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Living in Namibia
A practical guide to the way of life in Namibia
Even though it is known as “Africa for Beginners”, living in Namibia is not without its challenges. You need to consider housing, health, safety, schools, and more. In this article, you’ll find all the information you need to help you make a smooth transition to life in Namibia.
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Life in Namibia
- Due to a high crime rate in Namibia, it is common for expats to be living in protected houses or neighborhoods.
- In Windhoek there are several international and private schools to choose for your children’s education.
- In Namibia there are both private and public hospitals, with private hospitals usually offering better service and more types of treatments.
- Even with large distances, traveling by car is the most practical method of transportation in Namibia.
The Housing Search
Finding housing in Namibia can be difficult, especially in Windhoek, and standards vary widely. You should wait until you have arrived in Namibia and can actually view apartments or houses before you sign a rental contract. Most expats live in houses with three or four bedrooms, many with a pool. If you are living in Namibia on a short-term contract, you can rent corporate serviced apartments on a monthly basis.
Before you begin your life in Namibia, you can start searching for accommodation at this Namibia property website. You can get in touch with real estate agents directly through this site, which will speed up your housing search considerably once you arrive. Another option is to get in touch with the expat community living in Namibia and see if anyone is leaving, as the turnover rate is quite high among expats.
When negotiating your rental contract, try to have your utilities included in the monthly rent. Water in particular is very expensive, as it is a scarce commodity. All terms of rental agreements can be freely negotiated between landlords and tenants, including the length of the lease and the initial deposit, although a one-year contract and a deposit of one month’s rent are customary.
Setting Up Your Household
Most expats employ one or more locals as a housekeeper or maid, gardener, or nanny. It is unusual to have a cook, and almost no one has a driver. Most hired help is not live-in, and employed on an hourly basis as opposed to full time. If you hire full-time domestic employees, they must be enrolled in the social security system at your expense and receive at least 24 days of paid leave per year.
In Windhoek, armed robberies do occur, so expats usually live in protected houses or compounds, with electric fences or high walls and bars on the windows, as well as security systems. You will see less of these types of safety precautions as you move outside the capital. In general, life in Namibia is much safer than in neighboring South Africa and many other African countries in this regard.
Rental Prices and Buying Property
It is a landlord’s market at the moment in Namibia, and prices have increased considerably over the past few years. Expats from Western European countries will likely still find the housing prices quite reasonable and be able to get good value for their money. Rental prices generally range from 15,000 to 45,000 NAD per month. These prices vary widely, however, based on quality, location, size, and other factors. Some single expats choose to share an apartment or house to cut costs while they are living in Namibia.
There are no restrictions on expats buying property in Namibia. Property in Windhoek usually sells for around 20,000 NAD per square meter in the city center and 16,000 NAD per square meter outside of the center. These prices are lower in Namibia’s smaller cities and towns.
The high price of certain items in Namibia may surprise you, but this is because many things need to be imported from South Africa or farther abroad. Therefore, you will find yourself paying a large amount for cars, furniture, electronics, and many foods. Depending on where you lived before coming to Namibia, you also might need to adjust to the lack of variety. Most items are available, but the selection may be much less than you’re used to.
If you’re living in Windhoek, there are three shopping malls and several major South African supermarket chains, but in smaller cities and towns, you will find considerably less variety. If you are a meat eater, then you’ve come to the right place; Meat is a major part of the Namibian diet. Most grocery stores and restaurants carry quality meat, from beef to zebra and oryx, at very reasonable prices. Some foods may be limited due to seasonal availability. Normal business hours are from 8:00 or 8:30 to 17:00 from Monday to Friday. Most stores close at 13:00 on weekends. The sale of alcohol on Sundays is forbidden.
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Schools and Healthcare in Namibia
Schools and Childcare
As one might expect, in Windhoek there are several international and private schools as well as many daycare and preschool options available. In addition to international schools, there are also Afrikaans, German, and British schools, among others. Some schools offer bilingual education. Many schools offer daycare and preschool classes, some even for infants. Places are limited for all grades, so getting a spot for your child in your first choice school can sometimes be difficult. There are fewer options to choose from in Namibia’s smaller cities and towns.
Here are some of the most popular international and private schools in Namibia:
- Windhoek International School
- Deutsche Höhere Privatschule Windhoek
- St. Paul’s College, Windhoek
- Windhoek Gymnasium Private School
- The Windhoek Waldorf School
- St. George’s Diocesan School, Windhoek
- The International School of Walvis Bay
- Die Privatschule Swakopmund
- Die Deutsche Privatschule Otjiwarongo
- Die Deutsche Privatschule Otavi
Namibia is generally a very safe country, especially compared to neighboring South Africa. Still, the high rate of poverty and unemployment leads to a fair amount of opportunistic crime. The most common types of crimes are pickpocketing, purse-snatching, and vehicle theft and break-ins. If you take common sense safety measures, like keeping your valuables out of sight, you should not have much to worry about in this regard during your time in Namibia. Crimes of a violent nature are very rare.
