Baku, Azerbaijan Report of what it's like to live there - 08/02/23
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?
This is our third overseas posting. Previous postings have been Central Asia and Eastern 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?
D.C. is our home base. It takes close to a full 24 hours to get from Baku to the U.S. (or U.S. to Baku). Most common transits are through Frankfurt or Istanbul with late arrivals and insanely early departures out of Baku.
3. How long have you lived here?
One year, and two more to go.
4. What years did you live here?
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?
Housing is large and spacious for all family sizes. All apartments are walking distance from the Chancery or Annex, as well as one single family housing development. The largest housing development for our community members is in the "suburbs", 4 miles out, with houses ranging from 2-4 floors. Commute time for this area ranges from 15 minutes during the summer months, up to 1 hour during winter months.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Locally-sourced groceries are inexpensive. Local produce is delicious when in season. The only meat that is reliable for texture and taste is chicken. Beef is generally very tough and the ground beef options are ground too finely. Lamb is abundant, but the taste is not comparable to the U.S. Grains are easy to come by, as well all the cookies you could want. Savory snacks are not as easily identifiable, and often have odd flavors, and any specialty cuisine ingredients are going to be rare to find, and will be priced at a premium.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
The typical stuff: peanut butter, syrups, baking extracts and other ingredients for baked goods like powdered and brown sugars, Crisco, etc. Distilled white vinegar, hair products, laundry products (everything here is very heavily scented with perfumes), dryer sheets, canned beans and other canned veggies aside from corn and green peas.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a huge selection of local cuisine restaurants. Other cuisines are more sparse and the quality is hit or miss. We've found a really tasty Indian food place, but the service is shoddy. There's a decent Mexican food place, but again, service is slow. The Hard Rock closed recently, but TGI Fridays is hanging on. Even some of the more popular places for expats can't seem to survive here.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos are a pest, and sometimes ants. Otherwise, we haven't been bothered by any other insects.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use DPO and Diplomatic Pouch. Other expats use the local postal services and have many many issues with their parcels.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
availability is wide; cost is affordable; quality is hit or miss. Most people with kids have a nanny. Several people hire a housekeeper and/or a driver, because driving here will make you crazy. Some people hire a part-time cook, as well.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are gyms around. The cost is similar to the U.S. I believe, but the facilities are definitely not up to the same standards. The hours of operation are also not work-friendly hours, generally opened from 10:00-18:00, or something silly like that.
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?
U.S. credit cards will work about 60% of the time. ApplePay and GooglePay seem to work more often. I have never used an ATM, so I can't comment on that.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are Catholic services and non-denominational Christian services available.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Azeri is spoken more so than Russian, which is spoken more so than English. Getting by on English alone is quite challenging. Not sure about local language classes/tutors for people outside of the Embassy community.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
All the difficulties. Almost ZERO building are wheel accessible, including our housing and office buildings. Sidewalks are wide but not in great shape.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are everywhere and insanely affordable.
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?
Any vehicle will work. EVs are not recommended. DO NOT BRING A DIESEL ENGINE. Toyotas, Mitsubishi, and Mercedes are all over the place, so shouldn't have a hard time finding service for those.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is affordable and mostly reliable. Install is very quick, usually within 1-3 days.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Any phone purchased outside of Azerbaijan and using a local SIM card must be registered with the government. GoogleFi users have been able to get by without registering their phones. Local SIM cards and data plans are super cheap.
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?
There are a couple trusted vet offices here, and services are inexpensive compared to the U.S. No quarantine is necessary upon arrival. If coming from the U.S., get your dog a 3-year rabies vaccine with proper documentation. Exporting your pets is a nightmare. Azerbaijan is a rabies high-risk country, and there are stray cats and dogs all over the place.
