Algiers, Algeria Report of what it's like to live there - 04/27/21
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?
I have lived in Rabat, Jerusalem, Madrid, and Sana'a.
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?
Traveling back to U.S. from Algiers isn't terrible during normal times. You layover in France or Frankfurt (or even Rome - I once had a layover there). Several hour flight to France, then 8+ hours across the Atlantic.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My husband and I work for the U.S. Embassy Algiers.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We love our house. It's a free-standing, two-level, 4 bedroom house with ample storage, a patio, and a small yard/garden. It's in a sort of cute and quiet Algerian neighborhood.. Most of the Embassy housing is clustered into two "fancy" neighborhoods (they're not fancy by our standards but Algerians would consider them so). There are mostly apartments in the housing pool, but I think they're all pretty nice, large, well-maintained. Most, but not all, have some outdoor space. There is no embassy housing in what would be considered downtown. Because Algiers is situated on hills overlooking a Mediterranean bay, there are beaucoup views. Unfortunately, very few of the embassy houses have these views. Commute time for everyone is about the same: 20-35 minutes on foot, 5-20 minutes by car (depending on traffic).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Grocery shopping here was confounding at first, but I've really come to enjoy it over the course of our time here. It feels very European, like old village European. I have my neighborhood corner store where I can get dish soap, paper towels, fizzy water, milk, and eggs. I have another high-end little neighborhood store (located near the Embassy) where I can get a good selection of pasta, tuna, cereal, cleaning products, and outrageously priced cheese, smoked salmon, and chocolates that have been smuggled in someone's suitcase. I have my beloved fruit and veg stand which has wonderful and seasonable produce. A short walk from that is the best baguette in Algiers at my boulangerie, Le Fourne Gourmond. And right across from that is a good selection of fresh fish - mostly sea bream, sea bass, but also imported salmon and local prawns - at my poissonerie. There are a few large grocery stores scattered around Algiers and they are not worth going to. The little stores are the ones who sneak things in, and they have a better selection.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
This is a consumable post and I've filled my consumables with Trader Joes soups, Trader Joes nuts, beer, liquor, body wash, shampoo, conditioner. You can only ship in 8 liters of wine as Algeria is a "wine-producing" country. They do produce some wine (a holdover from all the French-run vineyards during Colonialism), but not much of Algerian wine is very good.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
We order excellent Indian food once a week from a place called Taj Mahal. There are not a ton of other good delivery options and it's nearly impossible to explain to drivers who to get to your house, unless you're a pro in darija. There are a handful of fancy restaurants, most of which are located under the big monument. They all have wine, fresh fish, and white tablecloths. There are a trillion snack stands that sell things like sandwiches and French tacos, which are NOT tacos, so don't get too excited. There are a few great fish places near the Algiers port (an area called La Madrage).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No. Normal ant infestation post-rain but nothing a few ant traps won't fix. I'd say the houses aren't super sealed, so lots of sand and dirt can get it.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most people at the Embassy have some household help - cleaning people, gardeners, nannies, etc. We pay our cleaning lady about $25 for the one day a week she's at our house.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a basement gym and it's on par with what I've seen at other embassies. As of the spring of 2021, there's an outdoor Crossfit style gym under construction. There's a basketball court, clay tennis court, and nice pool on the embassy grounds. There's a Crossfit box that is huge, but the trainers are not super skilled. There are a few forests that are popular for people to jog in. I would not recommend women running alone.
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?
Lol, credit cards! I wish! No, Algeria is a cash economy. I've found a few ATMs around town that will sometimes disburse money, but they're not reliable. There's a cashier at the Embassy.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French and darija come in handy for local living. I've learned French since living here and use it out and about. The Embassy provides French and Arabic/darija tutoring, up to three hours a week. Local tutors are quite expensive.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, a person with physical disabilities would have great trouble living in Algiers. There aren't many sidewalks and the roads are crowded and hilly. It's one of the list accessible cities I've ever seen.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
I don't have much experience with public transportation here. There's a subway, but it's not relevant to where most everyone I know lives. Taxis are okay (although we're not supposed to use random taxis). There's a taxi service that folks at the Embassy use. Most of the Embassy people will use our Embassy Motorpool like a (much more expensive) taxi service, if they're not just driving themselves.
