Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Report of what it's like to live there - 11/02/13

Personal Experiences from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 11/02/13


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

Not first expat experience - I've had other assignments in Asia.

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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?

Washington DC - 18 hours with connection through Dubai.

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3. How long have you lived here?

14 months.

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

U.S. 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?

Provided by U.S. Embassy leased from a local landlord; wide variety of layouts and quality. Commute to Embassy fluctuates -- anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour if traffic is bad or city has decided (usually arbitrarily) to completely close roads. I could not imagine trying to find decent housing on our own or dealing with a landlord directly for maintenance issues.

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

Certain items can sometimes be hard to find or completely nonexistent. Cheese and seafood (in particular) are very difficult to find in any decent quality.

If you want things you may be accustomed to in the U.S., be prepared to: A) accept alternate versions/similar products from the Middle East; b) pay at least as much here for them as you would in the U.S. The U.S. State Department classifies this as a "consumables" post so we are allowed limited shipments of things that aren't otherwise available.

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

Cooks go through oil and sugar like crazy, so more of those would be useful. (Often sugar shortages in town.) More Mexican/Asian food ingredients. More toddler squeezy fruit snack pouches, as those can't be shipped via the pouch.

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

No fast food whatsoever. A few decent restaurants are scattered around town. Prices for a nice main dish range from US$5 to $12+. Don't expect amazing things on the menus though. And drink options are often disappointing -- or exorbitant.

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

Sometimes ants during rainy season but generally nothing in Addis Ababa as it is not in a malaria zone. Other parts of the country do have mosquito/malaria problems.

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Daily Life:

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

We are fortunate to have use of the diplomatic pouch. Customs will heavily tax things through other carriers.

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

Plentiful but quality varies wildly. As of this writing, part time housekeeper ~US$75/month; full time driver ~US$160/month; full time day guard/gardener ~US$105/month; full time nanny ~US$130/month.

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

Available but costs are unknown.

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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?

Don't. It's a cash economy, and the few ATMs around are not trustworthy. Online is also done at your own risk.

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

We don't attend, but we know there are some 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?

None, really -- most Ethiopians speak English.

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

Terrible difficulty. There is nothing to accommodate disabilities. Nothing.

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

All are not safe; embassy personnel not allowed to use the "blue donkey" minibuses. Probably affordable if you can figure out where it's headed or communicate with the driver.

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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?

SUV. You want high clearance AND four wheel drive here. In some cases it's better driving OFF the road than on it. A majority of the SUVs here are Toyotas, though nearly every brand is represented.

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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?

ADSL, available only to businesses or through a special arrangement for embassy residences -- though not all neighborhoods are capable of having it. Otherwise, Internet is dial-up speed via horrible pre-paid EVDO sticks with capped bandwidth AND capped download.

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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?

The only option is Ethio Telecom. SIM cards work in any unlocked phone.

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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?

No quarantine. A few okay vets here (one spayed and microchipped our newly-acquired Ethiopian cat with no problems). No kennels we are aware of.

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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. Even if you found something, the pay would be abysmal. (Paid) Opportunities with foreign NGOs are also much rarer than you might think.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots of volunteer opportunities with various NGOs.

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

Work: business (suits, etc.). Public: casual (jeans and t-shirts for the most part; depends on personal preference).

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Health & Safety:

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

Mostly petty, non-violent crime like pickpocketing. However, a woman probably should not walk around at night alone.

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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?

Poor quality health care. Embassy personnel get medical evacuations for anything serious, or ANY dentistry. Most common concern is stomach issues from ingesting unclean food. At home, all veggies and fruits get the bleach treatment.

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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?

Good to moderate in general but very unhealthy on the roads with the vehicles spewing black exhaust. The air itself isn't that bad but the altitude compounds the issue especially for those with asthma or other respiratory problems.

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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?

Very temperate for most of the year, with a 3-4 month rainy season that is wet and slightly chilly.

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Schools & Children:

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

International Community School (ICS) of Addis is where almost all embassy families send their children but I have no personal experience.

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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?

Several preschool options are available. The most popular include Head to Toe, Flipper, and Brana. We went with Brana as it was significantly less expensive than Head to Toe.

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

Probably through ICS.

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Expat Life:

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

Large expat community. Generally, morale seems to be medium/low.

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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?

Watch DVDs in your own home. Visit other expats' homes. Basically, just things at home. There is one movie theater that plays *some* American films.

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

There seems to be little to do in this city for any foreigner but I imagine that singles or couples without children (or those with older children) would have a better time than families with young children.

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

Probably not. It's neither open nor looked upon favorably here.

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

Women are definitely second-class citizens here -- even to the point that our male Ethiopian household staff would not listen to my (foreign) wife. They preach religious tolerance here but the practice is different. The Muslim population is frequently persecuted.

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

Seeing the cultural sites outside of Addis Ababa: rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, castles at Gondar, stelae and tombs at Axum.

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

If "in the area" includes day trips out of town, then yes: the Old Portuguese Bridge near Debre Libanos is a nice place. If we're just talking about inside the city, then no.

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

Baskets, opals, coffee, art, scarves.

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

Saving money. Weather outside of rainy season can't be beat.

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10. Can you save money?


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Words of Wisdom:

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

Wish we had known there was little to do in Addis (especially for young children). Ethiopia is a very interesting country, but Addis Ababa is an incredibly boring city (unless you like nightclubs).

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


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

Cold weather clothing.

Expectations that:
- anything will happen on time.
- you can get a straight/complete answer from one or two questions (without multiple follow-up questions).
- your Ethiopian Airlines flights will operate as scheduled.

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4. But don't forget your:

Rain coat or umbrella.
Sun screen, sun hat, sunglasses.

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