What Living as an Expat in Tanzania is Really Like

What living in Tanzania as an expat is really like

Welcome back to Living Abroad, a new series that shows you what expat life is like in cities around the world. Next up: Melissa, who has been living in Tanzania with her husband and three children for eight years, after moving from California.

Melissa and her husband work as the directors of Kingdom Families, a family-based orphan care program that advocates for children to be raised in families. They live in Arusha, a town near Kilimanjaro.

Quick facts about living in Tanzania:

  • Languages: Swahili, English
  • Currency: Tanzanian Shilling (TZS)
  • Level of crime in Tanzania: Moderate
  • Cost of living in Tanzania: Very Low
  • Quality of life in London: Moderate

On moving to Tanzania: I originally came to Tanzania in the summer of 2010 to intern for a non-profit. I met my husband that summer and we got engaged only six weeks later. (Our love story is a bit crazy!)

We got married that next summer in my hometown of California, and have been living in Tanzania ever since. 

What living in Tanzania as an expat is really like

On waking up to Kilimanjaro: We live on the beautiful foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, and have an incredible, close-up view of the mountain from our kitchen table.

What living in Tanzania as an expat is really like

On the laid-back lifestyle: The pace of life in Tanzania is slow. There is a phrase in Swahili that says “Haraka, haraka, haina, baraka” which means, “Hurry, hurry, there is no blessing.” The laid back lifestyle is something that we have adopted into our own life in many ways.

We are a cross-pollination of our American upbringing and Tanzanian lifestyle, while still finding ways to maintain productivity, goals, and deadlines.

What living in Tanzania as an expat is really like

On the amazing coffee: Some of the best coffee in the world is grown all around us. There are coffee plantations spread throughout the slopes of Kilimanjaro and we are pretty spoiled to partake in its goodness daily.

A favorite of ours is a coffee shop called Union Café. It’s a co-op of local coffee growers that harvests their own beans and roasts them on site at the café. The café is what I imagine heaven smells like. 

What living in Tanzania as an expat is really like

On the local food: Tanzania has the most amazing selection of fresh produce, but also makes some pretty amazing fried foods. I love samosas, chapati, and Zanzibar pizzas hot off the griddle.

Rice and beans are also a staple of Tanzanian cuisine, and they have become comfort foods for me. I especially love them with sliced avocado plus several splashes of Tapatío, a hot sauce we bring over from America.

What living in Tanzania as an expat is really like

On the low cost of living: For the most part, the cost of living for an expat in Tanzania is relatively low. One can buy bags of amazing produce for a few dollars, barter for clothing at incredibly low prices, and live in a home for a fraction of the price of anything we could find in America.

But imported goods are another story; A box of cereal will give you sticker shock, and a small block of imported cheese costs around $10.

And unless an expat chooses to homeschool their children, international school fees can be astronomical.

What living in Tanzania as an expat is really like

On the best way to get around: We have used every form of transportation here: taxis, boda bodas (motorcycle taxis), dala-dalas (minibus share taxis), bajajis (the local name for a tuk tuk)… we’ve done it all.

But now, my husband drives a Toyota 4Runner that we bought locally, and I drive a Toyota Gaia that we had imported from Japan. Never heard of a Toyota Gaia before? Neither had I. All that really matters about it is that it has AC and a back-up camera.

What living in Tanzania as an expat is really like

On Tanzanian fashion: Tanzanian fashion can vary in a lot of ways. Men almost always wear collared shirts and women wear skirts and dresses.

Fabrics are often colorful, vibrant, and patterned, and styled by seamstresses in many unique ways.

What living in Tanzania as an expat is really like

Thank you so much, Melissa! 

Other posts you might enjoy: What Living as an Expat in Singapore is Really Like and The Ultimate One Week Zanzibar Itinerary.

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7 thoughts on “What Living as an Expat in Tanzania is Really Like”

  1. Awesome post! I just moved to Arusha for the next few months. I don’t know where you’re based, but feel free to get in touch with me if you want to meet up! I know you’re near Kilimanjaro which isn’t too far from where I am!

    • Hi.. I am planning to move to Arusha with my family. Can you please give a brief on the basics like water, electricity, roads, fruits and vegetables?


  2. Thank you for the post. I moved to Dar es Salaam about a year ago, and I love it! I started a Travel Consultation business so I could go on Safari all the time. LOL
    I love the people and the slower lifestyle. It was a huge adjustment of course in the beginning having come from Florida. But, now I am used to being a Muzungu. I understand the people more and the Tanzanian culture and it’s like heaven on earth.

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