Yerevan, Armenia Report of what it's like to live there - 05/03/21
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, I also have lived in Russia multiple times and Europe.
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?
The Washington DC metro area is home. Pre-COVID, most people got back to the states via Air France through Paris or Austrian Air through Vienna. Both routes it is more than 20 hours of travel time with the layovers. During COVID, people departed and arrived at post on Belavia through Minsk. That is not ideal. You can also connect to the States via Dubai or Doha. More budget carriers were opening up to Yerevan like RyanAir, WizzAir, Baltic Air, but with COVID, the expansion plans were halted.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
Nearly three years.
5. 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?
Mostly the housing pool consists of single family homes in three areas: one by the school, one a little closer in, and then the other within walking distance of the embassy. There are also apartments downtown. The single family housing is spacious. The neighborhood by the school is designed like an American neighborhood and does not have fences, which can be problematic because of the feral dog problem. The other two neighborhoods have walls around the houses, which makes it better if you have kids and dogs since they then can enjoy the yards without fear of the strays. Overall, I would say the commutes are not over 30 minutes for any neighborhood.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There is one European-brand grocery store, Carrefour, that has more European products. There are also two Armenian chains, SAS and Yerevan City, that have more Russian products in their stores. The European products are more expensive, but we do receive the VAT off right when you check out, which is convenient. Armenia has some of the best produce I have ever had. The greens are amazing. The summer is abundant with fruits and the best tasting tomatoes ever. Apricots, plums, cherries, melons, peaches are all so good and so cheap. The winter is more bleak with less variety and imported fruits and veggies are more expensive then. Many homes have fruit trees in the yards.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More liquid laundry detergent and dish soap. The brands here just do not seem to get things as clean or cut through the grease like American Dawn does. It is a consumables post so we shipped the typical liquid goods like peanut butter, maple syrup, vanilla, American wine and beer.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is food delivery here that a lot of people use. The commissary can arrange delivery to the embassy during the workday, which is convenient. The restaurant scene was really starting to blossom, but then COVID hit so things have kind of stagnated. There is obviously Armenian restaurants (get your fill of grilled meats!), Indian, a couple of Asian restaurants, two craft beer places, Italian, etc. There are no McDonald's or Starbucks in Armenia. There is Burger King, but it often does not have beef so no burgers there. There is also KFC.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Seasonally there are these weird little bugs that come in, particularly in one of the neighborhoods and the embassy will spray for them. I have experienced ants in the house, but not too extensive of a problem. In the summer, the black flies are really annoying. Overall not too "buggy" of a place.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
It is a pouch-only post that takes anywhere from two to fours weeks to arrive. The local postal system is unreliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We are a rarity in the Foreign Service and do not employ someone to work inside our home. Domestic help is abundant and inexpensive from what I understand. Though many do not speak English and use only Armenian or Russian. We do have a gardener to take of the fruit trees in the yard. His monthly rate is approximately $80.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are some local gyms downtown and one that has a pool. I don't know the rates since I do not use them. The gym at the embassy is usually pretty empty and decently equipped. The embassy compound has a pretty large green space with a playground, track, and volleyball and tennis courts. The commissary arranges Zumba, yoga classes, and tennis instruction at the embassy.
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?
Credit cards are used here and it seems pretty safe. We mostly use cash though at restaurants and small shops. The grocery stores we use our credit cards.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Speaking either Armenian or Russian is super helpful. Even basic Russian will be useful to either read Cyrillic or converse with a taxi driver or shop keeper. It would be really difficult if you did not have either language to get by. English is spoken by more younger people, but it is not as widespread as you would think. You can use the post language program to learn either Russian or Armenian.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, most definitely.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The taxis are plentiful and super cheap using either Yandex or GG. There are buses and local marshrutki, but no one uses those, particularly during COVID times - they are germ factories on wheels.
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?
Definitely bring something with a higher clearance and four wheel drive is useful, if you want to get out of the city and into the countryside. There are a lot of SUVs here. Don't bring something that is precious to you. Nearly everyone leaves here having experienced an accident. Traffic laws are non-existent and the driving is really aggressive.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet speed is pretty decent and reliable. Nowadays it is installed when you arrive. When we got here we had to wait several weeks for it to be installed in our house.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Again the commissary can help you set up cellular service and bill you monthly through your employee association account. There is Ucom, Beeline, MTS. All are pretty comparable.
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?
