Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Report of what it's like to live there - 07/28/18

Personal Experiences from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 07/28/18


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

No, this was our eighth overseas post. Other posts were in Asia, Middle East, and Africa.

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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?

Virginia in the US. Roughly 14 hours with Ethiopian Airlines from Washington D.C.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Three years.

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

For USG employees, houses are rent out in local economy all over the city. Some comes with large yard, others does not.
It is hard to rent a decent house under $2000 per month rent in Addis. Most of the lower rent houses tend to be old and small in size - bungalow style with 2 rooms plus but may come with yard. In Old Airport 2 years ago, if you pay around $4500 per month, you could get a house yard and good size house.

Newer and larger house does not mean it stands well. Most houses are built with poor quality and an odd layout and you will more likely to have maintenance issues throughout the year. Some landlords will increase the rent 20% a year, so when you rent your house, so do lock in your rent while you are there and make it clear what is landlord's responsibility and your responsibility once things do not work. Local landlords have different way of approaching than western ones.

Bole is very convenient as far as accessibility to restaurants, shops, airport, etc. Many families with children that attend ICS live near school in Old Airport where there are fewer restaurants. If you live in Bole Homes (by the airport), Gerji, or CMC, your childrens' commute to ICS will be long. Addis has many road construction to accommodate large traffic, and major construction in Kera area will affect the ICS community. Lebu has very nice gated community, and it is close to Old Airport, but the road congestion is normal and it will take you so much time in and out of the area.

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

Availability is not stable. Some items, such as sugar, imported butter, cream, Jasmine rice, glutinous rice, coconut milk, good orange juice, and long shelf rice milk, as such disappear from store shelves for a while. Due to depreciation of the ETB, businesses suffer from lack of hard cash like US$. With the high import tax and regulations, imported goods become scarce time to time and are quite expensive. With civil unrest happens in surrounding cities of Addis, roadblocks could happen, and vegetables and fruits can seem to cost 100% more than the previous week, and sometimes one cannot buy them. Groceries can be more expensive if you buy at supermarkets.

Throughout the year, you will see basic vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbages, tomatoes, garlic, green beans, peppers, beets, leeks, avocados in small local veggie shops, and additionally broccoli, cucumbers, zucchinis, herbs, red peppers, and others in super markets. Bananas are available throughout the year. Other fruits are seasonal or imported. Electronics such as kitchen appliances to fridge to washer seem expensive.

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

What I was happy to have brought:

Canned fruits - pineapple, berries, mandarine oranges, pear, peaches.

Canned fish - sardines (available in local stores, but pricy).

Asian ingredients - Thai curry pastes, fish sauce (available in Fantu sometimes), Pad Thai sauce, Chinese sauce, Dried noodles, Instant Noodles (we were not fond of Indo-mee, and other Vietnamese brand noodles), coconut milk cans (available in Fantu sometimes)

Vanila extract

Sugar and short grain rice. Rice that we bought in a local grain shop turned out gray and did not taste good even though we throughly washed prior to cooking. Packaged imported rice was good, but at the end of our stay, we could only find Basmati rice.

When we go overseas, we bring back butter, cured meats, and cheese. Our friend recently bought 1kg of cheddar cheese for 2500 ETB in Addis.

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

'Deliver Addis' is useful. There are takeouts and take away available. There are many restaurants to choose from. Some are good for Addis, others are not stable in quality and taste. Indian, Mediterranean, Yemeni, Brasilian, Sudanese, Ethiopian, Italian, Burgers, Pizzas, Sandwich, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Lebanese, French, etc. There are lots of coffee shops.

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

Bedbugs, fleas, and mites.

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Daily Life:

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

Through diplomatic pouch. You can also receive your packages and letters to your business or organization's office. You can send your packages and letters through local post offices. When you send a package, do not seal it. Postal workers have to check the content of your package. The main office near Churchill street is very crowded, so go to the ones in the city.

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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 available, but we have found that those that seem good and speak English are hard to come by. Household help can cost from 2500 ETB to 9000 ETB per month, 5 days a week (8 to 11 hours a day), at least from what I have seen. They may have bonuses twice a year; some give one month salary each time, some give half of a month salary each time. Some do not pay medical, transportation, and phone card fees, and others do not. Some give Ethiopian holidays off, and others may give US or other holidays off.

The depreciation of the ETB, cost of gas, food, transportation, and rent have gone up, and it seems to make the lives of locals harder. You may want to consider this when you negotiate the salary. It's my understanding that one room rent near Haya Hulet can cost 800 to 1000 ETB per month. A kilo of bananas used to be 15 ETB and sometimes it goes up to 30 to 40 ETB per kilo.

Many expats hire day and night guard, a domestic help, a nanny, and a driver.

