Algiers, Algeria Report of what it's like to live there - 09/24/19
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, have lived in several other countries before this one.
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, DC, is home. It's not a bad flight, very reasonable layover times in Frankfurt or Paris.
3. How long have you lived here?
One and a half years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Like everywhere, it varies. It's OK but unless you're the DCM or Ambassador or very very lucky, don't expect luxury. Commute times are generally short, between 5-20 minutes for just about everyone. Houses are located in the nicer neighborhoods of Algiers, which are honestly not that nice, especially for an upper-middle income country.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get decent fruits and vegetables when in season, but other than that it's pretty slim pickings outside of the basics. The meat, in general, is not that good and expensive, but chicken and ground beef and lamb are available. Fish is good, and cheaper than in Europe, but you will filet it yourself. Locally made stuff is cheap but of poor quality. Imported items are pretty expensive. You can't get good milk butter or cream here, it's all made out of reconstituted milk powder, you just have to accept that. Very few good bakeries. This is not a foodie country.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Ship cooking liquids. Lots of people bring beer, too.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are lots of restaurants but they are expensive for what you get and there are very few good ones. Restaurant going in my experience is not that pleasant, though some claim it's fine. As with everything in Algeria, keep expectations low and you'll do ok. I guess there are a few good Indian places.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Not that I'm aware of.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Dip pouch only. Can take two weeks or can take months. Unpredictable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I hear it's pretty good in general, I don't have any.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a small embassy gym. Some people go to a CrossFit box in one of the city parks but I've heard mixed reviews.
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?
No! This is almost exclusively a cash economy. Almost no ATMs in the country work with international cards. Very few places take credit cards. You have to have wads of cash with you wherever you go.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is an Anglican Church near the embassy with weekly services in English.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Basic French or Arabic are almost mandatory. Educated contacts in the business world and some Algerian students may speak English, but don't count on being able to get far with English here.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, it's hilly and often there are no sidewalks and very narrow streets and passageways.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
You can take yassir, a local uber-like service (except you pay in cash). You can take the metro or light rail if you want the experience, but for most expats it's not very practical.
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?
As small as possible. And one that won't break your heart if it's scratched or dinged. Parking can be difficult and some garages are very tight squeezes.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet service is mostly adequate although not always reliable.
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?
There are jobs at the embassy, but not on the local market. I think there are a few lucky telecommuters.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business dress at work. Public places... nothing fancy needed but dress respectfully.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No, I feel safe here. Not being able to travel around the country without a security escort is limiting Driving is an anarchic experience but you get used to it.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No unusual health concerns, it's a good post in that way. Local medical care is not that good, anything requiring serious attention will need medevac.
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?
Seems pretty good most of the time.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
None I'm aware of.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It gets pretty warm at the height of summer, but anyone who complains too much about the weather here is crazy, it's probably the nicest thing about the post.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is a new American school that recently opened and is building itself up. In general people have had good experiences with it.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small expat community. Outside of dip circles it's unusual to see foreigners in Algeria. Morale varies. Work here can be challenging and some people have it tougher than others in that regard. If people are expecting this to be Morocco or Tunisia they are not happy but if you take it for what it is you'll be ok.
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?
Some people go to the Brit Club, there are some restaurant options too. House parties are popular.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's probably best for couples without kids. For singles...not much of a dating scene and the city is not packed with great options for going out. It works fine for kids too but there aren't a lot of outdoor play options or fun kid activities.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There is a community here but it is very discreet.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I think Algerians are awesome people. Funny, warm, open, generous, hospitable...as frustrating as it can be to work here, I think most Algerians are an absolute joy to hang out with. But not everyone feels that way...there are some large cultural differences, and language barriers can pose a problem.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Gender relations in this culture are different but don't prejudge too quickly. That said, there can be verbal harassment of women on the street.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Easy travel to Europe. Restrictions make in country travel complicated. Lots of people enjoy going to the desert in the winter.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are some great Roman ruins in Algeria if you're into that. The country is full of spectacular natural beauty, but tourist facilities are generally poor and it's hard to travel in country. You can visit the Hamma gardens and the old Medina of Algiers, but most people go to Europe for their fun.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Some carpets and a handful of interesting local artists. Outside of that, nothing I would recommend.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's close to Europe, the weather is mild, and the people are friendly.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Work is difficult and intense here with many sections working long hours. I didn't think the restrictions on travel outside the city would get to me as much as they do. Morale really depends on the people at post, since the city itself doesn't have much to offer.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Patience and willingness to learn.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
What the Day Owes the Night
Anger of the Dispossessed
A Savage War of Peace
Battle of Algiers
6. Do you have any other comments?
The political and economic issues here are fascinating. Algeria since Independence has created it's own unique way of operating that can seem opaque and bizarre to outsiders (and even other Algerians). If you think you understand something here it probably means you don't. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it has been a monumentally frustrating place to work, and I wouldn't want to repeat it.