Baku, Azerbaijan Report of what it's like to live there - 09/09/08

Personal Experiences from Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku, Azerbaijan 09/09/08

Background:

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

No, I have lived in five other cities.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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

Embassy.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

16 hours from DC.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most singles/couples live in apartments while families with kids have homes. The commute is anywhere from 15-45 minutes.

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

You can find almost anything, although you'll probably have to go to 2-3 stores if you're looking for something particular. Baku is relatively expensive and getting more so.

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

Clothing, shoes (Baku seems to chew them and spit them out), car parts, camping/hiking gear, formal dress for the various events throughout the year.

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

McDonald's and some Turkish fast food restaurants are here. Indian, Thai (although the two that used to be there closed down right before I left, Mexican, Italian, Lebanese, Turkish and kebab.

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Daily Life:

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

International mail takes about 3 weeks from the U.S.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Available, but I would recommend getting a good recommendation from someone. It's pretty cheap (15 manat for about 3 hours - around US$18), but quality can vary.

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

ATMs are no problem in Baku, I am not sure outside the city.

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

Yes, non-denominational, Catholic, and others.

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes, a couple of cable options or AFN. Relatively cheap.

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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?

Azerbaijani really helps you get around and garners lots of good will, which makes living in Baku much more pleasant. You can also get by on Russian in Baku, but it doesn't inspire the same positive reaction.

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

Lots! No accomadations are made, including in most apartment buildings or houses.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Same as in the U.S.

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

Didn't take much public transport since I had a car, but taxis are pretty affordable (US$5-6 to most parts of the city).

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3. 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--it's great for driving in the city (streets aren't the best and drivers seem to respect big cars) and out on the country roads or dirt paths.

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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?

Yes, lots of options from dial-up to high-speed.

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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?

Everyone has one. Azerbaijanis don't leave messages, so most expats just get used to texting.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Vonage.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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?

If you work as a teacher or in the ngo/oil sectors.

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

Business or formal dress for work or events. More laid back on weekends, although shorts are never acceptable - for men or women (maybe for kids). Most men wear suits and lots of women wear dresses or skirts.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Very unhealthy. Air is generally dusty and gritty with trash and oil refinery chemicals in the air. Water quality is pretty bad too -- and you can see the off-color if you're filling up the tub.

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

No - I always felt incredibly safe despite the intense stares.

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

Pollution, stomach issues, tb. I would only go to the international clinics and even then you're rolling the dice. Local clinics are in a sorry state as is the training of many of the local doctors.

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

Hot summers, colder winters (comparable to DC). Baku is also a winding city, which helps in the summer, but can get annoying when the pollution really starts to fly (and when you have to wash your car every 3 days).

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Schools & Children:

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

BIS and TISA. No personal experience.

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

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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?

Available but I don't have info.

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Expat Life:

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

Pretty large with diplomats, oil company employees and ngos workers in Baku.

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty good. Best among those who are smart enough to get out of town for a fews days at least once every 3 months. It makes you enjoy your time in Baku and time away.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Most people are very social. There's the drinking scene, the camping/hiking adventures and a few sports (softball, ultimate frisbee, biking, hashing-if you can count it a sport).

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

Good for all. Plenty of expats around, so having a social network or even two isn't hard. People are generally friendly and many like to get out of town on weekends for camping or other mini adventures, especially in the summer.

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

No one is openly gay in Azerbaijan, but there does seem to be a small underground scene with at least one or two clubs around town on certain nights.

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

It's rare to see women out alone (especially at night) or in any kind of management position.

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

Camping in the Caucaus mountains and other nature adventures outside Baku. Visiting some small towns like Sheki or Lenkoran. Get to know the locals and visit family homes in the villages. Go to weddings, funerals and other cultural events. In Baku, going to dinner or for drinks with friends.

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

Rugs, copper, trips.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes. If you speak Azerbaijani and live primarily off the local market.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely.

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

Shorts and bad attitude.

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3. But don't forget your:

Camping gear and sense of adventure.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Ali and Nino.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Ali and Nino.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

James Bond.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Your life here will be what you make of it, but everyone can have a great time. I would recommend a good mix of work friends, expat friends and local friends to keep things interesting.

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