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

Local gyms are available throughout the city whether they are quality ones or not:

Old Airport - Adot, Laphto - both small, but decent

Meskel Square - Ti'la - vey expensive but quite nice - has juice bar, but small

Bole - Bole Rock

Hotels has gym - Capital hotel, Sheraton, Hilton, etc.

Juventus Italian Club does not have a gym but has group exercises like Capoeira, kick-boxing, Zumba, Tae Kwon Do, Yoga, Pilates, tennis, football, basketball courts, and table tennis.

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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 not widely used. ATM are everywhere, but ask your friends which one they use. Once your card is eaten by the ATM machine, it is a lot of hassle.

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

Catholic, Evangelican, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Jehova's Witness, etc.

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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?

You can get by without Amharic, but it is definitely helpful if you speak even a word of it. You can bring smiles on locals. :-). Classes and tutors are available.

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


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

Except for taxis, they are affordable, but none seem safe. I have heard local buses, and trains have pick picketers. I have also heard issues with mini buses and female passengers being robbed. Many taxis do not appear to have seat belts, or nobs for windows, and doors may not close properly. I was in one when a door opened suddenly while running (most of them are very old). Newer taxis say that they are metered but most of the meters do not work. Many expats have private taxi guys that they use. Their price can be a bit higher, but for peace of mind, they may worth it. Taxis are quite expensive and you can easily spend $20.

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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?

Toyota high clearance vehicle due to pot holes, lots of water during rainy season. The carjacking risk is low, but side mirror theft and burglary can happen. Within three years, I have heard of three friends side mirrors being stolen. I have heard that local criminal groups will then try to sell the mirrors back to you.

Do not leave anything visible in the car. Your child's school backpack can be a target of burglary. Recent years, even Toyota parts may be hard to get due to local businesses' lack of hard cash.

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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 is available but not high speed and is not reliable and very expensive compared to US. It can take a week to 3 month to install. Once it is out, it takes 2 days to 3 months to fix or never able to fix. The new Prime Minister has talked about privatizing communication sector, so there may be better services with competition of companies with lower price in the near or far future.

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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?

I brought unlocked iPhones. You can get local smart phones or other kinds of phones. I used local provider, Ethio Telecom.
For expats, you need to bring these items to Ethio Telecom:
1. Passport

2. A copy of your passport page that has entry date stamp (for registering your phone)

3. Your phone

4. Cash - 30 ETB for 3G SIM card. More for 4G SIM card, and how much ever you want to store value in your 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?

There are vets, but we do not have pets, so we do not know much one would spend.

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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?

Diplomatic missions, international school teachers, independent consultants and contractors, home based business, telecommuting, full-time and part-time. The local salary is not that high. If you are hired locally, make sure that the local employer comply with local regulations.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are lots of opportunities within your child's school. Orphanages, street children recovery institution, battered women centre, and diplomatic spouses group also have opportunities.

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

Same as U.S. Some wear formal dress at balls like Irish Ball, Marine Ball, Christmas balls, and such.

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Health & Safety:

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

There seem to be lots of pickpocketers, crimes of opportunity happens during day time and night times, especially after 9 pm. We learned that the following incidents happened to our friends while we were there, and we have heard of more. Just be aware of surroundings and do not walk alone after 9 pm.

1. Group of thieves or even children may surround a person and take your computer, iPhones, money, wallet when you walk alone.

2. Someone spills drink on you, and pretend to wipe off the liquid, but take what is in your pocket or purse.

3. Some may ask for direction, and take things from you.

4. Someone will point to your tire and when you stop and look at your tire, others will take your belonging.

5. I have heard of many who have been attacked from behind and arm lock your neck. While you lose consciousness, all your belongings are gone.

6. You do not lock your car door. When you stop, robbers will get in and take you to isolated place. Your belongings are taken.

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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?

There are a couple of good western operated hospitals, the Nordic and Swedish hospitals. Overseas trained local doctors are available.
I do not know specifically what conditions require medical evaluation, but sounds like there are enough of it.

Health concerns do come with living here for sure. Food poisoning, sickness due to water-borne illness/sanitation issues, skin disease transmitted by people, bug bites, etc.; not just one or two, some people can get more than 20 bites a day, to respiratory issues, dental emergency. You do not want to have any serious injuries.

I heard that there was insulin shortage in the country. Local medicine is quite inexpensive.

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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?

Bad air quality. It does have an impact on health.

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

Bad quality of air and people burn their trash outside and they cause respiratory problem.
Many stray dogs are out and some get bitten as they walk outside.
I think you can control food allergies, eating at home.

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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)?

Not that I know of, but many feel life is Addis is very stressful.

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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?

