Yerevan, Armenia Report of what it's like to live there - 09/19/11
Personal Experiences from Yerevan, Armenia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No - Heidelberg, Germany; Poznan, Poland; Lublin, Poland; Vladivostok, Russia.
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. 14 + hours via Paris, Zurich, or London.
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
Housing clusters and apartments in the center. Commute from the houses furthest away, Vahakni, is about 30 minutes in the morning. From the city center, 10 minutes maximum. Housing is decent for families, close to the international school. However, far from work. Singles, couples and small families should consider living in apartments in the city center. You don't have to worry about driving as much. The only downside is that if you have a small family and live in an apartment, you child will need to take the bus to school. Not a tremendous hardship, though.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are more western-style grocery stores opening up around Yerevan. Produce is seasonal and sometimes there can be shortages. Last year, around New Year's, there were no eggs to be found for two weeks! You can always order your favorite food through netgrocer or amazon.com.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Cleaning supplies and paper towels - they're expensive here. Also, anything with a lithium battery cannot be shipped overseas.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Not a lot of fast food options here. There is a KFC and Pizza Hut, I've heard they're pretty good. There's no McDonald's here, the closest is in Tbilisi. You can find pizza in just about any restaurant. Dining out is cheap, you won't spend more than $10 per person. Some really delicious Armenian restaurants that serve great kabob, shashlik, and dolma.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
You can order organic foods through the embassy commissary. There is also an organic store in Yerevan that has good reviews. It's hard to find meat that is tender: it tends to be very tough.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None at all, very dry here. There are no mosquitoes, unless you're near any sort of body of water.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the Embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Help is available, it's not that cheap and the quality I'm told is not that great.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, there's a small gym at the Embassy, Gold's gym (expensive!) in town, and some other private gyms.
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?
This is a cash society. You can use your credit card at places like the Marriott Hotel, but that is about it. There are ATMs throughout town, but not all are very secure. The best option is to cash personal checks at the embassy to get money.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, Catholic mass at the orphanage mentioned above.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
You can order AFN cable for a fee.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It helps a lot to know Armenian or Russian, particularly the former when traveling outside of Yerevan. Young people speak English, the older generation does not. Especially when shopping, you'll need Armenian or Russian.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
A lot. This is not a physical disability-friendly country. Drivers are aggressive and there is not a lot of sidewalk space for walking. Have never seen anyone on the street with a physical disability.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The train takes forever to get to Tbilisi, and that's the only place it goes. Buses, marshrutkas, and taxis are plentiful, but you're putting your life in the driver's hands every time you board one. The bst bet is to drive yourself around. Local driving here is quite precarious.
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?
Bring a 4-wheel drive like a RAV-4 or something similar. There's a Toyota auto dealer with a great mechanic shop in town, with American/European service and quality. Though the roads are well-paved throughout the country, there are pot-holes and some parts of the roads outside of town are unpaved.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is improving. Can't remember how much, but it's not that expensive.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You can purchase one here. They work everywhere in Armenia.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
Few teaching jobs on the local economy, some jobs for EFMs at the Embassy.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Professional, suits for men, skirts for women.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really, other than traffic. Driving habits here are poor and quite dangerous with little concern for pedestrians. Need to be alert when crossing the street.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is decent for Americans. There's a private hospital in town where foreigners can go. Anything serious and you'll need to be medevaced.
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?
In Yerevan, it's moderate to unhealthy. The cars run on cheap gasoline. Though it's over 3,000 feet high, Yerevan sits in a valley and the dust and pollution frequent settle in the air. Once you leave Yerevan, the air quality improves.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Continental, though not nearly as extreme as Russia. Seasons literally change when they should: spring arrives in March, summer in June, fall in late September, etc. Winters are not that bad in Yerevan; there is not much snow. Once you drive outside of Yerevan, the climate changes dramatically. There can be a 20-30 degree difference after only a 30-minute drive to the north of Yerevan. Summers are uncomfortably hot in Yerevan: head for the mountains.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Quality School International (QSI). The building is brand new, very solid structure, adjacent to one of the housing clusters. It is better for children in lower grades. Children in higher grades, especially high school, have a more difficult time as there are few social outlets. Not a lot of extracurricular after-school activities. However, overall, it is a good school with good teachers.
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?
Yes, but I do not know too much about them to comment.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Not a lot, I am not aware of any after-school sports at the school. Embassy families organize soccer for kids during the school year.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
About 60 embassy people, not sure outside of that.
2. Morale among expats:
Morale is average. Some people are happy here, others are not. It makes a difference if you know the language, Armenian or Russian, and like to explore around the country.
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?
Going to a cafe and sipping on Armenian coffee and smoking ultra-thin cigarettes. That's what the locals do. Visit the Ararat Cognac factory. Take your child to the puppet theater. Go to a concert. Jazz scene is actually pretty good here. Or, you can get out on weekends and go exploring. There is one golf course next to one of the housing communities which is not that great, but the only one in Armenia. Plenty of places to go rock-climbing. There's a decent ski-run not too far from town.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for families especially with younger-aged children. Might be tough for singles, society here is pretty conservative. Armenia is an isolated country: borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed, the only open border for Americans is with Georgia (about 5 hour drive from Yerevan).
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Probably not that great, but not really sure. It's a conservative culture.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
No, but there are not too many places of worship other than Armenian Apostolic. There is an orphanage run by the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Theresa's Order) that has a Catholic mass every Sunday. I've heard there is a synagogue and mosque.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Traveling to the south and north of Armenia to visit ancient monasteries, taking a ride on the world's longest aeriel tramway across a stunning landscape.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Visit one of several cafes in Yerevan, take a weekend drive to visit an ancient monastery, travel to Tbilisi.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Carpets, cognac, and kabobs.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Traveling outside of Yerevan, visiting ancient monasteries and being the only foreign tourist there, beautiful Spring and Fall seasons.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, if you don't travel too much outside of Armenia.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, absolutely. We've had a nice experience here. Lots of downtime with the family, interesting sights to visit. This is not a thrilling place with lots of excitement, you have to temper your expectations.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
If you think you'll need it, bring it just in case.
3. But don't forget your:
Personal Vehicle. You'll need it around here, because you won't want to rely on public transportation and you'll want to get out of Yerevan frequently to see the sights. Bring your sunglasses and sunblock for the summer. Yerevan is 3,000+ feet up and very sunny. You'll grow tired of seeing the sun shine almost every day here.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Any history book about Armenia, it's an ancient civilization with a lot of tragedies. This nation has been to hell and back and keeps on ticking.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Calendar - Movie made in the early nineties by a Canadian-Armenian film director. Hilarious and a wonderful introduction to this country.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Consider this country if you have a young family. It has a lot to offer. Two years will be enough, though.