Baku, Azerbaijan Report of what it's like to live there - 09/09/10
Personal Experiences from Baku, Azerbaijan
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
This is my fourth expat experience
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?
East Coast - flights via London or Frankfurt and it takes about 15-20 hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
US Embassy Employee
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
For embassy personnel housing is a mix. Apartments - some right across from the chancery and others about 5-10 minutes walking distance from work. There are a scattering of other apartments and houses. Construction quality is poor. Houses for embassy personnel are assigned in accordance with rank, family size. Depending on traffic it can take 30-45 minutes (or even an hour if it is particularly bad) to reach the embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are expensive and the selection is not good. Make full use of your consumables.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Pasta sauce, cereals. It is all available here, but expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's, Fake KFC, Baskin Robbins are here and are expensive. There is a food court at the mall with a number of Russian and Turkish fast food chains. There are good restaurants here, too, but they tend to be expensive. There are two decent Chinese restaurants and an Italian restaurant which are reasonable and not far from the chancery.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Some fleas due to stray dogs.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch at the embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available and not too expensive. Quality is not great.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. The Hyatt has a gym and many embassy families and singles are members. It is expensive, but you get the VAT back and they offer various Embassy and corporate discounts bringing it roughly in line with what you would pay in the US for a gym. (Of course, the gym there isnt that nice....). I've seen older teenagers use the facilities.
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?
There is an ATM at the embassy and it is recommended you use that one. Credit card fraud is a big problem here, so stick with cash if possible.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes - non-denominational and Catholic.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes. The English-language newspapers are pretty bad. Many embassy personnel have either AFN or the local cable. Local cable is pretty cheap (maybe $20 a month?). There are a number of English channels (CNN, BBC, National Geographic, Travel).
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
A little Russian is helpful, especially with taxi drivers. If you pick up a few phrases in Russian and/or Azeri you should be ok for shopping, eating out.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many. The city is not at all set up for someone with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The metro is off-limits to Embassy personnel. Taxis are plentiful. They do not have meters, you have to negotiate the fair before getting in. They always start at something unreasonable, but you will be able to get them down to an affordable price.
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?
Roads are bad and the driving is pretty crazy. Bring a sturdy car.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes - cost depends on what provider you choose. Also, they are always running specials (pay for 4 months, get 5 free).
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Everyone has one - the embassy issues employees cell phones. Stores selling them are all over town.
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)?
Not that I am aware of.
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?
I haven't heard of any outside the embassy and schools.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Shirt and tie at work, depending on your job. It is not an overly formal society in terms of dress. People dont wear shorts here.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No, as long as you follow the RSO guidelines.
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 very poor.
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?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot summers, cold winters. Strong wind.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are two schools (BIS and TISA), and both have a good reputation among parents.
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
At the schools, yes.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
A mix. Like anywhere it is what you make of it.
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?
People tend to make their own fun. There is a new movie theater opening soon (supposedly). There are also bowling allies, a coffee shop and the pool at the Hyatt if you are a member. Not much else.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it genuinely depends on the person - some families with older kids have a tough time as there are very few things for them to do. If you are self-sufficient and enjoy entertaining at home - and going to other people's homes - you will be fine, regardless of marital status.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
It is a very male-dominated society.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Mud volcanoes, Old City carpet shopping, entertaining in homes, going to restaurants. There is a new mall that opened with a play area for children and Baskin Robbins (!). Overall, you need to be willing to make your own fun.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Carpets. You can find good carpets here. You have to know how to bargain though.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
For many, the work is interesting.
11. Can you save money?
If you live off consumables and never leave your house yes. Otherwise, no.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. It is a rough posting.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Idea that this is Northern Virginia. It is not.
3. But don't forget your:
Positive attitude and patience. You will need both.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Oil and the Glory by Steve Levine.