Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Report of what it's like to live there - 02/08/19
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?
We've lived in Baku/Azerbaijan, Tashkent/Uzbekistan, and have now been in Addis Ababa for almost two years.
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?
We're from the US. Trip is a long one. Flying from Addis to California through Frankfurt, Germany. It's not difficult to get to Addis from some large cities around the world, but there may not be flights to where you want to go very often throughout the week.
3. How long have you lived here?
We have been here almost two years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Work at the US Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is provided by US Embassy. We are not fond of our housing here and we are a flexible family used to living in other quirky cities. Yes, the house is gigantic, but what I wouldn't give for a little house and some green space for my children! The only positive is that we living in Old Airport so we're not far from the school. My husband has a long drive to the embassy for work though. For families living in Bole or elsewhere, their children ride the bus or are driven for up to an hour (depending on time of day) to get to and from school. Please really think about whether you want to come here and can handle living in a house that may frequently need repairs or having your child endure long "commutes" to school for a few years.
We have two children and we feel that there is no outside space for them to play when they are home. However, other people are lucky and have much nicer living conditions. It seems be risky, and it feels as though family size is not taken into consideration.
We've tried very hard to make the house safer (and asked for help) however, we still do not feel the house is as safe as it should be. There are many situations from many families here (including ours) who seem to have experienced dangerous issues with electricity and water, generator issues, and problems with mold (leak issues). There seem to be issues with electrical bills, and I could go on and on. We had no idea until we arrived how off-kilter things would seem.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Limited here but it's fine. Mangos in season here are great and you can find avocados, raspberries and strawberries certain times of the year. Apples are expensive. We don't eat the meat from here so we order from overseas or bring back with us when we can. You can find salmon exported here (expensive but a nice change from chicken)! For the quality, groceries are a bit expensive. Soaps, laundry detergent , cleaning supplies and dish soaps aren't that great but will do if you have nothing else. Might be a good idea to bring your own (or put in a shipment if you get one).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More wine and beer that we like...more dish soaps...
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Deliver Addis is a good option and the food is usually fine (sometimes gets a bit tossed around in transit). A great restaurant is Mamma Mia and Mandoline.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We have ants off and on but not a big deal. We had rats and that was another problem that seemed to take a long time to address.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use mail services through the embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is inexpensive but we've struggled finding people who take the initiative and do quality work. We are not a family who would ever use a nanny but there are some good ones out there. People employ day guards, drivers, housekeepers, nannies, cooks.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The gym at the embassy is fine. We always just have our own gym stuff with us.
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?
We never use credit cards here, it's all cash. There's the ATM at the embassy and at the school (ICS).
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Learning some basic Amharic can be helpful and opens up doors, people seem more willing to help. Many Ethiopian speak English. There are classes and tutors teaching Amharic.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, it would be difficult to get around given the condition of streets, sidewalks (if there are any), and would have limited access to buildings (stores, restaurants, etc.).
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are fine. Some of them are metered and others are not. We are told not to take local buses or trams. I've heard of some people taking trains but I'm not sure how safe they are. They're all affordable but as a foreigner, people will try to charge you a lot more.
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 of some sort. You'll see that when you have problems with your car, the mechanics don't really know how to fix it or will fix it temporarily. Don't bring anything that can't get scratched, bumped, mirrors torn off of or can't handle a lot of rain.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
There's no "high speed" internet! We've had worse in Baku, Azerbaijan, but it's still pretty bad here. The Embassy seems to be trying to find a better way to help people get internet more efficiently. It's been a mess since we arrived to get and pay for internet.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring your own and use a local provider. You'll have to buy data which can be expensive.
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?
We only know of one veterinarian and not sure he's qualified but it's all we found here. We adopted two kittens from the street and this veterinarian came to our house when we needed his services. The cats seem to be fine.
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?
