Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Report of what it's like to live there - 02/08/16
Personal Experiences from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Dakar, Senegal and Geneva, Switzerland.
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?
DC. The trip is between 13 and 24 hours depending on which way you're flying and your connections. There's a direct flight from DC on Ethiopian that takes about 13 hours. But flying back, they can't fully fuel the airplane because of the high altitude at take-off. So if you go 'direct' on Ethiopian it's 17 hours with a refueling stop. Otherwise, you go through Frankfurt, which takes ~24 hours in either direction.
3. How long have you lived here?
1.5 years (2014-2016)
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
All detached homes with yards of various sizes. Families with school-aged kids generally live in 'Old Airport' which is a ~40 minute commute to the embassy. Families with young children, couples, or singles generally live in 'Bole', which is more of a "downtown" area about 20 minutes from the embassy. Generally speaking, there seem to be either older houses with great yards or newer houses with very little outdoor space.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Variable. It's a consumables post, and there's a reason for that. You can get most things, but not consistently and if it's imported it will be expensive. They periodically have shortages on staples, such as sugar and flour, so people often rely on the commissary or pouch for those types of items. Everyone at the embassy orders their meat in bulk from Kenya via the commissary because local meat is low quality. But produce is plentiful, good quality, and cheap.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Generally, any liquids you'll want for the duration of your time here (Contact solution, any brand-specific cleaning products, etc.). Also, if you have kids, bring any large items you might want with you (outdoor play equipment, bikes, highchairs, etc.). It's crazy expensive to try to buy those things here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
No fast food or international chains at all (I hear a rumor KFC is coming though). Generally, there is a nice selection of different cuisines (Thai, Indian, Korean, Chinese, French, and a ton of Italian). And eating out here is ridiculously cheap. Be aware, food safety issues are a problem, but if you stick to your basic rules around no uncooked vegetables and well cooked meats it's not horrible.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None. In fact, this is one of the few malaria-free posts in Africa, because of the altitude.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch, but the embassy is in the process of becoming a DPO (should be complete sometime in 2016)
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Plentiful and really cheap. A full time housekeeper, nanny, or driver will cost around US$175 per month. And that includes the premium that expats pay for someone with good English and previous expat experience.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There's a gym, running/walking path, and pool at the embassy. There are a bunch of fitness clubs frequented by locals, but no one from the embassy community uses them.
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 do it. Fraud is rampant, even at the high end shops, hotels and restaurants that accept cards.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Not well informed on that--I know there's an international Anglican church that is used more widely by protestants within the embassy community. I'm sure there are others, but I can't say specifically.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None, as long as your household staff speak English passably well.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Nothing is accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
People will use taxis in a pinch, but they're pretty much held together by duct tape and they aren't actually that cheap.
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?
SUVs are popular--But it doesn't have to massive. Roads don't tend to flood, but constant road construction and low quality to begin with result in some bumpy rides, especially if you want to get out of the city into the surrounding areas. Each family is only allowed one duty free vehicle, so most families have drivers.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Kind of. When our internet works, we can stream low-quality videos. However, it will occasionally cut out for weeks at a time. And it's expensive--roughly US$100 per month. Internet, phone networks, and general connectivity is one of the major complaints among the expat community here.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
If you want a smart-phone, get an unlocked one before you come. Otherwise, buy a cheap phone when you arrive. It's a government monopoly, so you have to buy your SIM when you arrive. Data is expensive, but domestic calls and texts are dirt cheap.
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. There are a few vets, all of whom make housecalls and are cheap compared to US standards. There are no advanced facilities here, but for routine vaccinations and the occasional check-up it's fine. However, rabies is endemic among the street animals, and locals leave poisoned meat on the streets to control the stray population, so people generally keep their animals only within their gates.
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?
