Baku, Azerbaijan Report of what it's like to live there - 07/04/15
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?
4th expat experience-Germany, Costa Rica, Peru.
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. 4 hours to Frankfurt and 8 hours to DC.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Government assignment to U.S. Embassy
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There is a new rule for the embassy that only singles or married couples without kids get apartments and all families of 3 or more have to move into houses. None of the apartment buildings meet fire safety codes so to reduce the risk, the management decided to get employees out of the apartments as much as possible. The apartments and houses are nice and large with ok but intermittent utilities. The appliances are mostly European so they are smaller than we are used to but overall ok.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries can be expensive if you try to eat American style but the local fare is reasonable. Most things are available, but not the Western type or brands.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Transformers! The embassy provides 4 big ones but we need more small ones and they are not available locally.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's, the worlds largest KFC, and a lot of kebab!
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are flying ants in the houses often, and some mice, but overall controllable and/or seasonal.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the embassy pouch mail.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
US$800-1,000 per month for full time.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes for about US$1,000 per year per person.
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?
I only use the ATM on the Embassy compound
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are enough to meet most people's needs.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not required if you don't interact much but it is good to have a few words or phrases in Russian or Azeri.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes-bad sidewalks, no special supports for disabilities
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Trains and taxis are safe, buses are improving.
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?
SUV is best but a sedan is ok.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes-US$30-75 per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You can bring one or buy one here.
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?
No and no. There is one vet who is trustworthy at a rescue center 30 minutes outside of Baku.
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?
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Orphanages, animal rescue, teaching English.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business suits at work, casual outside of work. Shorts are not common on men or women.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes! Russia is our northern neighbor and Iran is our southern neighbor.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The air quality is bad, I have found used hypodermic needles on the ground, trash is everywhere, trash is burned regularly in the streets, chickens and chicken waste abound, people do not go barefoot outside and do not wear shoes inside. Medical care is adequate for minor issues only and anything major is med-evac'd.
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?
Poor - people with no history of asthma or allergies develop them quickly here. Mold is pervasive and cannot be avoided. There is no longer the lingering smell of oil in the air constantly but the air is really bad quite often with smog.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Nuts are everywhere here! How many times to say the air quality is bad? Sometimes there are not even menus, you just are given kebab. It is almost impossible to eat out and know what is in the food you are eating. Stray cats are everywhere, even walking up to tables in outdoor restaurants.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Like Washington DC but a little milder. Snows once a year, hot humid summers
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
TISA is fine, not great, but fine. My kids both enjoy school there. I have heard people are happy with BIS also.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Not much-a little but mostly it is up to the parents to privately find support.
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?
Some after-school programs but not many.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Expat community is large due to oil companies in Baku. Morale is pretty good. Sometimes embassy employees forget they are at a hardship post and complain about minor inconveniences, but overall the morale is good.
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?
Visiting friends and coworkers, bowling, movies, outings to the regions, school events, coffee houses, eating out,
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes-slower paced but sociable.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not so much.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Women are rapidly becoming equals but this is still a male-dominated society. The Muslim influence is light but ever-present here. There is more of a Soviet feel to the city than a Middle-Eastern feeling to Baku.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Visiting the mud volcanoes, seeing the European Games in 2015
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Museums, traveling to other areas of the country, camping.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It is a hardship country but filled with pleasant local people, slow pace, and it's easy to travel locally.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, if you don't fly everywhere close by or order too much online.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectations for clean air and water, consistent utilities, nice neighborhoods.
3. But don't forget your:
Adventurous spirit, willingness to be challenged, openness to the diverse culture.