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Relocating to Africa? 15 Things you must know before you move to an African country.

There are often challenges people face when they move to a new country and especially a new continent. 

There are a lot of things they are new to. Oftentimes the culture is different, the language, food, climate, social and economic construct is often different from what they are normally used to.

It definitely takes a while to settle in and get comfortable in a new country considering the difference in cultural norms and way of life of the people.

When coming from a more developed or first world country to Africa, which is in most cases is not as developed and automated as the country you might be coming from. There is a lot of adjusting and getting used to that needs to be done. 

If you are moving from the West, you will quickly find out that certain things are done quite differently from what you are used to. So you need to be open minded and willing to learn and adjust.

Let’s take housing for instance. In most countries in Africa, house rent is paid annually, even biannually and not monthly. 

You might argue that this is not good because it will be difficult to raise such a huge sum of money at a time. But on the flip side, once you have paid your annual rent you won’t be bothered about paying your house rent until another year comes. 

So this, like some points I will be stating in this article, will be relative.

A challenge you might have as an expat or diasporan repatriating to Africa is that online shopping and easy delivery is not as great as it is in the West. 

Africa is certainly improving in this area with new African businesses and startups trying to solve the problem. 

However, it is still difficult to order a product online and have it delivered to your home in a few days. 

Heck, Amazon does not deliver directly to most African countries. We hope that as things progress this challenge will be a thing of the past.

In this article we will be discussing 15 things to know and be at peace with before you move to Africa. Precisely an African country. 

These things are mostly relative. Some are cons and some are pros.

1. African culture and way of life of the people

For someone coming from the West you will find that people hold their customs and traditions very dearly and they practise it too. 

You will notice when you visit a country like Nigeria that people wear their native attire known as Ankara. Weddings in most african countries are not complete until the traditional one is done. 

In Ethiopia you can’t escape having coffee in every household you visit. They love their coffee ceremony locally called Jebena buna. Coffee Is sold every corner you turn and it is a very special and dear traditional practice by the Ethiopians. 

The Ethiopians have a beautiful Coffee tradition.

Greeting is another very important aspect of African culture. 

People greet and respect each other, the younger ones are expected to greet first when they are in a place where people are older. 

Greeting is so important that people see it as a way of life. They can ask you about work, family, children and life while greeting you and it’s considered normal. 

For diasporans it might be seen as an intrusion of privacy but people just want to know that you are alright.  You will have to get used to this as well as people(neighbours)  coming to visit you sometimes without informing you.

There is a sense of community and support amongst the people. And people live simple lives and are truly happy and content.

Cultural beliefs and systems are gradually changing with the younger generation doing things differently and being more open to doing things differently from what they knew growing up thanks to technology and globalisation. 

As an African I grew up watching so many American movies and I know that a lot of us wanted to be like the westerners and even started doing things like them. 

This has both negative and positive impact because valuable traditions and identities of the people are gradually being extinct. 

On the other hand it is positive because negative cultures, beliefs and traditions like female genital mutilations, killing of twins, out casting of people from certain tribes, amongst others are also being dropped due to enlightenment and sensitization.

2. Come for a brief visit before you move

If you plan to move to Africa, It is wise to come for a short visit. I advise that you stay for at least a month in the country you intend to relocate to. 

Take the time to visit as many places as you can, this is like doing field research

Find out what area you want to live in. This decision will be influenced by whether you are single or you have a family.  

How close is your apartment to major areas in the city, say the beach, school, shopping mall, restaurants and clubs etc. 

You also want to look at the security in the area you intend to live in. 

Begin to set things up before you finally move; 

  • get your apartment
  • open a local bank account, 
  • get your international drivers license ready 
  • Get your car and so on.

3. Accessibility to things you are used to are limited

Certain things that are readily available and affordable to you in developed countries will be scarce to find in Africa and if you find them they would be quite expensive. 

For instance, certain brands of food, snacks, beauty products, electronics and furniture that are available in the West.. 

