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Moving to Tanzania: 8 Things You Need to Know Before Your Move Abroad

Moving to Dar es Salaam

First of all, karibu! If you’re reading this then I’m guessing you are considering moving to Tanzania, or maybe you are already there and panicking in case you missed something. Fear not – Tanzania is beautiful, diverse and exciting country to live in. Since I started this blog, my love for Tanzania has been one the driving forces for my writing. It was the first country I wrote about back in 2016.

I moved to Tanzania in March 2017. Since moving here I’ve met many new people who have moved to Tanzania, mostly thanks to my article on initial thoughts when moving here (originally titled “I’m moving abroad…and I’m terrified!”) Well, after a year and 7 months I can safely say that the fear was unfounded. I think it’s time I write a (more positive) article to give you an idea of what to expect as a newbie in Tanzania.

1. Greetings are important

Before starting a conversation with someone, you absolutely must greet them properly. Thought “hi” or “how are you?” were appropriately polite? Think again! A Tanzanian greeting can go on for many minutes, and while you might be dying to ‘get to the point,’ you will never reach that point unless you greet properly. In fact, I set aside the first 15 minutes of my working day for greeting my colleagues, catching up on their news and sharing mine.

Some common greetings are:

Shikamoo – a greeting of respect for older people (anyone 5 years or more older in general) and literally means I touch your feet. The response is “marahaba.”

Habari/ habari yako/ habari za leo? etc. – Literally news? your news? today’s news? A way of saying “how are you?” The response is “nzuri” (good) or “salama” (peaceful).

Mambo – More casual greeting used among peers. The reponse is “poa” (cool).

Mzima – Another “what’s up?” type greeting that can be used with peers. Respond “mzima.”

2. Personal relationships are everything

This goes for everything but is especially valid in the workplace. If you want to get something done, it will be done 10 times faster if you have a good relationship with the person. It’s only natural to want to hit the ground running in a new job, but in Tanzania this can’t happen unless you build relationships with your colleagues first.

The same goes for general everyday things too. Want a rent reduction? Be friendly to your landlord. Need a bajaji driver on call at short notice? Don’t haggle him down to the last shilling on all the other journeys. Might seem like common sense, but it always surprises me how many people complain that they can’t get things done, while neglecting the personal element.

Moving to Tanzania

In general you will become more connected to the people behind that processes you rely on. Yes, that’s two butchers chasing a cow!

3. Things may move more slowly than you are used to

If you are coming here for work, it is likely that your work permit will take a few months to process. The same goes for your resident’s permit. Moving to Tanzania is not as simple as packing your things and showing up. Pack a pile of patience and ensure your workplace follows up as sometimes things fall through the cracks.

Outside of government procedures, everyday life moves a bit slower than you may be used to. Coming from a coastal city, it wasn’t a huge culture shock for me. However, lots of my friends from mainland Europe struggle with things like waiting for service.

Please remember, it is not always the Tanzanian at fault, rather your expectations that you have carried from your home country. The personal relationships thing also comes into this. Often things require more legwork than you will be used to because they need to be done in person.

Moving to Tanzania

Why would you hurry?

4. White privilege is still a thing in Africa

I’m really showing my privilege here but honestly, this was a shock for me. I was naive enough to think that no one would have the arrogance to move to an African country and look down on African people. I have since learned that many white people live here and do just that.

For many white people, African countries are their playground. Here they can live nice lifestyles on less money than in their home country, while having their egos fed by local people who are too polite (and often, reliant on their income) to call them out on their behaviour.

If you are white and moving to Tanzania, you have two options – you can either lick up to these people to get benefits like being invited on their boat at the weekends, or you can call them out on their behaviour, avoid them at all costs and hang out with the tonnes of great, fun people who will make your time in Tanzania unforgettable.

5. You can and should make Tanzanian friends (i.e get out of the bubble!)

When I first moved here, all the blogs I read spoke about an expat bubble and how hard it is to meet locals. The only conclusion I can draw is that these are the people described above because Tanzanian people are almost as friendly as Irish people 😉

Trust me, you will have a much better experience moving to Tanzania if you make local friends, rather than surrounding yourself with expats. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s great to hang out with people who share your experience of being in a foreign country. But if you limit yourself to that, your overall experience will be, well, limited.

Join groups like Walking Fork (for dining) and Unzip Tanzania (for travelling) and you’ll find yourself surrounded by cool people at least once a month!

Magoroto Forest

Hiking in Magoroto Forest with Unzip Tanzania

6. You will probably eat, drink and socialise most nights of the week

My biggest fear when moving to Tanzania was that I would have no friends- or worse! – that I would have boring friends! Fear not, Tanzania, and Dar es Salaam in particular is one of the most sociable places I have ever been. Whether it’s happy hour, cocktails, Tuesday’s at Nafasi, karaoke at Samaki Samaki on Wednesdays or Thursday’s at Woodmont, movies at Goethe- Institute, not to mention the myriad of weekend events, I often find it harder to stay in than to go out.

