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Packing Guidance for Benin

This guidance is designed to describe appropriate clothing, the cultural context where you will be living and working, and the professional expectations of your workplace.

As you decide what to bring, keep in mind there is a 100-pound weight limit on checked baggage.

In general, most items you will need are available in country and locally acquired items are often the best at helping you integrate into your community. However, locally available items may not be the brands, quality, prices, or sizes you are used to. Bringing some key items from home might make your transition to service more comfortable.

This guidance has been compiled by Peace Corps staff and Volunteers and is based on their experience. Use this information as an informal guide as you make your own packing list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect packing list!

This packing guidance is designed to help you think through different categories of items and consider what you might want to bring, considering work expectations, cultural considerations, and your own personal preferences.

From the palm tree lined Atlantic beaches near the equator in the south, Benin extends north 435 miles to the Niger River. Benin’s southern plateaus are made up of lush green fields including pineapples and banana palms, with baobab trees and rocky hills farther north, extending to the drier Sahel region in the northeast and the Atacora mountain range in the northwest. Major crops also include corn, yams, cassava, rice, peanuts, cashews, oranges, mangoes, palm nuts, soy beans, and cotton. One of the smaller countries on the African continent, Benin is a bit smaller than Pennsylvania.

The climate of Benin is hot year-round. In the southern region temperatures during the day generally range from 80 – 95 degrees Fahrenheit (sometimes reaching the 100s), and during the night from 75 – 85 degrees, with high humidity. In the central and northern regions, temperatures during the day range from 85 – 99 degrees Fahrenheit (sometimes reaching the 100s), and during the night from 70 - 80 degrees, with lower humidity. There are rainy seasons and dry seasons during the year. During the rainy season there may be torrential rain several times a week. Many roads outside cities are not paved, and they may be dusty during the dry season and muddy during the rainy season.

Peace Corps/Benin provides the following items:

  • Motorcycle helmet
  • Mosquito net for your bed
  • Water filter
  • Bucket
  • Mattress
  • Bed sheets
  • Pillow
  • Cooking pot
  • Storage trunk (footlocker)
  • 2 burner gas stovetop and gas bottle
  • Fire extinguisher
  • For those interested, a bicycle (or funds to purchase a bicycle locally), as well as a bicycle helmet, repair tools, and under-seat bag
  • Smoke and CO detector
  • Peace Corps Benin cookbook
  • Technical training books
  • There is also an informal library of books for Volunteers to share

Allowances

Volunteers receive a settling-in allowance after training when they move to their sites after Pre-Service Training, which they use to purchase furniture and household items, in addition to a monthly living allowance which they use to cover general living expenses. These allowances are intended to be adequate to live simply, at a similar level as local colleagues in the community.

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take:

  • Pets
  • Weapons
  • Explosives
  • Radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted)
  • Drones
  • Automobiles or motorcycles
  • Flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers
  • Valuables such as precious jewelry or family heirlooms

Drugs

Do not bring any drug that has not been authorized by the Peace Corps for medical purposes without prior consultation with Office of Health Services Pre-Service. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Illicit drugs, including marijuana and related products such as CBD and herbal substances such as kratom, are prohibited during Peace Corps service, even if they are legal in your home of residence. If you use, possess, or distribute illicit drugs, you will be administratively separated from service.

Below is guidance on clothing expectations and cultural norms for work as well as leisure and recreation.

In Benin, dressing well shows respect for the people you interact with, so it is hard to overdress. Your dress and behavior will be judged by Benin’s conservative cultural norms, and your personal expression must be appropriate for Benin. Throughout rural Benin people dress modestly and fairly conservatively, and more conservatively in some communities or regions, including those with a larger Muslim population. Once you are living at your site, you will be able to observe how professionals dress in your community to understand the expectations. However, in general, if your clothing covers your shoulders, mid-riff, cleavage, and your knees, and is not tight, it is appropriate.

