Deciding on the right location is very important as it will determine the convenience for your family and yourself. We also all have our personal criteria’s and environment preferences. Your budget will also determine which areas are suitable for you. Most important is the main issue in Accra: the traffic. School locations are important too as one should limit the commute of children.
Accra is a large city of 4 million but a quite organized one that is fairly easy to grasp. The main administrative and business district runs north from the coastline and the coastal forts of Jamestown and Ushertown, the city’s original settlements, although many government and administrative offices and embassies are to be found in other parts of town. Traditionally home to the Ga people, the capital of Ghana has a large expatriate community as well as a foreign population from Lebanon, India and the United States established here for decades and more recent immigrants from West Africa, mainly Nigeria.
Accra’s weather is hot but not as humid than other capitals lying on the Gulf of Guinea’s coast due to the Dahomey Gap. The traffic problems and rapid development tend to overshadow the fact that empty land still abounds in Accra and that the areas where expatriates live and work are quite green. With main roads of rare quality in Africa, easily identifiable neighborhoods and a reasonable population density, the capital of Ghana cannot be considered as difficult or oppressive. Additionally, the number or suitable residential areas is not as limited as in many other developing countries’ capitals and include traditional expatriate areas, new residential or improved areas and more affordable ones.
While the quality of accommodation available in a particular area will contribute towards that area’s suitability, other factors are also important. Proximity to primary business districts, embassies, international schools, open spaces or social focal points can all lead expatriates to that district, and a concentration of expatriates will in itself attract more. Districts that have proved popular for one or more of these reasons will largely continue to attract expatriates over time, although the distribution of expatriates within a city can change as civic redevelopment or the construction of new high-standard accommodation makes other neighborhoods attractive (see “New residential or improved areas”).
As you go through the following, our Map of Residential Areas may come handy.
Prime traditional areas
The traditional expatriate residential districts of Accra are generally found in the eastern part of the city and the following three are recognized as the best:
Cantonments, located south of Kotoka International Airport, is much larger than one would think: from east, close to Burma Camp to west (Liberation Road) on the other end of Giffard Road and south as far as Ring Road. It is a quiet planned residential area comprising old and modern detached houses on estates occupied by the well-to-do, academics and government officials. Older properties have been refurbished but more often destroyed to make way for new gated communities of townhouses or apartments. The opening of the large US Embassy in 2007 positively affected the area in many ways, such as an increase of security. There are a few schools, including Ghana International School (GIS), the largest and one of the best international schools (British curriculum) in the country, and the New Horizon Special School for the mentally disabled. The Military Hospital and a few good clinics are also located there. There is nearly no shops or bars/restaurants in Cantonments and residents usually go to nearby Osu to buy food and for entertainment. Public transport is poor as most residents own cars.
Labone lies south of Cantonments, offers a better variety of housing possibilities for expatriates. The sea breeze makes the areas feel cool. Labone is much livelier as it offers several shops, banking agencies, bars and restaurants. Just north of Ring Road and Osu, it is a good residential location, yet a bit more affordable.
This large and quiet residential area is located west of the airport, almost up to the Tema highway, and it is largely inhabited by well-to-do Ghanaians and foreigners. It has numerous offices including those of international NGO’s and many embassies are located there too. Housing is mostly in houses and low-rise apartment blocks built during the colonial era and renovated to meet modern standards. There are also several new apartment complexes and construction is ongoing. The roads are good but this area is less green than the two above. There are a reasonable number of schools and a few shops and restaurants. Local public transport services are poor and most residents own a car. Water problems exist but vary depending if you live at the top or at the bottom of the hill. Set between the south of town and the newly constructed Tetteh Quarshie interchange to the north (named after the man who imported cocoa from Fernando Po - now Bioko in today's Equatorial Guinea - in the 1870s), Airport Residential Area is an excellent location, giving easy access to town as much as to the Kwame Nkrumah motorway (the only highway in the country), linking Accra to Tema and out of the city.
Other traditional areas
Still in the east of town are Ringway Estates, Ridge and North Ridge, and in the west is Tesano. East Legon is in the north of Accra. Tema, the port city, complete the list.
Located just west of Osu and south of Ring Road, this area is like Ridge/North Ridge: central with very close access to Accra’s main highways: east/west Ring Road and north/south Independence Ave/Liberation Road. It is a small residential area that is only minutes away from Osu’s buzz.
Just west of Ringway Estates and with the same good location characteristics, North Ridge is green and peaceful with many new apartment complexes but no commercial outlets. The Swiss Embassy and Alisa Hotel complex are located there and one can easily access Accra Central as well as other places.
More exactly West Tesano is a small enclave along Nsawam Road, going north from Nkrumah Circle. A mix of mostly westerners, Indians and Lebanese live in houses that are not recent but often have large gardens. Tesano is very quiet but many goods shops provide the foodstuff you need. Traffic is generally good: the Accra-Tema highway is quick to access as those going to Accra Central will go through the often congested Nkrumah Circle.
