Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Report of what it's like to live there - 02/21/20
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. We've also lived in San Jose, Costa Rica; Lilongwe, Malawi; Washington, DC; had an unaccompanied tour; and Dakar, Senegal. This is not our first post in Africa, so we knew what to expect, yet still...
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?
Lexington, KY. It takes about 24 hours to get home and at least three flights. To get to big east coast cities, it's typically two flights and 18 hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
In my opinion, the housing is poor. The homes have an odd layout, they are older, and have many problems (all of which is typical for a large city in a developing county). We are located in three areas of the city. 1. Old Airport, closest to the school and farthest from the US Embassy. Many families choose to be here for their kids. However, the commute to the Embassy can take 45 mins to an hour. 2. Bole, closest to the airport, about 25 minutes to the US Embassy, and at least 30 minutes to the school. All times listed are on the low end, it typically takes longer due to traffic and construction. 3. Near the US Embassy. Easy commute to work, very far from school, and limited grocery shopping on the local market.
Personally, we have one of the more "normal" homes in the pool. However, most days the yard smells of sewage so we don't spend a lot of time outside. Our yard also floods in the rainy season and we are far from the school. Our #1 complaint.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Poor/expensive. Some French and South African food can be purchased at specialty stores, but it all depends on availability and the cost is high. We are told not to consume any local dairy, and the local meat isn't very good. Fruit and vegetables are limited and the quality is just ok. Fresh Corner, a local store, seems to be the best place for fruit and vegetables. They are located in Old Airport and Bole. Most of us with the US Embassy shop for the bulk of their needs at the commissary. The employee association offers supplemental consumable shipments for meats, milk, alcohol, etc. We've ordered meat from Kenya which is far superior. USE your consumables shipment. It will save you money. Local grocery stores have very limited parking.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Not my first consumables post, so I came prepared. Shampoo, medications, cat litter, laundry soap, hand soap, dish soap, wine, alcohol, bring which ever extract you like for baking (vanilla, peppermint, almond, etc), spices, etc. You can save a lot of money by using your consumable shipment. The commissary is great, but can run low on inventory while waiting on a shipment. If it is a liquid and you can't live without it, put it in your consumables. Fill the crate with toilet paper and paper towels.
For those with kids or if you are an artist, art supplies should be brought with you. Especially liquid supplies. The school has plenty for the classroom, but if they want to have it at home bring it. You can find stuff locally, but lower quality and pricy.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Deliver Addis is a delivery service and they have a range of restaurants to choose from. Just know food here is just okay (with the exception of Ethiopian food, which is great). You can find Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indian, Turkish, Italian, French, American, burgers, pizza both Italian style, and good old Pizza Hut. Again, many outings, but just expect it to be only ok. Dinner for two at a restaurant in a western hotel can easily cost over US$200.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Insects in the home aren't too bad. Ants on occasion, a few mosquitos, flies. We've seen rats outside. Lots of stray dogs and cats. On a whole, Ethiopians do not seem to be overly cruel to animal in Addis. Not expat standards, but not the worst I've seen. However, I've heard animals will be poisoned to decrease the population, which is horrible.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We arrived to a pouch post, but DPO is starting this week. That said, remember to ship your liquids in consumables. Just because you can send them via DPO doesn't mean you should. If they break, they damage the entire bag they are in. Angering your colleagues isn't worth the risk. Limited local postal facilities. I've seen DHL.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Salaries are low, about US$250 per month for a full-time housekeeper. Most homes have a gardener/day guard. Some are great, others are ok. We are lucky that we found someone who can work independently, most do not and have to be reminded often to do simple tasks. Also know, they are not afraid to ask for money, so come prepared on what you are and are not willing to do. Many hire a driver.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are many local options for exercise, the school has a program you can join, and there is a gym at the US Embassy. You need these options as you cannot run or walk the streets. Cheaper than the US, but not the cheapest I've seen. Yoga, power lifting, Crossfit like classes, and running groups (even in a group not the safest)
