Tanzania has been my home for a little over two years now. One thing I have learned as an expat is that living in a country is a very different experience to simply visiting it.
I may be stating the complete obvious here to some. But having visited Tanzania a few times before settling here as an expat, I thought I knew the country quite well. However, living here has definitely made me see it from a completely different perspective. You get to understand a country, its culture and way of life on a much deeper level. Some of it has been incredibly eye-opening and positive. While other parts have been a real challenge.
But no matter where you are in the world, there are always going to be positives and negatives. And throughout the madness, there has been an abundance of great memories too. I have learned A LOT through living in Tanzania as an expat. Not just about the country, but about myself too. Also if I hadn’t come to Tanzania, I wouldn’t have met my boyfriend and we wouldn’t have our beautiful daughter Amelie now. So for this reason, Tanzania will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Recently I asked you on Instagram what you would like to know, and you had a lot of questions!!! So in this little Q&A with myself, I have tried to give a true picture of what it is like living in Tanzania – the good, the bad, and the ugly! I’ll be covering topics such as:
- What it’s like where I live
- Finding an expat job in Tanzania
- Things I love about living in Tanzania
- Transportation options
- What the local food is like
- Cost of living
- Nightlife and social activities
- Whether you need a visa
- Expat challenges in Tanzania
**Disclaimer: This is a mammoth post with lots of info, so make sure you’re sitting down with a cup of tea or coffee!**
Life as an expat in Tanzania
Where do you live in Tanzania? What is it like?
When most people think of Africa, there is quite often this misconception that everyone lives in mud huts in the middle of nowhere. While this may be true in more rural areas, and for certain tribes like the Maasai; the cities and towns (such as Dar es Salaam, Arusha, and Moshi) are far more built up with an array of shops, restaurants, bars, street vendors, offices, markets, transport hubs, and housing.
I live in a town called Moshi, which is located in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. Our house is situated in one of the suburbs outside of the town centre. Like most houses here, we live in a one-storey brick/cement house with a corrugated iron roof. Inside is newly-refurbished with tiled floors. There’s an open plan living/dining space with a small kitchen and two bedrooms, each with their own bathroom. I love that there are also plenty of windows (although a cleaning nightmare), which makes the house feel very light and spacious. One thing westerners find quite quirky is that there is a sink in the dining area, which you’ll find in most houses here. Tanzanians take personal hygiene very seriously, and will always wash their hands before and after eating food (regardless of whether they plan to eat with their hands or cutlery).
Sadly we don’t have a garden, but we DO have a banana and mango tree, which is a real treat when the fruits are in season. When you step outside of our compound onto the main road, you can also get awesome views of Mount Kilimanjaro on a clear day. For me, that is the perfect way to start the day before heading to work.
How do you make a living? Is it easy for expats to get jobs?
I currently work for a local tour operator that specializes in wildlife safaris, mountain climbs, beach holidays and cultural excursions. I am responsible for the company’s marketing and sales and a big part of my role is generating new business. Whether that’s dealing with client enquiries or finding new agents to work with. I also try to find ways to market the business through various online communication channels. All in all, it has been an interesting experience working in the tourism sector here and I love that I basically get to talk to people all day long about Tanzania.
I can’t really comment on how easy it is to find a job here. There are websites like Idealist and Zoom Tanzania where you may sometimes find jobs advertised. But from my own experience, I have found it is very much a case of “who you know” here. It also completely depends on which industry you want to work in. I found it relatively easy to find a job as I had already visited a handful of times before and had made various connections with people working in tourism here. There are jobs for expats here, but when it comes to getting a visa (see more below), your employer has to present sufficient evidence that you are not taking a job away from a local.
What do you love most about living as an expat in Tanzania?
There is so much I love about living in Tanzania, it’s really hard to pinpoint just one thing. Tanzanians are generally very warm and friendly people and will really go out of their way to help you. There is a real sense of community and everyone looks out for one another. It’s not uncommon to see total strangers striking up a conversation with one another in the street or on the bus. This is something I found very refreshing coming from a country where we will do almost anything just to avoid eye contact with someone we don’t know! One thing I find really charming is how Tanzanians greet one another. There are so many ways to say “hello” and “how are you” in Swahili, and they’ll spend the first minute of the conversation saying each one. Expect lots of “jambos” and “mambos” when walking down the street.
I also really love the laid-back lifestyle. You’ll often hear locals saying “pole, pole” (slowly, slowly) – a Swahili phrase that perfectly sums up the pace of life here. Tanzanians have really mastered the skill to just be in the present moment and slooooow down. There are times it can get a little frustrating (like when you are waiting an hour for a fruit smoothie). But generally, I have tried to find ways to adopt this mentality into my own lifestyle, while still maintaining some level of productivity.
The other thing I really love about living in Tanzania is the diverse countryside we have on our doorstep. Moshi itself can be a chaotic city at times, so when the opportunity arises it’s always good to get out of town and explore. There are so many lovely nature and hiking hotspots outside of Moshi, some of my favourites being the Kikuletwa Hotsprings, Materuni, and Lake Chala. And of course, there is Tanzania’s abundance of national parks and conservation areas where you can see plenty of African wildlife while on safari or hikes. Tanzania is a nature lovers dream!
