By: Farah Harajli
If you’re planning a move to Senegal — or anywhere abroad — one of the best things you can do is evaluate what home comforts (or more important things like OTC medication) you’ll need throughout the year. Because while a relative or friend may be able to mail a bottle of Advil to you in most countries, the postal system isn’t as straightforward in Senegal — even in Dakar.
You might be thinking, “Well, that’s OK, because I can use DHL.” And it’s an intelligent assumption, but DHL’s capability is unfortunately on par with that of the local carrier, La Poste de Senegal. As you might’ve learned while reading about taxis in Dakar, Senegal doesn’t use address numbers or street names the way they’re used in nations like, say, America. This is navigable while you’re physically in a taxi, able to direct the driver using your own map app, but it’s obviously near impossible when a courier has a parcel for you and only knows your general neighborhood.
This is where a local number becomes necessary. It’s generally convenient for other day-to-day activities like networking and communicating with your landlord, but if you ever want to receive a parcel or even a letter addressed to you, you must have a +221 number, and you must ensure that the sender writes your number on the piece of mail (this is usually required on all global customs forms, anyway).
My tip is to simply send your items to yourself, if possible, ahead of moving to Dakar. By “items,” I mean things like toiletries, dry foods, medication, or other things that you know you won’t be able to find in Dakar, that won’t fit into the luggage you’re already taking, and that you can maybe pack a 6–12 months’ supply of for ease — by packing a large supply, you won’t run out before your next visit home.
Alternatively, if you don’t have a local address or number ahead of time, you can pack the items and prepare the shipping labels once you arrive in Dakar so that a family member or friend can print them in your home country and send them using DHL.
DHL, by the way — for which the main Dakar office is located in the Mad Max–style abandoned airport near Ngor — might charge you what they call a “route fee,” but which I call parcel blackmail. Depending on which aviation route your belongings took, the Dakar office will hold your item until you trek to their far-flung corner in the Middle of Nowhere to pay whatever price you can negotiate them down to for your own stuff. If you don’t want to burden yourself with this waste of time, best to call your country’s DHL center ahead of time to ensure you choose the right route (e.g., not the one through Brussels).
Just want to receive letters and small parcels and such? There are a couple options for this.
Again, if you have the sender write your phone number on the letter, it should be fine. But for those instances where someone is sending you a surprise card or forgets to contact you before sending, you can rent a P.O. box at one of the three main La Poste locations in Dakar for a small monthly fee. The slight inconvenience is that all three locations are toward the Plateau rather than spread throughout the peninsula, but this isn’t that bothersome considering the alternative is not receiving your mail at all.
Similarly, if you’re planning on staying in Dakar for a year or more, it’s highly preferable to be able to collect your mail in one place, at your convenience, versus playing phone tag with a courier the moment something arrives.
Living in Senegal is an adventure, and receiving post — while something we don’t often stress about in other countries — is a quirky part of it. My number-one recommendation is to completely immerse yourself in the experience by adapting to Senegalese toiletries and home goods, or just venturing to the expat grocers in Mermoz and Les Almadies to find a suitable toothbrush. But sometimes, a birthday card from a loved one or a simple reminder of home really is worth all the trouble.