Algiers, Algeria Report of what it's like to live there - 06/09/16
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?
Yes, first post.
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?
Washington D.C. Connections are through Frankfort (Lufthansa) or Paris (Air France) with direct flights. About 12-18 hours depending on layover. You can fly Air Algerie internationally but expect significant delays/cancellations.
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?
Embassy housing has greatly improved over the last two years thanks to efforts of the GSO. That being said temper your expectations. You probably won't have a view and apartments tend to be small with little storage. There are very few stand alone houses. Housing is very limited and extremely expensive in Algiers and as a result no house in the Embassy pool is perfect. You may be near grocery shopping but far from the Embassy. Or vice versa.
All housing is within a maximum 30 minute walk of the Embassy. Commute times vary depending on time of day and traffic, but anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Fruits and veggies are cheap and of good quality but extremely seasonal. Some are only briefly available. Anything imported is extremely limited and very expensive while Algerian brands are of low quality. You can get Haagen Daaz ice cream but it costs $18-$20 a pint. Plan on bringing almost everything with you in your consumables.
Beer, wine, and some liquor are available locally or in the very small Embassy commissary. Algerian-produced wine is actually of semi-decent quality. You will see no American brands and a very small handful of western brands and availability varies widely. There is a Carrefour that just opened but don't be fooled, it stocks the same things as the other Algerian domestic stores. Algeria practices import substitution which means they turned away all western products for import with few exceptions to "encourage and protect the domestic market."
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Anything western brand named. An ethnic food products (Latin/Asian) are very hard to find.
Things you should ship include:
Powdered Mixes and Seasoning
Bacon/ ham, or other pork products
Canned chopped/diced/whole tomatoes
Cake & Brownie mixes
Side dishes (Betty Crocker potatoes dishes, rice dishes)
Tuna in Water (Tuna in Oil is available)
Domestic Beer varieties (beer is available but choice is limited)
Gluten Free Products
Flour (Algerian Flour is of low quality)
Vegetable or Chicken Broth
Anything that would be considered an unusual, rare, or luxury item in the U.S.
Tomato Sauce Varieties (sauce available is of low limited quality)
High Quality Olive Oil
You'll also be carrying a lot of stuff back in your suitcase from Europe -- cheese especially.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Algerian cuisine is of low quality and lacks flavor. Restaurants are either $3 per person (pizza/schwarma/sandwiches) or $40+ a person with no in between. There are two Indian restaurants (one of which delivers), an Italian restaurants, and several French inspired restaurants that are of good quality. But if you are a gastro freak, lower your expectations -- a below mediocre tourist trap restaurant in Paris would be the best restaurant in Algiers. If you go to a restaurant and have mediocre food, that means that you will be going back there several more times. There is oil in EVERYTHING. Delivery isn't very strong but if you can work something out with a specific place you may be OK.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Post has diplomatic pouch however no liquids over 16 ounces. Don't ship anything not through the pouch. It will take your HHE between 4-7 months to clear customs.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is available and is fairly cheap. Quality is mixed. Housekeepers are either passed on from Embassy employees or people hire cleaning people at the Embassy. Housekeepers can cook, buy groceries, and do laundry in addition to cleaning. We pay our maid about $30 to come once a week and cook/clean. Nannies are a little tougher given the recent explosion of kids at post (4 kids in fall 2014 to 32 in spring 2016) and a good nanny can be tough to find.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a gym, basketball court, tennis court, and swimming pool at the Embassy/CMR (across the street). There are one or two women-only gyms in Algiers that offer classes. Not sure of the cost.
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?
CASH-based economy only. Credit cards maybe kind of at a few western hotels. Dinar is the currency and it has no value outside of Algeria and is illegal to take out of the country. It is Monopoly money. You can exchange cash or cash checks at the Embassy cashier at the official exchange rate. The black market exchange rate is about double, but Embassy employees are forbidden to use it.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Anglican services are available in English with a community of sub-Saharan African students and there are three Catholic churches, one close to the Embassy - though services are in French. There is a very, very small Jewish community in Algiers but no synagogue.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Very little English language. Algerian Arabic is so mixed with French that Arabic speakers will really struggle. It's like trying to speak Spanish to someone who only knows Portuguese. French is the language of the elite but few people in Algiers speak it well. High school French would be very helpful in getting by but you can survive without it.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Very hilly and sidewalks are extremely spotty.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Don't take the bus. There are a handful of RSO approved taxis, but all taxis are ride-share things. There is a metro but is away from the Embassy area and only goes a short distance.
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?
Car or no car is an important decision. The streets are small, the road surface mediocre with a million speed bumps. Algerians drive poorly and the rate of traffic accidents is sky high. So expect whatever you bring to get beat up.
