Algiers, Algeria Report of what it's like to live there - 03/15/14
Personal Experiences from Algiers, Algeria
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, I've lived in several other cities in Europe, Central America and the Middle East.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
DC, everything USG goes through Paris; other connections are possible through other European cities.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
It's all apartments, usually no more than 2 miles or so from the Embassy, and many are walkable. Traffic is horrific; a two mile drive can take anywhere from 5-30 minutes. There are lots of random police checkpoints on the streets, which also slow things down.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local fruits and vegetables are plentiful, cheap, and of reasonably good quality. There's lots of French stuff in the grocery stores, so you can generally find Western levels of quality in anything, although they may not be the brands you're used to, and of course you'll pay more for them.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing out of the ordinary, just go to Costco before you come and stock up on stuff you like, because other than soft drinks, there few American brands of anything here. Also bring as much alcohol as you like/can, because selection here is limited and more expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There's a gazillion local fast food places all serving the same thing at the same inexpensive prices. There are one or two French restaurant chains, but the rest are all local places. A decent restaurant or two can be found, and then they are U.S. prices. More often than not, the high prices get you less than high quality food. Cuisine is quite unremarkable.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None that I've experienced. They have a normal amount of mosquitoes; some folks have complained of ants in their apartments.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Receive via the pouch, I've never tried to send anything out of here.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Inexpensive. We pay our nanny about US$450/month and that's more than we need to.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
I am not aware of gyms outside the Embassy.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Nobody uses them. Everything is cash.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can't get by here without French. Even native Arabic speakers say they have problems understanding Algerian Arabic.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Immense. The majority of the streets don't even have sidewalks, and some that do are crumbling and don't have curb cuts. Few government buildings have elevators. My advice would be don't come if you have mobility issues.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We're not allowed to take buses and only a few pre-approved taxis. We can use the metro, but it's only one line, you can't access it from where we live, and most of the places it goes are uninteresting. It only has a few stops in the downtown area, and those are so close together you don't really need to use it.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Anything you bring will get dinged, so bear that in mind. Most of the roads in Algiers are hemmed in by high walls (picture being Pac-man inside the maze), and some of roads are VERY narrow - many should be one way and they're not. Nearly everyone has the back rear quarter panels of their cars scraped up - it's basically unavoidable. Don't try to bring in anything through customs unless the USG is bringing it in for you. The system is so incredibly complicated and corrupt if you try to ship something in one your own you'll probably never see it again. (No one will steal it, but you'll probably have to pay more than it's worth to get it out.)
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, about US$60-70 month. Reasonably reliable, at least in out neighborhood.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Never used them because the Embassy gives us phones, but there are several local carriers. However, they only have 2G here. They keep saying they'll upgrade to 3G, but I wouldn't hold my breath until it happens.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
No, they didn't even bother looking at our dog's paperwork when we brought him in. There are is a reliable vet who also runs a kennel that our dog is always excited to go to.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
No, it is against the law for spouses to work here, unless you come in with a specific work permit.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Don't know, but I'm sure there must be some.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business to business casual. In public most everyone wears jeans.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
In the city, no. You need a police escort to leave the city but how much of that is "security concerns," and how much is them wanting to keep an eye on you is an open question. There are problems with terrorists on the Libyan border and deep in the south, but both are over 1,000 miles away.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
We get medevaced for anything but routine care, if that gives you any idea. (Again, ridiculous considering how rich the country is.) No general health concerns.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Normal for any big city, perhaps even slightly better because we're right on the sea and there's usually a reasonable breeze, so pollution doesn't settle. I've never heard anyone express any concerns.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
A couple of months during the summer can get into the 90s F but humidity is low. Winters are rainy and a little cold, but usually nothing below 40F. It's quite temperate here.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Only French schools, no experience with them.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small and poor. This place grinds you down - it's incredibly frustrating to live here. There's so much potential and yet very little of it is realized. The bureaucracy is maddening and unpredictable, so working here is very difficult, and they'll get so much money in foreign currency reserves that many of us wonder what we're doing here trying to help. If you need to communicate with the Algerian government, it has to be by fax - they don't use email. And they don't pick up their phones very much. They have enough resources and history to be Morocco or Turkey if they really wanted to. They simply choose not to. Nothing will change here until oil prices fall and knock them off their collective keisters.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Home entertainment only. There are a few parks scattered about, but that's it.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a pretty dull city all around - the downtown closes at 6 or 7pm every night. Most entertaining is done in the home. The younger folks say there are a few clubs, although they don't sound thrilled with them, but they do exist. There are no bars as we know them, and most public gathering places are by custom male only.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Homosexuality isn't discussed, so while you can't really be open, you're not persecuted either. It's a "mind your own business" kind of place.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
There are some nice Roman ruins, but as a USG you need official permission (with a weeks notice) and a police escort whenever you leave the city. They say it's for your protection, but it's more so they can keep an eye on you.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Not much. Events here are not well advertised - it's all word of mouth. This city is hardly charming so there's very little to explore. Even the locals complain about it.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
None that I can think of. Because it's an oil state, and subsidies are so high, it's hindered innovation and growth in virtually every other sector, so you don't have the craft markets that you have in other North African countries.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather is temperate; it's close to Europe. Few in country benefits.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, there's very little to spend it on, except leaving.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wouldn't have come here if I knew what it was like.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Definitely not. If you want the "North African experience" you've heard about, go to Morocco.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Calender to mark the days until you can leave.