Very comfortable temperature over all, but the temperature and weather can change dramatically within a day, between 8C to 27C. Layers of clothing are important. The rainy season is in June, July, August, September. Small rainy season in March or April, but every year was different. During the dry season, you can expect to have shortage of water supply. During the rainy season, you can expect power outage more so than rest of the year.

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Schools & Children:

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

ICS is expanding and getting more students every year. It is the most expensive school out of all the international schools in Addis. Some upper grade teachers can have improvements, and some are very good. (I say there is no perfect school or human beings). Our child had an amazing experience at the elementary school here. The new head of school has different approach from the last one, and hopefully will move forward into a good future of the school. Other international schools are: Sandford, Bingham, Italian, Swedish, Andinet, Greek, Lycee Francaise, and German. There may be more.

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

I do not know much, but Andinet School has a good special ed teacher I heard. ICS accepts children with Down syndrome, and autism. Please inquire the school, as every situation is different.

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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 and day care are available but I do not know anything about them.

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

Some sports activities for kids are held at Juventus. Horseback riding (Italian Embassy, one near Mekanisa Ato church), ballet, soccer, and are available. There may be more.

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Expat Life:

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

Expat community is big. Overall morale is rather 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?

Going out to eat, home entertainment, hiking, running. There are running group to toast masters. Your children's school or organization may have more.

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

Single people - I heard from some singles that it was hard to meet other singles, but I saw opportunities for get together.

Couples - maybe best out of there groups. No need to worry about children' sickness or education.

Families - there may be quite a lot of challenges. There aren't many public places such as parks for small children to go out and play outside. The air quality is not good, and you may worry about what if situations like sickness, big injuries, and others. We wished that there was good medical facilities.

On the other hand, Addis Ababa is the hub to many international destinations in the world. You will enjoy time out of the country with easy access and quite affordable.

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

Not sure.

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

I sensed that it is more like male chauvinistic society. I sensed locals were not fond of Chinese nationals. There seems to be division among local ethnic groups.

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

Lalibela, Gondar, Axum, Bahadar, Arba Minch, Harare, Gheralta, Simien, and Bale Mountain. Some say Danakil is the best. Some do camping, trekking. If my children were older, I would have gone to the south to visit some tribes.

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

Entoto Mountain was one of the good place to go running, for walk, and camping, however, recently I have heard that many foreigners have been attacked more aggressively than before. Maybe behind British Embassy area to rock hewn church ruin can be enjoyed. There are one day trips that you can make from Addis if there is no restrictions due to civil unrest.

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

Ethiopian silk and cotton products. Baskets, some art, and coffee.

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

Humbling experiences and able to see things different ways. Nice weather during dry season.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

There were a couple of things that I would have liked to known before moving here.
1. Every process of getting a driver's license to selling a car takes so much time and effort, especially when you have to do it on your own. You need to be on top and aware of every step, even if your organization's worker is helping with you. They may have different time frame than yours.

2. As a USG family, I felt like the organization for getting things done needs to be better.

3. When you leave the post, and if you are selling your car, please be aware. Your car is purchased by duty free personnel such as diplomats. Once he/she pays you, and register the car with the government, then your belongings will leave the country. If you sell your car to non duty-free person, such as locals, he/she may pay for the car, but if fails to pay for duty, therefore, cannot register the car, then your shipment will NOT leave the country until the person pays the duty and register.

4. There are so many regulations.

5. I do not think the internet is reliable which is hard for students, and family.

6. Civil unrest can limit your travel within this beautiful country.

7. Cost of living.

8. Things are hard to get such as gas, diesel, food, quality goods.

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

No, unfortunately. Three years was good for me.

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

Any expectations of western world, sour and bad attitude, closed mindedness. Bad attitude is like a flat tire, you can’t get very far until you change it.

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4. But don't forget your:

Low expectations. Positive attitude. Remember that there are people with nothing that still manage to smile. Sense of gratitude. Be courageous. Adventurous mind. Your comfort food like special chocolate from Trader Joe's. :-).

We were glad that we brought winter gear for visiting Europe during winter. We were happy to bring our swim suits for visiting Seychelles, Zanzibar, and Mombassa. I was happy to have rain boots for walking in mud and deep water during rainy season. I was happy to that I brought seeds to grow some vegetables in my pots.

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

There are books and movies out there, but I just did not have time, so I check youtube about Addis. Some people may have blog. ICS has a great compilation of information. Some embassies and NGOs have information, too.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

This post is solely from my experiences and added with my friends' experiences. Others may have different experiences from mine. My answers to some of the questions may scare you, but these are normal for developing countries. It is an amazing country with rich history and culture and good people. Stay healthy. Try to embrace your life in Addis. You can always change your attitude and do not complain unless you are willing to change it. You can always find good and the best in worst situations if you encounter. You will never know what brings into your life.

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