Angola: A new African El Dorado for foreign workers

Since the end of the civil war in 2002, Angola has been a shelter to many foreigners. Thanks to the growing economic development, to the rehabilitation of infrastructure and the maintenance of stability in the country, as well as the arrival of several international companies, foreigners feel compelled to try their luck in this country.

There are over 70,000 foreigners living in Angola, half of whom have work permits and are mostly Brazilian, Chinese, Cuban and Portuguese people. From Africa, there are also citizens coming from Congo, Mauritania, Mali, among other countries.

Portugal surely leads the way in the immigration field. Just to give you an idea, by the end of 2007 nearly 60,000 luso-souls had entered the country. This is a considerable amount which exposes the historical and affective ties that unite Angola and Portugal.

However, the Chinese make up an already considerable number in the country. They devote themselves mainly to the construction industry and are known to work hours on end, under sun or rain. In a letter in the ‘The world seen by the readers’ column, in Pedro Doria's blog, Angolan Caco writes:

“Os chineses foram os últimos a desembarcar por aqui, mas já formam o maior contingente. Ninguém sabe ao certo, mas dizem que são mais de 600.000 deles espalhados pelo país – dá algo como 3% da população. Trabalhando em turnos que causam inveja pela velocidade das obras e disposição para trabalhar 24 horas por dia e sete dias por semana. E num fenómeno inesperado começaram a integrar-se na sociedade de forma tão forte que a primeira geração de crianças sino-angolanas já começa a dar seus passos. Os chineses começam a tomar um espaço no coração das angolanas que até agora era dos brasileiros”.

“The Chinese were the last to land here, but they now make up the largest contingent. Nobody knows for sure, but they say there are more than 600,000 of them around the country – it's something like 3% of the population. They work in shifts that cause envy because of the speed of building work and are willing to work 24/7. And in an unexpected phenomenon they have begun to blend into society so strongly that the first generation of Sino-Angolan children are taking their first steps. The Chinese are beginning to occupy a space in Angolan ladies’ hearts that until now has belonged to Brazilians.”

What is the Angolans’ reaction to this mass of people coming from abroad? And how do foreigners deal with coming to this former Portuguese colony?

Brazilian António Spíndola, who was born in Recife and writes on his Spíndola Blog, talks a little about this subject:

“Recebo muitos e-mails perguntando como é a vida em Angola. Em sua maioria são pessoas pensando em vir trabalhar aqui que desejam ou já foram convidadas. Angola é vista como o novo eldorado para os profissionais do Brasil. A ideia que se tem são bons salários e novas aventuras. Entretanto, na teoria a prática é diferente! Há bons salários sim, mas há uma série de dificuldades que se precisa transpor.”

I get many e-mails asking how life in Angola is. Most of them are people thinking about coming to work here or those who would like to or have been invited. Angola is seen as the new El Dorado for Brazilian professional people. The idea is that there are good salaries and new adventures here. However, this is the theory, in practice it's different! There are indeed good wages, but there are a number of difficulties that must be overcome.”

One of these difficulties is getting a visa. The government puts up serious obstacles to the issuing of leave to remain and the whole process is very slow. Discouraging obtaining visas ultimately leads to illegal residence. It is important to streamline the bureaucracy and give the green light to foreigners wishing to settle on Angolan soil. We need to view the majority of these international citizens as a qualified labor force. As people capable of contributing to the development of a country that for 30 years was deep at war.

The O Lado Negro [Dark Side, pt] blog confirms the mishaps experienced when trying to obtain a visa:

“A minha esposa criou uma empresa em Angola e fomos para lá morar em 2006. Depois de lá estar voltei a Portugal para tratar de todos os documentos que a lei angolana exige para legalizar a minha residência naquele país. Mal empregado tempo que perdi e dinheiro que gastei, note-se que vir a Portugal tratar dos documentos e o que paguei no consulado do Porto para meter esses papéis, ultrapassou os 2500 dólares, mas para nada pois até hoje nem me deram uma resposta em Angola na DEFA (Direcção de Emigração e Fronteiras de Angola). Nem em Portugal no consulado me deram resposta, apenas o funcionário do consulado me disse: – o que o senhor quer, eu também estou em Portugal há 2 anos e só tive a minha residência há pouco. Depois de correr para a DEFA montes de vezes a tentar saber do meu caso sem nunca me dizerem o que se passava, resolvi meter uma reclamação por escrito. Acreditem que nem resposta me deram apesar da minha insistência.”