Things like Electronics, beauty products, clothes, shoes, equipment or tools if you want them at par with the standard you are used to will cost you.

There are no IKEA stores in Africa where you just walk in and order your favourite furniture items.

The reason why it’s difficult to get some of your favourite products in Africa at a similar price like the states for instance is that these products are produced en masse in the US and supplied to Walmart, Target and other malls the prices are cheaper and the quality is not compromised. Cost of production is highly minimised.

But if you find such products or brands of similar quality here in Africa, usually it’s more expensive . This is because of the shipping fees as well as custom duties and tax on the products.

Food is an essential aspect of our lives, and something we can’t do without. Most westerners enjoy eating out. What you will discover when you move  to an African country is that most people eat at home. People prefer home cooked meals

Of course people also eat out. There are lots and lots of restaurants and fast food joints but people will eat out if they want to have fun and relax with their families or friends and that’s once in a while. 

And most times they hang out in the local restaurant where the local food is prepared. Africans love their local foods.

You also won’t have ready access to your favourite food or delicacies like Mcdonalds, Starbucks, Taco Bells, Chick Fil A as those brands are not in Africa. Mc donalds is available in some African countries but it’s not everywhere.

The good thing about food however is that you get to change your choice of food to more healthier ones. 

Less fast food or junks and more healthy, properly cooked and nutritious food.

 The access to fresh fruits and food stuff directly harvested from the farm will help improve your health and help you lose some weight. 

Many expats testify to this.

4. Ship all that you can afford to ship before moving

Most things you are familiar with like I have stated in the previous point will be very difficult to find in Africa. 

Note that there are items that you can find in Africa for a better price too, you need to be selective about what you ship so that you save cost of shipping. 

There are some things you can get at a better price here in Africa and some things you are better off shipping.

I want to assume that before you move to your selected African country you must have visited and stayed for a period of 2 -4 weeks at least. 

During this period you must have done your field research. 

Visit major malls, restaurants and local markets to find out prices of Items you would need. 

Compare the prices of all the items you would be needing when you relocate. These are essential items for your apartment, clothes, shoes, furniture, food items, beauty supplies and everything that is important to you and you know you would love to have, living in Africa.

Ship Items you will like not get in Africa.
Photo credit: Tima-Miroshnichenko

Ship items you know that you will probably not find in Africa or will be expensive, then purchase items that you can easily find in Africa at a cheaper price and without any hassle. 

Some people would prefer to ship their cars to Africa instead of buying them over here because cars here can be expensive due to the shipping fee and custom duties. Plus you might not find your taste in Africa at a good price. 

So if having a car in Africa is a necessity for you and you can get a car cheaper overseas then it should be included in your shipping Items.

This is the best and effective way to go about shipping and it will save you a lot of stress and unnecessary spending.

5. Africa will test your patience

I don’t know if you have heard this African slogan  “African time” ?. That’s a real thing. 

People tend to take things slowly here and it will take a lot of getting used to. Especially if you are used to setting up appointments and meeting it to the time T.

If you are invited for instance to an event. You are more likely to be there on time.

People usually don’t go early for their appointments, even the person who gives an appointment doesn’t come early for that appointment. 

And as someone who is used to getting things done on time and meeting up with a said appointment you might find that really frustrating.

Sometimes you have planned your day and set up time to do things to go places or events and at the end of the day you end up doing just one or two of the things you planned to do for the day. 

Another thing you might find frustrating is finding skilled workers like mechanics, tailors, carpenters, and plumbers  to help you fix things or set up things for you. 

Sometimes they don’t keep to time, or do proper work. 

I suggest you get them highly recommended from a friend or find businesses who offer such services professionally.

6. The available development and Infrastructure is sub par

This point does not apply to all African countries but it is worthy of mentioning if we are comparing African countries with countries like the US or UK.

Most of the roads especially in the streets are not paved, and if they were paved when they were made initially,  it has deteriorated over time because of usage, and  it hasn’t been fixed due to poor maintenance. So the roads have potholes and are rough. 

