There are many different places to live as an expat. In fact, any country other than your own would probably count, so you have hundreds of options! Most “expats” choose to live in comfortable countries with all of the modern amenities included. However, people are often surprised when I choose to live in “developing countries”. Although each country is different, these places often lack access to services that we would consider non-negotiable back in our home country.
Can you imagine renting an apartment in Canada and someone telling you that it didn’t have central heating and that you may figure out what to do during regular 12-hour power outages? I’m pretty sure you would say “No!” right away, and quickly leave to find another place that’s more suitable for your needs. But in reality, that’s the kind of decision I make all the time when working in development. Although many rich expats have ways around these problems (like hiring someone to wash your laundry by hand for you, or buying an expensive gas generator), these solutions are not in the budget of your average aid worker. Plus, it’s often important to live in local neighbourhoods instead of embassy neighbourhoods, for the sake of learning about the culture and understanding the people you’re there to work with. So, how can you cope?
So, I put together a little guide about the lack of services you may experience in different parts of the world, and how you can survive (and thrive) in situations you’ve never dealt with before! Here are some tips I have for being “an expat in a developing country”:
Electricity – Having electricity is pretty useful, and something a lot of people take for granted. Not only is it necessary to light your home at night and charge your electronics, but depending on where you live, it might also be necessary for heating/cooling your food, heating your home, and your ability to communicate with others! Wow, that’s quite a lot of things… If you want to know more about the best ways to cope with power outages in developing countries, you can read my blog about my different experiences with power outages in Ghana and Nepal.
What to do: If you don’t have electricity ever, then you just need to live a more simple lifestyle. Get up with the sun, only use electronics in your office, cook using gas/wood, etc. But this is not an easy lifestyle and takes a lot of getting used to (like camping – but permanently!). If you don’t have electricity occasionally, then there are a lot of different strategies you can use. A few I recommend most are: shopping daily for food (instead of worrying about meat and other produce in your fridge – which may or may not be cold), using multiple electronics for different purposes (instead of using your iPhone for reading books, alarm cloth, phone, camera, etc. – because what happens once your one gadget dies?), carrying a flashlight, and trying to figure out the electricity schedule in order to charge all your electronics when you can. You can also check what the system is like in the country you’re living in. Some countries even publish a schedule of when the power will be out (like in Ghana) and some are even more tech savvy (Nepal even has an app!).