Culture Shock in Angola
- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Angola Guide (PDF)
Nearly three decades of civil war has left much of the country's population living below the poverty line, and despite a booming national economy and government efforts to develop post-conflict Angola, the picture remains bleak for many Angolans.
With one of the most economically unequal societies in the world, many new arrivals will find that the contrast between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' is one of the biggest causes of culture shock in Angola.
Inequality in Angola
Luanda was initially built for some 500,000 people, but is now home to almost 3 million, most of whom live without access to clean water and electricity, or adequate healthcare and schools.
That said, for the rich and connected, Luanda is an El Dorado-like place; the pot-holed streets are jammed with an astounding array of expensive cars taking their owners to exquisite restaurants overlooking a marina full of yachts and luxury speedboats.
In contrast, the streets are also home to bands of street children willing to wash cars in exchange for something to eat, and people scraping together a meagre income to survive.
Cost of living in Angola
Aside from the painful daily reminders of the country's wealth disparity, expats may be surprised to discover the extreme cost of living in Angola. Exorbitant prices are matched with surprisingly low-quality services. It's normal to pay a huge rent for accommodation and then have to buy a generator and mend the leaking roof, or to go out to eat dinner in an expensive restaurant with sub-standard service.
Language barrier in Angola
Portuguese is the official language and very few outside of the oil and gas industry are likely to speak or understand English.
Angolan society is largely closed to foreigners and relationships are, on the whole, restricted to the workplace. Without a good command of Portuguese, attempts at interaction are often unfruitful and making friends outside of the expat community can be challenging.
Managing culture shock in Angola
Many foreigners retreat into an expat bubble until their contract is over and they can go home, or they throw themselves into trying to do something to help – volunteering at a local orphanage, organising food distributions or teaching children to read and write.
Expats arriving in Angola should come prepared to be challenged – emotionally, psychologically and professionally – and come armed with a good understanding of the complexities and challenges facing a country which, within a lifetime, has transitioned from colonisation to civil war and then oil wealth.
On a more practical note, it's strongly advised that expats review their contracts to ensure they have adequate provision for healthcare, housing, education and holiday entitlement (with an opportunity to leave the country every few months).