African heritage tourism and repatriation have been hot topics among many individuals throughout the African diaspora over the last decade or so. In addition to these influences, there are so many reasons to travel to the vast continent. It literally offers every form of terrain that is present on the planet. Exotic wildlife, scenic views, and beautiful beaches are but a few reasons why living on the continent is so enticing.
I was fortunate enough to live and work in Africa about 6-years ago as I have shared in other posts. This was a once in a lifetime experience for me and my family that I will forever cherish. Every time I share my journey with others I am often bombarded with a host of questions about life on the continent. If fact, the other day one of my clients asked me a number of questions about expat life on the continent. This is a topic that comes up frequently in my coaching sessions.
So I have compiled a list of tips and suggestions for those who are interested in working and living in an African country. Keep in mind that these suggestions are for individuals who plan to seek employment opportunities before they go to the continent.
In general, I don’t recommend that anyone relocates to an African country before they secure employment, volunteer, business, or similar opportunities unless they are financially independent. African nations, like many other developing parts of the world, don’t tend to have the same level of economic stability as more developed countries. Securing gainful employment is quite challenging in local markets for many African citizens and local pay tends to be significantly lower than that of westernized countries.
However, a number of multi-national companies, non-governmental organizations, and national agencies have had a presence in Africa for many years. A growing number of foreign colleges and universities are also establishing campuses in African countries. As such, there are a number of expatriate opportunities in many African nations for qualified individuals. Such opportunities tend to come with equitable salaries, and paid accommodations, utilities, transportation, and many other perks to expat workers.
So if you are thinking about joining the African expat workforce, here are a few things you should consider:
Visas and Passports
In order to legally stay in most African countries for an extended period of time you need a work, volunteer, business, or marriage visa. Tourist visas are generally only valid for 1-3 months at a time. Even extended one-year or longer tourist visas generally require visitors to leave and re-enter the country within 1-3 month intervals. This process can be very expensive and burdensome.
If you secure employment, volunteer, business, or similar opportunities prior to arriving in your country of choice, you can generally start or finalize your visa before you arrive. Most organizations connected to employment and volunteer opportunities will handle this process for you. If you are starting a business, you may not be able to begin this process until you arrive in the country.
It is also very important to keep in mind that most visa issuing embassies require at least 3-6 months of validity on your passport from your date of arrival. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that you have at least 1-year of validity as it may take a few months to process your visa. Also, you may not have time to get to your embassy of citizenship in the foreign nation to renew your visa right away – assuming that there is one in the country.
Transportation in and around most African nations is quite straightforward. Many African countries have bustling transportation systems that include commuter and motorcycle taxis, public and private buses and vans, rental vehicles, and the like. You can likewise purchase or lease a vehicle if you choose to drive while living in an African nation. It is a good idea to check driver license rules and regulations before you leave to ensure that this is a viable option.
Another consideration when driving in some African nations is which side of the road is used. The country that you choose may drive on the opposite side of the road than your country of origin. So it may take some time getting acclimated to the driving conditions and shipping your vehicle may not be a viable option.
Safety and Security
In general, most African countries share the same safety and security features as any other country in the world. Some regions have high-end, luxury, gated communities with 24-hour security on post. While other communities are riddled with crime, drugs, sex-workers, and the like. Still, there are other communities that have a mix of both of these dynamics. Typically expats are placed in more secure areas of the country, which means that they encounter few safety issues that adversity effect their stay.
Many people think about constant civil war, fighting, and unrest when they consider the safety and security of African nations. Yes, these things are going on in certain parts of Africa. However, few expats are impacted by them because they don’t tend to live in regions of countries where such activities regularly take place. There are many expats living full, safe, and protected lives in some of the countries where civil unrest, fighting, war, poverty, etc. is a constant facet of life. Even more, many multi-national corporations still have thriving businesses in some of these same areas.
Locally grown and manufactured products and goods are plentiful and easily accessible in most African nations. Such items are usually less expensive than imported products from foreign countries that are often available in most African countries. You will be able to find all your basic needs in the average African country.
Keep in mind that the quality and style of locally grown and produced goods may vary. Locally grow foods are usually fresh, organic, and of the highest quality. On the other hand, you probably won’t be able to find your favorite clothing brands or certain tech items in local markets.
But don’t fret – a number of African countries have malls and foreign-owned retail outlets packed with western apparel, electronics, and other goods. These items are usually more expensive due to import taxes and tariffs. So be prepared to spend more for them in Africa than you would in the country they originated from.
Healthcare is an area of major concern when living in an African country. In general, African countries don’t have the same level of technological capabilities to deliver the same quality of care often available in westernized countries. Also, there is a significant brain drain in most African nations as many of these countries lose top-tier talent to westernized nations that pay better salaries. This means that the physician to population ratio can be dangerously low in some regions.
On the other hand, most African nations are ripe with spiritual and herbal healers, sangomas, and the like. In my experience, I have found these practices to be more effective for the treatment of a number of disease states. However if you don’t subscribe to such medicinal practices, you need to seriously consider your healthcare needs before moving to an African country.
If you have a chronic disease that requires you to take prescription drugs, you should determine if the drugs are available in the African nation you are considering moving to. If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you may want to prepare for delivery in your country of origin. If you have other major medical concerns, you need to do your research to determine which healthcare options are best for your situation.
Climate and Weather
While Africa is the hottest continent on earth, it has diverse climates and weather patterns. Many people believe that it is extraordinarily hot on the entire continent throughout the year. This is generally not the case for any particular region, though some regions stay warmer than others year-round.
West, central, and parts of east and southern Africa tend to have a tropical climate, which includes balmy summers contrasted by very wet rainy seasons. Northeast Africa has a dry, hot desert climate that experiences little rainfall. Many parts of the continent have cooler winters and it even snows in certain regions such as southern Africa. So also consider the climate and weather dynamics when planning to live and work in an African country.
There are many things to think about when preparing to live as an expat in an African nation. The culture, language, cuisine, and other elements may be quite different than what you have experienced in your country of origin. So plan and prepare for your journey wisely!