There have been reports of foreigners being robbed when they hail unregistered, or private, taxis on the street. The Namibia Bus and Taxi Association (NABTA) is taking steps to counteract this by making sure all registered taxis have a prominently displayed registration number. Calling ahead for a taxi instead of catching one on the street can also decrease your chances of becoming a victim of crime.
In an emergency, call 1011 for police services.
Unfortunately — like many other countries in Africa — HIV is one of Namibia’s most prevalent health issues. It is estimated that over 13 percent of the population, aged 15 to 49, are currently living with HIV. Adequate treatment for the virus in rural communities is scarce, due to the high amount of poverty and lack of education. Consequently, there are many orphaned children in Namibia. Since HIV is an immunodeficiency virus, people who are infected become more susceptible to contracting other diseases. Malaria is commonly found in Namibia and usually can be cured. However, people who are infected with HIV have more serious symptoms of Malaria and often die from the disease.
If you will be living in Windhoek, anti-malarial medication is not required, but it is recommended for anyone living north of this point — especially in the peak malaria season between November and June. There are occasional cholera outbreaks in the Kunene Region in the north of the country.
Recommended vaccines for expats moving to Namibia include Hepatitis A and B, typhoid, rabies, and other routine immunizations such as MMR and polio. The quality of tap water in Namibia varies depending on which city you are located in. Most expats prefer to drink bottled water, since there are still cases of e-coli and other bacteria outbreaks. If you are wondering if the tap water is safe to drink in your destination, then check this water safety website.
Healthcare and Medical Insurance
Both public and private healthcare systems operate in Namibia, with major differences in the quality of service provided. While the private facilities are well staffed and live up to Western standards, public hospitals are often understaffed and do not always offer all services, such as dialysis and organ transplants. The private hospitals in the capital are especially good and include the Mediclinic Windhoek.
To be admitted to most private hospitals in Namibia, you will either need to pay upfront, even if you have insurance, or provide a letter of guarantee from your health insurance provider, stating the maximum benefits available to you.
In Namibia, approximately 85% of the population is covered by public health insurance, while the remaining 15% have private insurance plans. You should check with your future employer to see if you and your family will be covered under a company health insurance plan. Make sure to carefully review exactly what will be covered. Depending on you and your family’s healthcare needs, you may wish to take out an additional international health insurance plan as well. Whatever you decide, it is important that your plan covers emergency dental care, hospitalization, and emergency transportation.
Transportation in Namibia
Despite the vast distances between cities, most people travel around Namibia by car, not plane. Part of this is due to Namibia’s extensive and well-maintained road network. Traffic in Namibia moves on the left. Only major highways are paved, and driving on gravel roads, even if they are well graded, holds potential dangers. Many people inexperienced with driving in Namibia don’t take the 60-120 km/h speed limit seriously on gravel roads, resulting in sometimes fatal accidents.
Driving after dark is not recommended. This is due to the danger posed by other drivers (drunk driving is a major problem) and animals on the road. If you do have to travel at night, for your safety, try not to stop along the road or at rest stops between towns. Other dangers include low visibility and slippery roads along the coast caused by dense fog and seasonal flooding in some parts of the country.
If you plan to visit some of Namibia’s more remote regions, be sure to plan accordingly. Always inform someone of your itinerary, and plan to check in with that person occasionally so they know where you are if something does not go as planned. If you plan on driving in the countryside, it is recommended to bring spare tires, at least five liters of water per passenger, and a satellite phone — as cell phone reception is patchy away from the major towns and highways. Gas stations are few and far between, so top up your tank whenever you see one. Most gas stations only accept cash. Tipping gas station attendants around 3-5 NAD is common, as they usually also perform extra services like checking the oil, water, and tire pressure.
If you don’t have your own car, so-called “combis”, or shared minibus taxis, run frequently between busy population centers. They vary in comfort and safety, although they make up for it in price, costs start at about 16 NAD per 100km.
Long-distance buses also operate between major cities. They are faster than trains, but have limited connections and departure times. Check out the Intercape Mainliner or the Town Hoppers Shuttle Service websites for more information.
Passenger train services are offered by the Starline Passenger Service — part of the TransNamib railway company — and connect all major destinations in Namibia. Trains are quite slow, as they stop frequently, but are a bit less expensive than long-distance buses. Railways in Namibia are used primarily for freight, although more routes are planned to be built in the future with the hopes that more people will switch from using buses to trains.
Windhoek Hosea Kutako International Airport (WDH) is Namibia’s main international airport. It is located 45 km east of the capital. Windhoek Eros Airport (ERS), the hub for domestic flights, lies 5 km south of the city center. Air Namibia operates flights there to Rundu, Katima Mulilo, and Ondangwa. Most domestic destinations can be reached within two hours, but tickets are quite expensive.
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