Minsk, Belarus Report of what it's like to live there - 10/07/21

Personal Experiences from Minsk, Belarus

Minsk, Belarus 10/07/21

Background:

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

No, also Seoul, Chennai, Surabaya, Taipei, and Guangzhou.

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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?

Flew from DC through Frankfurt.

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3. What years did you live here?

2020-2021.

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4. How long have you lived here?

Over a year.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Apartments are located downtown and near lost of restaurants. Most houses are new and have yards, some have small yards. We got lucky and live in a nice big house only 15 minutes drive away from the Embassy, near a forest and a lake. There is another family that lives in our neighborhood but it's a bit of walk so it takes effort to arrange playdates for the kids. The lake is great place to meet it has a biking trail around it and it's a great evening activity for those who live near by, it has a few playgrounds and outdoor gym equipment. There is a tennis club right be the lake as well. During the summer the lake is hopping, there are outdoor sitting areas with grills, coffee and food trucks, bouncy castle and trampolines, Segways, electric scooters and other rides for rent, as well as wake boarding but it gets very crowded as well and summer this year was very short. During the winter people skate on the lake and sometimes there is a sauna on wheels and you can see people getting in and out wrapped just in one towel. We love our house it's big and spacious, we are have a grocery store that we can walk to although it doesn't have everything we need so we end up going grocery shopping to a couple other places on the weekends.

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

There is an outdoor market Kamarovka where we sometimes buy fruit and veggies which ends up being cheaper but parking is a little ways from the market itself so we always take our folding cart. We also like to shop at Corona grocery store, which has almost everything you want but some random products are hard to find like canned chickpeas. I suggest that you ship maple syrup and nuts if you like those as nuts are expensive here and hard to find. Kamarovka has a few stores that sell nuts but they seem to be old and stale nuts. There is another grocery store in Expobel mall called Gippo that is only 10 minutes drive from our place but more expensive then Corona. However, the mall also has a small area where you can find people selling fruit and vegetables. It's a little more expensive then in Kamarovka, but much easier to get to and some even deliver if you get their contact. You can buy central Asian nan/bread there and samsa as well. You can also find Uzbek melons at both places in summer.

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

Paper towel, maple syrup, honey, and nuts.

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

There are few nice Italian restaurants that also deliver. Domino's, Pizza Hut, Burger King and other a couple other fast food chains are also here. There are good Georgian and Armenian, Uzbek/Central Asian restaurants, but no Korean, Thai or good Chinese restaurants that we found, unfortunately.

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

Lots of spiders during the summer some are big but not venomous. I had something bite my ankles three time in August- September last year and each time I was bedridden for at least three days because the pain was unbearable when I stood up. Not sure what it was either tiny ant or a spider and one time it happened at our yard and the first two times at the beach. I make sure I wear closed shoes now and haven't had that happen this summer/fall.

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Daily Life:

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

There is DHL. I don't know about local post but I do know, in my opinion, they are not reliable in some of the former Soviet countries. I would not be surprised if that was the case here as well. We use pouch and DPO and usually receive our packages in two to three, sometimes four weeks.

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

We got lucky and found a great helper/nanny. She charges US $5 an hour and is very reliable.

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

Embassy has a gym, you can definitely find sport facilities and gyms but I don't have personal experience.

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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?

Yes.

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

Local language is definitely recommended to learn as not many people speak English here, although I have an impression that a lot of people understand English but are shy to speak.

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

Yes.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, but no personal experience. I use Uber-type of taxi service which is not that expensive and you can choose to pay slightly more for a nicer and air-conditioned ride.

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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?

We have Honda CRV but had to change tires here.

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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, but slow in some rooms.

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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?

Local provider with the phone that I brought.

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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?

We got a puppy here last year and found a nice vet clinic near by.

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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 speak the local languages you might be able to find jobs but local wages. The Embassy has a few EFM positions and it will be helpful to find employment if you speak Russian.

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Health & Safety:

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

Some aggressive drivers. We had one huge guy come and try to open our car door and start a fight because he wanted to cut in front of us (but we honked because we were too close and would not have stopped in time).

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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?

Medical facilities are nice and clean, but doctors tend to overmedicate patients.

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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?

Moderate.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Take your meds.

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

Hot and short summers and very cold spring, fall and winters.

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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 is only one option QSI. Small classes in upper grades. Our kids are in elementary and we had a really good experience with them. Our kids are happy there, they have indoor and outdoor bubble gym, a nice playground, twice a week after school activities: soccer, running, cooking, dancing, gymnastics, outdoor fun, drama and others. Our son was offered to move up a grade but he had already made friends and didn't want to move so they were able to have him take above the grade math classes. We put our 3 year old in QSI preschool which she loved but we had to move her to a local preschool due to nap time. It seemed to be the reason our daughter went to bed at almost midnight for the semester she went there.

If you want your children to learn Russian, there are lots of local private schools and preschools which are great options as well and they all have websites and Instagram accounts. KSV, Gorod Solnca, Nasledie, The Green Hill to name a few.

There is a German International school/ preschool opened by a German spouse of a Belarusian citizen. I think they only have preschool and up to 1-2 grades as of now and for those who want their kids to learn German it's a good option. We went to check their preschool and we didn't like lots of broken ride-on toys and some old swings that seemed unsafe to us. However, they were going to move to a new place. I hope they will get rid of some of their old equipment as, in my opinion, they had way too many spread across the yard.

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2. 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?

Read my comment above about schools where I also mentioned preschools. QSI has a preschool and people are very happy with it. Our daughter loved it and still talks about it. There are also local private preschool options and you can find them on Instagram and many have websites as well. They typically cost around 500-600/month. Our daughter goes to a local preschool and has already started saying some Russian words and singing songs. She also enjoys swimming classes there.

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

If you speak Russian you can find tons of things to do in Minsk for kids. All on Instagram. We found a lady who speaks English and teaches ice skating. We have a piano teacher that comes twice a week, once a week a chess teacher and once a week a drawing/paining teacher. We pay around $20-$25 an hour for most of these classes. We also have a tennis club near by our place but kids are not interested in tennis and are quiet busy already especially after QSI resumed after school activities this year.

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Expat Life:

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

Small.

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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?

Not much due to Covid and small expat community.

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

Good for all.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Belarusian people typically a very nice. I haven't noticed prejudices although I do notice that people are much nicer to me when I am dressed well. They like to dress well here.

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

There is not a lot of diversity here but I haven't noticed anything that stands out being an asian except that waitresses are much nicer to my white husband.

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

The beach near our house, nice community, a road trip to some of the countries in Europe.

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

Horse back riding, ice skating, and skiing.

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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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