Baku, Azerbaijan Report of what it's like to live there - 08/21/10

Personal Experiences from Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku, Azerbaijan 08/21/10

Background:

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

No.

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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?

From east coast of U.S it is about 15 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

U.S.Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Very mixed. There are some huge houses with pools (although they are drained, and everyone is forbidden to swim in them this year) and some very small duplexes or apartments. Housing is a big source of unhappiness here. The housing board is completely illogical: their decisions are not based on rank or age/sex of kids. Housing is not even remotely up to western standards.

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

Expensive, since anything of quality is imported. Meat is horrible here unless you like lamb.

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

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

McDonald's and Mary Brown (a KFC wannabe). Cost is higher, and the "fast" concept is not followed.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

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Daily Life:

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

Mail goes through the embassy. 2-3 weeks minimum.

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

Cheap; $30-35 a day, but rarely English-speaking.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, but they are prohibitively expensive. The Hyatt hotel has a pool and a gym. But it costs approximately $1000 per person per year, and teens are not allowed to use gym.

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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?

RSO recommends only using one on embassy grounds. Reports of fraud/theft otherwise.

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

Two: Catholic and non-denominational.

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

There are no English-language newspapers that I know of. Cable is $80 or so a month. AFN is here, but it is on Europe time, so we get everything 3 hours later.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You need Russian at the very least. Not many people learn Azeri (except for the numbers, which you will need in the markets). Most labels are in Russian or Azeri.

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

Insurrmountable difficulties. The city is not at all disability-friendly.

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Transportation:

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

Forget trains and buses. They are not recommended for safety reasons. Taxis are without seat belts (mostly), but they are relatively cheap -- if you know what to pay.

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2. 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?

Only SUVs. Roads here are in horrible shape, and drivers are the worst in the world. You need the size of an SUV to protect you. There are lots of expensive SUVs here (trying to run you off the road) and soviet Ladas. Repair shops are available for for Mercedes, Toyota, Hyundai, Mitsubishi.

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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?

Varies. Between $12-30 month, but not reliable or fast.

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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?

Buy a prepaid card here. Cheap and easy to get.

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Pets:

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?

Yes.

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

No.

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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?

No.

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

Fairly formal.

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Health & Safety:

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

Not overt. This is a very chauvinistic society, though, and women drivers are treated with hostility.

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

I have heard too many nightmares: misdiagnosed strep, botched root canal. Plus multiple medevacs.

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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?

It is considered bad, and one family recently curtailed because of asthma problems from the dust 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?

Goes from very hot to very cold. Wind like you would not believe. House-rattling, car-rocking wind.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are two schools, and parents happy with both. TISA is bigger and BP sponsored. It follows the IB system at all grade levels. BIS follows the American curriculum, but only younger kids seem to go there.

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Through the schools and during the school year only.

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Expat Life:

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

Huge, because of oil company employees. 4000-5000.

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2. Morale among expats:

Oil people seem happy, but they have more money for trips out of here. Embassy morale is low, but that is due to housing, GSO, management, cost of flights, and the lack of things to do (except drink).

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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?

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

It is probably best for drinking singles (there is little else to do) or people with very young children who are amused at home or at friends' houses.

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

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

Yes. Foreigners are cheated constantly (taxi and markets), and it is expected/accepted. Women are treated very poorly.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

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

Very little. Visit one or two museums, the walled city, the fire temple.

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

Rugs, wood carvings, copper.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Not many. There are a few interesting sites -- enough for about six months. Nice rugs, but they are too expensive for most of us.

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11. Can you save money?

No. All of your spare money will go to netgrocer.com or to government-controlled airline prices.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No. Absolutely not. But that's probably due more to the embassy experience than the city.

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

bicycles, running shoes, love of movies, expectation of bargain rugs.

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3. But don't forget your:

steely nerves for driving.

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

Mark Elliott's book on Azerbaijan. You will get lost without it if you venture out to see some of the unique parts of Azerbaijan.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

None.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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