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 expat spouses work at one of the international schools or within the diplomatic mission they affiliated with here. Teleworking is possible for those that want to do that, as well.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are volunteer opportunities at animal shelters, mostly. Volunteer opportunities are very limited.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work: Business attire. Public: conservative. Local ladies will dress to the nines everyday. Formal is only needed if attending a local wedding or an expat ball/gala/event.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Traffic is the biggest personal security concern in Baku. Otherwise, it's a pretty safe place to walk about freely.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The water is heavily laden with metals and not potable. It is advised NOT to swim in the Caspian Sea at all. The cuisine can definitely give you digestive grief. Local medical care is not the greatest, and many surgical or intensive issues are medically evacuated for care.
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?
Air quality ranges. It can be in the green during the summer, but it can also be in the red and beyond in the winter. One thing on our side here is there is ALWAYS wind blowing that keeps a lot of the smog and pollution moving along instead of sitting on top of us all the time. That said, several people at post suffer from chronic sinus/respiratory issues and sore throats year round.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
You will likely have sinus issues your entire tour, and food allergies are not well recognized here, so you would be better off cooking for yourself at home. Gluten-free items are becoming more common on the shelves, but supply chain isn't reliable. Dairy-free is very difficult to navigate as they use milk and cream in everything! Nut allergies are also hard, as they also have nuts everywhere.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
The feeling of isolation could potentially be an issue for some. The flights in and out of Azerbaijan are at odd hours - late night/wee morning hours - and don't run daily to most connecting locations. Geographically, we are in a precarious location that doesn't lend well to driving out of the country, either, making flights your only reliable way in/out. Winters are cold and dreary, and everyone leaves for the summer, making the larger expat community pretty empty.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
WIND. There is wind every single day. This slightly helps with the heat during summer months, but is bone-chilling in the winter months. Spring/Fall are very short lived, while summers are HOT and winters are COLD.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are a few to choose from: TISA, BIS, French School, British School, Oxford School, European International School. They are typical to most other international schools... a little more relaxed than public schools in the U.S. and much more internationally minded.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Accommodations vary from school to school, although the general consensus is that accommodations are very limited.
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?
Yes. There are several local preschools, as well as preschool options at the international schools.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
The schools offer some sports activities/teams, and there are other options outside of the schools like Judo, Jiu Jitzu, Kick boxing, swimming, and more.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There's a sizable expat community due to the large BP presence. Morale is high both within the diplomatic mission and through the greater expat community.
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?
Many expats live near each other, either in the "suburbs" neighborhood or in certain apartment complexes downtown. Expats tend to meet that way, or by attending different expat galas/events and such.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Not so much for singles. Couples can make the most of their time here. Families seem to do a little better. Azeris are very family focused people, and there just aren't many opportunities for singles to meet other singles. Couples can explore the rural areas of the country a little easier than families with little kids can. Families with school aged kids tend to live in the "suburbs" which allows for a very vibrant social life for the kids.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Due to cultural and language barriers, making local friends doesn't often happen. Prejudices against LGBT are very obvious. Those with darker skin could get some looks and lack of acknowledgment from locals.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No, not a good choice for LGBT folks. It is not acceptable in Azerbaijan.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Prejudices against LGBT are very obvious. Those with darker skin could get some looks and lack of acknowledgment from locals.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The locals are kind people, and the city is safe to walk around in. Going to the ski resorts in the mountains have been fun, but they're not the easiest places to get to, and services leave more to be desired. We have been able to plan some amazing vacations to other European countries.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Having brunch in the Old City is nice, and then meandering through the cobblestone streets is a nice afternoon. There are some interesting museums to visit, and a couple wineries to explore with a couple hours drive.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not really. You can get really beautiful carpets, and some lovely artwork, but there's really not much else as far as handicrafts go.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Housing is large, people are friendly, city is safe. If you shop only locally sourced products, you can save quite a bit of money.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The lack of things to really do here. It's developing-world living with a developed-world facade.The have great ideas with poor execution.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Leave behind any notions you may correlate with other European countries. Those do NOT apply here.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience. You'll need it with the traffic and for all the times you're left scratching your head at why things are done that way....or not done at all.
5. Do you have any other comments?
It's not a terrible post, but it's not an exciting post either. There's not much to write home about, and life can get pretty mundane. You'll definitely need your vacations once or twice a year.