East Legon, the newest of all, has grown so fast that it is now well established in the Map of Residential Areas for expatriates. It is located further north of the city, just northeast of the big interchange next to Accra Mall that gives access to the Accra-Tema highway. Legon means "Hill of Knowledge". It is noted for its modern low-rise apartment blocks and detached houses; older buildings have been renovated to look very new; some areas are still to be redeveloped. East Legon is mostly the place for new and more affordable houses. There are a number of offices and hotels and more and more restaurants and bars as well as services and the A&C Shopping mall, built in 2005. The Ecole Française is located in East Legon as well as other international schools. Armed robbery and petty theft are not uncommon in this area (although there have been fewer incidents of late). Traffic is heavy in the morning and evening at the notorious bottlenecks entering and leaving East Legon. It is however a suitable area for those working in Tema, at the eastern end of the highway. East Legon extends east to Adjinganor and Trasacco Valley.
Tema is known as Ghana’s main deepwater port, 25 km east of Accra. It is also an industrial city that is growing in size and population. Lower rents let residents enjoy quality of homes they could not afford in Accra but expatriates working in Accra must carefully think about the commuting issue (day travel time averaging one hour and no less than 45mn). Tema enjoys better electricity supply than Accra and good water supply (Thomas, a Dutch resident, bought water tankers 2/3 times only in eight years). Overall security is better as well but leisure opportunities and dining options are fewer although this is improving. In Tema, you are basically are away from the social life enjoyed by expatriates.
New residential or improved areas
Homes are being fixed up or newly built in these following fairly well located areas. There are also attractive new housing developments on the long Spintex Road.
This area lies southeast of the junction of the Accra-Tema Highway and Nsavam Road (going south to Nkrumah Circle at Ring Road). It is divided into two parts: Old Abelemkpe and New Abelemkpe, which concerns us. Known as “Abelemkpe Forest” due to its shady nature, the new site is mostly occupied by academia, the well-to-do and foreigners. Abelemkpe has a good American international school, Lincoln Community School, and Nagwa’s Children Palace, a modern mosque, churches (Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal and Evangelical), hotels, clinics (including an eye clinic) and a handful of offices and industries. The area has two large parks serving as football pitches and recreational centers, near the mosque and on the Abelemkpe junior secondary school premises respectively. New Abelemkpe is fairly quiet and has good supply of power and electricity.
You will hear more and more about people living or working in Dworzolu, the area east of Abelempke that runs along the south of the Accra-Tema highway, between the Achimota road and the Tetteh Quarshie interchange at Accra Mall. This area has many shops, schools and is being further developed. Water supply is good as is access through several entry points. The best part of Dzorwulu is in the west, from the highway exit to Liberation Road and is called Airport West. North Dzorwulu is a small enclave opposite, north of the highway, along Achimota forest. This large natural area extends to the University of Ghana – Legon campus and is good for walks.
South of Dzorwulu and considered as an extension of Airport Residential Area, Roman Ridge completes a large triangular residential area that, in our opinion, will become very sought after. Numerous new houses and apartment complexes have been and are built in this quiet area where some roads are still unpaved.
Kanda is the area north of Ring Road between Liberation Road and Kanda highway and used to be the upscale residential area of Accra. It is an averagely populated middle and high-income area a few kilometers northeast of the city centre. Kanda has both old and modern buildings. The area is home to the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), the national television and radio stations, a private television station, TV3 and the Ashanti Golden Stool-style Flagstaff House, the newly-built controversial new seat of Ghana’s government. There are schools, clinics and several churches. Nightlife is very limited, there are no markets and only a handful of shops so residents go to nearby Osu for shopping and entertainment. Public transportation and traffic are good.
The famous Osu neighborhood is on the other side of Ring Road from Labone and extends south and east to the sea. It is a popular and dense area with a good mix of residential and commercial. The main north-south avenue called Oxford Street, starting from Danquah Circle on Ring Road at Koala supermarket, is renowned and numerous food joints, shops and banks are found there and in the many adjacent lanes. The area gets lively, particularly at night. Traffic is very often congested but you will learn how to play smart by using the back lanes. Osu extends to Nyaniba on the east and south to the main Labadi road linking Accra Central and but the southern part may be ignored (from the African market, just south of the Lara Mart supermarket).
Spintex has become a well-know residential area and is based on name of the road that goes through it: the long Spintex Road starts next to Accra Mall, extends east and then southeast towards the sea. The area has many shops and offices and is not the greenest and most beautiful. Many warehouses and industries are found along the northern part. Access to other parts of Accra is uneasy and traffic has become somehow difficult, except for the first few miles from Accra Mall. Should this location be suitable, Spintex is to be considered due to the wide choice of properties and lower rents.
