FAQs about Peace Corps in Benin

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How much luggage will I be allowed to bring to Benin?

Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds this allowance. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limitations, and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limitations. The authorized baggage allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight allowance of 50 pounds for any one bag.

Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (short-wave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution; and airport personnel will confiscate them. Please check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website for a detailed list of permitted and prohibited items at http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/ prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm.

What is the electric current in Benin?

The electric current in Benin is 220 volts. There are surges and cuts, which can put a strain on voltage converters and appliances. The Peace Corps does not provide transformers.

How much money should I bring?

Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, and these funds should cover their expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash for travel purposes. If you choose to bring extra money, plan on bringing the amount that suits your own personal travel plans and needs.

Bringing extra money to Pre-Service Training can be useful to cut down on your baggage weight. Items such as cloths or toothpaste/brushes or footwear can all be found in-country. It is better to have local outfits made when you are in training than bringing 50 lbs of clothes with you on the plane. This provides an excellent opportunity to practice your newly acquired bargaining techniques and language in-country and the Beninese appreciate seeing volunteers dressed in local garments. This is also a great way for female volunteers to verify that the clothes they will be wearing are culturally appropriate!

Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that developing third world nations tend to keep cash economies. Items like credit cards or traveler's checks might be useful at the few big resorts but you will be hard pressed to find many opportunities to use them. It is quite common for PCVs in Benin to buy plane tickets home completely with cash! (In West African CFAs this is a large bundle of cash)

When can I take vacation and have people visit me?

Volunteers accrue two days of vacation leave per month of service. Leave cannot be taken during the first three months of service or the last three months before your close of service, except in conjunction with authorized emergency leave. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training and the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site is not encouraged and may require permission from the country director. The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance.

Note that holidays celebrated by the host country do not count as vacation days and Volunteers are not excused from work on U.S. holidays.

Will my belongings be covered by insurance?

The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects. However, such insurance can be purchased before you leave. Ultimately, you are responsible for the safekeeping of your personal belongings. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided to you and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers should not bring valuables with them to Benin or have them sent overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair are not available.

Do I need an international driver’s license?

Volunteers in Benin do not need to get an international driver’s license. Operation of privately owned vehicles is prohibited. Most urban travel is by moped taxis or bush taxi. Rural travel ranges from bush taxis to buses to mini-buses to trucks to lots of walking.

What should I bring as gifts for Benin friends and my host family?

This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies wrapped in plastic that won’t melt or spoil; pens and pencils; or photos to give away. (See packing list prepared by Volunteers.)

Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?

Peace Corps trainees are not officially assigned to individual sites until after they have successfully completed pre-service training. This gives Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess your technical and language skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to finalizing site selections with ministry counterparts. You will have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, and living conditions. However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process and that the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you might ideally like to be. Most Volunteers will live in small towns or in rural villages. Some sites are in larger cities as well.

How can my family contact me in an emergency?

The Peace Corps Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, you should instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, ext. 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer may be reached at 202.638.2574. For non-emergency questions, your family may contact the Benin desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 1.800.424.8580.

Can I call home from Benin?

The international phone service to and from Benin is generally good. The OPT (the government-owned telephone and postal service) has offices in most cities. However, international calls are very expensive.

Should I bring a cellular phone with me?

No, it is better to purchase one here. Differences in technology make many U.S. cellular phones incompatible with service in Benin. There are four main cellular phone service providers in Benin, but service is not available everywhere.

Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?

More and more businesses and individuals in the capital and the major cities have Internet access and there are more and more Internet cafés in Benin. Because of weaker telephone and electrical infrastructure in outlying areas, Volunteers in rural sites are limited to writing and receiving e-mail on occasional visits to regional capitals. If you bring a computer, be advised that you may not have electricity in your town or village and that power surges are common (so bring a good surge protector). You should also obtain personal insurance coverage for your computer because the Peace Corps does not provide insurance for personal items.

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