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 a no. People do use them in the major hotels, but be aware as there is an excellent chance they will be hacked, even shopping online. Make sure you set up two-factor authentication to protect your finances. ATMs are ok at the Embassy and the school.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None, but it is considered polite to have basic greetings. Tutors can be expensive. I have seen math tutors ask for US$70/hour. Be prepared to negotiate prices, and walk away if the price is too high.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Not only are the sidewalks terrible/nonexistent, they have no issue robbing anyone on the street, even those with a disability. Most homes have several floors, elevators don't always work, stores have small isles ways, etc. It would be very difficult in Addis. Also know we are at a very high altitude, this can be difficult.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We are not allowed to use the local blue taxis due to the drivers use of khat. The yellow taxis are ok, just make sure to have them turn on the meter or negotiate the fair before you get in the taxi. I've heard they will overcharge expats. There is a private service used by the many in the expat community, but sometimes it's hard to get. Lastly there is the RIDE app, like Uber/Lyft. They are the ones used by our family. The cars range from okay to good. Most don't have working seatbelts and you will breath in a lot of exhaust as the AC rarely works. They are reliable, they speak English, and many are highly educated Ethiopians who work for RIDE on the side. So you can learn a lot about local culture if you like to talk.
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. In my opinion, the drivers here are horrible. and have little respect for you on the road. Traffic is bad, and if you get in an accident it can take hours to resolve. Plus, it seems they know how to work the system, so be prepared to plead you case. Smaller cars are ignored and they drive as if you aren't even there. Most roads in the city are paved, but they are in disrepair. Always lock your doors as begging seems to be rampant throughout the city. They will test your doors, and if unlocked will take what ever they can get. Have side mirrors riveted in place, kids steal them at red lights. We order most parts through Amazon or rock auto. Our Embassy mechanics can work on the cars after hours on Friday.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
No. They are working on improving it, but the internet is terrible and unreliable. Most homes have both a land line, hard wired into the home and a MyFi system. Just know if the land line is not present in your home, it is VERY expensive to get it wired in and it is unreliable during the day. Ours never works during working hours, but is okay at night. Internet signal can fluctuate/weaken in the homes, so bring a reliable wifi extender. Internet is currently owned by the government. That is supposed to change, but know it seems like they turn it off whenever they feel like it. It seems especially during times of unrest and exam week for students.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring your own unlocked phone. Anything bought local is probably a knockoff. Like the internet phone service is owned by the government. Kids under 18 are not allowed to have a number. Parents typically open accounts in their name, but you are only allowed to open one account at a time. So it can take several days/attempts to get each family member a phone number. They do sell monthly plans, but most just buy credit as needed. The US commissary offers the largest denomination for credit and is the easiest for us.
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 several vets used by the expat community. They seem good. I wouldn't want to deal with a major health issue here, but as long as your pet is healthy, they can keep them happy. Out cat has allergies, and the local vet is taking good care of him. They are even knowledgeable on some holistic options which have helped a bit (probiotics and fish oils). There are lots of strays, so walking a dog can be difficult. All that said, bring you four legged family members. Or consider adopting one while at post.
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?