The main advice from previous Volunteers is not to bring too many items of clothing, as they enjoy buying fabric and having clothes made locally, and these outfits are better aligned with the styles and expectations of their communities and workplaces and help support cultural integration. Second-hand clothing including t-shirts, pants, and dresses are available and relatively inexpensive in Benin. When packing, focus on bringing enough basics to get you through the first months of training. Note that you will be expected to dress professionally, as you will for work in Benin, for your training sessions from Monday through Saturday during the three months of Pre-Service Training (see details on work clothing below).

Note that your clothes will have to sustain two years of sometimes rough washing, sun drying, sweat stains, dust and mud, and wear and tear. You will wash your clothes by hand, in buckets, and hang clothes to dry in the sun, and you will likely not do laundry more than once a week. We recommend avoiding white or light-colored garments that stain or discolor easily.

General clothing

  • Beninese people are very fashionable, and Volunteers are encouraged to have outfits made in Beninese styles by local tailors in the colorful locally available fabric.
  • Dress norms are generally conservative, to different degrees in different regions. Dressing inappropriately (shorts, halters tops, short skirts, tight or low-cut blouses, spaghetti straps), will make it difficult to be accepted in your community, while appropriate dress will help you be perceived as a professional, facilitate integration, increase respect, and decrease unwanted attention.
  • While clothes may be exposed to a lot of dust, mud, and wear and tear, great care should be taken to be neat, clean, and presentable any time you are in public. Being neat and cleanly dressed is a sign of pride and respect for others in Benin. Wearing dirty or ripped clothing is unacceptable in professional and public environments.
  • Lightweight, breathable fabrics such as cotton are ideal in Benin’s heat, provided they are not see-through and not too delicate to withstand rough handwashing. Also consider fabrics that are not too thick and will dry quickly when hung up to dry. Loose-fitting lightweight pants are generally cooler and dry much faster than jeans.
  • Wearing lightweight long-sleeved shirts and long pants in the evening will help protect against mosquitoes.
  • Underwear and bras: consider bringing enough to last the two years of service because you may not be able to get your preferred style, size or quality in Benin, and they tend to wear out more quickly due to rough washing and line drying.
  • You may want one hoodie, sweater or fleece for the occasional chilly nights, but you’re not likely to need more than one.
  • A lightweight rain jacket will be useful during the rainy seasons.

Work clothing

Appropriate professional attire in Benin consists of long pants, long skirts, or long dresses, and short or long sleeve shirts/tops that cover the shoulders and upper arms, waist, and lower back. All dresses and skirts should cover the knees, even when sitting. Teachers should wear shirts or dresses that do not show your armpit when your arm is raised. We recommend that you bring at least one nice outfit such as button-down/slacks or blouse/skirt for high-level meetings. There is no need for a suit or blazer.

Shorts are not appropriate in professional environments; they are normally worn by children and students rather than adults, or by men only for exercise or sometimes working in a garden or field. Similarly, short skirts, tops that expose the stomach or lower back, low-rise pants, backless dresses, and tank tops and spaghetti-strap tops are considered inappropriate in rural and professional settings. Pants are worn by some Beninese women, although many women, especially in rural settings, wear long skirts or dresses for work.

According to cultural norms, professionals in Benin do not usually wear a different outfit every day of the week, but they are careful to ensure their clothing is clean and pressed each day.

Leisure and recreational clothing

  • Leisure clothes in your home: Tank tops, lightweight t-shirts, shorts, yoga pants, and leggings are appropriate for sleep and lounging in your house once you finish Pre-Service Training and move to your own house at your site (but women will be expected to cover up if someone comes to the door, or to go outside). While living with a host family during the three months of Pre-Service Training, it will be appropriate to dress modestly while at home, following the lead of the adult family members.
  • Exercise: Among adults in Benin, shorts are generally only worn by men when exercising or possibly when working in the garden or fields. Likewise, sleeveless shirts are not worn outside of the house except for exercise. If shorts are worn for exercise, they should be knee-length or longer. For exercise women wear loose sweatpants and long loose-fitting t-shirts. Leggings may also be worn if they are under shorts, and are also useful to wear under skirts when biking.
  • Swimming: It is not safe to swim in the ocean or in lakes in Benin, but there are a few swimming pools that Volunteers enjoy going to from time to time. Swimsuits should be modest, such as knee-length board shorts, one-piece swimsuits, and modest bikinis.
  • Sun protection: The sun in the dry season can be very strong. Sunscreen is provided by Peace Corps, but if you have a specific brand you prefer, you may not find it in Benin or may find that it is expensive, so we recommend bringing a good supply. We also recommend bringing a hat. Sunglasses are available locally, but may not be the quality you are used to and may not offer the same protection such as UV and polarization.