Regarding a car, there are a number of theories out there regarding cars at post. You should not try to buy a car from an Algerian dealership or Algerian. Instead most diplomats buy from other diplomats, usually Americans, and then sell to Americans when they leave. Cars from other Embassies sometimes are advertised as available, but prices are inflated and quality is questionable. You can bring in a car but it must be less than 3 years old. You can also now bring in a car that is more than three years old but you must apply for a waiver and take it out with you when you leave.
However, you can easily get without a car. I don't have a car and instead rely on the embassy motor pool. There are usually enough people with cars that we still get opportunities to go places. But to be frank, there's not much to actually drive to. You can't drive outside Algiers without a police escort and a dipnote. The two or three major markets/stores that have some items local shops won't have and small handful of attractions. However, you can (and we do) use motor pool to go to restaurants and stores we need.
Ultimately it seems that among the embassy it comes down to personal preference. Not bringing a car will be somewhat limiting, but not crippling. If personal freedom or movement is something that is important to you, then I would say that you should bring a car.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes - kind of. Coverage can be spotty and some houses has weaker internet than others. Cost is relatively cheap ($30 a month I think). You can stream video the majority of the time. Internet speeds slow to a crawl when it rains (makes no sense but it's true).
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Embassy will provide a phone. Use your phone's 3G when the internet goes out -- it is usually fairly good.
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?
Yes there is very good vet who has a kennel. Animals don't need to be quarantined. But bring your animal in the plane with you on the flight. If you send it in cargo you will enter the sucking vortex that is Algerian customs.
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?
Algeria does not have a work agreement of any kind. Your options are telework or working at the embassy. The embassy has some jobs available, but with the massive influx of families with kids, pressure has eased to create EFM jobs. Management has not been great about responding to EFMs desiring employment.
Telecommuting can be difficult because internet/power can be spotty though it has been possible to set up internet workstations at the Embassy community center that are more reliable.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Virtually none except in the Embassy community. Potentially at the American school opening Fall 2016. Don't attempt to do religious work or religiously connected work as the Algerians can be touchy about this.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Professional dress is required at the embassy. Some people wear jeans. In public shorts aren't really worn but do it anyway. Women don't have to cover in public but to avoid harassment should wear things that cover arms and legs. Invest in some light thin material dark colored jackets or sweaters.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Algiers lost danger pay in 2015. While there are terrorists active in Algiers, the police presence is enormous in the capital. You will never be more than 500 feet from a cop on the corner or a police checkpoint. In the Embassy neighborhoods you are very safe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Don't use local medical care. Ever. Get on a plane. Get out. The Embassy has a health unit that can handle routine stuff.
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?
Car pollution is bad.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Get out every couple of months to Europe before you start to go crazy. There's a flight Thursday night to Barcelona that comes back early Sunday morning so you can get out and not miss work.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Weather is actually really great. It gets hot in the summer with little rain. Sometime winners can be rainy and gray. But you are getting 8-9 months of great weather.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is a French international school. An American International School is finally opening in Fall 2016.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Expat community is virtually non-existent. The number of Americans living in the capital that aren't in the Embassy is like five people. The diplomatic community is small and very francophone.
Morale at the Embassy has varied between rock bottom low to relatively poor in my two years. Senior leadership and management by Embassy supervisors were the direct cause of this. However, the current Embassy community is very active socially and there is always something to do.
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?
There is a Brit Club with food and booze every Tuesday and Thursday.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
For single people take a good look at your coworkers because that's your dating pool.
For couples your other half should have some work lined up (telework or at the Embassy) otherwise you will go crazy with cabin fever.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No but yes. For a muslim Arab country it's not bad. There is a community but it is extremely, extremely discreet. Homosexuality is illegal but not widely prosecuted.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Ethnic in the south and the east but you won't be exposed to that.
Is there gender equality? No. BUT for an Arab country (in the capital) its not terrible. So a D but raised to a B- on the curve.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Go to Oran and Constantine to visit.
Definitely go to the deserts of Taghit or Timmimoun. They are beautiful and untouched.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There is an artisanal shop that highlights local handicrafts. But craft quality is pretty poor. You will struggle to find stuff to send/bring back.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
There's nothing egregiously bad about living in Algiers. There is just not anything especially good.
The weather is very nice.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Treat it like summer sleep away camp. Expect little in the way of direct comfort but you can still have a good time.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes . . . but I would never bid on it by free choice. Given post morale past two years and loss of danger pay I would not recommend anyone to bid Algiers. However, different leadership may lead to different results.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Hope of accomplishing things with the GOA. Their bureaucracy is insanely difficult and they don't want to work with the U.S.
4. But don't forget your:
Package of tissue in your pocket when you travel - you won't find toilet paper in public bathrooms.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Between Ballots and Bullets
Savage War of Peace