What is the best way to get around?
There are many ways to get around in Moshi, and I have used them all at one point or another.
Dala Dalas (public minibuses) are the most popular form of transport for locals. They look well-used but are (usually) well-maintained (except the one where I had to climb out of the window because the door got completely jammed). There is an expression here that “a dala dala never gets full” – just as you think the bus is full, five more passengers cram in wherever physically possible (and probably their chickens too). While this doesn’t always make the most comfortable of journeys, they do provide the cheapest way to get around.
Boda Bodas (motorcycle taxis), and Bajajs (the local name for tuk-tuk) offer a more efficient way to get around. I used to use bodas quite often to get to and from work but after a couple of near misses, I now mainly use bajajs to get around town. There are also plenty of reliable taxi drivers you can call upon to get from A to B.
But now my partner drives a Toyota Corolla Spacio, I have my very own personal taxi driver!! I could probably drive myself around, but apparently, I am the only person in the world who finds it tricky to drive an automatic car. Plus the roads in the city centre are chaos and do scare me a little!
What is the food like in Tanzania?
One of the things I love about Tanzania is the array of fresh produce you can get your hands on. I could happily just live off fruit salads made of mango, pineapple, avocado, oranges and banana here! Most meats here are also super fresh – you could buy a chicken from a local market that was literally slaughtered that morning.
Food and eating together is an important part of Tanzanian culture. At breakfast, it is quite common to see locals (particularly men) perched on plastic chairs outside street vendors. They’ll be chatting among themselves while sipping on chai (tea) or coffee (Tanzania grows some of the best coffee in the world) with either chapatti or mandazi (donuts).
When lunch and dinner come around, you’ll typically find locals eating their number one staple food: ugali, a starchy side made of cornmeal used to compliment a meat, fish or vegetable sauce. I wasn’t a fan to start with, but over time it has actually become a comfort food of mine.
Other firm favourites of Tanzanians are wali na maharage (rice and beans), pilau (rice made with a variety of spices and beef), nyama choma (grilled meats, such as beef, goat or chicken), and ndizi kaanga (fried bananas). Then there are dishes like chips mayai (basically a chip omelette) which are the perfect hangover food.
Most foods are cooked using a fire or gas stove top…which has been somewhat of a challenge for me when it comes to cooking. Without an oven, you really have to get creative (you can buy them here, but we haven’t got the space). Thankfully my boyfriend loves to be in the kitchen and is an excellent cook!
What is the cost of living like compared to your home country?
Like some foreign workers, I didn’t come here on an “expat package” with an international organization. I work for a local company and earn a salary that is relative to the cost of living here. That does mean that I still have to be fairly budgeted with my spending and not indulge too much in unnecessary luxuries. But my money definitely does go further here when it comes to day-to-day expenses.
Rent probably costs a quarter of what it would back home; you can get a lot more for your money here in terms of accommodation. For the house I described in the first question, we pay approx £150 a month. Utility bills for water, gas and electricity are also fairly inexpensive. We pay around £20 a month for all three.
Fresh produce and meats are also very cheap. We can go to the local market and butchers and spend approximately £20 for weekly groceries for the whole family. Grains and legumes like rice, beans, maize cornflour and lentils are also super cheap costing less than £1 for 1kg. Beer and local spirits are also ridiculously affordable here. You can expect to pay £1 to £1.50 for a bottle of local beer or £2 for a small bottle of K Vant or Konyagi, which is best described as their version of gin.
You can also buy cheap clothes and household goods here if you look in the right places. There are plenty of second-hand markets and stores selling clothing, furnishings, electricals etc… in good condition. You can even find local fundis (handymen/seamstresses) to tailor-make clothes and furnishings to your particular taste and specifications. All at a much lower cost than you would pay in England. For example, I could get a beautiful dress made here for around £10 to £15 and our handmade dining table and chairs cost around £150.
However, if you want to buy a decent car, you are going to probably pay way above what you would in England due to import taxes. The same goes for various foods and products they have to import such as cheese, chocolate, cereals, condiments, baby products.
International school fees are also astronomical. You could be paying anything between £4,000 to £7,500 per child per year. Thankfully I don’t have to worry about that just yet. Before a child starts school, you can employ a dada (nanny) to help with childcare for up to £100 a month. Which would only just about cover two to three nursery days in England.
What is the nightlife like? Are there any other social activities?
In the major cities and towns, there is a big nightlife and clubbing scene. In Moshi itself, there isn’t a huge amount of clubs, with everyone descending on the same few places every Friday and Saturday night. There is a big drinking culture in Tanzania (seriously, I thought England was bad until I came here), meaning there will be a party almost every night of the week somewhere as there are hundreds of local pubs scattered around the town. You can even just go to the local shop and sit there with a beer or two as most have tables and chairs set up. Not something I really get the chance to do much of these days (five months and counting #mumlife).
