Yerevan, Armenia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/09/08
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. We also lived in Lima (Peru), Salamanca (Spain), Casablanca (Morocco), Sarajevo (Bosnia), Amman (Jordan), Dhaka (Bangladesh), and Tbilisi (Georgia).
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Author's husband is associated with MCC and author works for a private mining company.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Via London - BMED, or Paris (CDG - Air France) from East Coast U.S. about a total of 24 hours.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
For U.S. Embassy people housing is typically large houses in the suburbs with yards, etc. For others, catch as catch can (Armenian landlords have an overinflated sense of value of their homes).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Gum market for produce, Rooster's for meats, and SAS or Star or others for the 'typical small grocery store'. There is little you can't find here but sometimes you have to look. If you have access to the Commissary, you can even get some organic products.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Bring our own baking supplies (especially if you do not have access to the Commissary). Most houses don't have closets so we always buy IKEA (disposable) wardrobes. You'll need to bring a healthy supply of English language books (novels, etc.) if you are a reader.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
KFC just arrived but there are lots of decent restuarants including a burger joint (City Diner) right out of middle America with the best burgers and fries you've ever had! Otherwise there are restaurants of a wide variety of cuisines - many very good, some high end (pricey)... you will never starve in Yerevan!
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Surprisingly, the mail system works in Armenia! I get mail in a week from the US to a small town in the way south of the country (Kapan). Don't have friends or family pack CDs, or small electronics or anything else of potential value or interest to the customs department - but documents, letters, magazines, etc. all come in with regularity and in good shape.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available and decent. We've been lucky (always check around first and remember, if they've worked for the Brits or Germans first, even better, Americans are way too easy-going on domestic help overseas). We (over)pay at about $4/hour.
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?
Billions of dollars come into Armenia via the Diaspora every year. There is an ATM and a Western Union on every corner and in every hamlet. The banks don't know how to lend (credit? what's that?) but boy you can get 100,000 dram without blinking an eye.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
The Herald Tribune and (NY)Times Digest are available for delivery. You can also find Time, Newsweek, and The Economist. Cable TV includes the usual CNN, BBC, etc. There is Satelite also but this depends on the landlord.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
If you have basic Russian for the markets and taxi cabs you don't need to learn any Armenian but otherwise, you will need some basics - a few shopkeepers speak (VERY) limited English.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
This city is not equipped to handle people with physical disabilities in any way.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Right, like in the U.S.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are buses and taxis everywhere but they are mostly old rickety things. Sure, they are very affordable but are they safe? They haven't discovered seatbelts in Armenia yet. There are a couple of taxi companies in Yerevan that have English-speaking dispatchers. All things considered, you could easily live here without a car.
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?
We have a Honda CRV. Go with an SUV if you can - a smaller SUV is better for city driving (and for EXPENSIVE gas). If you don't have to have a car, you don't need one. If you find housing downtown, you can walk or taxi anywhere.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, cost is based on usage but a DSL line can cost US$100/month (for a reasonable speed). Corruption and a lack of corporate competition have left Armenia woefully behind the rest of the world with respect to all Internet-type services. This may change in the next couple of years - but it is still surprisingly poor.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Get a SIM from either Armentel or Vivacell and work with them to get the best packages. We always choose"pay-as-you-go" because we can control costs that way.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Skype. Calling long distance from landline is expensive and not much better with cellphones.
1. 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?
Not really. The usual inside Mission jobs like escorts or low paying jobs with NGOs. There is occasional consulting work if the trailing spouse has some marketable skill.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Fairly formal: suits/ties and at least jackets for men at work. Like much of the former Soviet Union, young women (in business or not) tend to dress like prostitutes - not realizing they look like that to Westernerns - flashy tight clothes, garish boots/shoes. It can take some time to realize your assistant or secretary is actually quite skilled once you get beyond the clothing choices.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Almost none compared to any other city I've lived in. It's among the safest in the world.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
It would scare me to have any health care handled in this country. The few decent practitioners who were trained under the Soviet system are fewer and farther between. Intense corruption for the last 15 years means many university degrees have been paid for. Which ones? Don't wait until you're on the surgical table to find out.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Four seasons: hot dusty summers but winters are long and gray and can get cold.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is a QSI. For the younger grades it seems adequate but folks with older kids send them off to boarding schools or don't take posts here.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
None that I'm aware of.
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?
There are a number of reasonable daycare options and a couple of preschool groups. My friends who have little ones are quite happy with the availability.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are many NGOs and some USAID projects here but few other embassies (Italian, Chinese, Syrian, British) so it's hard to put a figure on it.
2. Morale among expats:
Ok. A few people really love it here. The city and the standard of living is much better than most developing countries but the Armenians tend to be uncurious and arrogant (they know EVERYTHING!) and undereducated (although they don't believe this).
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?
Again, like most posts, this revolves a lot around the QSI/school systems but there seem to be a great group of expats here so many dinners, parties, BBQs, and a group that cycles. It's a lovely place to be social if you choose to be.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it's a great city for all: lots to do for families, couples and singles alike. And, it's a great city for single women - it's very safe, lots to do, etc.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think so. We have gay friends who like it here.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Expressed hate of Azeris and Turks (for historical reasons). Women are treated better here than in many other developing countries but they are still surprisingly poorly treated for being former soviets.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Opera, theater, shopping, going out for nice restaurant meals. The Embassy has programs all the time (e.g., Friday nights at the Marine House). In the summer there is Lake Sevan, the pool at the Congress Hotel, and the water park outside the city. In the winter, there is skiing not far from Yerevan. There is a very lively social scene, for all ages - activities for children, teens, and adults.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Fantastic carpets, hand-embroidered table linens, brandy.
9. Can you save money?
Yes, unless you eat at Phonecia and Dolmana all the time and buy lots of carpets at inflated tourist prices.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely! The climate, the (safe) city, the ease with which you can get around, the availability of so many goods - the living is easy here.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Basic consumables, carpets, art work... there is so much good stuff to buy here.
3. But don't forget your:
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
7. Do you have any other comments?
Armenia is a gorgeous country - most of it is uninhabited and uncultivated. If you have the chance to travel outside the capital city, take advantage of that chance. It is important to remember that (un)officially there are 1.8 million Armenians actually living IN Armenia and 10+ million living outside Armenia (US, Russia, France, etc.).The existence of this Diaspora shadows and complicates everything that happens in Armenia and explains the sometimes odd situation of a given tax, or an industry, or a peculiar behavior. It's worth a 2-3 year post if you come in with your eyes open.