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?
Something small and not great. It'll get real dinged up. Availability of parts for our Honda has been an issue.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Our internet at home is just fine, but we are in the minority. Bad internet is a constant problem at this post.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There is one local provider, Djezzy. Most people I know have an Algerian phone number through Djezzy. It's cheap and the cell signal is pretty good, so when Internet is bad, you can hotspot using your cell phone.
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 are pretty good vets here. We brought two cats, and recently found a vet to come to our house to give them rabies shots. No quarantine required. Normal considerations to bring your animal to posts - all the shots and the paperwork. I can almost guarantee that none of that will even be glanced at when you come into the country toting your dogs and cats.
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?
Most spouses here work at the embassy and there are a number of good jobs: in the Community Liaison Office (CLO), EPAP positions in several sections, GSO assistant, and the health unit. It's not allowed to work on the economy. Several spouses work remotely, but the bad internet can be an issue for that.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Local hospitals, orphanages, and animal shelters.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Embassy work attire is usually business but with COVID it has devolved into a minuscule step whatever the heck you were wearing in front of your computer at home. Baseball caps, jeans. Anything goes right now. I'm sure that will change. Out and about: as a woman, I usually don't wear anything out and about that is shoulder-baring or form fitting in the butt. Skirts are fine, but nothing short. I've never seen a woman wearing shorts here, and actually it's not very common to see men in shorts either.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Algeria is a police state. You can't walk 200 feet in Algiers without seeing several police. Certain crimes like pickpocketing are relatively rare, but THEY can happen. A bigger issue is that travel outside of the city of Algiers requires so much planning and paperwork, and then you'll be accompanied by anywhere from 2-20 guys "for your protection." Doesn't make for the best sight-seeing experience.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The medical unit at the embassy is basically our "available medical care." It's not recommended that Americans use local medical services. MedEvac is an option, and our MedEvac point is London.
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?
I think the air is good! I'm basing this on the fact that there are so many blue sky days in Algiers. I walk fairly often and breathing in the exhaust on the roads is not great, but I haven't noticed many pollution issues here.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's a lovely climate. That's the best part of this post. Algiers sits on a bay on the Mediterranean so it's that nice Med climate. Never too cold. July and August can be quite hot and there's usually a rainy month that we'd call winter. Cool Med breeze, hot African sun.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Algeria is not a common destination for your usual crop of expats - NGO workers, journalists - but there are other diplomats here. Because there are not a ton of us, the expat community is pretty tight. You can meet many expats during the annual crop of "national day" parties at the various embassies, or at the one bar in town, The Brit Club (run by the British Embassy and open only to expats and their guests). Most of the expats whom we socialize with here really like Algeria and truly make the most of their time here in this vast and interesting country.
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?
