Baku, Azerbaijan Report of what it's like to live there - 11/05/08

Personal Experiences from Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku, Azerbaijan 11/05/08

Background:

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

Yes.

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2. How long have you lived here?

9 months.

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

Washington to London then to Baku.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Ranges anywhere from apartment living to houses. most live in enormous houses. It takes about 25-45 min. to get to the Embassy depending where you live and how bad traffic is.

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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 pretty much get anything here if you are willing to pay the price for it. Western products are very expensive (US$8 for a jar of salsa). Fresh produce and vegetables are relatively cheap. Be prepared to make everything from scratch.

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

Baby food, cereal (VERY EXPENSIVE about US$8 a box), snack bars. Coca cola products are very inexpensive here.

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

McDonald's is the only fast food and it's ok quality. there are a couple of decent English/European restaurants. Forget about eating red meat here. It is GROSS. The only main source of meat is chicken or sheep.

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Daily Life:

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

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

Readily available. A full-time nanny/housekeeper will run about US$600 a month; same for a full-time driver.

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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?

No one uses credit cards. Cash is the means of payment everywhere. atm"s are available. I would recommend using the one at the Embassy.

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

Yes, non-denominational, Catholic.

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

Yes. Not sure we use the AFN box.

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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?

A little helps but you can usually get away with non if you are willing to find a translator.

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

No smooth roads. They are all very bumpy and nothing is wheelchair accessible. it is even hard to get around w/babies and strollers. you can"t easily take strollers into any store. Most stores are either upstairs or downstairs so wheelchairs or strollers are out of the question.

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Transportation:

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

Right hand side. It's anything goes here. Everyone makes up their own lanes. a two lane road usually ends up being a 4 lane or 5 lane road.

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

Taxis are safe but a little pricey. A roundtrip to the Embassy (about 25 min. drive) will cost you about US$10. You can take the local buses but they are usually over crowded and not very child friendly.

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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 - do not bring anything with low ground clearance as it will not make it on many roads. anything with 4WD would be great. the roads are very rough here with many potholes and rough, uneven dirt roads. There are many major car dealerships here: Nissan, Toyota, Volvo. Do not bring an American made car (Ford, Chevy) as there are no parts for those. Tires are much cheaper in the states so purchase an extra set and bring with you. You will need them. We have already had 3 flats in 9 months.

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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. about US$160 for unlimited a month.

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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?

Make sure you have an unlocked one and you will be able to purchase a sim card and use it here. US$28 will get you about 90 min. worth of talk time.

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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)?

There are many good local vets.

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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?

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

Business attire at the Embassy. Out in public anything really. Men don"t wear shorts but the American men do. Women don"t really wear shorts either.

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Health & Safety:

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

Very dusty and dirty. Everyone here smokes. When it rains the air is "clean" and clear for about a day or two and then the smog returns.

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

i haven"t come across any yet.

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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?

Do not come here if you have asthma. It is not a good place for people with bad asthma problems and you will have problems with allergies too. It's very dusty here.

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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?

They have four seasons: summer is very hot but not too humid.

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Schools & Children:

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

They are ok. I am told not the best for high school. They seem pretty good for pre-school, elementary, middle school. the British school is very expensive though if you are not being re-imbursed for it.

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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?

Yes. Pre-schools tend to expect a little more from children (such as not scribbling on paper, being quiet in lines, etc.) kind of strick when dealing with 3 year olds but overall not too bad.

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Expat Life:

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

Probably about 500 people.

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2. Morale among expats:

Very good; very close-knit group of people, very friendly and helpful.

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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?

Not much unless you are into the bar scene.

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

Families.

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

No.

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

They hate female drivers. They look at us like we don"t know what we are doing and tend to try to run us off the road more so then the men.

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

There are some interesting places to see but mostly you keep occupied with playgroups and embassy functions. Not a lot to do in and around the city.

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

Carpets.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes if you shop wisely and buy a lot of clothes and food items before arriving.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

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

Rollerblades, skateboards.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, rainboots (it gets very muddy here when it rains).

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

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Be prepared to be gawked at if you are a blonde woman. The men will readily stare at you and try to hit on you. They seem harmless enough but it can get frustrating. Clothes cost a fortune here so stock up. You can find stuff if in a pinch but be warned that it will probably fall apart within a few months of purchasing. Also, the water is very hard here so your clothes tend to wear out faster.

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