.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
I love the weather all year. Some compare it to Southern California. Winter June-August does get cold enough for a jacket, hat, and fireplace. That is also the dry time of year, and it heats up quickly with October being the hottest month. Then rainy season comes in November - March/April. But it's not like a monsoon. Thunderstorms and rainy days now and then, but most days are still quite pleasant overall.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We are happy with Harare International School. Good teachers. Sometimes the administration seems disorganized.
2. 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?
Many great preschool options, including one with big open spaces, animals and a pony. It felt surreal coming from DC. Prices are reasonable.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, many options.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
A number of embassies and NGOs make for a good community, and easy to befriend Zimbabweans. high morale. Most people are happy to be 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?
There isn't a huge nightlife or cultural scene (though Zim does have great artists; I highly recommend checking out the multiple art shows per year), but many sporting and outdoors-themed groups
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Ideal for families with young children. Social scene may be quiet for singles, but if you love the outdoors... lots to do, and there are many hardcore safari/camping opportunities that would be difficult with kids. older kids might find the class sizes and range of activities small...
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Within the expat community, fine, but local views on LGBT seem very retrograde, and not many leaders seem willing to take a stand on the issue, even if privately they seem tolerant. The head of a major school where some Embassy kids go got outed and removed in a big scandal, and is now a fellow at Harvard (Google the story).
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes. While it is a poor country overall, Zimbabweans are quite well educated, friendly, have great senses of humor. It's easy to get to know people. The white and black communities seem very separate/distinct, but this is a post where you can make friends across the spectrum.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
The business world is certainly male-dominated. There was a politically motivated genocide against the Ndebeles in the 80s and still open societal wounds. A huge percentage like 80% of the whites left after Mugabe's thugs threw them off their farms in the 2000s. Today I don't sense too much racial tension. As I often get mistaken for a white Zimbabwean, I don't get made to feel uncomfortable in any way. One local friend described the white and black communities like "roommates who mind their own business." Asians will always be assumed to be Chinese, and attitudes seem generally unfavorable.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Great in-country travel and adventures. Many great national parks with epic animals and scenery. Nyanga (eastern highlands) is stunning, and a change of scenery from the rest of the region.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
You can see many great animals including an amazing pangolin at Wild is Life in Harare (and sip cocktails at the end -- great date night).
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Shona stone sculpture is famous/beautiful. Many great pieces, affordable, but unfortunately very heavy. You can find great paintings for very affordable prices. Baskets.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Harare is rightfully considered a gem in the expat/diplomatic community. You get the perks of being in a hardship post, but yet life is actually quite comfortable. Great weather, safe, nice people, nice shops/restaurants (though not a "foodie" town), no malaria risk in the city, easy access to Johannesburg and the developed world, and amazing outdoor adventures abound.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How much would be available at the grocery store.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter coat, air mask.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, hat, swimming suit, sense of adventure.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Books: The Fear, Peter Godwin (this is a lovely place, but the political violence is shocking, and isnt over). Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight (memoir of a white Zimbabwean living through the war as a child and transitioning to the new world after).
6. Do you have any other comments?
The diplomatic community, with our access to foreign currency salaries, truly lives in a bubble here. Even the upper middle class types are struggling right now. As I write this, we are in the midst of a full blown economic crisis. Have to keep that in mind while we sip cocktails at dusk and be sensitive when discussing first world problems around locals. Hopefully things will get better.