Baku, Azerbaijan Report of what it's like to live there - 06/07/23
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, I've been in Kingston (Jamaica), Algiers (Algeria), Dushanbe (Tajikistan).
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?
Washington, D.C. The trip can take a full day through Frankfurt or Istanbul.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
2022 - 2023.
5. 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?
Families with children are usually in the suburbs housing complexes. Others tend to be downtown at apartments which are modern and quite spacious, centrally located with a 20-30 minute walk commute to the Embassy. We've had no issues and love our housing. I think all housing options allow pets.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Decent availability of in season fruits and veg, very fresh and delicious. Possible to find both halal and non halal options in most places; some restaurants even serve pork. Alcohol is abundant as well. Vegetarian options are slowly becoming more and more popular, but most places usually do have salads and other veg friendly menu items.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Mexican/Asian spices; coconut milk; almond milk; any specific dietary needs
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots of options; easy to find decent food. Just don't expect Michelin star or trendy DC brunch places.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy mail service
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Good availability and decent cost.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Landmark gym is decent. The Port Baku gym is expensive but has more equipment/modern and more spacious. Running is possible by the Caspian but there aren't any softer surfaces to run on/trails. Hiking can be an issue in general here as there aren't many organized hiking paths.
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?
Yes, Apple Pay works 80% of the time. ATMs are everywhere and safe.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I received training in Azerbaijani and came with some Russian as well. I think it depends on the type of job you are doing, but most locals definitely don't speak English and it is worth learning a few words in either language to get around. Once you leave Baku especially your need for Azerbaijani increases. Yes local classes or tutors available for an ok price.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Can't speak much about this but I do have to say that Baku is not very ADA compliant; lack of sidewalks, paving, accessible ramps or elevators. Local attitudes do not have the kind of understanding to provide accessible spaces either.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We aren't allowed to use buses; the metro is fine but won't get you anywhere interesting or useful; taxis are fine and I use Bolt all the time (local version of Uber).
2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?
SUV would be fine - good for regional travel. Really anything is good as even for smaller/lower cars the roads in Baku are fine.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is great. Have no issues here.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I use Google Fi and it usually works fine here. There was a period where everyone lost coverage for a month but then it was back up and running.
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?
Much better than I expected. Lots of pet stores and DPO takes 2 weeks, so decent timing to get anything you can't find locally, which tends to be more expensive than ordering online. Baku doesn't have the green areas we think of that DC does, but there are plenty of parks that have some green and lots of concrete. USDH housing tends to have some green areas nearby and my dog has enjoyed walking around the boulevard by the Caspian. Haven't been to the vet yet but there is one that many Embassy families use. No quarantine or other extra steps required usually.
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?
Can't speak much to this - not many local jobs and I don't think any Embassy families have anyone on the local market.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
I think some volunteer at the animal shelter but not many other options available.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Azerbaijanis are very formal - particularly women, who tend to dress up to work.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Baku is pretty safe - can go pretty much everywhere in the city though I will say that the roads are challenging for even experienced drivers due to a lot of traffic and less enforcement of rules. Pedestrians aren't excepted from this - have to be very careful crossing streets as cars do not prioritize pedestrians. Regional travel is fine except for the contested areas on the border with Armenia.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The pollution can be a concern particularly during winter, as well as SAD - for months it can just be cold and cloudy. Also, local medical services are definitely not up to other European or American standards so for serious issues you might need to leave to get treatment. There also aren't many accessible specialists for certain fields.
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?
Not great - some days rival Delhi or Beijing - but the wind tends to blow all the pollution away on most days. It does get bad sometimes.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
You might need to be extra insistent when ordering food and make sure they understand your allergies.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Definitely have SAD and took Vitamin D through the winter.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's kind of extreme. Winter tends to be cold - not much snow, but the wind chill can be an issue. Summer is brutally hot. Spring and fall are very short.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I think there are some but I can't speak to this much.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are some expats; not a huge community but decent amount. The morale among the families I think is ok but within the singles/younger couples without children tends to be quite low. There isn't much to do for this group.
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 isn't that much of a vibrant community-based space for foreigners to engage in. Most just gather informally at bars or restaurants.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
In my experience the families have enjoyed their experience much more than the singles or young couples. There just isn't much of a vibrant cultural or public scene to get out and enjoy life as much as other countries in the region.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I've found engaging with others in Azerbaijan a bit difficult. To start with, most organizations or embassies here have mostly families with children, so singles or couples with no children are few to meet and engage with. Outside the mission community, there is a small expat community and I've befriended many fellow diplomats there. I expected to befriend many more locals than I have after a year here, especially knowing the language. I think Azerbaijanis can be much more reserved than people from other countries, and the "Soviet" mentality of mistrust or being stoic could play a role in how outgoing or engaging they can be with foreigners. It is worth noting that I think Azerbaijanis treat you differently based on how you look; friends of mine who are more "foreign" looking especially white Americans tend to describe their interactions as much more positive, being invited to several Azerbaijani weddings or homes while someone who maybe looks more like a local person may not get that kind of attention. It could all be relative.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Azerbaijan is the least accepting country in Europe in terms of LGBTQI+ freedoms. It is not a topic for discussion with most locals and toxic masculinity is very prevalent here, which also affects women. There are no designated meeting spots or organizations out in the open that support this community and as members of the LGBTQI+ community you never really feel like you belong or that you can be yourself. It's recommended not to show any kind of same-sex affection in public either. Some locals who know are fine with it as long as you keep it discreet and not amplify.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I'd say that for anyone who might blend into the local demographic you will likely have a very different experience at post. I feel like I don't get as much attention - for better or worse. I don't often receive the same level of hospitality that I hear Azerbaijanis are known for because I look local - but also don't get ripped off or taken advantage of as often, it seems.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Observing the Persian New Year (Novruz), seeing some areas with natural beauty.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Going to Tbilisi in an hour flight.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Carpets but they're quite expensive. Buy saffron.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's very safe and quite convenient.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
In my opinion, people here are still very much tied to the Soviet way of thinking, inflexible and reserved when it comes to engaging with foreigners. Do not expect the same level of hospitality or kindness as many other countries in the region. Many colleagues also stress that they are consistently busy and overwhelmed due to the geopolitical nature of the work - so be prepared to work a lot. The relative boredom that I've felt here in terms of not finding interesting places/things to do compared to other places I've been.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
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?