There is one vet that everyone uses, Dr. Razmik. He is in practice with his father and his mother is the groomer. Razmik speaks English and his parents only speak Russian and Armenian. He can do a lot, but more complicated issues are beyond his scope. We have an elderly dog with advanced health issues and I have not been satisfied with the care she has received. On the other hand, he saved our other dog's life by diagnosing an intestinal issue and performing emergency surgery. Vet costs are very reasonable and I am sure to have sticker shock when I return to the States. It is pretty easy to get pets into Armenia with the basic health cert and no quarantine is required. One issue here is the amount of stray dogs that can pose a risk to your pet. One embassy dog died as a result of an attack by a dog pack. When hiking you have to be aware of the Gomper guard dogs who can be pretty vicious. Yerevan is starting to sterilize and release the dogs back into the city, which hopefully will help put a dent in the stray dog population. If you want to adopt a street dog, you will have plenty from which to choose.
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 either work at the embassy, the school, or telework with a stateside company. There is a pretty good mix of part-time and full-time positions at the embassy. No one I know works locally, but if they did the salary would be pretty miserable.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Some people volunteer with a local orphanage and there is a dog rescue group that some have helped.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The embassy is business dress. Out in public, it is casual. Pre-COVID, there was the Marine Ball, which was the only formal event I attended.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
In general it is a pretty safe post. Maybe some petty crime. Some areas along the border are off limits because of the conflict with Azerbaijan, and of course, Iran is the neighbor to the south.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The pollution is pretty bad here which causes some respiratory issues, particularly during the winter. If you can't see Mt. Ararat, you know the air quality isn't great. Anything serious would require medavac, even something like a colonoscopy. Medical testing is super cheap here with a mammogram costing about $50 and another ultrasound I had was $30. The question is can the local provider accurately read the tests? There is a US medical provider at post with a local doctor as well.
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 can be bad in the winter. I am constantly cleaning my windowsills and wiping away black dust. A lot of burning of trash and other things takes place during the winter. It is a poor country so people burn what they can to keep warm.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I have heard people have a difficult time getting asthma inhalers through pouch. Maybe try to stock up before you arrive.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There are four distinct seasons here. Winter can be very grey and bleak with some snow, but not a terrible amount. Inclement weather makes the driving even more treacherous. The spring can be rainy. Summer is super hot and very dry. Fall is quite pleasant, but too short. With the altitude (1,000 meters), the air is quite dry so people use humidifiers and a lot of chapstick.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community is fairly small. The other missions that are represented have only a handful of people. If you have kids, you are more likely to know the expat community through the school.
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?
Most socializing is through the embassy community with barbecues, brunches, and get-togethers at homes. Hiking is organized through the Community Liaison Office (CLO) or you can go out on your own.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Singles have a hard time here, both men and women. The Armenians are very insular and do not really date outside of their population. Families do well here with the abundant and inexpensive household help. Though some do have issues with the school, particularly in higher grades. It is fine for couples.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
No, it is not easy to make local friends. The language barrier is problematic.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No, overall Armenia is not tolerant of the LGBT community.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
People of color may have problems, particularly African Americans; there is a strong prejudice. Also it is a very patriarchal society so that may be an issue for some women to handle.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The ancient monasteries are very interesting and scenic. Outside of Yerevan it is beautiful with a lot of hiking and camping opportunities. Pre-COVID, you could easily drive to Tbilisi in about five hours and spend a long weekend in Georgia. The Georgian border is the only open border for Americans (Azerbaijan and Turkey are closed and Americans can't go to Iran).
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Drive to Dilijan for excellent hiking and scenery with a stop at Lake Sevan. Drive down to Tatev which is also very scenic. Check out some of the burgeoning local wineries - Old Bridge, Trinity Canyon, Tushpa.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Carpets are abundant here!
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The affordability of Armenia. It is so cheap if you buy local products. Also the services are really inexpensive - a woman's haircut is less than $20. Car repair is the cheapest ever!
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I would have known how bleak the winters are and how polluted it becomes. I lived in Russia multiple times, but the winters here affect me more than the long dark winters of Russia. Also I wish I would have known how difficult it can be to get out of Armenia. A quick trip to Europe is not a thing here because of the lack of flights and the fact they all leave in the middle of the night.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
It's a "one and done" with Yerevan. I didn't mind the tour, but I wouldn't sign up for another one.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Respect for the rules of the road.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience and sense of adventure.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Hundred Year Walk is an excellent book on the Armenian genocide. Watch the Amazing Race episode set in Armenia - it is very Armenian!