A Public Health Professional’s Take On Life In Yaoundé, Cameroon

Considering a move to a foreign country? Expatations features foreign nationals from countries around the world who share their insights on life in their adopted countries and what to expect in-country. We feature Adiba Hassan, an expat who for now, calls Yaoundé, Cameroon home.


Adiba Hassan2Where are you originally from?
Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Where are you living now?
I am a United States resident currently residing in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

What is your occupation?
Public Health.

What do you enjoy most about Yaoundé and how would you rate the quality of life?
What I have enjoyed most about living here has been meeting some great people who have become family, and making the most of what we have available.  The city definitely has a way of bringing everyone together to organize your own recreational activities and to enjoy the little things such as working out together, going for walks, having informal dinners and barbeques.

Would you say that it is a city for young single professionals, couples or families with children?
It is a city for really anyone, depending on the social circle you are able to build around you.  There are plenty of families, couples, and young/single professionals residing in the city through various channels of work (the United Nations, Country Embassy’s, The United States Peace Corps, NGOs).  It is just a matter of finding the circle that best fits your situation and lifestyle.

Would you be able to speak to the educational system in Yaoundé – what is available at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education?
The American School of Yaoundé (ASOY) has a full elementary through high school for children of expats and locals.  There is also a French school mostly for the French diplomats and/or those who speak French; however, I don’t know enough about the school system here to speak much about this.

What form of currency is used in Cameroon?
The CFA is the local currency:  Central African Franc.

What is the cost of living in Yaoundé, would you say it is an expensive place to live?
It is a very expensive place to live in as an expat, since most housing and restaurants in Bastos (the expat area of the city) are priced fairly high due to location and security.  Most houses will require anywhere from 6-12 months of full payment upfront.  Depending on essential commodities, water reserve, generators, washer and dryer, prices can escalate pretty quickly.  Restaurants are priced per US equivalent.  The grocery stores are readily available with produce that is more expensive compared to the local markets.

How would you rate the public transportation in Yaoundé? What is the best way to get around?
The best way to get around in public transportation is the yellow taxi, which are widely available.  They have an interesting system here of shared cabs, where a driver will pick up passengers until the cab is full, if they meet his destination route.  The price is about 300 CFA (little less than a dollar).  A passenger can request a cab in “depot” to inform the driver to not pick up additional passengers, but the price for this is 2,000 CFA (~$4).  The bus system provides transport from Yaounde to other regions of the country, and there is a good train line connecting Yaoundé to Doula (the commercial capital).

How would you rate healthcare in Yaoundé– are there any hospitals or clinics you would recommend?
Healthcare here is not the best, and for any emergencies or tedious procedures, individuals will need to be flown out to the nearest country with the appropriate facilities.  For minor incidents, apart from the Health Unit in the US Embassy (for US personnel only), there is a health service facility by the French Embassy called Le Centre Médico -Social (CMS) that charges a one-time registration fee of 15,000 CFA.   The next option is the Centre Pasteur de Cameroun that can be a good source for vaccinations.

Are there any areas or suburbs within the city that you would recommend for expats to live in?
Yes, most expats reside in Bastos, the new Bastos area that is developing and by the US Embassy.

What is the weather like year round?
The weather here is like an eternal spring, with temperatures dropping to around 60F during the rainy season, and with highs up to 80F during the dry season.  The humidity here is fairly low compared to Doula.

Is there a large expat presence in Cameroon?
With numerous Embassy’s, UN organizations and NGOs, there is a moderately large crowd of expats.

Is there any particular discrimination towards foreigners?
Not really, except that it will be difficult to navigate the city without being somewhat conversant in French.  The local markets and taxis will try to charge more for foreigners.

Was it easy for you to meet new people and make new friends?
It was fairly easy. I arrived during a period when many new, unaccompanied or young people arrived at the US Embassy so it was easy to find a group of people to assimilate and learn the culture with. However, it is difficult to navigate the expat crowd outside of one’s national group without having prior connections or contacts.

What are some of the local hangout spots and what are some fun activities to do over the weekend?
The local spots are usually restaurants and lounges, as the city does not have malls or movies.  Popular restaurants for expats are:  Café Yaounde, La Salsa, Istanbul, Yao Ba, Cozy Pool, Moulin de France, Route 66 and Zeds.

Kribi is a four hour drive to the beach for a relaxing weekend trip.  Limbe hosts the black sand beach, which is about six hours from Yaoundé.  Mount Cameroon in Buea (six hours from Yaoundé) is a place to bring on hiking adventures with the option to climb over one to four days.  The Mefou primate park by the airport can be a half day trip.

What is the shopping experience like in Yaoundé?
There are no shopping malls in Yaoundé.  The central market is a busy and bustling venue for all sorts of merchandise; however, as a foreigner, you may need to be accompanied by locals.  The Chinga crafts market offers local arts and crafts ready for purchase, prepare for some serious bargaining.

In your opinion, what would you say the city is best known for?
The city is the political center of the country, with a very active and sportive population.

Do you ever have to worry about your safety?
Not really, as I reside and work in the expat area of the city.  It is not advisable to venture into the non-expat areas of the city alone, but it is definitely not a problem as long as you are in a crowd or have locals with you.

What are the biggest adjustments you had to make, if any? How is the culture here different from yours?
The biggest adjustment was working through hiccups every step of the way.  Any kind of logistics planning is difficult, with things not appearing as mentioned or advertised, time not maintained, and people not sticking to plans.  It is something that I take for granted in the United States. However, ensuring that there is sufficient time and being open to adjustments and last minute changes here makes things better.

Is there anything else that you would like expats considering a move to Yaoundé or Cameroon in general to know?
It is a difficult, but great place to be.  There is a lot of good work to do here, and a supportive crowd to move the work forward.  Logistics will always be difficult, so be ready to move away from your comfort zone. However, as long as you are ready for quick changes and adjustments, you will be pleasantly surprised at what can be accomplished.