“My wife started a business in Angola and we went to live there in 2006. After going there I came back to Portugal to sort out all the documents that Angolan law requires to legalize residence in the country. The time I wasted and the money I spent were not well invested, note that coming to Portugal to deal with the documents plus what I paid to the Consulate in Porto to apply for the visa exceeded US$ 2,500, but for nothing because I have not yet got a reply from the DEFA (Angola Directorate of Migration and Borders) in Angola. Not even in the [Angolan] consulate in Portugal was I given an answer, the official in the consulate just told me: – What do you want, I have also been in Portugal for 2 years and only recently did I get my residence permit. After going to the DEFA many times trying to learn about my case without ever being told what was going on, I decided to complain in writing. Believe it or not, I was not even given an answer, despite my insistence.”

There are three main areas where professional people coming to Angola find work: medicine, construction and education. Some of them come to give training, others to work in the long term.

Most Angolan people do not see the arrival of foreigners in a good light. They believe it will lead to  economic, professional and cultural damage to themselves. There is also the opinion that foreigners in Angola don't behave appropriately. Desabafos Angolanos [Angolan Disencumbering, pt] confirms this:

“Sou angolana de nascimento, vivi 20 anos em Angola e esse é um país que eu amo e nunca sairá do meu coração. Não gosto de ouvir falar mal do meu país e muito menos do seu povo. Incomoda-me, irrita-me. Não consigo perceber as pessoas que só vão trabalhar para Angola por causa do dinheiro. Não gostam do seu povo, das suas gentes e só são simpáticas e cordiais para angariar simpatia. Essa simpatia chega ao ponto de abrir as portas de sua casa para ganhar confiança. Falam constantemente em corruptos e na facilidade em corromper. Quero ouvir falar bem do país onde nasci, cresci e fui feliz.”

“I am an Angolan from birth, I lived for 20 years in Angola and this is a country that I love and that will never be far from my heart. I do not like to hear people speaking ill of my country and even less of our people. This bothers, irritates me. I can not understand people who will only work in Angola because of money. They dislike its people, its folks and are only nice and polite to them in order to gain sympathy. For this sympathy they go as far as to open the doors of their home to gain trust. They constantly speak of the corrupt and about how easy it is to corrupt. I want to hear people speak well of the country where I was born, grew up and was happy.

Originally written in Portuguese, translation into English by Paula Góes


  • Ghulam Sediq Aasef , M.P.H., M.Ed., Ph.D.

    I am very pleased that Angola , the country that I love very much , has made substantial progress toward economic and social development .

  • Wing Lok

    Does anyone know that the relation between Chinese and the locals in Angola? Are they in friendly relationship, at least general impression?

  • Clara

    Hello Wing Lock, thank you for writing..
    from what i am seeing, i could say that chinese and angolan have friendly relationship. Chinese are well integrated in this country. I see some of them selling shoes or other products on the street or driving taxis wich is something uncommon between foreigners. And contrary to other foreigners, chinese do not have any problem living in (musseques) poor places. Also, like it is said in the article, chinese men have already a place in angolan women hearts and we can see children born of this mixture, wich is amazing!

  • Wing Lok

    Thank you very much, Clara!!! It is really interesting for me. Since I would expect as many Chinese are nowadays going to do business in Africa, the locals will have poor relations with the Chinese as they become unemployed because of the migrant Chinese workers. Besides, Chinese would have their own “Chinatown” and have no interactions with Angolan. And I oftne read from the news that China is extracting the resources in Africa and do nothing good for the local African livings. So, I am quite happy and surprised to know that there is friendly relations between the Chinese and the Angolan. Thanks, Clara!!

  • Clara

    Wing Lock,
    i must add that for example in Portugal where i lived all my life, chinese do not mix with th locals. They have their Chinatown like you said on your comment. So i was very surprised to see that here in Angola chinese mix with the locals in a heartbeat. A few months ago, a chinese was beaten by angolans because he was selling shoes on the street and they tought he was stealing their work.But cases like that are rare.
    Thanks for your comments.

  • Gary Jaime

    Well, I am chinese and I live here in Cabinda. I think Angola needs us and we live pretty harmoniously. We bring fund and technologies for locals and more importantly, show them how a big country develops! Some Angolanos in my company start to work more hardworking and even trabalhar sete dias por semana!!I am very proud of it! Any comments ,do not hesitate to contact me via email:

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