Shared taxis and tro tros make getting around Ghana fairly easy and very inexpensive. Points to point taxis are also relatively inexpensive. It is best to arrange the rate before you enter the taxi and be prepared to walk away and find another since some taxi drivers will try to get the best of you.
With Ghanaians: Ghanaians observe many formalities that you will need to pay attention to. Be attuned and check with our local representative to ask about proper protocol. Always show courtesy and respect to those you meet even on the street and in the marketplace. On the whole people are exceptionally easy going and warm. It is easy to make contact and new friends.
While English is the National language, it is not the first language Ghanaians learn (you will be in a region where Ewe is spoken) and many people do not speak English well or even at all. Try and learn even some few Ewe words and customs and you will be well rewarded. Be aware that even with people who speak English, you are walking into a different culture and some words and even whole ways of communicating are different and it is easy to have misunderstandings. For instance, Americans are known to be very direct – saying just what they mean. Not necessarily so in Ghana, where people are more apt to say what they think you want to hear and they may expect you will understand what is not said. An obvious example of this is TIME; they may set up a time for an appointment and be 45 minutes late or more and think nothing of it. They may also seem to embrace an idea and agree to put it into action, then later disregard it blatantly.
Speak slowly and ask your question different ways to make sure you have been well understood. People often give you the answer they think you are looking for even when they haven’t understood a word you said.
By phone: It is helpful to have a (GSM) smartphone that is unlocked so it is able to take a local chip (sim card).
The chips cost about $1 and can be ‘topped up’ for small amounts. To register your phone chip you will need your passport. Calls to the US are reasonably priced (last rate check was less than 10 cents a minute) and calls can be received without charge to you. Feel free to call Ellen at any time during your stay with any questions, concerns or problems that staff on hand cannot easily take care of. Keep in mind that it is significantly cheaper to call the US than for calls from the US to Ghana. We can give you an allowance for calls to Pagus USA – just be sure to ask for reimbursement. We are here to make your stay as productive and comfortable as possible.
For family and friends calling you, we suggest they check the call rates from their carrier or purchase a calling card to Ghana. There are many sites online and even in gas stations that sell these. Skype also has some good options, especially if you set up a subscription and pair it with a skype-to-go number. If you have a smartphone, we have found Viber to be a useful application for free calling.
Money in Ghana
WE recommend having an debit card to use at ATM machines. Ask your bank if they charge transaction fees, as these can add up. If you are carrying cash, we recommend you take $50 and $100 bills (new issue). Credit cards should not be used (except for the one you used to purchase your ticket; you will be asked to show that when you check-in at the airport.).
Western Union and MoneyGram are common ways to have money wired, but the charges can add up.
Be sure to carry any cash in a money belt (not something that hangs on your neck). Pick-pocketing and other petty crime is common and as a foreigner, you may be seen as a target. Be cautious with money and property everywhere you go – even on school grounds.
The local currency is called Cedi. Rates vary and are currently around 3+ cedis for 1 dollar. Items you can expect to spend money on once in Ghana may include local transportation, dining out, food items, hotels or other accommodations when exploring the country, laundry, tips, gifts, handcrafts, etc.
Food and water: It is recommended that vegetables be cooked and fruit peeled. You can easily buy groundnut (peanut) butter, plantain chips, fruit, crackers, biscuits, water, etc. Items like cheese can be found in larger towns like Ho.
Milk is usually condensed. Breakfast is generally toast, eggs, or porridge; other meals are centered on a carbohydrate like rice, yam, corn or cassava and are dripping in palm-nut oil. Protein choices are secondary and are usually goat, chicken or fish (tilapia). Beans are also popular. Many volunteers carry protein and other food bars with them.
Water sachets (called Pure Water) are easy to come by and very cheap. Be sure that the ones you purchase are factory sealed.
Some volunteers are able to enjoy street food and even sometimes tolerate raw vegetables. Even if you have a strong stomach, we caution you to have a supply of medication should you have any distress.
Dress: Ghanaians take great pride in their appearance and dress. Women usually wear skirts and dresses and most clothing is pressed crisply. Women are encouraged to wear skirts that are knee length or longer. or lightweight pants.
Shopping: It is acceptable and even advisable to bargain for handicrafts and some other items or services. Prices quoted are often double and sometimes can be 3-4 times over what an item is worth. Our local representatives can give guidance on this.
Photography: Most children and many adults love to have their photos taken and enjoy seeing the images on the camera. But in any new situation it is advisable not to take photos unless you check to make sure it is ok to do so. Some people get very upset otherwise.
Smoking and Drinking: Very few people in Ghana smoke and smoking is not looked upon favorably. If you are a smoker, please be sure to let us know before your trip. Drinking should only be done in moderation. You are in a small town and your students and fellow students will be very aware of your behavior. Be a good role model always.
Health concerns: Be sure to keep yourself healthy by eating right – a strong immune system and an intestinal tract supplemented with probiotics makes for a much easier stay. Start probiotic and other immune boosting supplements before you leave. See our packing list for recommendations on what medical and first aid supplies to carry with you. If you get sick, be sure to let us know right away so we can do our best to assist you.
Hospitals and Health Clinics: Volunteers should report any illness to their supervisor and/or Ellen. Should you need to go to a health clinic or hospital, there are several options in Ho we can direct you to. Any serious illness should be reported to your travel insurance company so that should you need to be transported to another country or back home, they can assist with arrangements. Save all of your receipts. Be sure to let us know if you become ill and require treatment so we can help you navigate as best as possible.
Tipping: Whenever someone helps you out it is OK to give them a tip – such as for doing laundry, carrying things, etc. Tips are not expected in restaurants but are of course happily accepted.
Going with the flow: This is perhaps the most useful advice we can give. You will soon see that in Ghana things don’t often go as planned; equipment breaks down, power goes off, water stops flowing, accidents cause delays, etc. You may not always know why a plan has changed, just that what you thought was going to happen, didn’t. Try and get as much clarity as you can, do your best to keep things on track, and finally accept when things do not go as expected.