Some spouses I know of work at the embassies or work by telecommuting. I've been working at the school (ICS). Salaries aren't great but there's not much else to do here. It's sort of the norm in many countries for expat spouses and partners.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
In public places, it's casual. Women here often wear jeans or long skirts/dresses.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. As in any giant crowded city, you need to be aware of your surroundings. I'm usually fine as a foreign woman walking in the city, but have had on occasion a person jump out at me or yell at me. It doesn't seem safe to be out alone at night whether you're a man or woman. Since we've moved here there have been many occasions of unrest in and outside of the city. There are protests. There are numerous reports of foreigners being attacked and/or being robbed. It's a challenging place to live.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
We've been sick here often. There are always stomach problems that might be caused by food or water. There's so much air pollution that I think this also affects our immune systems. In more severe instances, we've gone to the Swiss Clinic for help and have been thankful for that. The embassy is far from our home so if we had an emergency it would be difficult to get there in time. We've been lucky so far and haven't needed much medical care. I think almost any serious medical condition would need evacuation from here!
Stress and even mild depression is a major health concern here for many people. It's a tough place to live when you see so many Ethiopians struggling to survive on a daily basis and feel almost helpless in it all.
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?
Terrible air quality everywhere but if you live at the embassy then they say it's good. Where we live in Old Airport it's terrible. Pollution from vehicles and a lot of dust in the air.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I wouldn't trust anyone but myself with preparing my food if I had food allergies. Honestly, I don't think this city is where you want to go. Maybe find another amazing city in Africa!
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
I mentioned above stress and depression. People are generally not happy here, but this comes from our view of all of the people we know. It's a very difficult post to be at especially if you have children and you actually spend time with them. There's nothing to do in the city. And there's a risk when you travel outside of the city. Maybe we're more cautious than others?
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There's the little rainy season in March and then the normal rainy season from June-August. Then for the rest of the year it's warm throughout the day and cold in the mornings and nights. We were happy to have a fire place to keep warm here. You need good blankets on your beds for a lot of the year.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are many international schools here (Greek, Italian, French, British, American. etc.). Our children (7, 10) attend ICS. We're pretty happy with the school and the school grounds are beautiful. Sometimes the communication from the school isn't very good. Our kids are happy and enjoying ICS.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ICS has a learning support team including a school psychologist, counsellor, speech-language pathologist and occupational therapist. The school tries to be inclusive. It's a work in progress. It's the most support I've seen at any international school my children have attended.
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?
There are many preschools here. My children didn't attend so I think most are inexpensive. The preschool at ICS is expensive but amazing. It's an inquiry based program. Young children can sign up for an after school program that costs extra. There may be changes next year for the Early Childhood program.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are sports and activities in and outside of school. The opportunities inside the school have been good. The selection in the city and at school is limited but this school has more activities/sports than any other school we've been to. Students can play soccer, rugby, running and other sports depending upon their age. After school activities provide a wide range of choices from dance to art to math games.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty large community that is spread out through the city. It's challenging to live here. We all make the best of it but it's tough.
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?
Typical ways to socialize might include restaurants or formal events. There are some nice bazaars to go to that occur every month or around certain holidays. There are groups but we're not involved in those. We generally socialize with other families with kids.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I hate to answer because I'm not single and don't really know. I imagine you have more freedom so could get out more to see the country when it's safe. I think for anyone who lives here, there's just nothing to do. Going out to restaurants is okay. There are no parks or places to walk around. You have to be really careful if you go to the mountains. When you're out, people ask for money. It seem to be a good city in which to test your relationship.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes, I've made friends with locals here at work and it's been great. Any foreigners stand out here so you just have to be ready to get stared at.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I think yes to all of these.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Amazing trip to Lalibela, Bahir Dar, Gondar, Blue Nile. Felt good after they lifted the security warning to get out of the city. The countryside was beautiful.
We found a great place to go horseback riding. Our children have learned to horseback ride here.
Love the coffee ceremony and the coffee here.
We enjoyed Meskel. ICS does a great job of inviting people to take part in Meskel.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Horseback riding on the mountain
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
You can find all of these things at the monthly bazaars or the bazaars at the school (baskets, furniture, art work, jewelry, pottery, clothing).
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
We have learned to be resilient and appreciate what we have. We've had good discussions with our kids about poverty.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
We wish we knew how difficult it was going to be do live here. We wish we knew how unsafe it would be to go out to the countryside. We wish we knew that we may end up unhappy with the housing issues or that morale would seem so low.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
We love a challenge and adventure. We would not move here if we knew what we know now.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Good health, both mental and physical.
4. But don't forget your:
Immodium, pepto, charcoal, and antibiotics.