The usual for an African post. Some work at their embassy, some work at local NGOs, artists, telework (as long as there is internet) and at the school. Local salaries are low.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are several groups of expat and diplomats which you can join. The school has an active Parent group (not a PTO, as they do not allow one). This group can help you learn about the different opportunities. There are several WhatsApp groups and other online forum as well. You should not have a problem finding something of interest. The need in this country is overwhelming.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Conservative, but casual. This is a highly religious country. Dress at work is business/business casual. Formal dress for diplomatic events or balls. There are several big events each year to dress up for, so at least one ball gown would be appropriate. You can have something made locally. Keep in mind this county isn't hot, so be prepared to have sweaters/pashminas to keep you warm when dressed up.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes, lots and everywhere. Walking the streets alone and in a group isn't recommended. We have just been raised to a Critical Crime Threat post. Muggings, car theft, rock throwing, protests, assault, murder, etc. You name it we have it. Protests outside the city are frequent and violent. They follow political, religious and ethnic lines. Many church leaders and students have been killed in the past year due to political and religious tensions. The Ethiopia of two years ago is gone. So be wary of bidding on this post by a recommendation from someone who hasn't been here in the past few years. The country is undergoing major political transformation, and it has caused a lot of tension and violence. It will take time to settle. I've had several people say they are sad we are here now and that they hope we don't become a victim. Taxi drivers have told me to not walk the streets, saying I will be targeted. Even running in your neighborhood, no matter how quiet, is not worth the risk. Crime is rampant, they know where we are, and are always looking for ways to target expats. Home scams are frequent, people say they are with some government group to gain entry to your home to rob you. Terrorism while present and a threat, so far hasn't materialized within the city. Some incidents have occurred on the boarder with other countries. Lastly poverty is very high and the cost of living in Addis is outpacing salary increases. Locals are struggling to get by, another reason for the increase in crime.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I've been told we are the #1 post for digestive issues. Not sure if that distinction is true, but all will experience tummy trouble. The water is contaminated with metals and bacteria. We drink and brush out teeth with distilled water. All fruits and vegetables must be washed to disinfect. Never eat salad at a restaurant. Most embassies have a list of local doctors/dentists, but it is preferred that you do your check ups/cleanings at home.
Car accidents are very common and can cause injury. Driving outside the city is especially dangerous, as they follow no rules, pass on blind curves and speed. I've heard drivers also tend to be high on Khat. Within the city people walk out into the streets without looking, drivers will just take your space on the road, lane markers are just a suggestion and cars are poorly maintained. Assaults are on the rise in the city, as is the risk of injury.
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, but not the worst I've seen. When it's dry there is dust. When it rains there is mold. People burn their garbage. Cars are not kept in good working order. Addis is located in a valley surrounded by mountains; therefore, the bowl effect traps the bad air. Religious holidays involve large fires. These days are terrible quality. Air purifiers are needed for you home. Check to see if they are provided by your embassy/agency/company. That said, those with breathing issues can and will find it difficult here.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
You will find it hard to find food alternatives here. Bring what you need in your shipments or suitcases, and if possible order the rest from your trusted supplier. There is a ton of construction in this city, so all the nasty materials they use are floating throughout the air. Bring plenty of inhalers for asthma, your preferred allergy medication and Benadryl for emergencies.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
People tend to be unhappy here. It is a very, very difficult city to live in. A lot of people have bouts of depression/sadness. Morale isn't great, and due to the limited freedom within the city, people struggle. You must be flexible to live here. The feeling of isolation can be overwhelming, especially for those who live in an area the doesn't fit their needs. If you have school-aged kids, you should be near the school. Distance and driving conditions warrant this. If you are single you want to be near areas with the most to do. Living near the US embassy feels cut off as there are limited resources (outside of the embassy) in that area. It isn't easy to get from one are to another.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very wet in the rainy season and cold. (July - November) Even though it isn't raining, October/November seems to be the coldest months. The only heat in the homes are fireplaces and space heaters. Make sure to bring warm clothes, slippers and blankets. Otherwise it is ok. Not too hot, not too cold. The sun is very strong as we are at 7,500-9,000 feet above sea level in Addis. It will burn your skin and fast. Outside of the city it can be hot.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Many options. We are with ICS and it's ok. However, I haven't found that it lives up to the reputation it has. Yes, kids do well and get into good colleges, but the school is very rigid and the classes rarely see each other. In a city where the yards are small and there are no safe places for kids to go, the school should be an extension of their home. It isn't. If you child is not there for a reason, they will make your child leave. No after hours playing, unless they are with a parent. And even then you will be questioned. The administration can and does handle "problems" but they do not allow a PTO. Parent involvement is very limited which causes frustration. There is a parent group that helps new arrivals and run programs, but have limited influence. As for teachers, there are some who are great and others who are not. The school can handle kids with moderate needs, but you still need to check to see if they can accommodate your child. If you don't live in Old Airport, you will be frustrated even further. Driving is difficult and getting there and back will take between 1-2 hours. You child will suffer due to the distance. The typical response to this issue is hire a driver... (AKA we don't care). For kids in Bole, a normal school day is pick up at 7am, home at 4:30pm. It's long and difficult on all kids no matter the age. After school programs end at 4:30 for ASAs and for high school sports is 6pm (and at least one 6am practice each week,) Again making it harder if you do not live in Old Airport. Distance from the school is probably the #1 reason for unhappiness for those who live in other areas.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ICS offers four distinct programs and can assist a lot of different needs, but not all. So check before you accept a posting. You can find different programs on the local economy. I do not know of each and every option, nor the quality, but I've heard of speech therapy, physical therapy, etc.
