Moving to Africa? 10 Things You Need to Know

Here are seven mistakes to avoid when you’re moving to Africa, plus three tips from expats for living in countries like South Africa, Kenya, and other countries in Africa.
One of my most practical tips for moving to Africa is to get a Ziploc Space Saver Set – 15 Bags. I packed everything I wanted to take in two huge hockey bags, because I didn’t realize how much space you save when you suck the air out of your clothes and other items! This is huge – I could have taken twice as much with me if I had a space saver set. If you’re moving to Africa, I envy you! You are embarking on one of the greatest adventures of your life. If I could do it over again, I would in a heartbeat. But I’d change a few things about how I approached life in Africa. If you have any questions about or tips for moving to Africa – or about the mistakes I made, please comment below.

I lived and worked in Kenya, East Africa for three years. I loved it and hated it; it was the best and worst time of my life. I wish I could do it over, and I never want to move to Africa again. That’s how Africa affects you. She grabs your heart, twists it around her fist, and never lets you go.

Moving to Africa? 7 Mistakes to Avoid

Here are the mistakes I made when I moved to and lived in Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa. I taught at Rosslyn Academy for three years.

Don’t live in fear when you live in Africa

I lived in fear when I moved to Africa, Nairobi was one of the world’s most dangerous cities. I was scared to leave the school compound after dark, scared to spend a lot of time downtown Nairobi, scared to cycle the Rift Valley. I did bike the Rift Valley, but I didn’t let myself loosen up and enjoy it. The baboons on the side of the road took up my positive energy; I was left with fear and worry for my safety. If you’re moving to Africa, don’t let fear discolor your adventures! Be cautious and smart, but don’t let anxiety get you down. That’s a mistake to avoid in all aspects of life.

Don’t bring all the “comforts of home” with you

I sent myself two boxes of stuff. Before I moved to Africa, I heard that most of my regularly-used items wouldn’t be available (eg, Crest toothpaste, Twizzlers, Tylenol, etc). So, I packed up a couple boxes of my favorite stuff and sent it to my new address in Africa. It was insanely expensive, and arrived by ship about three months after I moved to Africa. I was so disappointed when I opened my boxes of stuff! I had already started using the African or European version of what I sent myself, and didn’t need anything in the boxes. If you’re moving to Africa, I encourage you to live like the locals! Use local toothpaste, eat local sweets, and fix your headaches the local way.

Don’t neglect your research on what to take when you move to Africa

At the end of this article are things to take when you’re moving to Africa – and I’m sure there are more things I’d add to it as I packed my bags. What you take depends on where in Africa you’re moving (eg, urban Nairobi vs. rural Congo), your health (eg, do you need prescription meds, are you on a special diet?), and your lifestyle (eg, do you need your daily newspaper fix? Bring a laptop!). If you have any suggestions on things to take if you’re moving to Africa, please let me know! I’d be happy to add to this list.

Don’t put barriers between you and the people of Africa

moving to Africa

“Moving to Africa? 10 Things You Need to Know” image by Laurie

I didn’t make African friends. I spent time with my fellow teachers…and that was it. I didn’t make Canadian expat friends, Kenyan friends, African friends. I sort of isolated myself for a bunch of reasons, and didn’t connect with African people on a deep level. If you’re moving to Africa, make African friends. Related to this, I lived on the school’s compound. This was a mistake because it didn’t allow me to meet people outside of work.

Don’t stick to your mother tongue

I didn’t learn Swahili. How rude, to move to Africa and not bother to learn the language! Maybe this is why I made the previous mistake.

Don’t keep what you’re learning about Africa to yourself

I didn’t blog about moving to and living in Africa. I’m now a professional blogger – I earn a full-time income from my blogs. Why didn’t I blog about moving to Africa? I’d have many more “mistakes to avoid” to share with you, and I’d probably be financially set for life. If you’re moving to Africa, keep a journal or blog about your experiences. It’s valuable stuff, and writing helps you sort out your thoughts and feelings.

Speaking of making money…do you have a job in Africa? Read How to Find a Job Overseas and Work Abroad.

Don’t isolate yourself

I didn’t buy a car. Rosslyn Academy loaned cars to teachers and staff, so I didn’t feel the need to buy my own car while I lived in Africa. In hindsight, this was a mistake because it limited my activities and excursions. But, on the bright side, I saved a lot of money. If you’re moving to Africa, research ways to stay independent. Living too cheaply is a mistake to avoid, for sure.

Don’t go back to your home country during work or school breaks

I went home to Canada every summer. If you’re moving to Africa, you should immerse yourself fully in the country, culture, climate! Don’t go home when you have time off from work or school. Actually, looking back I remember that I really needed to see my family, friends, and Canada in the summers. So, perhaps going back home isn’t a mistake to avoid when you’re moving to Africa. But, I encourage you to travel the continent while you’re there.

3 Tips for Moving to Africa

The following three tips are from expats’ blogs about moving to Africa…

Talk to expats about moving to Africa

“South Africa generally, and Joburg, particularly, often times take a big hit from the press and those who have chosen to leave. Surely there are issues in South Africa, but there are many expats living here – by choice (myself one of them) – who are leading meaningful and interesting lives. I would really urge you to speak to as many people as possible, but to concentrate on those who currently live where you are considering living. This is not to say that people who have chosen to leave South Africa have not had valid reasons for doing so. But many have chosen to continue living in South Africa, and some are now returning after years of living abroad. Those reasons are also worth listening to. This is a very profound and intense society on the move. Remember that no place is without difficulty, it may just come in a different package.” – from 10 Tips for Living in South Africa.

Bring print copies of pictures with you to Africa

“Yes, like actual physical printed-out 4×6 pictures. In Nigeria (and I’ve heard this is the case in other African countries) people love seeing photos, especially of your family. It’s nice to have an assortment of 25-30 pictures in a small album to “tell” people about your life back home. It’s also nice to have photos to put around your new living space, even if it’s just arranging a bunch of unframed pictures on a wall in your bedroom. It can make the place feel more homey and bring a bit of comfort when you’re feeling lonely.” – Moving to Africa- General Packing Tips.

Prepare for culture shock when you move to Africa

For me, culture shock was one of the hardest parts of moving to and living in Africa. I think that’s partly where my fear came from – which was my first tip or mistake to avoid when you’re moving to Africa. Don’t let fear dictate your choices or the way you live your life!“The adjustment [of moving to Africa] was massive, but not in the ways I expected. Squatting over a stinky hole in the ground to do my business? Piece of cake. Sleeping under a mosquito net, purifying my water, and never walking after dark—these are effortless accommodations, the new facts of daily life in Africa. What is hard is the emotional part. I never imagined I’d walk past a little girl asleep in a wheelbarrow and do nothing to help her. What is bad is not that she is poor; it is that she lacks proper nutrition and clean water and a roof over her head. These are the issues my non-profit organization is working to address. Picking her up out of her wheelbarrow won’t give her a better future, but providing women with sustainable incomes will. It still breaks my heart. Life in a developing country requires a thick skin if you are going to be useful, but it is hard to grow it nonetheless.” – from Volunteering and Living in Kenya.

If you haven’t booked your tickets to Africa, read The Best Time to Book Airline Tickets.

Things to Take if You’re Moving to Africa

I welcome your comments about moving to Africa – or avoiding mistakes when moving overseas – below…

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