Shoes are available for purchase new and second hand in Cotonou and at local markets. They are available in a variety of quality and sizes, but may be difficult at first to locate. We recommend that you use the below guidance to bring at least one pair of each type of shoe you think you will need to get you started. You can generally find shoes from size 6 ½ – 13 for men and 6 – 9 ½ for women; if your feet are smaller or larger, you may consider bringing more than one pair.

  • For work meetings and teaching you should wear professional looking sandals or shoes. Most Volunteers prefer sandals. Be sure that they can be washed because they are going to get dusty and muddy, and that they are comfortable for standing.
  • You will be doing a lot of walking, so also bring durable and comfortable walking shoes or sandals which can be cleaned as roads are often dusty or muddy.
  • If you like running or biking, you may want to bring appropriate running or biking shoes.
  • Rubber flip-flops are worn around the house and for casual activities, but are not appropriate in professional settings or for ceremonies like weddings or funerals. They are easily available in Benin and are inexpensive.
  • Rainboots are useful in the rainy season, especially for Agriculture sector Volunteers, but they are available and inexpensive in Benin so there is no need to bring them
  • Bring some socks, especially if you plan to wear closed shoes more than sandals, and for exercising.
  • The dust, dirt, and mud of unpaved roads and paths is hard on leather, suede, and fabric shoes. If you bring leather shoes, we recommend that you bring at least one tin of shoe polish of the appropriate color to maintain your shoes and keep them looking sharp. You may also consider waterproofing wax/sealer.

You should bring a three-month supply of any prescription and/or over the counter medications you use that are authorized/approved by the Peace Corps.

Note: Prior to service, Peace Corps supplies all volunteers with a medical kit containing basic, over-the-counter medications, as well as multivitamins.

See a detailed list of items included in the medical kit.

The medical unit will replenish prescriptions after the initial three-month training.

If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs (of the current prescription) with you. Contact lens use will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

See additional guidance from the Office of Medical Services.

Additional guidance for Peace Corps Benin

Medical supplies provided
  • Malaria prophylaxis: Benin is a Malaria endemic country and Peace Corps Trainees and Volunteers are required to take Malaria chemoprophylaxis throughout their service. Three options are available. The Med Unit will supply you with the one you choose.
  • Malaria treatment: Peace Corps Trainees and Volunteers are provided with one course of COARTEM malaria treatment. This medication is to be taken only as instructed by your Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO).
  • Azithromycin/Levofloxacin tablets for acute diarrhea: Upon arrival in Benin you will be provided with two courses of either one of these oral antibiotics depending on your allergy history. These medications will be taken only when needed as authorized by your PCMO.
  • Supplies: Mosquito nets, Rapid Antigen Tests COVID-19 and Rapid Diagnostic tests for Malaria are provided.
  • PPE: You can get alcohol gel and masks in Benin, so just bring some to get you started. Cleaning wipes are not as readily available.
Toiletries

Most toiletries available in the U.S. are also available in Benin, but they may be expensive and not necessarily the brands or scents you prefer; items like deodorant, shampoo, and conditioner may not be available outside Cotonou in smaller towns or villages. If you have specific preferences, you may want to bring a good supply. Shampoo/conditioner bars travel well and leave-in conditioner can be a good option. You may want to bring a refillable travel size container for your shampoo, conditioner, etc. to use when you travel. Some Volunteers also find earplugs useful.

Menstrual products: Peace Corps provides menstruating Trainees and Volunteers with menstrual cups or tampons and pads, or a stipend for them, but you may want to bring your own if you have a preferred brand. Menstrual discs are another option which some Volunteers prefer to bring with them. Tampons, pads, and disposable discs may be difficult to dispose of discreetly and hygienically, so some Volunteers prefer a menstrual cup for that reason.