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 and people seem happy. I do not know the price, but the preschool at ICS is expensive.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. Both within the school and outside. The parent group is great disseminating this information. The US Embassy has a teen committee that is trying to create programs for the kids affiliated with the mission.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large. Overall people are unhappy as Addis is tough and will test you each and every day. If you are flexible, you can find happiness. If you are not, you will suffer. Isolation can be overwhelming.
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?
Restaurants, get togethers at homes, art exhibits, there are several expat groups.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, because there is a large expat community. No because Addis is emotionally and physically tough and crime is high. If you are an introvert, it will be tough.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It's ok, but you may face discrimination as they follow a strict orthodox christian faith. This is a very conservative country, and you will need to protect yourself by following their norms while in public.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
They sure want to be your friend. I am not sure if it's sincere. Kids struggle in the school as the locals tend to keep to themself. But that is typical of most international schools. All expats will feel uncomfortable in Addis as being an expat makes you a target. So be cautions in getting to know locals. Many are kind and nice, others are opportunist. All will ask for a visa.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. They are not a unified country. They fall back to their ethnic and religious affiliations and violence is common. The country is undergoing major changes in its political sphere (becoming a democracy). These changes along with ethnic identity are the cause of very high tensions. The old guard is actively trying to stop the changes, the new groups want their piece of the pie, and those in charge cannot make the all sides happy. Several prominent Ethiopians who reside outside of the country are on social media stirring up anger. This process is taking a tole. This is why Ethiopia is not the same as it was two years ago. Women are second class citizens.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The airline is great and flies everywhere. Trips away from Addis are needed every few months for your morale. Many religious sites to see, there is an old castle, a big lake, lots of Wildlife, volcanic areas, etc. That said, you have to check with RSO before you go to see if it's safe to travel at that time.
Direct flights to Europe, the Middle East, Asia and many places in Africa. Go for your sanity.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Fear of muggings, assaults keeps many at home. You can visit museums and learn about the history, just take a taxi so you don't have to leave your car on the street. Western hotels have decent spas. People walk in groups in the local gardens, but it's still dangerous. Entoto mountain is a beautiful place for day hikes, but risk of mugging is high. Not recommended unless it is a planned hike with proper security.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Scarves are very cool. The dresses are pretty. Ceramics are limited and very not high quality. Art is typically very religious. It is illegal to purchase and take religious relics, but the metal trade makes decent copies. Coffee is alway good. Leather products are nice. In general, this isn't a big artisan country. That said it's a growing community and it will be in the future. Ir you have a distinct art/trade, be open to bring it to a group or a gallery and be willing to help teach it to locals. This takes time, but with persistence, it will benefit many. And it will help your morale.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
When it's dry, it's nice. There is food delivery. Taxi service exists. Otherwise none.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I was told what to expect, and it has lived up to its reputation. Not a good thing. Can't wait for the tour to be over.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Health, happiness, sense of freedom, beautiful car, sense of driving rules etc. Be prepared for times of struggle and dents in your car.
4. But don't forget your:
Medications for allergies, asthma, digestive issues and vitamins. Sweaters, warm clothing. Sunscreen. Your ability to be flexible.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Check the most recent travel books. Also there are newly released books on the history and religion on amazon.