Baku, Azerbaijan Report of what it's like to live there - 09/29/08
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?
Second expat experience. Previously lived in Minsk, Belarus.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Baku to Frankfurt to Dulles.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Singles and couples without children will live in apartments. Families will live in large houses.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can find almost anything you are looking for here. Once you learn which grocery stores carry which products you will not be as frustrated. Western type products and brands you are familiar with are available but are rather pricey.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Hobby materials - though you can order this stuff online and it will be here in 2-3 weeks.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are many good restaurants in Baku. McDonald's is the only Western type fast food. You will find plenty of good food - Georgian, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Russian, Lebanese, Pizza, even Mexican.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We have pouch service. You pay postage only for items less than a pound. Items over a pound there is a pouch fee.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We pay 3 manat per hour for our housekeeper who works 12 hours per week.
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?
You can use credit cards in some grocery stores and restaurants but we tend to pay in cash in most instances.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Services are available. I have recently seen and advertisement for nondenominational. Not sure about other denominations
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There are free newspapers available weekly in my apartment lobby.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It is fairly easy to get by day to day in English but having basic Russian or Azeri will be helpful.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
This is not a disability friendly city. The sidewalks and pavement are uneven, elevators are small and builidings are not well equipped with wheelchair access.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Same as U.S.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The embassy security officer has suggested no using buses or subway system and suggests using a specific taxi service. Most travel around the city will cost 5 manat - about US$6.00
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?
A vehicle with low clearance will not be your best bet here. Higher clearance vehicles or small SUV's will do just fine.4wd is not necessary but may be helpful for travels to the regions.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
DSL/Wireless internet is available for around 60 manat per month
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You should carry a cell phone. The embassy provides phones for employees. Spouses will need to purchase a phone and SIM card. Minutes can be easily purchased.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
You have a Vonage phone line in your home.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
I haven't used a vet yet, but there are several to choose from and one clinic that advertises western standards. There is a dog groomer that I've used many times and she is wonderful. Dogs are not well accepted by the local people in part due to their Muslim culture and in part due to fear I think. There is a large stray animal population and I think many people think dogs will hurt them. There are dog parks and very little grass so walking a dog and potty breaks are very difficult. Small dogs I think are more accepted than larger dogs.
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Even though this is a muslim country you very rarely see women fully covered. Business casual is appropriate in most settings.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Unhealthy to very unhealthy - people with allergies should be prepared to take medicine almost daily to aid with congestion. The wind blows and dirt and debris are tossed about. Sunglasses are almost mandatory to keep debris out of eyes on windy days.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No real obvious concerns. You should treat this as you would any other city worldwide. Use caution, don't walk alone after dark. Make sure someone knows where you are going, etc.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Embassy health unit staffed with a nurse and nurse practitioner. SOS clinic for whatever the health unit can't handle and emergencies. Ok care however I wouldn't let them do any invasive procedure other than draw blood.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot in the summer when the wind isn't blowing. Tolerable when it does blow. Cool and rainy some days in the fall.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
We are all in this together. Some people really enjoy it here and others really don't. The experience is what you make of it. I have really enjoyed meeting the people in the expat community.
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?
There are lots of restaurants to go to and many have very comfortable settings - sofas and coffee table type setting for hanging out and chatting.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for singles, families and couples. There are many expat social groups that you can become involved with and the embassy is really good about social events.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
This is a Muslim country so women are not usually in positions of authority.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are a few museums in Baku. Since the expat community is so large here you can almost always find someone with a common interst.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Carpets, pashmina scarves.
9. Can you save money?
If you buy local products and eat at home yes. If you MUST have western products or eat out a lot it will be more difficult.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Doubtful because of the dog situation.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
High heel shoes (you will break your ankle for sure on this uneven pavement).
3. But don't forget your:
Sense of humor.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
7. Do you have any other comments?
There are good and bad points to every country. Baku is a small city and once you've seen it you've seen it. You have to amke your own fun here.