For some, it seems that even the most lucrative expat packages can't make life in Angola attractive. This anonymous interviewee lets loose about Luanda and explains just what expats can expect from life in a country still recovering from 27 years of civil war. This engaging expat experience is a must-read for future assignees.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I'm originally from a small village on the west coast of Scotland.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Luanda, Maianga. Angola.
Q: How long you have you lived here?
A: We moved here in August 2009.
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: With husband and child (he was 9 months old when we arrived)
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: My husband was posted here with an embassy and I found a job with the UN.
About Luanda, Angola
Q: What do you enjoy most about Luanda, how’s the quality of life in Angola?
A: Luanda is a very difficult city to live in as an expat, and overall I would rank the quality of life very low indeed. It is important to get out of the city on weekends and there are several good lodges and beaches not far from Luanda.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Traffic is a big problem in Luanda: drivers are chaotic and aggressive and policemen randomly stop people wanting baksheesh (bribes). It is important not to part with your driving licence or you could spend a week battling with the bureaucracy to retrieve it. A journey across town can take seven minutes or well over an hour. When it rains the streets become rivers and I heard a story of a motorcyclist disappearing in a hole in the road.
There are very limited cultural /social /sporting activities and those that exist are expensive.
Grocery shopping is complicated, despite the fact that there are several supermarkets in the city. Everything is imported in Angola, which (along with corruption at the port) outrageously inflates prices – always check the prices! Sometimes whole aisles are filled with only one product, which might then be unavailable for weeks.
Angola has one of the most uneven distributions of wealth in the world. It's not unusual to see a woman decked out in Chanel and Vuitton, behind the wheel of a Hummer or Porche Cayenne drive past a man with polio looking for something to eat in a pile of rubbish.
Q: Is Luanda safe?
A: In 2010 the security situation remained generally stable. Although crime, including armed robberies, remains a serious challenge, the security situation generally has continued to improve. On 7th March there was a call for a demonstration against the regime. The government responded by threatening any potential demonstrators that they would feel the force of the Angolan military. The demonstration did not take place, though there are reports of many arrests. This demonstration is waiting to happen, though the memories of 27 years of civil war are still too fresh and raw.
About living in Angola
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Luanda as an expat?
A: Maianga and Mirimar are two good neighbourhoods in the city centre. Many expats live in Talatona, a new city south of Luanda, but the commute from this area to the city can be treacherous; some workers have to leave at 5.30am to get to work by 8.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Luanda?
A: Accommodation is often sub-standard and/or incredibly expensive. Water and electricity are both problematic so you need to ensure you have both a generator and a water tank.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Luanda is the most expensive city in the world for expats. Everything is approximately double or triple the prices in Europe. Fruit and vegetables can be bought from women on the street, but are not cheaper than the supermarket.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I have travelled widely and one of the things I enjoy best about being an expat is to meet the local people. Angola, however, is different from all the other countries I have lived in and I have been unable to make friends among the local people. A good working knowledge of Portuguese is essential to socialise with Angolans.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: There are many expats living and working in Luanda, but its not always easy to meet new people as there are few places to meet. The oil companies have created their own infrastructure (pools, clubs, restaurants, yacht clubs etc) which are closed to outsiders. For me, it took time and effort to build a social network, but there are people out there!
About working in Angola
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: Obtaining an Angolan visa is not easy. One of the big problems seem to be ensuring the whole family can renew their visas together (I have a friend who had to leave Angola with the children while the husband renewed his visa first). New regulations have made it still more difficult for NGOs to acquire working visas. I have no idea about tourist visas as I don’t know anyone who came to Angola as a tourist.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?
A: It is not easy to find work here locally as companies can only hire expats if the company can prove that they can’t find a qualified Angolan to fill the position. Most spouses do not find work here.
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: It takes time and effort to adjust to life in Luanda and dealing with the stress of everyday life in Luanda puts a strain on many relationships.
Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: My child is too young to understand, but friends with teenagers have a difficult time as young people here have very limited activities and no freedom.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: There is a good French lycée in the city, and an international school in the new city south of Luanda. My child goes to a French crèche in the Total compound three mornings a week and an Angolan crèche two mornings a week and I’m very happy with both of them. I will enrol him in a small Montessori school next year.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Angola?
A: I haven’t had the need to find out, but would recommend ensuring medical evacuation is included in health insurance schemes for serious health issues.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Expats meet every Thursday night at the Viking Club in Maianga. There is a bar and every month there is a lecture or presentation. Good way to meet people from embassies, UN, NGOs and private sector.
Try to leave the country at least every three months. There are direct flights to Cape Town and Windhoek, both of which provide a welcome change. Sign up for air miles!
~ interviewed March 2011