Yerevan, Armenia Report of what it's like to live there - 10/15/14

Personal Experiences from Yerevan, Armenia

Yerevan, Armenia 10/15/14

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Athens, Greece and Tel Aviv, Israel.

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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. The best connection is via Paris. It's advisable to get a (free) AF frequent flyer.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We've been here for a year, and have two more to go.

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

My husband is an FSO.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Three main housing areas for Embassy personnel. Vahagni - right outside of town, it is a gated community, for the wealthy, or expats. Walking distance to school, about 20 min. to work, depending on traffic. Houses are large and all have gardens. Great for families with kids, but it is somewhat isolated from the center. Singles/Couples without kids or with very little kids live downtown. Very easy to walk everywhere and very convenient. Also about 20 min. commute to work.

Third area is Noy and close to Noy (don't know that name of that area). It is less than 10 min to the Embassy, large houses with gardens. Need to drive to school (10-15 min), sort of middle ground between Vahagni and downtown. More "connected" with Yerevan life than Vahagni, for good and for bad. For example there is more trash on the streets, but also more shops and closer to town.

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

These days almost everything is available - especially the more common items. Fruits and vegetables are abundant in season.

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

Only very specialized items. Otherwise, almost everything is available these days. Imported goods are more expensive than local.

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

KFC. Many restaurants, serving mostly Armenian, Georgian and Syrian/Lebanese food. Prices are very reasonable - we often have reverse sticker shock. If you spend $25,000AMD for three people, including some wine - it is on the expensive side. International cuisine is also available - but it is more expensive and in my opinion is not as good as local cuisine. On the whole though, food is fresh, made from scratch (including french fries!) and delicious.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

No insect problems. Occasional mosquitos/flies.

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Daily Life:

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

Dip pouch.

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

Domestic help is very reasonable. 5 days a week full day is about US$400-$500 a month. Most people at post get domestic help and in general are very pleased.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Gyms are available - the two most popular ones are Gold's gym and Orange. Don't know the costs. The Embassy has a gym as well.
There are a few yoga studios, and more are opening. Cost of a private yoga class at home with a top notch instructor is 8,000 AMD (US$20). A 1 hour massage at home is about US$37.

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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?

Not all places accept credit cards even when they advertise that they do. But when they do accept them - they work properly. ATMs work well.

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

For daily living it's possible to get by with English only inside Yerevan, but it's very helpful to know Armenian, or Russian. Outside of Yerevan, most people don't speak English, but in recent years Armenians are realizing the importance of English and it is taking priority over Russian sometimes.

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

Probably.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are very affordable and are used often. They are not safe by U.S. standards - many do not have seat belts, the drivers smoke, and drivers in Yerevan in general are bad. Having said that - living here one needs to adjust to the rules of the game here (When in Rome...), and many people, including locals prefer to take taxis than to drive. Especially women.

Buses and mini buses are also abundant - although some foreigners use them, they are less pleasant. Often overcrowded and rickety. Because taxis are so affordable, that is the better option. There is a metro system here as well - I've yet to explore it.

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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?

A sturdy car is good in terms of safety and bad roads. A small car is preferable for navigating small streets. We brought our Honda CRV 4x4 and are happy we did. Keep in mind that the likelihood of having some damage occur to your is pretty high. There are no carjackings.
Many roads are bad, with potholes, even inside Yerevan. Because of the poor road conditions outside of Yerevan, we are restricted from driving outside of Yerevan after dark.

There is a Honda dealership - and we had our car serviced once. They seem to have done a good job.

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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?

It is accessible, but not in all areas.

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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?

We can get cell phone plans through the commissary, or get pay as you go SIMs directly from the companies. Coverage is good in Yerevan and throughout the country.

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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?

Very few. Whatever is available is very poorly paid.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many, especially inside Yerevan. There are many, many NGOs and opportunities abound.

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

People here put a lot of stress on outward appearance, especially women. Even household help will arrive to work and go home nicely dressed and made up. For formal events people dress in very formal clothes, most women wear high heals, but it seems as though standards are relaxing somewhat.

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Health & Safety:

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

Although three of the four borders are closed to us - the border to Iran is open, but not for Americans - the country is extremely safe. There are occasional incidents, of course, but they are few to the point that we are often lax.

