Zambia is sparsely populated, and most of the population lives in the capital Lusaka and the mineral-rich Copperbelt region. Home to more than 70 different ethnic groups, Zambia is a multicultural society.
Expats coming from more developed countries are likely to experience a fair amount of culture shock in Zambia. For an inexperienced expat, in particular, the most profound adjustment will be to the poverty endemic to the country.
Poverty in Zambia
Although the country’s economy has improved in recent years, much of Zambia’s infrastructure remains underdeveloped and expats may have to adjust to life without many of the luxuries they have back home. Many roads are not paved and power and water supplies can be unpredictable, even in Lusaka. It is not uncommon to experience power blackouts; a generator is therefore essential for any expat's home.
The sharp contradictions between the rich and the poor are highly noticeable in Zambia. Within a few miles, one can see the transition from rural mud huts and poor shanty towns to sprawling mansions and glitzy shopping malls with a swathe of luxury vehicles lined up outside.
Time in Zambia
Expats living in Zambia will need to learn some patience when it comes to making arrangements and attending meetings or social engagements. Time is sometimes a vague concept in Zambia, and Zambians often have a very relaxed attitude to punctuality. Meetings and social functions frequently start late, and expats should not expect any apologies for tardiness, as this is the norm in the country.
Language and communication in Zambia
English is the official language in Zambia, and most expats will therefore not struggle with a language barrier. Nevertheless, those living in more rural areas of Zambia may encounter those who do not speak or understand English, and they should take the time to learn some key phrases of the local dialect.
Zambians are quite formal and prefer to be addressed formally; greetings are extremely important and will be reciprocated. Politeness is highly respected in Zambian culture, and requests after a person’s wellbeing are the typical start to a conversation.
►For more on the local customs and etiquette, see Doing Business in Zambia
"I am well travelled so I didn’t experience culture shock when I moved to Zambia. With all necessary precautions and experience, everybody can manage quite easily."
Read more about Belgian expat Jacques's experiences in Zambia.
Are you an expat living in Zambia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Zambia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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