The Gambia is home to a vibrant culture characterised by public wrestling matches, heaving marketplaces and energetic music. Known as 'The Smiling Coast of West Africa', expats can expect a warm welcome from the locals. Their big smiles and friendly nature will certainly assist expats in feeling at home in their new destination.
The Gambia is the smallest country in continental Africa, and unlike its West African neighbours, it has experienced a long spell of relative stability since independence in 1965. Unfortunately, political stability hasn’t necessarily translated to prosperity here and most of The Gambia remains poor.
Living in The Gambia as an expat
Most of the expats living in The Gambia work in the capital city, Banjul, and are employed by United Nations or an NGO. There are also a number of expats who relocate to areas such as Fajara, Kololi or Kotu to set up their own businesses and capitalise on The Gambia’s growing tourism industry. Teaching English is also an option in The Gambia for those with a TEFL qualification.
Expats should expect to experience a slower pace of life, especially when doing business in The Gambia. Getting the correct visa can be an arduous process and bureaucratic backlogs often cause frustration for new expats.
Malaria is a serious problem in The Gambia, so expats should make sure they take appropriate precautions. Medical facilities in The Gambia are still developing and most hospitals are understaffed and lack adequate equipment. Expats are advised to have a fully comprehensive health insurance policy that covers them for treatment at a private hospital.
Expats living in The Gambia will grow accustomed to hearing a diverse range of local languages including Wollof, Fula and Jola. That said, English is the official language and communication should not be too much of an issue. Islam is the predominant religion practised in the country, and expats should always be respectful of local traditions and dress conservatively.
Expats moving to The Gambia will be reassured to know that it's among the safest countries in Africa and there is very little serious crime committed against foreigners. This doesn't mean expats should become complacent, as there are plenty of conmen and hustlers looking to take advantage of naïve new arrivals.
Cost of living in The Gambia
The cost of living in The Gambia is extremely low. In fact, out of 209 cities surveyed in the 2021 Mercer Cost of Living Survey, Banjul, Gambia's capital, ranked 200th. Expats will therefore discover almost everything in The Gambia to be affordable, if not cheap, including accommodation and transport. That said, if frequenting hotel bars and restaurants, costs will quickly add up. We recommend shopping for food at local supermarkets, as this is a sure way to save money in The Gambia.
Expat family and children
Unfortunately, many schools in The Gambia lack adequate funding and resources. That said, the schooling system is based on the British system, and those with the ability to pay school fees will find the education standards to be adequate. There are also a number of international schools in The Gambia, which teach the curricula of either the US, UK or France. These schools are extremely expensive but small classes, excellent facilities and high educational standards are guaranteed.
Expat families will have plenty to do in terms of entertainment in The Gambia. The country is especially ideal for lovers of the outdoors, who will discover an abundance of natural attractions to keep them busy on their off days. Soaking up the sun on one of the country's gorgeous beaches, spending a day exploring a nature reserve or taking a cruise along the Gambia River are just some of the ways expats can enjoy the country's natural scenery. The capital city is also awash with activities for the whole family, including wandering through colourful local markets or the city streets of Banjul.
Climate in The Gambia
The Gambia has a sub-tropical climate, characterised by an abundance of sunshine and warm weather. The country has two distinct seasons, a dry season, from October until June, and a wet season, which turns the desert landscape into a lush green oasis. Expats will experience high amounts of humidity during the rainy months, and monsoons do occur occasionally. Temperatures generally hover between 84ºF (29ºC) and 93ºF (34ºC) throughout the year.
Those relocating to The Gambia are likely to experience some culture shock and a degree of frustration when it comes to bureaucratic backlogs, but they will be rewarded with a rich cultural experience in a vibrant and diverse country.
Population: Around 2.5 million
Capital city: Banjul
Neighbouring countries: The Gambia is completely surrounded by Senegal, except for its western coastline.
Geography: The Gambia's border wraps around the Gambia River, which meanders through the centre of the country. The country's terrain is mostly grassy plains.
Political system: Unitary presidential republic
Major religions: Islam
Main languages: English
Money: The Gambian dalasi (GMD) is subdivided into 100 bututs. ATMs are relatively easy to find in the Gambia and expats can open a Gambian bank account without much hassle.
Tipping: Everyone seems to have a different opinion with regards to tipping in the Gambia, but most seem to agree that tips at upscale restaurants should be 7.5 percent of the bill, even if a service charge is already included.
Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. Plugs have three flat blades.
Internet domain: .gm
International dialling code: +220
Emergency numbers: Police: 117; Ambulance: 116; Fire: 118
Transport and driving: The Gambia's public transport system consists of buses, taxis, minibuses and ferries. Driving is on the right-hand side of the road.