Hair care: In Benin, beards, braids (corn row type), locs, and long hair on men are unusual. All men are encouraged to adjust to the local hairstyle (low cut/short). Many male Volunteers have chosen to shave their facial hair or cut their hair to facilitate integration. Many female Volunteers wear their hair back in a ponytail or bun, short, or in braids or locs. All Volunteers should keep their hair clean, neat and well groomed. You may consider bringing rechargeable clippers/trimmers, hair cutting scissors, and/or razors.

Jewelry and make-up: A good durable watch is especially useful for teachers, but also for Health and Agriculture Volunteers, and watches are not easy to find in Benin. Beninese women wear jewelry like earrings and necklaces, and Volunteers should feel free to bring jewelry if you want, as long as they do not look too expensive and are not irreplaceable if lost. Men in Benin do not generally wear earrings or have other piercings. Volunteers with visible body piercings or tattoos may need to conceal them, as they may be seen as unprofessional and make it more difficult to integrate into your community. Wearing makeup is not a professional expectation for women in Benin, but if it’s something you love, feel free to bring it.

Voltage

The electrical grid in Benin is unreliable with power outages and power surges. Because of this we recommend using a surge protector when plugging in your electronics, or charging via a power bank. Surge protector mulitplugs are available in Benin, but may be more expensive than what is available in the U.S. Before buying a surge protector in the U.S., make sure that it is 220V compatible.attery if they are plugged into 220V. Small travel voltage converters are available for purchase online, but are generally low amperage and will not support high amperage electronics such as hair dryers or kitchen appliances, so they may not be useful.

Power surges

The electrical grid in Benin is unreliable with power outages and power surges. Because of this we recommend using a surge protector when plugging in your electronics, or charging via a power bank. Surge protector mulitplugs are available in Benin, but may be more expensive than what is available in the U.S. Before buying a surge protector in the U.S., make sure that it is 220V compatible.

Access and reliability

Access to electricity varies at Volunteer sites. Many Volunteers have electricity in their homes, but may only have power for a few hours a day or intermittently, while others do not have electricity at home. Solar panels are available for purchase in Benin and many Volunteers who do not have electricity buy solar panels to meet their basic needs. It is also possible for some to charge devices at work or pay for charging elsewhere in their community.

Many Volunteers find extra batteries, battery extenders, power banks, and/or solar chargers very useful for keeping phones and other small devices charged. Batteries are available in Benin but may not be the same quality as you are used to, so you may want to bring rechargeable batteries with a 220V compatible charger.

Because power in Benin is unreliable, we recommend you bring at least one headlamp and/or rechargeable lantern. Candles and flashlights are widely available in Benin.

Outlets

Most outlets in Benin take a type C European plug (with 2 round prongs). Plug adapters are available for sale in Benin, but it is advisable to bring at least a few with you.

Personal devices

Peace Corps does not require Volunteers to bring laptops, external hard drives, tablets, smart phones or other devices. That said, many Volunteers in Benin find laptops, personal smart phones, tablets, and other personal devices very convenient for work and entertainment. Given how hard the climate is on electronics and how difficult it is to find repairs, if you choose to bring a personal device, we recommend bringing used or inexpensive ones and consider a protective case and screen protector. Peace Corps will arrange for Volunteers who do not bring a laptop to have access to a tablet or computer to use for completing required reports, etc. There are shared office computers in Cotonou and in another regional town which can be used for required quarterly reporting and other work projects. Laptop computers can be purchased in Benin, but are generally more expensive than in the U.S., and shipping from the U.S. is complicated and extremely expensive.

Phones

Peace Corps will provide you with a local SIM card/phone number and you will be required to be reachable at this local phone number. If you bring a phone from the U.S., it should be unlocked so it works with a local SIM card. Basic smartphones and flip phones are available in Benin. If you do not bring an unlocked phone, Peace Corps will arrange for you to have a basic smartphone to use in country.

Trainees and Volunteers access the internet by purchasing data for their phones, and many use their phones as a hotspot to connect other devices, or buy a wi-fi hotspot device in Benin.

iPhones are not common in Benin, so they may attract extra attention. Some Volunteers do use their unlocked iPhones and they have found that it is difficult to find iPhone chargers, etc. in Benin, so they recommend bringing extra chargers if you have an iPhone which you want to bring to Benin. You may want to get a case that covers the iPhone logo, so your phone attracts less attention.

