A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in Tanzania
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- Gilberto Vieira
Finding contacts among the expats in Tanzania's tourism industry wasn't half as difficult as I had feared.
Life in Tanzania
- As one of the most diverse countries in Africa, you can expect a very different cultural experience when moving to Tanzania.
- The medical facilities in Tanzania are most definitely not of the same standard as those available in western countries. Make sure you talk to your doctor about necessary vaccinations needed before moving.
- If you want to enroll your child in an international school, you need to get in there early as spaces are limited. For younger children, it is the cultural “norm” for expat families to employ a nanny or household help.
Where Is Tanzania?
Tanzania has an area of 947,300 sq km and is located in eastern Africa on the Indian Ocean. It shares its longest borders with Kenya (to the northeast) and Mozambique (to the southeast), but also borders Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia. To the east, Tanzania is bordered by the Indian Ocean. Three of Africa’s largest lakes also border sections of the country: Lake Victoria in the north, Lake Tanganyika in the west, and Lake Nyasa in the southwest.
Tanzania is made up of three geographical regions: the islands and coastal plains in the east, a saucer-shaped plateau in the center and west, and the highlands in the northeast. Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa standing at 5,895m, lies in these northeastern highlands. Another special geographical feature is the Great Rift Valley, which cuts through the center of the country.
From Tropical to Temperate: Tanzania’s Climate
Tanzania’s climate varies from tropical in the coastal areas to temperate in the highlands. In the coastal plains and plateau regions, temperatures range from 25-31°C during the hottest months (November – February) and 15-20°C in the coldest months (May – August). Temperatures in the highlands range between 10-20°C.
Some areas in Tanzania have only one rainy season per year, while others have two. The southern, southwestern, central and western parts of the country have a single rainy season, which lasts from December to April. The northern region of the country, including Dar es Salaam and Arusha, has two annual rainy seasons. People living in this area of Tanzania distinguish between the short rains (Vuli) from October to December and the long rains (Masika) from March to May.
Culture and Demographics
There are about 55.5 million people living in Tanzania. In the five decades since its independence, Tanzania’s population has almost quintupled. The population is particularly concentrated in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar City and their metro areas. Despite these urban centers, just under 70% of the people living in Tanzania still reside in rural areas.
Tanzania is one of the most diverse countries in Africa. On the mainland, around 99% of the population is ethnically African, coming from over 120 different tribes, almost all of them Bantu. On Zanzibar, the people are of Arab, African, or mixed Arab and African descent. On the mainland, the population is almost evenly split between Islam, Christianity (mostly Roman Catholicism), and indigenous religions. Over 99% of the population of Zanzibar is Muslim.
Life in Tanzania is characterized by a mix of African, Arab, European and Indian cultural influences. Kiswahili (Swahili) and English are both official languages. Kiswahili is the lingua franca of central and eastern Africa and the country’s unifying language. Most people living in Tanzania speak one of the 158 local languages as their first language. Arabic is widely spoken on Zanzibar. English is the primary language of business, government administration, and higher education.
Health Precautions: Know Your Jabs
Before you begin your life in Tanzania, you will want to make sure you take the proper medical precautions. The risk of catching a serious infectious disease is quite high. These diseases include hepatitis A, typhoid fever, yellow fever, malaria, dengue fever, and rabies. The HIV/AIDS rate in the country is also quite high at 4.7% of the population.
In addition to checking that all your routine vaccinations are up to date, you should also be vaccinated against Hepatitis A and typhoid fever. Other vaccines to consider are Hepatitis B, yellow fever, and rabies (if you will be in contact with animals). Talk with your doctor about the best anti-malarial medicine option for you and whether you need to start taking it before your departure.
Once you start living in Tanzania, be sure not to drink the tap water, as it is full of bacteria and parasites. Many expats get water filtration systems installed in their homes to minimize the risk of contracting waterborne diseases. Malaria-carrying mosquitoes are another big problem. In addition to taking anti-malarial medicine, getting your home regularly sprayed against mosquitoes, sleeping under mosquito netting, and using insect repellant are other precautionary measures you can take. Remember that May through July is considered high malaria season in Tanzania.
Health and Safety in Tanzania
Medical Facilities Not Up to Scratch?
The quality of local medical facilities in Tanzania is often well below the standard of those in Western countries. Most expats visit an expat health clinic in their city of residence when they are in need of medical care. For more serious cases, you will be transferred to Nairobi or Johannesburg. To get you started after your arrival, it’s a good idea to bring along a few months’ worth of any prescription medications you require.
There are two public health insurance schemes in Tanzania. The first is the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), which is mandatory for all public sector employees and voluntary for private sector employees. The contribution is 3% from the employer and 3% from the employee. Signing up for the Social Health Insurance Benefit (SHIB) is voluntary for members of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). Despite requiring no extra contributions, only about 10% of NSSF members participate in SHIB, due to its relatively small network of healthcare facilities and limited range of coverage.