More affordable areas
At mentioned in the “Affordable Housing” section, there are more affordable areas in Accra which are suitable to live in as far as access and security. Going out of the expensive areas to rent a home indeed opens a world of possibilities and savings but in the other end, the door for potential problems and a lower quality of life as things can become unorganized and unconventional.
First of all, it is difficult to find such housing through agents dealing with expatriates: word of mouth (acquaintances, Ghanaian colleagues) is the main way to proceed. A recommended neighborhood agent is a solution as well. How things will go once you moved in highly depends on your luck in finding accommodation in good condition and a good landlord who will not have overcharged you at the first place and hopefully does not live on the premises. The supply of utilities is an issue too, as some areas can for example be out of water during two weeks and have power available a few hours daily only: solutions exists (water tanks, power inverters, generators) but will generally not be provided by the landlord.
Shouldn’t you have or plan to buy a two-wheeler or a car, transportation must be considered as well: being away from main roads means you will have to walk in Accra’s heat to find taxis and trotros. Coming home at night time may be less safe if you have to walk at the end and your street may be without public lighting and/or unpaved, a problem during the rainy season.
Despite all potential difficulties and setbacks, there are countless foreigners happily renting and living in such areas while saving.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of these less “residential” but secure areas:
- North Kaneshie,
- central neighborhoods just west and southwest of Nkrumah Circle: Adabraka, Kolomlemle and Asylum Down,
- Nyaniba, just east of Osu, and
- Labadi Estates further east.
North Kaneshie lies north of Kaneshie, a densely populated, bustling mixed-income area revolving around the palace of the Ga Mantse, the Chief of Accra: the area boasts Kaneshie Market, one of the biggest markets in West Africa, where women sit under huge straw hats behind piles of tomatoes, yams, beans, plantains, peanuts and rice and basins of dried fish or meat. North Kaneshie has both old and modern buildings. The Central University College, a private religious university, and the Azuma Nelson Sports Complex, named after one of Ghana’s renowned featherweight boxing champions, are also to be found here. Nearby North Industrial Area hosts several warehouses, showrooms and industries. The main issue with North Kaneshie is access and traffic as one has to go through either Kaneshie Circle or Nkrumah Circle, both on Ring Road. The main road leading west out of the capital starts at Kaneshie Circle and it is the site of the market and a long-distance bus station.
Asylum Down is an area that looks smaller than it is and that is well located southwest of the junction of Ring Road Central and Kanda Highway. The area has both old and modern buildings and is averagely populated with Ghanaians of both higher and medium-income levels. There are no markets in Asylum Down. Armed robbery is rare but, like in all other areas, there is petty theft. Transportation to and from the area is good and generally speaking traffic is light, although Ring Road is congested in the afternoon and evening most days of the week.
Located west of Asylum down, up to the main road linking Nkrumah Circle to Jamestown, Adabraka is mostly on a hill and has a good feel. It is busier with more shops and offices as well as affordable restaurants. Many budget hotels are found in both Asylum Down and Adabraka.
Just east of the famous Osu neighborhood but less densely populated, Nyaniba has good access roads and is directly accessible from Labone Junction on Ring Road, thus avoiding Osu traffic.
Known as being the beach of Accra, Labadi Estates is home to quite some expatriates. Fairly close to Osu and other useful areas, it is an area where the supply of power and water varies. Shops, markets and good public transportation makes Labadi practical.
Living in such areas definitely represents a truer Ghana experience and lets you much more easily meet true Ghanaians. In fact, most foreigners living in these neighborhoods would not like to move to the areas where expatriates traditionally live.
Choosing an area
Now that suitable areas have been identified and besides personal taste and other parameters, the three main issues to consider when choosing where to live are:
work location, potential school locations if you have children, and traffic patterns.
Despite the many four-lane roads, traffic can easily be a nightmare that will ruin your life on a daily basis. Indeed, you must manage to shorten as much as possible the travel routes which you and your family will travel on a daily basis. To clearly identify these routes, consider first where you will work and where your children will be schooled. Attention must be given as well to the proximity of commercial areas and to the access points to neighborhoods (mostly for newer areas where infrastructure does not match development).
For traffic patterns to and from your workplace, ask advice from your (future) colleagues. For traffic patterns to and from schools, ask the staff and other parents. To confirm, experience potential commutes yourself during your scouting trip or on arrival. Traffic flows basically are north to south in the morning and opposite in the evening.
It is often difficult to find the optimal location that will provide a short commute for both your children and yourself: preference should be given to them, even if you will have the children dropped and picked-up by a driver. We know of a few cases where expatriate families have moved in the middle of their posting in order to reduce the children’s commuting time (at the expense of the working spouse).
See our Map of Residential Areas and Map of International Schools. Also our Guide on International Schools.
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