Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Report of what it's like to live there - 01/28/21

Personal Experiences from Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei 01/28/21

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 many cities abroad.

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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?

USA. Connecting to the west coast goes through Tokyo, KL, or Singapore, and takes a full day. From the East coast the best routes are either through London with a direct flight on RBA from Heathrow to Brunei, or via Singapore, which has a direct flight to JFK. These routes also take a full day.

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3. What years did you live here?

2020-2021.

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4. How long have you lived here?

Six months.

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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?

Housing sizes and quality vary. You can get from any point A to point B in Bandar in fewer than 25 mins when there isn’t traffic. There is heavy traffic around the schools and shopping areas though, so the school commute can extend to 45 mins.

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

Cost of the average basket of groceries is about the same as DC. All meat is about twice the cost of DC though, as are American products. It is difficult to find most American products and there is not a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Meat availability can fluctuate as well, as it is mostly imported. You will need to go to several stores to get everything you need.

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

Vanilla, rum.

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

There is food delivery but it isn’t great. Pizza places deliver for a fee. Most restos offer takeout. There are burger shops and every kind of Asian food you can imagine. BSB has a great food scene.

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

Lots of geckos inside the houses, which poop everywhere. It is difficult to keep the house clean because of this.

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Daily Life:

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

Postal facilities are not adequate. The Embassy has a DPO but it takes weeks to get mail through it. FedEx and UPS exist but they are expensive.

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

Household help is widely available, either for live-in, live-out, or part time. The cost of a full-time live in “amah” is about $475USD per month.

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

There are gyms - there are a few fancier gyms with classes, there are a lot of small, rusty gyms, there are several cross-fit gyms, and there is the Empire Hotel, which you can join and gain access to their gym and pool. JPMC also has a very nice, modern gym. Pricing for all of these gyms is about the same as DC, but the opening hours are usually not a good for for folks with a full-time job and family, and parking around everything in BSB is a nightmare, so that takes extra time.

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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?

Credit cards are safe but not common. ATMs are available but not on every street corner like the US. ATMs are safe to use.

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

Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Islam, are all widely available.

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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?

Everyone speaks English. You don’t need Malay but classes are available. Not sure if the cost.

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

Yes. Nothing is handicap friendly and parking is so bad everywhere that it would be difficult to get out of the car and inside your destination with speed and simplicity.

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Transportation:

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

There is a DART service. Nobody takes public transport otherwise.

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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?

Bring a Toyota or Mazda or Kia. It is hard to get parts for the others.

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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?

Internet is way and quick to install. To get the fastest speed and unlimited streaming you will pay $150 USD/mo.

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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?

You need a local provider. I brought an unlocked iPhone and bought a chip for it. Unlimited calls and data costs me $25USD/mo.

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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?

There aren’t many opportunities here. Nurses could probably find something at a hospital. The schools hire part-time and full time as well, but that is about it. Not a thriving corporate community here.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are a few NGOs and churches.

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

Smart casual is typical.

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Health & Safety:

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

There are car break-ins but that is about it. Violent crime is rarely heard of.

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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 care is good. I would want to be evacuated if I was dealing with a life-threatening situation, but other than that I think you can feel confident in most procedures and care.

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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?

The air quality is very good. Lots of jungle, so it is clean and fresh, although humid.

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

No worries about environmental allergies, but you can’t trust any restaurant here with your food allergies. They have no understanding and no precautions against cross-contamination.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

The weather is the same here year-round. I suppose if one does not like rain they would struggle here because it rains a bit nearly every day.

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

Hot and wet year round.

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Schools & Children:

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

Two excellent schools - JIS and ISB. Both have a British curriculum.

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

Both schools have a special needs program.

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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?

Preschools are available (reception) but it is pricey. There is no day care, but there are live-on nannies to take care of that.

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

Loads of them. Basketball, rugby, soccer, martial arts, gymnastics, swimming, etc.

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Expat Life:

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

About 50,000 expats, but most of them are not western. There are probably about 1,000 western expats on the country - total. The morale is very good because of the jungles and peaceful culture.

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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?

House parties, golf, the Empire hotel, jungle hikes, sports classes/groups, hash.

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

I imagine the life for singles is boring because there are no clubs or bars or activities. Families with kids do well because of the great schools and activities they provide.

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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?

Very easy. Brunei and are great, open, and friendly.

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

Members of the LGBT community have told me they feel comfortable in Brunei, despite the concerns inherent with sharia law.

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

Not really. Brunei has a lot of stateless Chinese people here, but they are doing ok. Religious minorities are fine too. Brunei is pretty tolerant, although the government does spy on the churches to ensure there are no messages against Islam. Women are tested as equals.

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

Jungle hikes!!!!

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

Tembourong is a nice escape.

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

No.

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

Clean air, nearby jungles to explore.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

The beaches are not great, and parking is so bad you want a small car.

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

Yes.

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

Winter clothes.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen!

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

No

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