Monday, March 3, 2014

By Popular demand: the money issue.

I've gotten more than one question about it, so I have decided to grab the bull by the horns and bring you the money issue. It will be in a mixture of currencies, and for that, I apologize. 

Before I get started, I'd like to mention a couple of things:
  1. Abidjan is an extremely expensive place.  I am not sure how people earning local salaries (the minimum wage is 60 000 francs survive), but I think family networks has a lot to do with it (granting access to cheap produce from Bassam, for example, helps)... 
  2. As an expat in a country where people are being squeezed from all ends, you will be overcharged.  Unless you are African, black, or extremely skilled, there is no way around this.
    • you will be charged higher rates when you take a taxi, or go to the markets.  
    • or you'll shop at supermarkets, where goods are more expensive.  
  3. In the beginning, getting overcharged 500 francs here, 1 000 francs there won't seem to matter. You'll come to realize that getting nickeled and dimed, everywhere, all of the time becomes very, very expensive.      
  4. I'm making roughly what a Western European young professional (with a graduate degree makes) so between 2 and 3 thousand euros.  That is essentially tax free money, so I do ok. 
  5. I do not expect to be able to save much here, since cost of living is high.  
  6. Unless you're coming from Moscow, or Luanda, (or some other place with astronomical living costs) do not take a salary cut to come here.  I've heard horror stories, so consider yourself warned.
  7. Keeping up with Jones', in this case, your fellow expats/well to do Ivorians, i.e. those who will make up you and your kids' social sets does not come cheap.  If you're not the frugal friend back home, don't think you can be the frugal expat. Don't get me wrong, some people can, but most can't.  Budget accordingly.
I haven't been here that long and between getting settled, meeting new people and finding housing, haven't had much time to step back and figure out exactly where my money goes.  That said, I am starting to get a decent idea.

As a young expat (with no kids or spouse to support), I have different expenses: housing, food, transportation, medical insurance, leisure.

Housing: I am renting a room in Zone 4.  The place is not idea, and I'd like to move elsewhere.  For now, it costs me 330 000 francs per month.  Because the room was furnished, I haven't had to spend money on appliances (expensive), or furniture (even more expensive).  But once that happens, I'll let you know where I went.    

Schooling: I have no kids. So. 0.

Medical Care: My employer doesn't cover anything. Insurance costs me just under 150 euros a month. So I pay upfront and pray that the insurance will reimburse me later on.  I haven't been to the doctor yet here, so I don't know how much it costs.

Food: Haaaa!  This is where things get messy.  I have no idea how much I spend on food.  Sometimes I bring lunch to work.  Sometimes I eat out with colleagues.  If you eat out every lunch, you will spend a minimum of 5000 francs per day.  P.S. for anyone who missed it, I mentioned here that by Abidjan standards, I am a picky eater.  I also get food poisoning very easily and have been trying to stay away from street food/ open pit maquis where people are cooking in unsanitary conditions.  That will drive up expenses.  Finally, as I meet more people, I am being invited out more and more often.  That means that I spend money on overpriced cocktails (4 000 franc glass of wine, anyone?) and food on the run.  A croissant at Gateaux et Pains (closest bakery to my house) is 500 francs  

Transportation:  I have no car and commute from Zone 4 to the Plateau.  While an Ivorian would pay 1500 francs, I pay a 500 franc expat tax, which brings my commuting costs up to 4 000 francs a day/ 20 000 a week/ 80 000/month.   And that's just the commute.  Anytime I head to the supermarket, the cabbie wants 1 000 francs.  Part of the problem is that I'm foreign, another part is that I live in Biétry.  I am getting incredibly frustrated with the situation and have to admit that I am probably going to stop going to the supermarket altogether and will probably end up relying on the housekeeper instead.  P.S. for all you car owners, gas prices are high.  Something like 750 francs a liter; I don't buy gas, so don't quote me on that.

Internet: I don't pay (included in my rent) but unlimited wifi with MTN costs 40 000 francs a month.  

Phone: 3g is the killer.  I need it because I am lost of the time.  I know I don't spend much on talk, but I spend 14 000 francs a month on data.

TV:  I don't watch TV.

Electricity:  I don't pay yet, but my friends (a young couple) who have a 3 bedroom spent 150 000 francs last month.  Yes, you read that correctly.  These folks are not Americans who are used to cheap electricity costs. These are Africans who have lived in Europe and are not blasting aircon 24 hours a day.  It's frightening, and everyone makes a huge fuss about it.   

Leisure:  I went to a concert this weekend that cost 10 000 francs.  Magic System, Salif Keita and P-square all took to the stage, so I dare say it was worth it. My transport costs mean that I had to get a cab to go buy the ticket (1000 francs) and then catch another cab to the venue (1250 francs).  We then went to a bar where I had that 4 000 franc glass of wine.  The next day, we went to Assinie.  I contributed 5 000 francs to help pay for the driver and gas, bought 4 000 francs worth of produce, 1000 francs worth of nuts and spent 10 000 francs on dinner. 
Gym memberships cost about 40 000 francs a month; 10 yoga classes will cost you 70 000 francs

House help salaries: Again, I don't pay for this, but you will have to spend at least 80 000 francs.  Don't underpay your housekeeper, as it will only encourage her to steal from you. If you have a driver, you'll have to pay him too.

 In closing someone asked me about housing costs for a 2 or 3 bedroom.  Honestly, I have no idea.  I had lunch with someone who just got a 4 bedroom house in Riviera from a cash strapped landlord for 500 000 Francs.  It helps that this someone was willing to pay for a pool to be added out back; basically, he got really, really lucky.  I have other friends who live in an industrial area called Zone 3 (basically sandwiched between Zone 4 and Treichville).  Their place has 3 bedrooms, a tiny pool and a small patio, all for 700 000 francs.  They also got lucky: their French landlord wanted to cut the young French expat couple a break, and living in an isolated industrial area means that residences don't command a very high rent. That said, they have all of the amenities of marcory and Zone 4 fairly close by and no commuting traffic.  As someone with no car, and fairly stringent security requirements (my parents are too young to bury a child :-) ), I am looking places like here, here, and praying for some amazing deal to come my way via word of mouth. 

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