This causes traffic jams and takes unplanned time off your schedule for the day.

Most westerners who have visited Africa have found it weird that most places do not have walkways. People walk just by the roadside. 

Another thing you will quickly discover is some west African countries especially the cities have open gutters. And a poor waste management system.

There is mostly an issue of poor maintenance culture in Africa. The  government doesn’t invest in the maintenance of major government properties like roads, electricity, medical facilities, educational institutions and so on. Which is not good since they get taxes and are put there for such things as these.

Now a lot of development and investment in Infrastructure have certainly began to crop up in most African countries recently. But infrastructural development still remains an issue.

7. Electricity and water outage is a norm

Electricity and water outage is a regular phenomenon. It goes out without notice and comes back without notice. 

You need to be prepared for this by having rechargeable lights. You can also set up a solar panel in your home or get a generator for backup. 

To solve the water problem you can have large storage containers to use when you are out of running water or you can fix up a borehole in your house if you can afford it. 

8. Your money goes far in Africa

You are coming from a developed country like Europe or the US. You have an advantage with your foreign currency over the local currency and your money goes far and can cover a lot. 

My advice is to keep the foreign currency source flowing while living in Africa. 

With that you can afford to live very comfortably and raise your living standard. 

Also you are helping to boost the local economy and put money in peoples hands by living here and spending here. You support local businesses and employ people.

9. Certain things are cheaper in Africa

There are certain things that you will find very affordable and easy to get. Food and naturally grown resources. Human resources are also cheap. 

You can get a nanny or help to take care of your kids, cook your meals and run errands at a very little cost compared to what you’ll be paying for a nanny overseas.  In Fact people will be glad to work with you because you will pay them more and they

Housing is also affordable in Africa if you are coming with your dollars or pounds. You can get a comfortable 2-3 bedroom apartment  from 200-600 dollars monthly. It can be higher than that of course if you want a very elegant and gigantic living space.

10. Your Living standards are higher

I say this to say that when you move to Africa you want to have a certain standard of living that is similar to the living standard you had in the West. 

You want to have stable electricity, available internet, water, good food, a good apartment and so on. So your living standards will be high, because your foreign currency can afford that.

Most Jobs in an African country will pay way less than you were paid in the WEST when compared. This is why the goal as an African repat is to have your income in dollars or pounds. It goes far in Africa.

Hence, it is advisable to get jobs from multinationals located in the country you are repatriating to that will pay you in dollars, pounds or similar to what you were being paid in the WEST. 

On the other hand, you can get remote jobs that enable you to work online from anywhere in the world and not need to be in a physical location.
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11. Socialising and making new friendships with the locals might take time

Unless you connect with other repats, and you are very good at making friends who are similar to you in thought process. It will take some time for you to get settled down and find your clique. 

It might be especially difficult to connect with locals who have similar daily settings and living standards and mindsets like you. 

Because you are coming from the WEST and the place you are coming into is quite different from what you are used to. And people see things differently.  This is relative.

Don’t get me wrong though, people are extremely friendly and want to be friends and help you out as much as they can.

But you will feel out of place sometimes when you are among locals who most times prefer to communicate in the local language. 

Don’t take my word for it however. Have an open mind, be friendly and willing to mingle with the locals. 

They are going to be an asset to you. They have the information and knowledge that you need to be comfortable in your new location. They know where you can get things and will be instrumental in helping you or your family navigate your new life in an African country.

12. You will be regarded as very rich

Africans in different countries have the names they call foreigners visiting the country, Ghanaians call foreigners Obroni, Gambians call them Toubab, Nigerians call them Oyibo. Usually that name is associated with being a foreigner, visitor or a person from abroad with a lot of money.

The moment they hear your accent they can tell that you are from what they regard as “the rich man’s country” whatever that is. They believe you have a lot of money stashed somewhere ready to be spent. Not all African think this way though.

