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Gabon Expat Life: Jay St John, Port Gentil (West Africa)

Posted in: Expats Everywhere

This is part of our Expat Life Series. Do you have a story? Share your Story here.

Gabon Expat Life: Jay St John, Port Gentil West Africa

 The Expat: Jay St John

Jay-St-John-Gabon-West-Africa-expat-profileWhat is your blog url?

Blog: www.fromtheretoheretheblog.com
Twitter: @theretohereblog

Where are you currently living?

We are currently living in Port Gentil, Gabon in West Africa and we’ve been here for close to 2 years.

(Update July 2012: They are now living in Stavanger, Norway)

What’s Your Story?

I grew up in small town Saskatchewan and my husband in British Columbia. We met while at the University of Alberta: I was studying to be a teacher and he, an engineer. We spent about 9 years in Alberta before moving abroad.

When and where did you get the idea of living in Gabon?

My husband and I were both living and working in Northern Alberta when he was approached about going international with his current company. We weren’t given any specific locations and we had no guarantee as to where in the world we could end up but we both were really intrigued by the idea of living overseas. We took a leap of faith and said yes and several months later, Gabon was proposed. We did what research we could and we decided it seemed fairly safe and would be a really unique experience so we said yes!

We are currently considered residents of Gabon thus we have what is called a “Carte de Sejour” and my husband also has a work permit. This was not an easy process at all and it continues to be a challenge for many expats.

We’ve been in Port Gentil close to 2 years now and on July 1 we’ll be packing up and moving to Norway.

How’s your French?

Gabon is a former French colony thus French is the main language. In fact, it’s quite difficult to find anyone fluent in English here. Being Canadian, we know a little French. I continued my studies in University however, it had been years since I’d used it by the time we moved. It was quite difficult for the first few months but as my confidence grew, so did my language skills. By the end of the first year, I was fairly confident conversing in French. It’s certainly not always grammatically correct but I can do everything I need to do. My husband on the other hand, relies heavily on me to converse in French.

He often understands a lot but struggles to communicate. He works for an English speaking company thus he mainly speaks English at work.

What do you do?

Before I came to Gabon, I was a teacher but I gave up my job to move here. My husband is an engineer and he works in the oil and gas industry.

How do you find the cost of living in Gabon?

Gabon is surprisingly, a very expensive country for expatriates. In fact, Libreville, the capital city, is currently ranked as the 12th most expensive city in the world. Our 3 bedroom apartment rents for close to $5000 CAD per month but our company takes care of that for us. We see the expense when buying food. I have paid $24 for a head of mediocre broccoli, $10 for moldy iceberg lettuce and most recently, $16 for 15 spears of asparagus.

Jay-St-John-Gabon-West-Africa-expat

Jay-St-John-Gabon-West-Africa-beach

What do you love about life in Gabon?

I’m not sure I could come up with any major commonalities between our home in Canada and our home in Gabon. In the beginning, it was very difficult adjusting to life in the third world especially coming from a place where rules are established and generally followed and most everything is fairly trustworthy. We had to adjust our way of thinking and living on almost every level.

Our biggest concern was probably safety. Everyone here employs full time guards for their homes. Sometimes I debate whether it’s really needed as even so, we’ve had several robberies. While it’s definitely a lot safer than some of it’s West African counterparts, there is always a level of uncertainty here. It’s something we’ve learned to cope with but it did take some adjusting.

Getting things done in Gabon can be fairly complicated, namely, securing residency. We were lucky to have our company take care of that for us as it’s really a full time job to keep up with changing rules and policies. A lot of that is difficult to prepare for as the communication between government officials is scarce so what one person tells you can be completely different from the next. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is be patient and don’t try to understand it – it just is the way it is!

Aside from the complexities of living in Gabon, we LOVE the weather. Living on the equator means temperatures are fairly consistent at around 30 degrees every single day. The humidity varies depending on the season but it’s almost always a good beach day. We also love the undeveloped and unspoiled beaches. The expat community here is also really great and helpful. There isn’t a lot to do aside from the beach so we’re often planning parties and events amongst our friends. In fact, I’m not sure I would have lasted the 2 years here without them!

Jay-St-John-Gabon-West-Africa-expat-profile

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with GringosAbroad.

14 comments… add one
  • laura Jan 20, 2016, 8:20 am

    Hi

    I’m currently based in Botswana(southern africa) and work for an international British company that assists people who live and work in Africa, who ve worked in UK . (UK pensions and tax implications abroad and back in UK).
    Kindly contact me on email if you think i could be of help to you.

    Regards

  • ROshan Nov 27, 2013, 11:42 am

    Hey Jay, It will be a great help if i get to talk to you?

