Baku, Azerbaijan Report of what it's like to live there - 12/22/11
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?
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: NJ. About 15-20 hours fly time.
3. How long have you lived here?
October 2010 to current.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Each housing neighborhood varies. There is both suburbs and downtown living. There are both apartments and houses. The commute varies for each area AND due to Eurovision the commute time has tripled if not quadrupled in length of time to get from the 'burbs to the Embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
If you work for the government, then it is highly highly recommended that you do consumables shopping (Costco, BJs etc) to ship out here! Especially toiletries and liquids of all kinds (detergent, soaps, oils, etc). Most families do one additional consumables while here. The groceries/household supplies here are extremely expensive and of poor quality in comparison to US standards. You may find some similar names, Tide, etc., but again it's not the same in any shape way or form! You can easily spend $50-60 USD each time you walk into a grocery store, regardless of whether it's for a handful of items. Examples: Avocado: US$11.50.Chocolate Chip Morsels: US$12. Everything that is "American" is insanely expensive. Only a couple groceries that carry our type of products. Shopping here has been the biggest challenge. AND, there is no one-stop-shop here! You'll have to go to at least a minimum of three stores to get maybe two to five items (no joke).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More toiletries, olive oil, baking goods, chocolate (baking), detergent/softener, perfume/cologne.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Only two McDonald's I'm aware of. KFC. They are in the process of bringing few other fast food places downtown during the Eurovision. Don't recommend any! Don't know the prices off hand.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Organic: No such a thing! Vegetarian: Lots of canned/jarred veggies. Allergic-friendly: No such a thing (No gluten-free etc). I need to follow a gluten-free Diet and I can't find anything. Order before coming and if you run out, get it on Amazon!
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Didn't notice any problems here.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Dip pouch through the Embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
It is highly, highly, recommended for spouses to get a personal driver, either part-time or full-time. More than 90% of families have them. PT: $ 300-400 manats (USD$380-500). FT: $ 500-600 (US$630-760). Also, a nanny or housekeeper is recommended. PT: $ 300 manats. (not sure for FT). Houses are quite large and very laborious work to clean, since it's so windy and dusty!
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, they're in most large hotels and few stand-alone gyms. They are insanely expensive. The year membership ranges from $1,200 to 1,900 USD. There is only one place that I highly recommend for the line of workout equipment, which is top of the line, however, that is the most expensive gym membership ($1,900). Due to the cost, this is the first time I've not used a gym.
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?
No credit cards: you need to use cash only. Very seldom are there CC machines AND it is not recommended they be used here anyway. Trips to ATM will become second nature and a must! And only certain banks are recommended as "safe" to pull money from! Seems that the machines here have a mind of their own and don't always function -- so be aware!
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Christian, Catholic, and probably others. This country is mainly Muslim.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
AFN is the satellite that has some English channels. Newspaper-no English or magazines in English. Forgot the cost of the AFN TV.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Well, most people more than 30 years old know Azeri and Russian. The younger than 20-year-olds only know Azeri. I learned some Russian before coming. It really is necessary to know one of the languages. I know enough words to get me by at the markets, etc.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many difficulties. The roads, drivers, and many other factors do not accommodate those who use a wheelchair or have other disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Trains-no. Buses-no WAY! Taxis--yes, but depending on the driver! Be aware that they drive crazy here!
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?
No low cars. SUV are needed for the clearance. There are an absurd amount of potholes and uneven streets. I can write a book for this section. All people who work on cars here have no clue about anything, so be sure you know your vehicle. If not, get a manual and be sure to have someone local with you to help with translation. I haven't seen any robberies/carjackings here. People leave cars running with keys in the ignition go to the store and car is still there. This is very common here. So theft is not an issue.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Varies w/ companies. Not terribly costly.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Azercell or Bakcell are the two common company providers we mostly use here. If bringing phone from US bring a simple phone -- No iPhones etc.
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)?
The Customs Clinic Vet is the best Vet in comparison to our US standards. No others in town compare. It's about 40+ min's away from Baku. Kennels: the Custom's Clinic does board on rare circumstances. Vika whom is a Vetinarian and also dog sits for most expat families. This country is not a dog-friendly one. However, they love cats. There is high number of stray cats and dogs here. Be sure animals and people have rabies vaccinations!
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 at all!
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work: Casual/Formal-depending on what department. Public: Men-NO shorts! Women: conservative and also no shorts. Capri's are fine. I would not wear anything revealing because all eyes will be on you!
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. Not suggested to go out alone or with a group of ladies after 10pm downtown. Make sure you are up to date with RSO of anything you should be aware of.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical Care: Skim to none. The Med Unit at the Embassy and SOS International. Hospitals not up to US standards. Depending on what the medical need is -- most time you get Medevaced out of here to another country. Air is a huge problem so there are a lot of respiratory problems here. A close tie to Respiratory issues is gastrointestinal problems. Salmonella poisoning, food poisoning, diarrhea, high fat/oil used in food in restaurants here-stomach upset. Be sure to bring Maalox, GasX, Pepto Bismol!
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?
Any child with Asthma or severe allergies shouldn't come here. Air quality here is atrocious. The oil here is always evident by smell and you can see it in the air. It comes from all the exhausts from the Lada's and buses. Don't drive with the windows down in the car! There is never a time that your clothes and your hair are not drenched like gas or oil smell! YUCK.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Winters are anywhere from the 20's to 50's from October to March or so. Spring is still on the cool side. Summer is hot and humid. I mean really humid. You need AC in your car and house/apt! July and August are the warmest months. I say early fall is the best. I like September the best as far as climate goes!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I have no children. But, there are three schools: TISA, BIS, & OXFORD British school. All are good from what I hear.
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
FANTASTIC! I must say that being my first post abroad... This is by far the best expat community I've ever been part of. The first half of our time here there was a mix of personalities and the second half everyone seemed to get along fantastically!
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?
Only within the Embassy Community. We always have a phenomenal time! Anything local is expensive, and in the native language, so it is hard to enjoy if you don't know the language. It is hard to make local friends here.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families: not much for the kids to do here. Singles: Not really. Couples: Yes.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Absolutely not -- this is a Muslim country!
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not quite sure -- possibly.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The fantastic time I've had with the expat/embassy community!
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Not much. Unless you're into seeing a ton of museums.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Rugs and pashminas.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Touring. Lots of museums to see if you are into that sort of thing.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, BUT NOT for a two year post! This is a high-threat post, so I say 1 year should be plenty!
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Bicycles, running shoes, love of movies, shorts and tank-tops, your 'nice' car, rollerblades, skateboard, high-heel shoes (you will break your ankle for sure on this uneven pavement), and 110 volt appliances.
3. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen! And everything you need and want from the US. If you can find it here it comes with a fat price tag if you want to spend it. Patience -- you will need a lot, I mean a lot, of it anytime you step foot out of your house/apt on the roads.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Famil IsmailovAzerbaijan by Mark Elliot
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Go on YouTube and put in city/country name.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Because of Eurovision, this city has turned upside down. The first 6 month's being here is not what it is like now. The driving is horrendous. Most people don't want to leave their home because of it. All roads--I mean ALL roads--are being constructed on and there is no such a thing as detour. I hope once this is all said and down for 2012 hopefully the roads and driving are more manageable! Otherwise it's best to live downtown and walk wherever you need to go.