FAQs about Peace Corps in Mali

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FAQs about Peace Corps
  • How much luggage am I allowed to bring?
  • What is the electric current?
  • How much money should I bring?
  • When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
  • Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
  • Do I need an international driver’s license?
  • What should I bring as gifts for my host family?
  • Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
  • How can my family contact me in an emergency?
  • Can I call home?
  • Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
  • Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
...and more...

For information see Welcomebooks

How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Mali?

Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds those limits. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limits. The Peace Corps’ 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.

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave 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.

What is the electric current in Mali?

It is 220 volts, 50 cycles. However, not many Volunteers have electricity in their homes and where electricity does exist, power cuts and surges are common, putting a real strain on power supplies and voltage transformers or regulators. (The Peace Corps does not provide transformers or regulators.) For battery-powered appliances such as tape players and radios, we suggest D batteries, since these are readily available in markets. Many Volunteers use rechargeable batteries with a solar charger, which is a good alternative to disposable batteries.

How much money should I bring?

Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. You will be given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover your in-country expenses and normal vacation costs. Some Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel outside the region. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. All banks require proof of purchase (i.e., receipts) to cash traveler’s checks. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.

When can I take vacation and have people visit me?

Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an 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. We discourage extended visits (i.e., of more than a few weeks), and you will need to take vacation time if hosting visitors requires time away from work. The Peace Corps cannot provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance. Because an evacuation in the event of a medical emergency can cost more than $25,000, all visitors should plan to purchase medical evacuation insurance.

Will my belongings be covered by insurance?

The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects. Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase such insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers are cautioned not to ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.

Do I need an international driver’s license?

If you plan to rent a car while on vacation outside of Mali, you may need an international driver’s license. However, you do not need such a license for Mali, as Volunteers are prohibited from operating motorized vehicles. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Travel to and from rural areas is by bus, by minibus, by bicycle, or on foot.

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

Bringing gifts 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 that will not melt or spoil; or photos or postcards from your hometown to give away.

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

Most Volunteers live in small towns or in rural villages and are usually within one hour from another Volunteer. Some sites require a 10- to 12-hour drive from the capital. Peace Corps trainees are assigned to individual sites early in pre-service training, after Peace Corps staff has been able to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills. This early assignment allows trainees to focus on language needs particular to their site. If feasible, you may have the opportunity to provide input about 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 would ideally like to be.

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, 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, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For nonemergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580.

Can I call home from Mali?

International phone service to and from Mali is relatively good. SOTELMA, the national telephone company, has offices in all administrative towns. Calls to the United States cost approximately 5,000 CFA francs per minute, so most Volunteers prearrange calls from the United States or limit their calls to giving the party in the United States a number at which to return the call. U.S. calling cards cannot be used in Mali at this time, and calling collect is not possible.

Another alternative is the International Callback Service for inexpensive calls from Mali to the United States. All it requires the purchase of a Malian cell phone that generates a DTMF tone not a "pulse" mode. (Cell phones can be purchased relatively cheaply through many street vendors in Bamako or through one of the telecommunication networks in Mali: MALITEL, SOTELMA, ORANGEMALI.) Sign up online with United World Telecom, receive your unique access number, and when calls are placed to the US, the local telecommunications network is bypassed and you pay the low rate of $0.42/minute for the long distance call. No fees, no contracts... ONLY the cost of the long distance phone call.

Should I bring a cellular phone with me?

There are several cellular service providers in Mali. Service has been limited to Mali but network coverage is rapidly expanding. Peace Corps staff members with emergency responsibilities are equipped with cellphones. Differences in technology make most U.S. cellphones incompatible with the Malian cellular systems. For these reasons, we recommend that you not bring a cellphone with you. Some Volunteer purchase thier own cell phones after they arrive in Mali, although not all Volunteer sites are within cell phone network range.

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

As mentioned in the Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle chapter, Volunteers do have occasional access to e-mail and the Internet. The decision of whether to bring a laptop computer depends on your own needs. Computers are not required for Volunteers’ work. Few Volunteers have electricity at their sites, and the Peace Corps cannot provide technical support or insurance for personal computers. You can use the computers available through Internet cafes and, for work-related purposes, the Peace Corps office. We do, however, recommend that you bring a jump or thumb drive to faciltate carrying documetns from one computer to another.