Some will ask you to “give me something” sometimes right from the airport you are being asked for money. They usually go about asking for money nicely and it’s up to you to give them if you want to.

They usually increase the prices of the commodity they sell when you go to the market to buy things and they hear your accent. You have to have a good bargaining skill to mitigate this one. Or go with a local who knows the market well to help you buy the items.

Ordinarily, whether with a foreigner or not, the prices of things in the market are hiked when you ask a seller for the price.  it’s just the way the market works since there are no price tags placed on these items. 

You just have to bargain with them to a point you are satisfied with the price. Or go to other sellers and ask for the price of the same item. If you try about 3 sellers you will have an idea of the actual price of the item.

Local Africans hassle prices too, so don’t be bothered.  It’s just that we know better how to bargain prices, or we have an idea what the prices should normally go for.
Bargaining is an essential  skill to have when you move to Africa. You will find yourself bargaining prices a lot. This should actually be a point on its own.

13. Africa operates a pay as you go system

In most African countries there are no credit systems available. Everything you own is paid for in full. You pay for the house upfront, the land , the phones, the car or anything else you want to get. You  need to have your money upfront and you have to pay before you get it. 

Africa doesn’t operate a credit based system. Most Africans don’t even understand the concept. If you want to get something you need to save up, get the money upfront and then pay for it.

Some new start ups are beginning to introduce the credit based system in business however. 

For instance, real estate companies have embraced credit based systems because they realised that most of their clients can’t afford to buy houses by paying upfront. 

So they help them plan their payment based on their income for a period of 3 to 5 years.

I had a similar experience recently when I wanted to purchase a new phone. I was so impressed. And loved it.

I went to a phone brand outlet in the city I reside to buy a new phone and I had a budget. 

I knew I couldn’t surpass that budget because it was all the cash I had on hand. The sales person showed me several phones and I liked one in particular that was above my budget. 

I told her I liked the phone but I couldn’t afford it. So it was either I waited to save more money or I got a lower spec that was within my budget. 

She told me that they had an instalmental payment plan and that I could pay up within three months. 

I just had to pay a token(less than I even had on me), drop my details and go home with my new phone and they will deduct the money from my account in the next 3 months. It was safe and convenient. 

Honestly, I didn’t expect that and I totally loved the idea. It definitely encouraged me to go for a higher priced phone and it ultimately put more money in the business. 

Imagine how many people were able to get better phones because of this.

Africa definitely needs to keep up the pace with the rest of the world and I believe we are right on track.

14. You can never be over prepared for Africa.

No matter how prepared you think you are, there will be something you will discover you didn’t plan for.

Don’t fret though. Everything will be sorted out as you go. Things will definitely fall in place. All you need to do is plan, be financially ready and do your best to cross all Ts and dot all Is.

15. What is yours is yours

Most lands in Africa are ancestral lands. People have had these lands passed down to them from their forefathers. 

So you find that under normal circumstances the government rules the country and can intervene in certain situations concerning land ownership. However people own their land. And if the government is interested in a particular piece of land they will have to buy it from the original owners of the land.

 If you purchase land, build a business, buy a house or a car all those assets are yours for life. 

They won’t be taken over by the government as long as you are the legal owner and it’s on paper that you own the assets. They are yours for life. 

I give this point to compare with having assets in the West where there is a probability of your property being taken over by the government. 

The only time I believe your property can be confiscated is if you are involved in any illegal activities or you owe the bank a lot of money and you used your property as collateral.

It’s a great thing because you have something to leave your children.

Conclusion

If you haven’t already noticed, this post is written to give you the real deal about moving to Africa from anywhere outside the continent. You will agree with me that some of these fact are not so pleasant, my aim is to tell you as it is. Africa is not Utopia, it has its challenges and is still coming out of the effects of years of colonialism.

Despite its short comings, Africa is a beautiful continent that is home to billions of people. It definitely has so many things that you would love and many people who have moved to an African country are loving it.

Find out which country would be most appropriate for you and plan your move. I hope you find success in your journey.

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