Baku, Azerbaijan Report of what it's like to live there - 01/22/19
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?
No. We have also lived in several cities across Europe and Asia.
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?
Baku is a 4.5 hour flight from Frankfurt and then another 7 hours or so to Washington, D.C. Flights operate almost daily between Frankfurt and Baku. There are daily flights to Moscow and Istanbul as well, but most USG employees go via Frankfurt. There are also weekly flights to Paris, Rome, London, and lots of other cities.
3. How long have you lived here?
One and a half years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is great. There are houses and apartments spread throughout the city. That is the one downside; while housing is clustered, you are spread throughout the city and traffic can make it hard to get from one place to another. Commute times range from a 10 minute walk to a 30 minute drive (45 minutes with traffic).
Apartments range from 2 bedroom to 4 bedroom. Houses are from 3 bedroom to 5 bedroom. One housing location shares a compound with one of the international schools. Some of the apartments are a nice walk to the Chancery, many are a nice walk to the Annex.
Houses have interesting decorations sometimes, but they are generally quite nice. I think most people I know are happy with their housing. GSO has done a nice job of sharing photos of housing and asking your thoughts when you fill out your housing survey.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
If you shop at the expensive western grocery store, you will pay a lot. If you shop at the regular grocery stores, you will pay less than the States. If you shop at the local markets (and can speak Azerbaijani), you will pay a lot less than the States. Most things are available locally, but you will pay a price for some imported goods. However, the grocery store Bravo has been expanding and popping up all over the city and they carry a wide variety of goods, including imported Waitrose (British) and Casino (French) products. There are also quite a few German imports available and certainly tons of Russian.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
The CLO has a list of consumables, but the big things are specialty/convenience items (chocolate chips, boxed cake mix, canned frosting, stuffing, etc.)
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are quite a few varieties of restaurants available. Azerbaijani food tends to feature lots of meat grilled on a stick. There are several good Indian restaurants, a Thai place, a few Japanese places, Italian, and more. nuush.az will deliver food to your home from several different restaurants (think Grub Hub).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Some people have had mosquitoes and many have small ants, but nothing has been too terrible. One housing complex currently has a mouse issue, but the complex management is working to try to solve that.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We just got DPO downstream from Tbilisi. It still has some kinks, but they are being worked out. We also still have pouch. I don't know of anyone who has used local mail.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Cheap and readily available. Locals love children, so nannies are easy to come by and adore your kids. People also often employ housekeepers/cooks. Make sure you train your staff, but other than that, you are good to go. I know several people have drivers, especially for bringing kids to school.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms are pricey here, but pretty good quality. Most people go to the international hotels (Hyatt, Marriott) or a very modern facility (The Club at Port Baku). All direct hire employees currently get access to the Landmark Hotel's gym free of charge too, which is great.
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?
We never use our credit card. You can at some of the big hotels, but most people just use cash.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I dont really know.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can get by with just English. The Embassy does offer spouse language classes and classes for officers too. Local tutors are readily available.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Don't even try. The Embassy isn't even ADA compliant. The sidewalks are rough.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We can't use buses, but taxis are plentiful and cheap. So are Uber and Taxify.
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?
Bring something with high clearance if you want to go out into the regions.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is pretty good. Often your social sponsor can help get you internet before you arrive, but it typically takes two weeks, so ask early or wait.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring a phone or buy one locally, but I think most bring.
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?
I dont have pets, but I have been told they are available.
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?
Most work at the embassy. Local jobs require Russian/Azerbaijani language skills. Some spouses teach at the international schools or teach English.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are a few. Many of the NGOs have been shut down, so not as many as there were, but still some.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
It really depends on your job. Suit and tie for some (Pol/Econ), more business casual for other sections. Formal dress for the various Balls throughout the year (and there are quite a few because of the Brits).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Some stray dogs, but in general, I feel super safe here.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There aren't local vaccines for many things, so please vaccinate yourself and your children.
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?
Usually the air is pretty good. We sometimes get dust storms from the quarry or Turkmenistan, but usually its not bad.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Learn the local language; don't count on English.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is pretty good. Its chilly in the winter, but so far has been in the 40s most of the time. Hot in the summer.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Lots of good quality schools available. BIS and TISA are the big two, but there are others. People seem to like both. The Community Liaison Office (CLO) collects parent feedback, so ask a CLO staff member.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Not much exists. Make sure you are honest with the schools early on so you know if they can accommodate your child.
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?
Great preschools available in English, Russian, and Azerbaijani. They offer much more than the States and are much cheaper.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are some, but most are done through school.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's pretty big, mostly Brits/Scots due to the oil companies. People seem to have no problem making expat friends if they want them.
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?
There are a bunch of groups and clubs, but it can be hard if you don't speak Russian/Azerbaijani.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a great city for everyone. Families love the schools and domestic help. Couples and singles enjoy going out and meeting other expats.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It's not a thing here, according to locals. No one is gay. However, the local societal norms have male friends linking arms and occasionally giving kisses. The same goes for females who walk linked arms, so some things blend.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
If you want to, you can certainly make local friends. The local staff are warm and inviting (often inviting officers to their homes). There aren't a lot of different skin colors here, so Asians, Hispanics, and African-Americans will stand out. Locals usually think I am Russian, so I blend in, but not everyone does. There might be staring, but people aren't too aggressive.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
I love strolling through the Old City. Its not a 'hidden gem', but its fun.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
You may leave Baku with several (or lots of) carpets. They sell locally made ones and imported. People tend to buy a few because they are significantly cheaper than anything you'd pay in the States.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
You can save a lot of money if you want, especially if you are willing to live more like a local. Childcare is cheap and good. Azerbaijanis love children and would do anything for them.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
You are remote and you do earn your hardship differential, however, most people love it here. Many people extend. There are some people who have very negative reviews of post, but those people seem to be few and far between.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. I would extend if I could!
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Leave behind your sense of rules on the road. Traffic is terrible and people do their own thing. Its common to see cars just decide to drive down the wrong side of the road so they can get somewhere faster.
4. But don't forget your:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Read Ali and Nino. It is the national book.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Baku is a great Post. Overall, morale is pretty high.