Algiers, Algeria Report of what it's like to live there - 02/25/08

Personal Experiences from Algiers, Algeria

Algiers, Algeria 02/25/08

Background:

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 Rota, Spain; Manama, Bahrain; and several other locations as a child.

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2. How long have you lived here?

1 year and 8 months.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

I am affiliated with the U.S. Government.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

From Paris, CDG, it's less than 2 hours, from Frankfurt about 2 hours, and from Barcelona about 1 hour (good place for a holiday from Algiers).

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

For DOS employees, housing is fairly nice. There are 24 apartments in the American Residence Compound (ARC) with 2 bedrooms and varying floorplans. The storage space is limited. There are a few apartment buildings off post with an average of three apartments per buildings. They seem to be nice as well, though parking and storage are always difficult.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Most items are now available, though imported and somewhat expensive. The bread is fantastic. Seasonal organic produce and meats (though they take some preparation) are easily available. Algerian wines and beers are available. Beers are a pilsner and the wines are iffy and match stateside prices. Spirits are imported (when available) and expensive. Household supplies are available, but brands are mostly French or local.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

A treadmill. There are not a lot of places to go for a walk around here.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There is no fast food other than Chwarma (grilled chicken or meat) and Pizza. There are no deliveries but a few decent restaurants that are surprisingly expensive (security permitting).

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Good question. Send it with someone who is traveling. I don't hear good things about local post.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Widely available and fairly reasonably priced. Our nanny was US$400/month (and I paid too much I found out later) and maid is 1000dzd (about US$15) per visit.

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Not used here.

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are Catholic services at Notre Dame D'Afrique (security permitting) and private worship groups for other denominations (security permitting).

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Not that I know of. Post provides AFRTS for on compound residents and others buy an English/Arabic service from Movie Star satellite company. I am not sure about the cost but I think it's about US$500/year.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

A lot. Most Algerians speak French or Algerian Arabic (derdja) and very few know any English alhough kids are always anxious to practice with you.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Quite a few. The streets and sidewalks are in disrepair and there are not many elevator or ramps. You have to make quite an effort to avoid using stairs.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right, middle, left.. whatever.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

DOS personnel are not permitted to use these.

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3. 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?

A small SUV or an economy-size car. Traffic is crazy. There are a number of Toyota dealerships and French (Renault and Peugeot) dealerships.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, it's free for on compound residents. I don't know for off post.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Nope, they're all the same.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

VoIP, IVG+ calling card for the U.S.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There are several vets who will come to the Embassy to provide shots, etc, but for more advanced care, I can't say. Algerians aren't big on pets and pet supplies are rare (though available) and quite expensive.

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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.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Conservative but not as formal as back in the States.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Yes, Al Qaida is active here and managed two spectacular attacks in Algiers in 2007. There are daily skirmishes/attacks in the countryside.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Post has a local doctor who is good. I haven't had to visit any off post med centers.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Great! The winters are cool and sometimes damp but spring and autumn are warm and beautiful. Summer can get hot but not unbearably so.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

I had my child with me until the 11 December bombings when I decided to take him home. Prior to that I had a full time nanny who was reasonably priced. She was not trained as a nanny but she loved my kid, so it worked out. A family here had their child attend a local preschool and they seemed satisfied, though they also took their children home after the bombings.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Small. There are about 1,000 Americans in Algeria - mostly in the southern oil-producing region.

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2. Morale among expats:

I don't know - we don't do a lot of socializing with expats (there are very few of them in Algiers and the security situation is limiting)

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Mostly embassy-based.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

This is a post with danger pay and it's there for a reason. If you're single and outgoing, there is always something to do with other employees and, when the security situation permits, out in town. Same for a childless couple. I would not recommend this post for people with children. There is no infrastructure for kids, no place to take them, and the security situation is unsettled.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

There seems to be some tension between Berber and Arab, but it hasn't (yet) erupted into violence... at least in Algiers. Women work in every sort of business but normally in traditional roles. There's still a lot of French influence so it's not like many Muslim areas.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

The beach is lovely (security permitting), some expos in the Safex Expo center (security permitting), a few nice museums (security permitting), French cultural center holds concerts, and CLO trips (security permitting)...

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

They have nice ceramics.

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9. Can you save money?

Not as much as you'd think. Groceries can be expensive and Internet shopping can get addictive, but with danger pay and post differential, you can manage.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

No, I brought my kid with promises of improving security and a school in the works for 2007. Neither of those materialized.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Hiking shoes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Flexiblity.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Battle of Algiers, Bab El Oued City, Rachida, Inchallah Dimanche.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Be aware that Algeria and Algiers can be a very volatile place. The people are lovely (if gruff), especially with kids, and the country is beautiful, especially the countryside. The Government is opaque and aging rapidly, so no one really knows what the next few years will bring with all the variables: ailing president, terrorism, unemployment...So it's hard to say if this post will have to once again shut down, or if it will be able to make further normalization attempts.

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