Moving to Tanzania

Pre – full moon party in Zanzibar

Also, Tanzanian food is amazing. My friends and I regularly joke about our food babies (congratulations – it’s chipsi!) but seriously, from street food to world cuisine, you will find everything your heart desires.

7. Politeness is everything

There’s a typical situation in Dar es Salaam that I often laugh about with friends because it has happened so often. You find yourself in a bar, sitting at a table with a group of friends, and someone you don’t know, who you assume is a friend of a friend. As the night progresses, you share drinks, funny stories and maybe even invite them on your next group trip (really, I have done this), only for them to ask your friends for their numbers as they leave. Slowly the realisation dawns – they are a complete randomer who doesn’t know a soul at your table. Everyone was too polite to ask who they were but make no mistake, this randomer is now firmly integrated into your friend group and of course they’ll join you to Bongoyo next weekend!

Moving to Tanzania

Just a standard night out at Nafasi Art Space

8. You will see more beautiful places than you ever thought existed

When moving to Tanzania, it’s only natural to get excited about the Serengeti, Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar. The good news is that you have only scraped the surface of Tanzania’s beauty. From lions in Ngorongoro Crater, to Magoroto Forest, to islands on Lake Victoria that look like Jurassic Park, you may find you rarely spend a weekend at home! Tanzania is a beautifully diverse country where you will always find new places to visit so start planning those holidays and explore your new home!

Moving to Tanzania

You will see more of these than you could ever imagine

I hope that my love for living in Tanzania has come through in this post. While there are times when things are challenging, and I get frustrated, these are outweighed by the highs I have experienced since moving to Tanzania. I have made friends for life, I have more professional opportunities than ever, I travel every month for work and pleasure and can safely say I am never bored. My advice for moving to Tanzania (and for life in general!) is – you get what you put in.

Approach the move to Tanzania with a positive, open mind. Attend every event with the intent to make friends. Say yes to everything for your first month (or any month! I do this randomly when I feel a bit bored). Be patient and most of all, open, and you will feel at home faster than you know it!

Have you moved to Tanzania from another country? What are some things you’d wish you’d known beforehand?

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14 thoughts on “Moving to Tanzania: 8 Things You Need to Know Before Your Move Abroad

  1. Ama

    Reading this and being from Ghana would be like a Belgian reading about Ireland. Africa is often lumped into the one context that even I sometimes am surprised by how different and similar African countries are. Sure it’s just like Europe, a continent. II’m not surprised to hear that greetings, relationships, and politeness are important. I think my main shock is the white privilege. I guess not living at home it’s not something I see often. It makes me sad to think that it’s happening there but it makes me even more happy to know that there are wonderful people like you Cliodhna who are living in the present day of equality :’) Really enjoyed this post, made me smile and miss my own Ghanaian home so thank you!!!

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      Thank you so much Ama. In the same way your posts from Ghana made me long to visit there, I hope you’ll come visit Tanzania someday! I think sadly, white privilege is a worldwide phenomenon, but thankfully things are changing and with the internet people are being called out on their actions more than in the past. And you make a great point about the differences between countries. Funnily, a lot of people here are surprised when I tell them I find Ireland more similar to Tanzania than Germany for example. It’s always good to get a different perspective on your own country!

  2. Ginny Spencer

    All true, beauty, friends, for me family who are also friends, wildlife, open spaces, a sense of community, getting to know all kinds of people some of whom you find out later are pretty famous. Eating right out of your garden and henhouse. Exploring ideas, expanding your mind to all kinds of cultures and ideas. Always questioning what you believe. A multitude of exceptionally educated, talented and loving people to help you along with that. Realizing you actually own AUTHENTIC African violets.

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      You have summed it up beautifully! I kinda wish I wrote that myself 😉 I love the getting to know all kinds of people only to find out they are famous. A result of the great way that Tanzanians believe in treating everyone with respect regardless of status. Sounds like you love it here as much as I do!

  3. Deepak

    Very correctly said and written… Me too enjoyed my work life in Tanzania for almost 3 years and continuing. Being a Hoteliere I do meet lot of people and made lot of friends. Though I won’t get lot of time to travel around tz but yes I’m sure before I leave Tanzania will explore the nature of Tz.

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      Thank you. I hope you get to take some time off and see more of this beautiful country, especially as a hoteliere when you get to see so many people passing through doing the same thing!

  4. jg

    I am thankful for this post. Sometimes I feel so lost here and think what I am doing here. And then it comes your post and it’s like yes that was it to come here. Thank you. And for sure I learned somthing new from you

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      I’m so glad to hear that. Honestly, I have those days too, it can be overwhelming so it’s worth remembering all the great reasons to live here!

  5. Dagney

    This is such a great post! Very well written and I enjoyed reading it immensely 🙂 I haven’t been to or lived in Tanzania (but it’s on the list!), however, I used to live in Ghana and while I know they are vastly different places, so of these really resonated with me and made me miss living in Africa! Hope you continue to love your time there!