Yes and no. The US embassy has a bilateral work agreement and there are tons of development jobs floating around. But almost all other countries don't have an agreement in place, so you can't work here if you weren't brought into the country on a work visa. And there are basically no private sector jobs. So if you're a US Embassy spouse who works in development, it's pretty easy. Otherwise it's really really hard.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Surprisingly limited. A few people volunteer to teach once a week at local schools, but I haven't really heard of anything other than that.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Conservative--no short skirts or revealing tops. Dress code at work is generally consistent with US business casual.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No. The city is very safe. There are some reports of petty crime (muggings), but they're rare and generally non-violent.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Everyone has bouts of food poisoning. Air quality can exacerbate respiratory issues. Medical care is pretty sub-par. Anything more specific than what a family practitioner can handle will generally result in a medevac to South Africa.
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?
Depends on the neighborhood. At the embassy, pretty good. In the downtown area, where about 40% of embassy families live, it's pretty unhealthy.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Nothing in particular springs to mind. I'm not sure I would trust eating out if I had a severe food allergy, simply because I'm not sure you could ever communicate clearly enough with the waitstaff about your limitations.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Wonderful. There's a rainy season, which gets chilly, that last a few months during our 'summer'. But most of the year is sunny, no rain, in the mid-70s F during the day. I never wore tank-tops, but I also never wore anything heavier than a sweatshirt.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is an international school, and I believe it has a pretty good reputation. But I don't have a school-aged child, so can't comment personally.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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. There are a number of daycare/preschool options run by different expat 'groups' (American, French, Italian, etc.) and well attended by the international families. On the high end, there is one large option run by an American that charges similar fees to American daycare. We use a smaller, Montessori daycare run by an Italian lady that we've loved and it costs ~US$250/month for five mornings a week.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
I think there are sports programs available through the international school
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge expat community--in addition to all the major embassies, there's a large UN presence and the African Union is headquartered here. Morale is pretty bimodal. Some people love it. Some people really dislike it. It can be a frustrating place to live day-to-day, and spouses in particular seem to often struggle to find a groove.
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?
Mostly social life revolves around house parties, meeting for meals at restaurants, or group trips to the embassy campsite. That probably changes slightly when kids get older and families are more involved with the international school.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Better for families and couples, I would think.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. This is a very conservative society with regards to homosexuality. So if a large, active gay community is important to you, this is probably not the place to be.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Nothing major, but it's not a particularly welcoming society for outsiders. Locals can be stand-offish to downright hostile to foreigners, and it seems to be particularly bad for Asians. Even people of Ethiopian descent who have lived outside of the country too long tell stories about being treated badly by locals.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Good travel-domestically and internationally. Great weather!
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The history and culture of Ethiopia is truly unique within Africa--there are some incredible historical sites in the country (Lalibela's rock-hewn churches, a bunch of castles built by the emperors in the 14th century, etc.). It's also got some incredible natural offerings--hiking in the different mountain ranges, volcanic craters/lakes/plains, etc. The embassy actually owns a camp-site that up to five families can share at a time, which people love to book for weekends to get out of the city. Also, travel to East Africa and Southern Africa is relatively easy, as is going to Dubai or Istanbul for a weekend.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Traditional coffee sets; traditional shawls/clothing for women
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Low cost of living. Interesting history. Good travel opportunities within Africa and up into the Middle East.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, cost of living is incredibly low here.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I remember that when we were considering Addis it seemed to have a reputation as a great post. But there are a lot of people who struggle here. It's not really a friendly place and there are a bunch of restrictions that make the first few months a particularly tough adjustment (It takes 3-6 months to get your car registered, even if you buy it from another embassy family at post. In the meantime, public transportation isn't available and housing is pretty spread out through the city, so spouses are isolated at home with lousy internet and phone service. Spouses who don't work in development have a really hard time finding employment outside the embassy. Etc.). It actually wouldn't have changed our decision to come, but it would have been helpful to have more realistic expectations.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. But I would cut myself some slack over the first three months' adjustment period and I probably wouldn't stay for more than two years.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Cold weather gear. Your expectations of building friendships with locals.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen. And a couple complete series of "Fill in the Blank" DVDs--you need to be able to entertain yourselves and kids without access to internet.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Cutting for Stone