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

We need to get med evac'ed for anything serious, but for basic medical and dental needs the care here is good enough. Most hospitals are old style Soviet.

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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?

Air quality is good.

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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?

Seasons are very distinct, and arrive like clock work. Air is dry. Summers are very hot, but not humid. Winters are cold. Spring and fall are beautiful, days are pleasant and evenings are chilly.

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Schools & Children:

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

QSI is the main school for expats. It is a very small school with about 130 kids PK -12. There is a new director this year and hopes are high. The elementary school is quite good. There have been complaints about middle school and high school because classes are small and socially there isn't much of a choice. Having said that - the kids all got into good colleges, and they are a tight-knit group. For families with kids younger than middle school - it is certainly a good enough school. For families with older kids - you will need to investigate based on your child's needs. Selection of sports and activities are definitely lacking compared to a bigger school, on the other hand there is a lot of individual attention because classes are so small.

There is a French school, which is not considered very good.

Russian schools too are not great. There is one Russian school run by the Russian government and students need permission from the Russian Ambassador to attend there. Those who attend are quite pleased.

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2. 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. Rainbow is an English speaking preschool that many expats send their kids to. There are other options but I don't have much experience in this area.

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3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

There are some sports programs at school but they vary from year to year as the children come and go. Local sports programs are available - they have local standards of course and are Armenian speaking - open minded people can easily blend in.

Chess is huge, very serious and very high level here. It is offered at the QSI school, there are chess clubs, tutors, competitions for even very young kids. Soccer, too, is popular.

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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 community. High morale. Most people end up extending here.

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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?

Concerts, dance, festivals, clubs, restaurants etc. One can find almost anything in Yerevan. It is a surprisingly active and buzzing place compared to its size. It is like a mini country within a country, because once one leaves Yerevan, it's like stepping into a different world.

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

Wonderful city for families, couples, and I think for singles as well.

It is a very safe city, children are welcome everywhere (although there are no special accommodations for kids in most places). More and more kid oriented places are opening.

Lots of restaurants, cafes, parks, museums and festivals.

It is a very lively city with a lot going on - not everything is in English but because Armenians are so inclusive and welcoming, if one is open minded, it is easy to join any activity and there will always be someone who speaks English to help out .

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

Not really. Armenians are very conservative. Homosexuality is perceived either as a disease or as a bad choice. Very little tolerance.

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

Population is nearly 100% Christian but religious prejudices are practically nonexistent. Jews are very much admired here and perceived as highly intelligent and a role model.

Because the population is very homogenous, other races stand out but as far as I know there are no prejudices.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Visiting with people. Hiking.

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

There is an abundance of music/dance related activities. This is an excellent post to take lessons in anything you've dreamt of doing and either couldn't afford or didn't have time for: pottery, art, singing, musical instrument, ballet for adults, exercise classes etc. All very affordable and high quality. Many people buy pianos here.

Hiking is great - it is very affordable to hire a car and driver and guide.

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

Beautiful Armenian Rugs! Lace tablecloths.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Armenians are exceptionally warm, hospitable people making the country a pleasure for foreigners. They are inclusive and inviting, and they make us feel almost like royalty. Touring is beautiful, especially in the spring. Prices are very cheap compared to the U.S. (except imported goods), so it is easy to save money, and also do things that in the U.S. are cost prohibitive (for example a weekly massage, private exercise classes at home, concerts etc). There are 4 distinct seasons, fall and spring are beautiful. Lots of fresh fruit and veggies in season. A lot of cultural activities: concerts, art, festivals etc. Yerevan is a walkable city, and families stroll in the evenings often. Very safe and child friendly. House keepers and drivers are good and very affordable.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Most definitely.

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

Fancy car if you have one - roads and driving are bad.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor, open mind and willingness to be spontaneous!

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4. Do you have any other comments?

I love it here, as do most people at the Embassy. Coming here, one needs to keep in mind that it is a post Soviet country but as far as hardship tours go, this one is easy. In other words it is a Post Soviet "Lite" experience. Not everything is good here of course - corruption is rampant, trash everywhere, even in fancy neighborhoods, driving is terrible, but with an open mind and open heart this country and its people have so much to offer that it is a real pleasure.

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