Namibia, located in southwest Africa, is a paradise of natural beauty. Home to two deserts, spectacular coastlines and populous national parks, the country boasts unique wonders. New arrivals are captivated by scenes such as the 75-mile-long (120km) Etosha salt pan, the massive Fish River Canyon or the endless red sand dunes in Sossusvlei. With that said, foreigners would be mistaken to envision a purely arid, rural landscape with little else to offer.
Living in Namibia as an expat
Expats who relocate to Namibia may be surprised by the historical and cultural influences evident in its architecture, work environments and lifestyles. Namibia, a former German colony, was annexed by South Africa after World War I and remained a South African province until the country's independence in 1990. As a result, the capital city, Windhoek, is home to European-style buildings, while the country's food culture appreciates beer and a good South-African-style ‘braai’ or barbecue.
Most expats moving to Namibia settle in Windhoek – the social, political, cultural and economic centre of the country – where most jobs are likely to be found.
Namibia’s economy is based primarily on agriculture and mining, specifically diamonds. The country's many natural attractions have resulted in a thriving tourism sector. That said, finding a job in Namibia can be difficult, as the government tends to hire locals over expats due to the country’s high unemployment rate.
Conducting business in Namibia, as well as the dress code that accompanies it, is a relatively formal affair, but socialising is considered an important part of building good work relationships. English is the language most spoken in business, along with Afrikaans and German.
Accommodation in Namibia has had a rough history. A shortage of housing has driven the prices of properties up, and many locals can’t afford mortgages. But, expats from the US or UK, earning in a foreign currency, will find housing relatively affordable. Most properties in the country are freestanding houses, but the capital, Windhoek, offers condominiums, terraced houses and semi-detached housing as well, though prices are usually comparably high here.
While some public transport is available, getting around Namibia is easiest by car. The primary roads are paved and in good condition, but expats looking to drive on the more rural roads should consider a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Caution should be maintained when driving at night, as animals can frequently be found crossing the roads in certain areas.
Having access to healthcare in Namibia is vital, especially seeing as the northern part of the country is a malaria risk zone. In the capital and some of the bigger towns, there are good medical facilities with well-trained staff, but treatment can be expensive and medical insurance is advised. Namibia has both private and public hospitals, with the latter being more prevalent and serving most of the country's citizens. The quality of public hospitals is much lower than that of private hospitals in many areas. Outside of the main towns, professional medical treatment is fairly scarce.
Cost of living in Namibia
Life in Namibia is reasonably affordable. Mercer’s 2023 Cost of Living Survey ranks Windhoek 222nd out of 227 countries worldwide, indicating a comparatively low cost of living. An expat’s biggest expense will most likely be accommodation and education, unless expat children are placed in public schools.
Expat families and children
Expats with children may be concerned about schooling options. Education in Namibia is compulsory from the ages of 6 to 16. Both primary and secondary education at public schools is free, but uniforms, books, hostels and school improvement fees may be charged.
Most expat parents opt for private or international schools. The language of instruction in these schools is predominately English, but there are also Afrikaans and German schools, as well as schools following international curricula, such as the International Baccalaureate.
Thanks to the country's large desert terrain, Nambia is one of the least densely inhabited countries in the world. As a result, it's easy to escape the city for a weekend getaway to some of Namibia's more isolated areas. While some expats may opt for a low-budget camping trip, luxury safaris are also on offer for those looking to splurge on an outing.
Climate in Namibia
The country has a subtropical desert climate, with seasonal dry and wet spells. Winter falls between May and October, and is dry and cool with temperatures falling to around 45°F–70°F (7°C–21°C) in Windhoek. Summer is the wet season, with temperatures between 64°F and 88°F (18°C–31°C). Expats should note that the southern parts of the country tend to be colder than the northern regions.
Foreigners relocating to Namibia will probably not experience much culture shock. Namibian society is a blend of different traditions and cultures set against an astoundingly beautiful landscape. The country offers a fine standard of living, especially for those earning in foreign currencies. Those living in Namibia should embrace the desert and all that it brings.
Official name: Republic of Namibia
Population: Around 2.5 million
Capital city: Windhoek
Geography: Namibia is mostly arid desert, with some plateau areas and a rocky escarpment region near the coast.
Neighbouring countries: Namibia is bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana and Zambia to the east and Angola to the north.
Political system: Presidential republic
Major religions: Christianity
Main languages: English, Afrikaans, German and local Oshiwambo dialects. Several other languages are recognised nationally and regionally.
Money: The currency is the Namibian Dollar (NAD), which is divided into 100 cents. ATMs can be found in all but the most remote areas and expats should be able to open a Namibian bank account with their passport, visa and a minimum deposit.
Tipping: When eating out, tip 10 percent if no service charge has been included. Many tour guides and game rangers rely on tips for their income – the size of the tip is up to the individual’s discretion.
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz. Three round-pin plugs (types D and M) are used.
Internet domain: .na
International dialling code: +264
Emergency contacts: 10111 (or 211111 in Windhoek)
Transport and driving: Though there are some train and bus systems, public transport in Namibia is not very well developed, and expats will most likely need a car to get around. Driving is on the left-hand side of the road.