So you’ve landed in Sir Seretse Khama International Airport for the first time and you are a little uncertain about how to tackle life as a family in Gaborone. After all, getting here was half the battle! Jetlag, long flights with kids, and trying to figure out how to move to another country for the first time can be a little intimidating. Maybe you’re an expert expat in your own right – you’ve done this switching countries thing a time or two, but you don’t know Gabs. Now what?
Here are my top arrival tips.
For me, step one is a toss up between renting a car and getting a SIM card. Gaborone isn’t a city you can easily get around without some wheels. If you have a driver provided by your employer, he/she will likely take you to the nearest mall to get you a SIM card and some basic groceries to get settled.
In my unofficial poll of my expat friends, it seems most of us have Orange or Mascom for our mobile service provider. Be sure you’ve already unlocked your phone (especially if your phone was purchased through a carrier in your home country and is still locked to that carrier). You’ll also need your passport to apply for a pre-paid SIM card. Your ID card such as a driver’s license or similar card won’t suffice.
Be sure to bring along the physical address where you are residing, the mailing address, and be prepared to answer questions about how you pay for the service. Airtime is usually sold in increments of 50 or 100 pula. You can purchase it from the mobile service provider’s store, at tuck shops along the road, PEP, and at some grocery stores.
If you don’t have a driver, then you’ll probably want to rent a car. I find this is most conveniently done from the airport. Beware! Many of the vehicles are small (think compact to small sedan) and they are often manual transmission (or as they like to call it here: manual gearbox). For some Westerners, the latter can be a bit of a shock. You may want to reserve your car in advance and request an automatic. You have several options at the airport: Bidvest, Avis, & Europcar.
Also, if driving on the left from the right side of the car is foreign to you, check out this little diagram about how to work the round-about otherwise known as the ‘traffic circle’.
The next stop is usually for basic groceries and necessities. You’ll probably want to drink bottled water initially unless you’re really hankering to get your 70% chance of traveler’s diarrhoea out of the way. (Yes! That’s right… up to 70% attack rate!) Great ways to accomplish this (onset of traveler’s diarrhoea) would be: accepting ice in your drinks, drinking tap water, not washing your hands well, and eating loads of fresh veggies and fruits that you didn’t wash/prepare yourself. If you’re like me and need a hot minute to breathe when you first arrive, especially with kids in tow, then you’ll probably want to stick with stir-fry, pizza or anything that gets blistering hot to kill off any viruses or bacteria lurking.
[Editor’s Note: Traveler’s diarrhoea will not affect Batswana, and we’re not saying Gabz water isn’t clean. However the change – in going from other countries to our local processed water – can cause intestinal upset.]
Regarding groceries, your best bet for Western comforts is Woolworth’s for food (henceforth referred to as Woolie’s). Woolie’s has a great selection of foods that are quick/easy and partially prepared. They have lovely breads, pastries/muffins, and long-life milk.
Again, initially you may want to avoid the local fresh milk, though it is supposedly ‘pasteurized’ I don’t have the greatest confidence that it means the same thing here as it does in my home country.
Other options for groceries include: Super Spar or Pick N’ Pay. I find the best international foods at Super Spar, with Pick N’ Pay having the next best selection.
Usually the next thing you’ll wonder where to find will be housewares. I found that if you’re doing a big trip for all the must haves (paper towels, laundry soap, cleaning supplies, pantry basics, linens, etc.) you’ll be better off if you can avoid making 5-10 stops around town to various stores.
Sefalana Hyper on the Western Bypass offers a great selection of all the pantry basics and cleaning products, plus a grocery section, camping section, and furniture section as well. The store is really quite comprehensive and has gotten better in the two years we were away from Gaborone.
Additionally, Clicks at Airport Junction is just a hop, skip and a jump down the road from the Sefalana Hyper, so you can knock out most of your basics list by visiting just those two stores.
If you happen to need a bit more luxury items, then try @Home or Boardmans’ (Edgar’s) at Airport Junction for pillows, high thread counts, and luxury appliances/kitchen supplies. If functional and decent quality is what you are looking for (as well as a less expensive price tag), then Mr. Price Home is the place you should try (also at Airport Junction).
If you find yourself living on the opposite side of town – try Game City Mall. They have a Game (owned by Wal-mart), @ Home, Clicks and Edgars (but mostly they offer linens at this Edgar’s vs other housewares).
Surely your kids will be begging for toys as you’ve likely not been able to bring much in your luggage so try Edutoys in Commerce Park or Mowana Park, Oodles of Caboodle in the Craft Market, as well as the Crazy Store in Phakalane.
Perhaps all these purchases are making you wonder if you should be swiping your card right and left, so you’re in search of an ATM so you can stick with cash. I find that Standard Chartered and Stanbic offer the highest maximum (BWP 8,000) per withdrawal while Barclay’s can vary from 4-8,000 BWP depending on the machine and FNB is usually the ATM to offer the lowest maximum (in the BWP 2,000 neighbourhood). If you have older kids, they may be very intrigued by the look of the money! Sometimes if feels like Monopoly money as it is so much more colourful than my home country’s currency.
Well, hopefully that helps you know how to get settled during your first couple of days in your new ‘home’ country. In my next post, I address tips for getting settled with schools, gym memberships, internet providers, purchasing electronics like a TV, finding a car and where to find a house helper.