Yerevan, Armenia Report of what it's like to live there - 10/14/09

Personal Experiences from Yerevan, Armenia

Yerevan, Armenia 10/14/09

Background:

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

Fourth expat experience.

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2. How long have you lived here?

I have lived there for two years (one more to go).

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

Diplomat.

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

From DC, best connections through London, Paris, Vienna. It can take 20 hours or more, depending on the layovers.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is generally large, especially for families, although singles or couples without children are often housed in smaller city apartments. Houses are outside of downtown, much more automobile-dependent. All U.S. Embassy residences are within 10 kilometers and a 20-minute drive from the Embassy.

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

Fruit and vegetables in-season are plentiful, delicious and inexpensive. Out of season they are rare and expensive. Best to play squirrel and freeze many for the winter. Anything imported will be expensive.

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

We shipped a lot of consumables, most of which is available here (but quite expensive).But you won't find peanut butter or many ethnic ingredients.

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

No U.S. fast food franchises, but plenty of excellent restaurants. Most restaurants are quite affordable, though there are a few high-end establishments.

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

Scorpions can be a problem.

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Daily Life:

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

We receive mail by diplomatic 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?

Very available and not too expensive. We pay our nannies/housekeepers approximately $25/day, which is probably on the high end.

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

Yes. There are several excellent gyms, including a Golds Gym with a 50-meter pool.

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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?

You can use credit cards in many places (hotels, supermarkets), though Armenia is still largely a cash economy. Plenty of reliable ATMs around town.

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

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

No English newspapers. Via cable/satellite you can get plenty of English-language television, including CNN, BBC, Eurosport, Discovery, etc.

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

Very helpful to know some Russian or Armenian, as most people on the street won't speak English. Though people are friendly and appreciate any effort you make to speak the local language.

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

A lot. Streets are generally not wheelchair friendly. Many buildings don't have ramps.

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Transportation:

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

Safe and quite affordable. We use taxis all the time.

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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?

Many people have SUVs but a sedan will usually work quite well, as long as you are in the city. Road quality varies out in the regions - in which case a SUV would come in handy. There are plenty of places to repair cars, though in many cases you will want to have your own parts. I have never heard of a carjacking here. The main concern about driving is that many drivers can be quite (and pointlessly) aggressive, pushing their way through traffic, driving on the wrong side of the road. Traffic police rarely go after aggressive drivers.

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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, but internet is still a bit spotty in Armenia. It is likely to continue improving, however. We pay $35 per month. There is probably better service out there (for a higher fee).

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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?

Everyone has a cell phone. Useful for convenience, though probably not critical for security; Yerevan is very safe.

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Pets:

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?

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

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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?

Not really. You would need to speak Armenian, and wages are rather low.

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

Suits. In public men never wear shorts in warm weather (though I do sometimes).

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Health & Safety:

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

Good. About one-third of cars run on natural gas, which helps keep air pollution to manageable levels much of the time.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Standard.

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

Very few. Yerevan is a very safe city for living or walking around.

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

Diagnostic care is quite good, though the U.S. Embassy has its own medical unit. Major care, including childbirth, involves medical evacuation. Dental care is supposed to be quite good.

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

Very dry. Very hot summers, cold winters, though it might only snow once or twice. Nice fall. Best time for visitors is probably September (July and August are far too hot).

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Schools & Children:

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

The main international school is Quality Schools International Yerevan (QSI) (www.qsi.org), attended by children of Embassy staff, other diplomats and ex-pats. Our experience with it has been pretty good, though our sons were in kindergarten and first grade. Total enrollment is about 70 students.

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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?

There are some cooperative pre-schools. We sent our kids to a small preschool run by an Armenian-American expat during our first year here, and were quite happy with it.

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

Yes. Through school or other programs. We have our sons playing soccer, tennis and swimming.

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Expat Life:

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

Decent. The U.S. by far the largest Embassy. There are relatively few American business persons, though a few more Europeans. One measure is the size of the international school - 70-odd students.

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2. Morale among expats:

It can vary, but generally we find it to be quite good. Morale can certainly be affected by Yerevan's isolation; three closed borders (including Iran), with Tbilisi the only major city within driving distance. Flying out is expensive and during the winter the airport frequently fogs in.

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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?

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

It's a good city for families, and the Embassy is very family-friendly. Housing for Embassy staff is quite good, teachers (art, music, other) are readily available and affordable. There are a number of sports facilities, especially for swimming and tennis (including a Golds Gym with a modern 50 meter pool). It is easy to drive outside of Yerevan on weekends, though we never do so. We never lack for something to do. I can't speak as much for how it is for singles and couples without children, though downtown is very active so I would think it would be pretty good.

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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?

I don't know about religion, but my wife has never had concerns going on her own around the city (on foot or by taxi). In Moscow, by contrast, she would never leave the embassy compound on her own.

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

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

Hand-sewn carpets, paintings and other artwork.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, as long as you spend prudently.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. Prior to Yerevan we worked in Moscow. It has its challenges, but Yerevan is a much easier place to live.

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

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3. But don't forget your:

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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:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Armenia is a former Soviet republic and still has much of that legacy. Things don't always work as well as you would like. It is also isolated from the rest of Europe. But it has a rich cultural heritage and the people are generally warm and welcoming. This assignment has worked out very well for us.

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