Baku, Azerbaijan Report of what it's like to live there - 03/05/17

Personal Experiences from Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku, Azerbaijan 03/05/17

Background:

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

Yes, this was my first.

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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?

My home state is on the west coast of the U.S. It takes a good 2 days to get there, usually traveling through Frankfurt and San Francisco.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1.5 years.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We live in a large house inside a gated community. The community has a small market, a cafe, two outdoor swimming pools, fitness center with an indoor swimming pool, a playground and a soccer field. There are several locations for embassy housing. It's a good mix of apartments and houses. The location is typically dependent on your choice of school.

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

Groceries are very inexpensive. I can feed my house of 6 on about $100 per week. There are new grocery stores that have opened since we've been here that cater to the expat community, but any "western" products are higher priced and hard to get. It is a Muslim country, so pork/bacon is hard to come by, but not impossible. The commissary inside the embassy is very small, but does provide cheeses, meats, and canned goods that are otherwise impossible to find. This is a consumables post, so you want to import liquids like peanut butter, soy sauce and other cooking sauces, salad dressing (even though the lettuce is hit or miss,) I also import all my beauty products and laundry supplies, diapers and baby food.

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

I answered a little bit of this in the previous question. I did run out of sunscreen over the summer.

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

If you live close to town, which we don't, you can have almost anything delivered to you, from pizza to sushi. We can have our cafe deliver food to us and a couple pizza places deliver out here. There are a lot of decent restaurants, but I don't really enjoy the local cuisine.

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

We had a small problem with tiny little ants, but they were easily wiped out. There's a holiday during which the locals sacrifice lambs and tons of lambs are brought in for slaughter from the country farms. I noticed a huge increase in house flies during that time. We also have mosquitos. I recommend using the nets when you sleep at night.

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Daily Life:

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

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?

I have a part-time nanny who cleans, does laundry and dishes and takes care of my two youngest children. I think a full time house helper/nanny/cook is about $650/month USD. We had a driver to start out, before our car arrived and we paid about $500/month. The quality of work is hit or miss and I've often felt like I'm constantly being asked for more money.

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

We have a gym inside our compound. It's about $1200/year for the family. There are other places around town and most are about the same. There's a "Boardwalk" next to the Caspian Sea that is nice to run on as long as it hasn't rained...made of marble tile. There's also an old 2015 European Games dirt bike course that we've used to trail run. Our DOD organized the Marine Corp Marathon last year, so it has been an active post for running. There is a cycling group and a few people cycle independently on the outskirts of town since traffic can be heavy and unpredictable.

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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?

I don't use ours often, but a lot of people do. I think there are certain ATMs the embassy approves. It hasn't really been a problem.

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

There is a Catholic Church and a nondenominational Christian service in English.

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

I don't know any of it, but it would be helpful for getting gas, grocery shopping, ordering food, etc. You can get by without it, but it makes things harder. It's especially difficult when trying to communicate with the house helpers/drivers.

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

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Transportation:

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

Yes, we aren't supposed to ride the buses, but the American teachers do. Most people have found a taxi driver they like and use them as needed. I don't like getting a taxi from the street.

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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?

I wouldn't bring a nice car. I've been in two accidents and had my van door scratched in the parking lot at the mall a couple of times. The drivers are unpredictable and inexperienced.

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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?

Our internet was installed before we arrived. We don't pay, it's part of the deal with the rent of the house. I think others do pay about $20/month. I'd say it's great about 80% of the time. We stream videos and music, download books and haven't had really any problems.

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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?

Bring an unlocked phone and purchase a local SIM card. It's a pay as you go plan and really, super cheap compared to the US. $10 usually lasts me all month.

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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?

No quarantine, lots of stray dogs-major problem cycling and running...I recommend getting rabies vaccine if you plan on being outside. There is a decent vet here and dog grooming is available.

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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?

I think most either teach or work at the embassy.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

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

Most wear suits or business attire at the embassy. There are several balls that you would benefit from having a dress/tuxedo for. Most locals wear a lot of black. It is a Muslim country, but very relaxed in the attire.

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Health & Safety:

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

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

I have noticed that a lot of cases are medically evacuated to London. We are fortunate to have a full-time nurse practitioner and an American doctor and local nurse in the embassy health unit. X-rays and MRIs are cheap. Medicine is cheap and easy to get.

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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?

I would say moderate to bad. It's an oil economy, so there's a lot of pollution in the air from that. It's also a very windy city, so we get dust and sand in the air. I did have problems my first spring here with my contact lenses, but I switched to a stronger cleaner and it hasn't bothered me since.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Carry an EPI pen. There aren't any true emergency services or 911 options.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

I have noticed that the fall and winter can be a little gloomy. The spring and summer is great, though.

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

There are four seasons here. It gets pretty warm during the summer. There are great water slide parks within an hour from the city. The fall can be rainy and gloomy, but we do get some snow and there is a ski resort within a few hours drive.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are two schools that embassy kids go to. One is owned and operated by British Petroleum and is an IB school. It is on the outskirts of town and located within a gated community of mostly oil expat families, with an increasing number of embassy families. The other school is a QSI school located closer to the center of the city. I've heard great things about both schools. My children attend the American school and I have subbed there, as well. I have been very happy with most of the staff there and any problems I did have were addressed to my satisfaction. It is obvious that this school is going through some growing pains and has been under construction for several years. I believe the construction will be complete by the end of 2018 school year.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

The American school is the only school I know of that accommodates special needs.

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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?

Both schools offer preschool, but it is fairly expensive. There are other options around town. Both schools also have after school activities.

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

Yes, most are done within the school, unless you're willing to have a non-English teacher.

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Expat Life:

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

I think we're medium size. Morale was great when we got here, but I feel like it's gone downhill a little bit recently.

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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?

The CLO here has been great. The embassy does a lot of get togethers, like happy hours on the lawn, holiday parties, coffees, etc. I would say this is a very social post. A lot of people go exploring, out to dinner, dancing, running, cycling together.

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

I think it would be an OK post for singles. We are a big family and I've enjoyed it.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Not horrible, but not widely accepted outside the expat community.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Yes, some gender inequality. My children are biracial and there's a lot of unwanted attention given to them.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

I've really enjoyed the fitness community here. There are a lot of active people within the embassy that meet for runs and I have made friends. But, I think it really depends on your approach to this life. There are some who are absolutely miserable here.

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

There are towns in the outer regions that are interesting. Sheki was a fun trip. My husband has taken my oldest to the ski resort a couple times. Tbilisi is about 5 hours drive or a cheap flight away. Dubai is a cheap flight to get some sun in the winter months.

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

If you're into carpets and stained glass, and silk, then yes.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Since the decline of their currency, things are pretty inexpensive.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I wish I'd known how oil dependent they are and that the local food isn't that great.

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

Probably not if I had better choices. It's not a bad post, but I am hopeful that there are even better ones out there.

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

Logic and common sense.

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4. But don't forget your:

Patience.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

If you had asked me a few months ago about this post, I would say that it was the dream post. So, it's an ever changing environment with people moving in and out every few months.

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