Personal property insurance

Please note that Peace Corps will not reimburse you for any lost, stolen or damaged goods. You are strongly recommended to buy personal property insurance for your devices before arriving in Benin. The hot and humid climate, plus the dust, can be tough on electronics.

Based on your interests and personal preferences there may be additional items you will want to consider bringing with you. Below is a description of the common activities Volunteers engage in and what different Volunteers have said they enjoy having that might be more difficult to find in-country. Note: these items are not required or even recommended, but they might be nice to have.

As a general rule for all of your packing, if you can’t live without it, bring it. If it’s irreplaceable, don’t bring it. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will be living simply, like your colleagues and neighbors. Less is more.

Arts and Crafts

Art and craft supplies are largely unavailable or expensive in Benin, but can be an excellent hobby and way to bond with community members and students. If there is an art or craft that is near and dear to you, you may want to consider bringing some supplies.

Books

The Peace Corps Benin Volunteer Lounge has a lending library of English language novels and educational textbooks that are available to Volunteers. Some Volunteers prefer e-readers to paper books due to the weight of transport. If you bring a phone with an e-reading app or an e-reader device, having a U.S. library card will allow you to connect to your home library to borrow e-books when you have data or wi-fi. There is a very limited selection of French language books within the Volunteer lending library, and there is not a large selection for sale in country, so if you want to read in French consider bringing some books with you. Peace Corps does, however, provide French language study books and materials. If you have a magazine subscription that does not charge extra for international mailing, you will likely enjoy receiving it in Benin (although it will take a while to arrive).

Cooking

Many Volunteers find comfort and connection in cooking for themselves and others. Traditional Beninese kitchens are very different from kitchens in the United States. Cooking is typically done in pots rather than pans, food is cut with a dull knife while being held in the hand rather than on cutting boards, and meals are heated over charcoal, wood fires, or gas burners rather than stove tops. As a Volunteer you will be provided with a two-burner gas range similar to a stove top. Pots, pans, and other kitchen supplies are available in Benin in a variety of qualities – but be aware that high quality items are expensive on a Volunteer budget, so Volunteers who love to cook should consider bringing a good quality pan (many prefer non-stick), lightweight cutting board, decent knife and sharpener, vegetable peeler, can opener, and any other cooking utensils which are “essential” for you. All Volunteers will be boiling and filtering your drinking water, so at the least, good potholders are very useful.

Many spices are available for purchase in Benin – in Cotonou you will find French, Lebanese, Indian, and Chinese groceries as well as local markets -- but you may want to bring your favorite spice blend if there is something you love to cook with. High-nutrition snack foods such as granola or protein bars can be difficult to find (they are generally only available in Cotonou) and are expensive, but many Volunteers supplement their diets with locally available peanuts and peanut butter. Snacks like chips, cookies, and crackers are widely available, although not generally U.S. brands. Some Volunteers bring cheese powder to make mac and cheese with pasta and milk powder, which are easy to find in Benin. Vitamins are provided by Peace Corps, but nutritional supplements like protein powder are expensive and are generally unavailable outside of Cotonou. You may also want to bring favorite drink powders to mix with water.

Instant coffee is widely available and popular in Benin. Ground coffee is difficult to find outside of Cotonou and is very expensive. Black tea is easily available, and in Cotonou you can also find herbal teas like mint, ginger, and hibiscus. You may appreciate having a water bottle that can hold hot water for tea or coffee.

Gardening

Many Volunteers take up gardening as a hobby and to produce herbs and vegetables that are harder to come by in rural and regional settings. In Benin in most communities you can find tomatoes, onions, and garlic in the markets seasonally, as well as leafy greens for cooking, but other fresh greens like lettuces, arugula, and kale are hard to come by. Herbs such as basil, oregano, green onions, parsley, mint, dill, cilantro, turmeric, ginger, and sage grow well in the climate, but are difficult to find in rural markets. If supplementing your diet with home-grown veggies appeals to you, consider bringing a selection of seeds. Most gardening implements are available locally, but hand trowels, pocket knives, and clippers can be hard to find.

