Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/29/18
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, this is our third overseas assignment and first Africa posting.
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?
The USA. Travel time ranges from 16 hours to 24+.
3. How long have you lived here?
About one year.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Spouse works for US Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is the biggest and worst challenge at this post. Sizes range greatly, yards, commute times, etc. The office that manages housing seems to face a lot of challenges, and I feel there is room for improvement.
Many houses are bigger than what you find in the US, but the maintenance does not seem up to US standards. The condition was not what we expected when we moved in, and numerous repairs have been necessary since then.
I feel as though if there is an earthquake here, none of the houses will be left standing. I have heard of people regularly getting regularly electrocuted here. Power outages, water shortages, gas shortages, etc. seem to be frequent.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Ethiopia regularly experiences shortages of the following items: milk, flour, sugar, eggs, etc., etc., etc. Produce is very affordable and okay quality. Imports are very expensive and not reliable. Local milk contains aflatoxin which is a known carcinogen and is not recommended for drinking. The good meat in the country is exported to South Africa. There are some small growers that sell high quality, organic produce, but it is seasonal. All produce in Ethiopia is seasonal. Most expats find a network of friends to keep tabs on what is available in the local market so that they can buy it when it is in stock. EVERY EXPAT brings back meat, cheese, fish, yogurt, sour cream, etc. in their suitcases any time they travel outside of Ethiopia.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We maxed out our shipments so we couldn't even dream of shipping more. The common theme is to ship liquid items since you can't ship them in through the embassy mail.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Restaurants are hit or miss and inconsistent. They struggle to stay open with the challenges of operating in Ethiopia. My understanding is that outside investments are not allowed, and all businesses must be majority Ethiopian-owned. Sishu, Bake and Brew, Five Loaves, Yod Abbisynia, etc. Generally though if you want to go out, you can find something. Keep your expectations low and take your probiotics, as stomach issues are common. DeliverAddis is a great option for home delivery.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Plenty of critters around here. Ants, roaches, rats, spiders, mites, Kenyan Ants (yikes), bullet ants (double yikes), moths, moths, moths, silver fish, and many, many more.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy mail. They recently started charging to send outbound packages on top of the fee to ship from Virginia to wherever it is going. Many people seemed disappointed to see that.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Plenty of availability and usually under US$200/month, but quality really varies. Most people have a housekeeper, day guard/gardener, cook, nanny and driver or some combination thereof. Just be careful and don't be afraid to fire bad staff or poor performers, as there are plenty of people that need work.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are some gyms around town, not sure of cost.
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?
Not widely accepted and be careful where you use it. ATMs are around but again be careful where you use it
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Some but limited.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Little, you can find plenty of English speaker.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I think this would be a terrible option for someone with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses, trams, trains and blue donkeys are off limits. Taxis are expensive for a developing country. Many taxis are not in good condition and there are no seat belts. There are a few GPS-based taxi services.
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?
An SUV with clearance. Buying locally is expensive but if it has been in country for many years than it will sell faster as the value-added tax (VAT) is reduced each year for locals.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It is extremely slow and expensive here, but it is internet in the developing world.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked smartphone and carry a cheap local phone. Petty theft seems to be almost guaranteed.
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?
Vet care seems to be poor. I have heard spaying and neutering are not done in sterile environment and sometimes on a kitchen table or in a carport. There is no quarantine. Rabies is common and there are street dogs are in many places. I have heard that the government puts out poisoned meat for street dogs to eat with absolutely no notice to the public. It could then be picked up by birds and dropped in yards which could then be eaten by family pet. Adopting local pets comes with risks but many people do it.
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?
NGOs, inside embassies/diplomatic missions. Telecommuting is challenging because of the internet and I have heard people have lost jobs because of it. Working inside Ethiopia can be difficult unless your government has an agreement. Local salaries appear to be low.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
You are not allowed to volunteer in Ethiopia as it is seen as taking away job opportunities from locals.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business/business casual at work. Formal at formal events.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. I have heard of pick-pocketing of money, phones, etc. in a variety of ways: hey will spit on you and as they wipe it off steal from you or they will distract you with flyers. I've heard of car mirrors being taken off the car while one sits at a traffic light, and some violent attacks but those are more rare. I've even heard of theft inside the mission, never leave anything out.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Check CDC website at https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/ethiopia. Medical care is poor. Embassy Med Unit has vaccines and staff to support. Staffing levels vary on timing and the availability of EFMs to apply for work.
If you are not with the US Embassy, it is my understanding you will need to go outside of Ethiopia for vaccines. The country keeps only those for 9 months old children and younger. Very limited.
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 and this is a post with heavy metal poisoning. Those with asthma or upper respiratory issues should not come here. The high altitude and poor air quality (much from diesel, lack of catalytic converters and burning trash) makes getting colds frequent and difficult to overcome.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Pollen does not seem to be a big issue here, but mold is. Even in high altitude mold grows extensively during the rainy season. This year it is lasting four to five months instead of two to three. Those with food allergies should just be mindful when eating out. There are so many food allergies to have that it's hard to say.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Depression, as it feels tough, isolating and hectic here. It's also seems crowded and can feel very lonely. People don't have seasonal affective disorder but they definitely have depression. It's important to have a plan if you think you could experience depression or your children. I've heard of children leaving post because they have struggled here.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Climate is cool in the evening and warm during the day (in the sun). Rainy season can be very cold compared to dry season.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
ICS is good. Communication from the school seems terrible. I've found some excellent teachers, some meh teachers. The school has plenty of room for improvement. The current head of of the school seems like he can't be trusted. It is a truly international school but the campus is owned by the US Embassy and that is does not seem to be kept in mind.
Some kids go to Lycee and like it there. Some go to Lion Heart Academy. There are a handful of preschools in the area, too.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ICS -- little to none. you may be requested to pay out of pocket if they decide that your child has behavioral issues even after being evaluated and shown not to have behavioral issues -- tens of thousands of dollars.
Lycee -- may be better equipped since they are part of the French School System.
Some pre-schools are working to build special needs programs.
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 and not much cheaper than ICS. They are spread out around the city. The level of the school seems to vary greatly. Most families hire a nanny to help out. I would not expect to much from your nanny.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Very limited in my opinion.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Very large in size.
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?
Through school, get togethers at houses, jazz clubs, and embassy events. I'm not sure about clubs
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's better for singles and couples as the stresses seem to be easier to manage than for families. That said, plenty of families have a wonderful tour here.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
NO! It is illegal in Ethiopia.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is no gender equality in this country. Fairly religious tolerant so long as you are Christian or Muslim.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
So easy to get out of Ethiopia on Ethiopian airlines. You can make this your launchpad to see Africa and Europe. Even though it is a real struggle to be here, you find amazing people to spend your time with and make it good.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Traveling inside Ethiopia is relatively easy too. Hidden gems? No, anytime there is a gem the entire expat community shares it! HA!
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not really but it depends on your style. Opals. Coffee. Coptic Crosses. Woven cotton things...
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
travel to other parts of Africa and Europe
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How crowded and polluted it is and that is a very isolating place.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. Largely due to work-related issues.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Taste of really good food, fast commute, and clean air.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience, manners and acceptance.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
There are many that can be found via a Google search.
6. Do you have any other comments?
It is a tough place, but you can make it work for you if you keep trying and take breaks away from here. You have to get away or Addis will chew you up.