You will have to discuss with your employer whether or not you will receive any public health insurance coverage during your stay in Tanzania. Either way, it is strongly advisable to sign up for a comprehensive private health insurance plan either on your own with an international insurance company or through your company. Make sure that you know exactly what your plan covers and that full medical evacuation insurance is included in your plan.
Rising Crime Rates in the Commercial Capital
Although generally considered safer than many other African countries, crime rates in Tanzania are unfortunately on the rise, especially in Dar es Salaam. Expats should rent a house or apartment in a gated compound with 24-hour security guards and an alarm system, as robberies are common. Pickpocketing and theft is a frequent problem on public transportation and in city centers. The number of violent crimes and homicides has also been increasing.
Use your common sense whenever you are out and about. Do not walk around at night. Make sure you know how to get immediate help in any situation. Have your embassy or consulate’s contact information with you at all times, as well as your doctor’s contact information, and know where the nearest hospital or medical facility is. Women should dress modestly, especially on Zanzibar, to avoid harassment.
Tanzanians are a friendly people and will usually be willing to help, but you should also be careful not to let yourself be taken advantage of. It is not unusual for locals, even the police, to ask for money and bribes. They know that expats generally have more money than they do and are not afraid to ask for some. Many expats and tourists fall victim to frauds and scams.
House Hunting: What You Need to Know
Expats generally rent an apartment or house during their stay in Tanzania. As the government owns all the land, buying property isn’t an option, although the government can lease it out for a period of up to 99 years. Good housing options which are up to Western standards can be found in the major urban centers such as Dar es Salaam, Arusha, and Zanzibar. When negotiating your contract, it is very important to find out if your accommodation is included, as expat housing can be exorbitantly expensive, especially in Dar es Salaam.
It is usually a good idea to wait until you can visit a house or apartment personally before you sign a rental contract. You can either find housing on a previous visit before your actual move or initially live in temporary housing and search for a home after you have arrived in Tanzania.
There are several ways to go about finding an apartment or house in Tanzania. You can check online ads or the ads at shopping centers or in local newspapers. Expat forums and talking to other expats you meet once you have arrived is also a good option. Alternatively, you could have a real estate agent drive you around and show you different possibilities. If you are in Arusha, you can pay to post a listing describing what you are looking for in the Arusha Mailing, an email that goes out to most expats and companies in the city.
Housing and Schools in Tanzania
Before you sign your rental contract, you should get answers to the following questions:
- Does the property get good and sufficient water and electricity?
- Can you get internet in your area?
- Who will pay for repairs – you or your landlord?
- Does a connection need to be installed for a washer and dryer?
- Are utilities included in the rental price?
- How secure is the compound? Is there a house alarm and a security guard on duty 24 hours a day?
Once you’ve found a place that fulfills all your criteria, it’s time to settle on a rental price. Remember, bargaining is part of Tanzanian culture, so it can’t hurt to try to lower the price for your accommodations. Many landlords will require a year’s rent up front, but this is also negotiable. See if you can pay your rent in three or six-month installments instead. And finally, make sure there is a written contract, whether it is drawn up by you or your landlord.
Hiring Household Help
One thing that many expats in Africa come to appreciate is the ease of hiring one or more local Tanzanians to help with the running of their household. Most expat families have a housekeeper and/or nanny and a cook, in addition to one or more security guards. Even if it may seem strange to you and you don’t think you need anyone to help out with the household, it is almost seen as a social obligation for expats in Tanzania to employ household help, as it is inexpensive (by expat standards) and you are providing much-needed jobs for the local population.
International Schools: Get On the Ball
There are a number of excellent international schools in Tanzania. The most popular schools are often overbooked, so it’s important to apply for a spot as soon as possible. When applying, you will require your child’s birth certificate and a copy of their school records. After you arrive, your child will probably also have to come in for an assessment and to spend a couple hours at the school.
Here is a list of some of the most popular international schools in Tanzania:
- International School of Tanganyika, Dar es Salaam
- Aga Khan Nursery & Primary School, Dar es Salaam
- Aga Khan Secondary School, Dar es Salaam
- Haven of Peace Academy, Dar es Salaam
- International School Moshi, Moshi and Arusha
- St. Constantine’s International School, Arusha
- Mwanza International School, Mwanza
- Isamilo International School, Mwanza
And for the Youngsters…
If you are coming to Tanzania with under school-age children, there are several childcare options available. Many of the international schools offer classes for children of three years and older. In addition, as mentioned in the previous section, most expat families hire a nanny to help look after the kids.
This person will sometimes also help with the cooking, laundry, and other household tasks, depending on what you decide and what other household help you hire. Having a nanny is also helpful for older children, as school often only lasts until early afternoon, although many schools offer after-school activities.
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- Gilberto Vieira
Finding contacts among the expats in Tanzania's tourism industry wasn't half as difficult as I had feared.
- Chen Ming
Karibu Sana, fellow expats in Dar es Salaam or 'Dar', for short! You'll probably need some tips on the 'do's & 'don't's in Tanzania.