National Day parties and other parties at embassies; the Brit Club; a handful of high-end restaurants; cultural events including those at the Opera house; the beach. There's a hiking club of Algerians that we tried to get in to, but were told they'd rather not have a massive security presence along for their hikes, and we couldn't blame them.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I know singles who have moved here and found everything from hook-ups to the love of their lives. There are dating apps, just like in the U.S., but there is not a bar scene. I think it would be challenging as a single, but not impossible (owing to the fact that it's a different culture here and people generally live with their parents until they marry). My husband and I don't have kids and our social group is a mix of singles, couples, and families.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes! Of all our posts, this is the easiest time we've had making local friends. Algerians are friendly, curious, smart, hospitable, and surprisingly open considering the violence that occurred here in the 1990s and for how not open the country as a whole is.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I would not call is a "good" LGBT city and would point out being gay is illegal in Algeria and the government regularly throws people in jail under a whole host of allegations... never specifically for being gay, but that's what it is. That said, there's a gay scene here. And I can't speak for Algerian society as a whole, but I've found in some Muslim countries, there's a real "don't ask, don't tell" vibe.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I'm white so I can't speak to the experience of being a minority here. In Algeria, "southern people" is sometimes used instead of saying Black, as the people who live in the Sahara desert and surrounds are Black. In Algiers, there's some tension between Berbers and Arabs but that feels more regional than racial to me. There is not gender equality here and that manifests itself in seeing mostly men when walking around. Men in coffee shops, men on the streets, men in the parks. It's fairly rare to see a woman walking by herself, but walking in groups is sometimes acceptable and walking with a man is a-okay. Catcalls and cars stopping to talk to you are common experiences for women walking alone here.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We went to an Algerian friend's birthday celebration in the Sahara desert. Standing on the sand dunes under a setting pink sun as a Touareg group danced and fired guns into the sand, and then sitting down to a mutli-course dinner at a perfectly-set table is an experience I'll remember all my life. We also hosted a party at our house with 60 guests and a local band performed music and everyone danced late into the night.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There's a bustling daily market called Premier Mai that is an experience; a few decent museums, including the Bardo and the Museum of Fine Arts. Most newcomers organize a tour of the Casbah, the counfounding, crumbling area that was the site of the Battle of Algiers - and that is worth doing once. In the summer, beaches are popular, but I've found them to be way too crowded and not very nice swimming. (And you have to drive either 30 minutes in one direction or 45 in the other to get to a decent beach). Tipaza is the "state" next to Algiers and it's not too, too difficult to travel to. There is a cute downtown with antique store and rugs, and two excellent fish restaurants. There's a "resort" called Corne d'Or that you can stay at overnight and it feel a little like you've escaped to Santorini, with its curved whitewashed architecture and pops of Majorelle Blue.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not really. I had thought Algeria would be more like Morocco than it turned out to be. As there are not tourists in Algeria, there's not much of a shopping vibe. There are some cool and colorful rugs. There are hand-painted tiles in Algiers. The are antique shops, but it's mostly Louis XIV vibe and not the mid-century I was expecting (as the French all left in the 1960s, I thought whatever furnished their homes would be in the antique shops, but that is not the case). But nice artwork - that does exists! The are a few small art galleries and shops where you can buy paintings, and we've commissioned a watercolor from a local artist.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Perfect weather; living in a place not many people get to see; kind and welcoming locals. And for me personally (a design-minded person) I have been really inspired by the North African meets European aesthetic of Algiers. Some of the buildings in Centre Ville are jaw-dropping. In need of a paint jobs yes, but the mix of Parisian-style architecture - the tall white apartments with big windows and wrought iron railings on the balconies - and Arab architecture with its domes and inner courtyards and keyhole windows, is so inspiring to me.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
It's not what I expected, which was "Morocco, but with a Soviet feel." It doesn't feel like Morocco. It does feel a tad Soviet, but also just more European than I expected.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. I might not go so far as to say Algiers is a "hidden gem" (but maybe?) but I would say that you could do a whole lot worse for a 25% differential post.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Love of hiking. Desire to drink in public.
4. But don't forget your:
Open-mindedness. It's not an easy place to live but it can be beautiful, enriching, and inspiring. A day at the beach might include a nightmare drive, people swimming too close to you in the water, you being a little disturbed so many women are wearing so many clothes to the beach, and no where to buy any food or drink. But still, you're at the beach on the Med! There are other women wearing whatever they want. You've sneaked a g+t in your cooler. Buy a tea and some nuts from the man who comes by to sell them. Have an insanely good fish dinner at sunset. Notice the bad, sure, but embrace the good.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The film Battle of Algiers is a good place to start as it explains the Algerian War for Independence (and is a beloved movie here) and book Inside the Battle of Algiers. The film Papicha for understanding how bad it was in the Dark Decade (the 1990s). And the novel "Our Riches" which is about a real-life little bookstore and its existence from the 1930s through the 1990s.
6. Do you have any other comments?
This is a great Embassy that does interesting work. The community is tight. The weather is perfect. I've really liked this post and encourage others to consider it.