There are also an array of restaurants and cafes where you can just hang out with friends during the day. That is something which keeps me relatively sane here! There are fitness and hobby classes if you search for them. But what Tanzania misses (Moshi in particular) is having access to places like cinemas or parks where you can just unwind and relax. That is something I really miss about home.
***One word of caution to anyone planning to visit or live in Tanzania, please be aware that drink driving is the norm here. The police will turn a blind eye to it for the right amount of money. So whenever you go out with friends, ensure that you have reliable transportation home***
Is there anything that you really struggle with as an expat?
I think the thing I struggle with the most, is that I will always just been seen as a “mzungu” (white person/foreigner). No matter how long I stay, or how much I try to integrate, I will never fit in. There is not a day that goes by where I’ll be walking down the street and hear “MZUNGU” or “HEY ‘ZUNGU”.
Constantly getting hassled for money because I am white does get pretty old, pretty quickly when you are faced with it every day. Generally, I choose not to respond, or if I am in a good mood I’ll offer a small smile in return. A habit I’ve acquired from years of living here.
I find it even more of a challenge when I get this treatment from children, who will often put their hands out and say “give me my money.” Or when mzungu hunters catcall you and say that you must find them a mzungu wife.
The absolute worst is when I am out and about with my boyfriend and people just assume he is with me because of money and the chance to have a better life. I’ll never forget the time someone heckled in Swahili “you should f**ck her better and she will give you more money” Not only is that just completely disgusting and disrespectful, but it’s also totally wrong. My boyfriend works incredibly hard and we share the cost of everything.
Yes, I am not poor, but I don’t have money just growing on trees either. The assumption that all mzungu have money they can give away is engrained in their culture. This view has been passed down from generation to generation. Without going into all the complexities of this issue, the irony is we (us mzungu) are partly to blame for this mentality. And sadly, I can’t see it changing any time soon.
What is the biggest challenge you face as an expat mama?
Definitely being away from my family and friends. Being a mum can feel fairly lonely sometimes, but as an expat mum, you really feel the distance when you are thousands of miles away from your biggest support network.
While I have a few mama friends here and our lovely nanny Doris, it has meant that I’ve had to largely figure out this whole motherhood thing on my own; whereas if I were in my home country then I would have plenty of help and support at my fingertips.
Of course, there is Whatsapp and Skype at your service to call for advice, but online babysitting is not exactly the same thing as having a real life bibi (grandma) by your side. I can’t just show up on their doorstep when things are getting a little too much or I need some adult conversation to regain my sanity.
Not having that support network also means that I rarely get time to myself. I can’t remember the last time I went out socializing with friends or we had a date night. Of course, our nanny is happy to babysit from time to time. But as she works full-time looking after Amelie during the week, I understand that she also needs a break!
Then there’s the guilt. There isn’t a day that passes where I don’t feel guilty about the fact my family don’t get the chance to build a relationship with Amelie. For me, that is the toughest part of being a mama abroad.
Do you need a visa to live and work as an expat in Tanzania?
Yes, you do require a visa to live and work in Tanzania and let’s just say it’s a very expensive, time-consuming and complicated process. Thankfully my employer took care of most things, but the whole process definitely tested our patience. The immigration system is incredibly disorganized and corruption is rife. As a result, it took almost 18 months for me to get all the paperwork I needed. Sadly this seems to be the case for many expats here.
I have also heard there are talks of the government introducing a cap on how many times a visa can be renewed. So unless you intend to set up a business, or marry a national (and even then you can’t work on a dependent’s visa), it seems as though the government is making it harder and harder for foreigners to remain in the country long-term. That’s not to say it is completely impossible. But if you want to do things legit, then this is just something to bear in mind if you do plan to move to Tanzania. Patience is key!!!
If you could give one piece of advice to anyone looking to live in Tanzania, what would it be?
Have patience and learn Swahili. Two things I am still learning “pole, pole”. As I said, the pace of life here is very slow and if you don’t have a lot of patience, you’ll just go insane. Everything in Tanzania takes twice as long. Whenever someone says “nakuja” (I am coming), don’t ever expect them to be on time. It is a very loose term here and it could mean ten minutes from now, or maybe an hour or five! Or maybe even never! It can get incredibly infuriating for us mzungu who always like to plan and make sure everything is done on time. But I’ve learnt it’s very hard to change a cultural habit.
The other struggle I have faced is learning the local language. While I understand more than I can speak, I should know more after two years of living here. If you can invest some time in learning Swahili, it will really help you in everyday situations where you might interact with someone who speaks little English. Even if it’s just to politely tell someone who is hassling you to piss off (which is “toka” by the way).
Other posts you might like:
- Moving to Tanzania: Everything You Need to Know
- 5 Expat Blogs for Families to Follow
- 15 Awesome Things To Do In Moshi, Tanzania
- Is Tanzania Safe for Women Travelling Solo?
- Useful Swahili Phrases For Travel In Tanzania
Are you living as an expat in Tanzania or another place abroad? I’d love to hear your experiences below!