Games

The local version of Mancala (called Adji-to) is found in many communities in Benin, as well as Ludo (similar to Sorry) and card games in some communities. Checkers and chess are locally available in Cotonou. Games such as Uno, Settlers of Catan, or other card or board games are not well known in Benin, but can be fun and engaging ways of connecting to your community. Basic word games can be fun teaching tools, but you will want to bring them with you. Many come in smaller travel versions or can be removed from boxes and packed in resealable plastic bags. Just remember, no gambling!

Gifts

While by no means required, a small gift can be a nice way to make early connections with host families and community members. Calendars of American scenes, small coffee table books, pictures of yourself in the U.S., soccer balls (deflate them for packing), and small knick-knacks from your home region are very much appreciated.

Household goods

Bring a towel with you. Pillows, bedsheets, and other household goods are available in Benin, and the basics will be provided by Peace Corps, but the comfort and quality may be different from what you are used to in the United States. High quality items can be difficult to find and are expensive in Benin. Peace Corps will provide you with a twin bed mattress, and some Volunteers purchase a double mattress after moving to their community. Duct tape and adhesive hooks are useful and not easy to find in Benin. You may enjoy having a hammock. Consider packing any “can’t do without” household items.

Music

Many Volunteers who play a musical instrument find comfort and connection by bringing an instrument with them to Benin. Please be aware that the climate can be very hard on musical instruments and they may be attractive to theft, so please do not bring instruments of high monetary or sentimental value. In addition to headphones (and maybe a cheap backup pair), many Volunteers enjoy having a small, portable Bluetooth speaker to play music in their home and with community members. Please see the section on Electricity before selecting a rechargeable speaker.

Personal items

Showing photos of your home and family can be an excellent way to connect with your new community and work partners; you may want to bring a small photo album with printed photos. Volunteers appreciate having items that make their house feel like home. Consider bringing other sentimental or personal items that help keep you grounded and connected to your sense of home and self, but please do not bring anything that you could not live without in case of loss or damage.

Photography

Many Volunteers take excellent photos on their smart phones. For more avid photographers, consider bringing your camera equipment, but understand that it may present a temptation to theft and it will be exposed to dust and heat. Please consider how you intend to use your camera equipment, especially when taking photos of people. You will be trained on Peace Corps’ expectations around ethical storytelling and social media, and will be expected to always seek consent before photographing others and to be very cautious and thoughtful in sharing photos, especially of children. If you bring expensive equipment, please note that Peace Corps will not reimburse you for any lost, stolen or damaged goods. You are strongly recommended to buy personal property insurance for your devices before arriving in Benin.

Sports

Benin loves sports! Primarily football (soccer), but there is even a growing interest in baseball in some communities. Sports can be a great way to connect with your community and students. Soccer balls of various qualities are available locally, but other types of sports equipment can be harder to find, such as Frisbees, baseballs/gloves, American footballs, badminton, etc. Exercise bands take up little room in your bag and are good for personal workouts.

Travel

Many Volunteers travel within Benin and internationally over the course of their service (note that Peace Corps Volunteers have restrictions on traveling to certain countries or regions during their service depending on security and other considerations) and after their service. You may consider bringing a weekend travel size backpack, a small-mouthed water bottle (easier to drink from on bumpy roads), a quick dry towel, and a debit card if you intend to travel outside of Benin (ideally one with no foreign transaction fee). A credit card without foreign transaction fees may also be useful for travel.

You will be provided with a no-fee Peace Corps passport which you will use to enter Benin and for your return to the U.S. at the end of your service. However, if you plan to do any personal travel to other countries (including to the U.S.) during your service, you will need to use a personal passport for that travel. It is strongly recommended that you acquire a personal passport before arriving in Benin if you plan to do international travel. If that is not possible, you will be able to apply for a new passport or a renewal at the U.S. Embassy in Benin, but be aware that passport applications are only accepted in person in Cotonou and on a specific weekday each week, and finding an opportunity to apply may not be convenient due to your work schedule.