  • Roshan Nov 27, 2013, 11:40 am

    Hi Jay, My husband has got the job offer from his current company to move Port Gentil. We are Indians. We have done some readings on Wikipedia and some blogs about the place to live in but have got few concerns regarding safety issues since his work might demand to go offshore sometimes and I might end up staying on my own for a week or so. Would it be a point of concern considering the theft and other crimes while I am alone? Can i be on my own in the city markets ?

  • Richa Nov 20, 2013, 2:38 am

    Hi all,
    I aling with my husband are moving to port gentil in couple of days.we currently live in abidjan, cote d’ivoire. Abidjan is a lovely city and is well equipped with most of the facilities. I want to know if there is any store where we can buy our indian ingredients and curries. Spices etc.,. Also does the city has a decent gymnasium or a yoga centre?? Are there enough restaurants ??

    • Shankar Nov 21, 2013, 2:55 am

      Hi Richa,

      Iam an India. Working here since 16 months for an oil company. I suggest you give me a call on +24104721417. I will be here in port gentil till 2nd Dec then going to India and will return on 4Jan’14.

  • richard Hindson Oct 31, 2012, 10:19 pm

    I’m in port gentil until Nov12th.I’m on a ship.What is there to do??

    • Jay Nov 16, 2012, 11:46 am

      Hi Richard,
      Sorry for my late response but I doubt I would have been much help for you! Aside from going to the beach there isn’t a whole lot to do in Port Gentil! I hope you enjoyed your time in Gabon!

  • sara Sep 24, 2012, 6:49 am

    Hi, thanks for the insight. I currently live and work in Namibia and South Africa. I’m getting married to a Gabonese national whom I met 9 years ago at University in South Africa. I am preparing to give up my job as an investment banker.
    It would be great to secure a job in Port Gentil where my fiance works for an oil and gas company.
    Should you have any leads as to job prospects do let me know.
    The thought of trading in a thriving career to be a house wife in Port Gentil does scare at times.
    AS you said besides the beach and learning to speak french how would a kill time?

    best wishes,

    • Jay Nov 16, 2012, 11:51 am

      Hi Sara!
      Many of the expat women I knew who looked for a job in Port Gentil found it difficult but mostly due to paperwork problems. The expat housewives had a residence permit but not a work permit and there is a strong union for local workers in the oil & gas industry trying to cut back on expat employees.
      My advice to you would be to make contacts with different companies, even through the other wives. A lot is about who you know in Port Gentil.
      Good luck!

  • Ghislaine Jul 21, 2012, 5:20 am

    Hi Nice article. Just a mistake you did you said that Gabon is in the West Africa but it is not. Gabon is one of 6 countries in the Central Africa. Hope you will correct it.
    Thanks, G.

  • Shankar Jun 15, 2012, 3:38 pm

    Hi Jay,

    Iam an Indian. Iam coming to Port gentil to work for an Oil company. First of all thanks to you for providing such a useful information to everyone. Iam coming to Port gentil to work on 28-28 days rotation basis. My concern is, till Iam at site, my security is being taken care by the company. But I sometime may have to work in office at Port Gentil. During that time, I may have to hire a single room apartment. I would like to know, how much does it cost to hire a furnished single bed room flat. In case I hire one, do I need to hire my own home security as you mentioned in your blog. I will be staying alone without a family. I also request you to enquire and let me know, whether I can get a hotel room for 70euros per day.Kindly reply to my email.

    • Jay Aug 12, 2012, 11:01 am

      Hello Shankar,

      I hope you receive this – I was not able to see your direct email – and apologies for taking so long to reply!

      It is very difficult to find hotels in Port Gentil and many companies book rooms yearly just so they do not lose them. I’ve never had to pay for one myself (our company always did) but I would say that 70 Euros might not cover the costs, at least for something clean and well taken care of.

      Housing costs are very expensive as well. Both of the places we rented were close to $4000 USD per month, albeit, bigger than what you would need. Usually, if you are rotating 28 & 28, your company will secure you a place to stay when in Port Gentil at a hotel or perhaps a staff house.

      If you find an apartment or a hotel, they will have security already hired. If you rent a stand alone place, you will have to hire security but again, I would be surprised if your company didn’t take care of this for you.

      Should you have any other questions, please email me at fromtheretohereblog@gmail.com and I’d be happy to answer them!

      • Priya Oct 24, 2016, 4:21 pm

        We are Indians and plan to move to Gabon from Chennai. Can someone please guide us in terms of the cost of living. I understand it is expensive but is it safe and as an Indian and Vegetarian with no French understanding are we bound to suffer. Should we look for a salary of about $10,000 USD + housing ; also how do the taxes work up. Any inputs will help us decide. Thanks

    • Pranab Ganguly May 14, 2013, 10:35 am

      Hey Shankar,
      I stay at NTOUM near libreville. I am a civil quantity surveyor. I am in search of a job at Gabon. Can u help me out.

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