Jameela is a French expat living in Libya with her husband and two sons. A seasoned expat, she lived in the UK for 10 years before relocating to Libya in 2013. Jameela and her husband are both English teachers in the coastal city of Zawia. While Jameela enjoys expat life in Libya, especially the slower pace of life and the lower cost of living, she still misses her friends and family back home.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born in France but I spent the last 10 years in the UK, I now have dual nationality.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: I live in Zawia, Libya.
Q: When did you move to Libya?
A: I moved to Libya in March 2013. I first lived in Misurata then I moved to Zawia during the summer of 2013.
Q: Did you move alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved to Libya with my husband and our two children (two and four years old).
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: That’s a long story but let’s say we needed a new adventure and a better job. We are now both teaching English at a university here in Libya.
Living in Libya
Q: What do you enjoy most about Zawia? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: It’s such a different life it’s hard to compare honestly. I do enjoy the more simple way of life, sincere human contacts in a country where machines and the internet haven’t yet taken over our lives. We live very well in Zawia there’s nothing we can’t find. Let’s not forget Libya is a petrol and oil country; it’s a rich country.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Not sure where “home” is as France is very different now than it was 10 years ago when I left and although I had chosen to live in the UK it was never home, but my family and friends are hard to replace of course, there’s a void there.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Libya? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: Yes, it takes time to realise that there is no system in place here, at any level; organisation is completely lacking (on the road, in offices, in the government…) and it can make life difficult when you are used to a more structured life, but once the period of adaptation is over you learn to live one day at a time and to always expect the unexpected.
Also, there are loads of weapons in Libya and at first it’s unsettling to hear gunfire all the time, and see trucks with anti-aircraft machinery at the back.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: I’d say Libya is cheaper as many things that were expensive in the UK are very cheap here. Water, bread, gas, petrol and electricity are heavily subsidised by the government so they are almost free to buy. Besides salaries for expats are pretty high (in my field at least) and they are tax-free so you’ve got more than enough to live on and save some.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Zawia? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: Yes, it is absolutely essential to own a car in Libya. There is no public transport apart from louage (a kind of semi-public means of transportation for long distance) and there are no taxi services either. Not sure about trains but I’ve never heard of them here. You get better services in the capital, Tripoli, however.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Libya? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: I’ve used private hospitals twice in Misurata to see doctors for my children and it was great. The doctors were very professional, extremely friendly and most of them spoke a little English which obviously helps since I can’t really speak Arabic. I haven’t tried public facilities and I know that Libyans who need heavy medical attention usually travel to Tunisia if they can afford it as things are not very good at that level.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Libya? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Like everywhere in the world, there are always places to avoid but that’s not only for expats. The security situation in Libya is always kinda unstable, so it’s best to be careful at all times and take the advice of the locals when they mention safety issues. Having said that, we don’t feel afraid living here; it’s not a problem in our everyday life.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Libya? What different options are available for expats?
A: The renting market is difficult here because there are more demands than on offer. It is fairly easy to rent a flat for a single person but it gets complicated for a family houses. Besides, many companies offer accommodation to their employees as part of their salary packages. The standards of newly built accommodation are very high. Again Libya is a rich country and people like their comfort.
Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in Zawia?
A: In Misurata many expats live in the 9th July area; it’s perfect, not far from university campuses, close to the city centre, loads of amenities and the best school in the city (called Lamassat). In Zawia, no area is better than others really but, it’s best to avoid isolated areas as armed robberies do happen.
Meeting people and making friends in Libya
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: No, Libyans are extremely friendly and welcoming, very helpful too when they see you’re in trouble. Libya is a Muslim country, pretty conservative too so some practices are not tolerated but people from all backgrounds are welcome here. Women are not discriminated against, they are free to do whatever they like, but Islamic etiquette means that they do keep a low profile in public.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people in Zawia?
A: I’m still working on it… People entertain within the family circle here so it takes time to get to know people and socialise…at least for me.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats in Zawia? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends? Any social/expat groups you can recommend?
A: I’ve met expats (at work) and locals (my neighbours mainly); there’s no particular advice, just remember that Libyans are very sensitive concerning their city and they don’t like people criticising where they live.
Working in Libya
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit for Libya? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: We got work visas as part of our university job offer, it can be exchanged for an Iqama (residence permit) once the probation period is over. We got loads of help from our employers, otherwise it’s a very long process; not hard but you must be very patient.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Zawia? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: The job market is very open right now and it’s fairly easy to get a job as an expat, especially in some fields. If you have a postgrad degree you can easily find a job as an English teacher, even without much experience, even if you’re not a native speaker. Things will not always be that easy so now is a great time to make your move to Libya. The best resource is word of mouth, nothing works better in Libya.
Q: How does the work culture in Libya differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Zawia?
A: I can only speak about what I know (teaching) but some things are definitely different. Firstly, time is a different concept here, things happen…or not… you never know and no one finds this annoying here. Plus you’ll find that if you teach English the level of the students is very low so you can’t expect too much, you’ll get there but in the end but you’ll achieve little and that can be frustrating for some people.
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: We are a family of travellers, including the children so no problem for us. I’m the one struggling with the language. If a woman is coming with her husband, let her find a job or she’ll get bored, as there is nothing much to do here.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move?
A: As I said, my boys are used to travelling; they were born in two different countries, lived in the UK, they holiday in France and Tunisia to visit their grandparents and came with us on business trips to Egypt and other places. They’re actually enjoying life in Libya; much better for children than the UK, and they love the beach. For us parents, finding a good school was a concern but we were lucky enough to find amazing schools in both Misurata and Zawia.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: Yes, if you’re in Misurata, Lamassat is the best choice by far. They have a waiting list but you can convince them if you bring the complete application file and the fees all ready to hand in (worked for us). In Zawia the school my boys attend is also very impressive; they don’t have an English name though.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Yes; be patient, give yourself time to adjust and don’t forget your friends back home, you’ll need them as life as an expat is always a little lonely at the beginning.
► Interviewed January 2014