Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/03/20

Personal Experiences from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 08/03/20


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

No, we've had multiple postings in developing countries, though this is our first in 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?

Australia. Two long haul flights, a minimum of 24 hours travel.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two 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?

Poor quality houses, in my opinion, with little insulation. Many houses make up for this by having lovely gardens. Houses are often very cold in the winter June to September. New apartments are available including some with amenities such as a gym. From what I can tell, nothing meets any kind of safety standard.

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

Poor range of goods. Lots of basic Italian items (tinned tomatoes, dried pasta, cooking oil, basic italian spices) and not much else.

Two small supermarket/deli combos called Gorgeous and Novis respectively have a small range of speciality imported goods including some nice cheeses, olives etc. Good bread can be purchased at the two shops above and the Hyatt Hotel bakery shop. Those with access to the US Embassy Commissary make the most of it. The rest order from IDS and Justesens multiple times a year.

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

Bring wine! Local wine is dreadful and imports are limited in range and very expensive.

Two small supermarket/deli combos called Gorgeous and Novis respectively have a small range of speciality imported goods including some nice cheeses, olives etc. Good bread can be purchased at the two shops above and the Hyatt Hotel bakery shop. Those will access to the US Embassy Commissary make the most of it. The rest order from IDS and Justesens multiple times a year.
Pack toiletries - there are very few western-style items available and very expensive when they are. Toilet paper is available.
Bring pet food & litter as these items are not usually available here except at the US Embassy Commissary, for those lucky enough to have access.
If you are bringing a grill, bring all the things you need to run and clean it.

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

Many restaurants and a good online ordering home delivery service called Deliver Addis. The quality of meals tends to be fairly meh, which reflects the lack of ingredients (lots of substitutions) and lack of training and care amongst many cooks.

Good coffee is actually harder to find than one might think - mostly because of inconsistency in the roasting and preparation.

Pizza is excellent, reflecting a little leftover Italian influence.

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

The usual developing country issues - some people have rodents, some have flying bugs, some have mosquitoes. House and apartments do not have screens to prevent their entry.

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Daily Life:

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


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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Much more expensive than equal quality household staff in Asia. Great quality staff are available, but it can take some trial and error to find the right person for you.

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

Gyms are available and vary from about US$100 per month to thousands per year at the five-star hotels. There is a social running club associated with the international school ICS, social football (soccer) and horseback riding lessons at the British Embassy stable by invitation. Not as much choice as we have had in our previous assignments.

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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?

Cards can theoretically be used at places like hotel brunches, supermarkets and the Ethiopian Government duty free store. The reality is that the systems rely on good power and internet connectivity and so you should always carry cash as a backup.
Outside Addis it's a cash economy. ATMs are widely available the amount you can withdraw is very limited - only a couple of hundred dollars per day.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Locals really appreciate you having a few words. Amharic is a fascinating language but difficult to learn (may be easier for those who speak some Arabic).

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

It would be almost impossible for most disabilities to be accomodated in Addis.

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

We are not permitted in local transport except the elevated tramway which serves a very limited part of Addis.
There is a taxi app called Ride which gives you a record of your trip including driver details. Their service and ability to read a map is hit and miss.

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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?

Small AWD such as a Toyota RAV4 as the height is useful. Many expats have Landcruisers and the like but these are extremely difficult to park given the limited amount of space in the city. Bring spare tires, air filters, etc in your shipment if you have space. Parts are extremely expensive and the service centres often don't hold stock, which means your car can wait months for a repair while the part is shipped in.

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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?

No high speed internet available. What is available is slow, expensive and prone to unannounced outages, sometimes for weeks on end.

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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?

Ethiotel is a monopoly so you will have no choice.

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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?

Vets are available but there are no advanced diagnostics - scans, xrays etc. Basic vaccinations are available. Surgeries such as de-sexing are usually undertaken on your kitchen table. Blood tests have to be sent offshore.
It is not possible to walk dogs outside in the community due to the large number of street dogs. There is a dog owners group on FB that arranges weekend dog walks in a group in park environments outside Addis. They need to be visited in a group due to a prevalence of crime against foreigners in some locales.

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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?

Unless an Embassy has an agreement with the Ethiopian Government it is virtually impossible for diplomatic spouses to work. This may be different for other visa holders.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Some opportunities - it would depend on your interests and skills.

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

Business wear. Formal dress may be worn 1-2 times per year, for example at the Marine Ball and Irish Ball.

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Health & Safety:

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

Petty, opportunistic robberies are relatively common (such as pickpocketing or opening a car door and stealing a handbag). It is not safe to walk around the streets at night and places such as some park areas should only be visited in groups even in daytime. However there is vey little violent crime against foreigners and we do not have the security overlay of some other big African cities. Addis is very safe in comparison.

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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?

Lots. Currently COVID is on the increase and many, many illnesses are here that you would not come across in your home country. Travel vaccinations and a full childhood vaccination sheet are a necessity for Ethiopia.

Stomach problems are endemic. Bring ant-diarrhea meds. Sachets of rehydration solution are readily available.

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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?

Pollution from traffic and the dry dusty atmosphere combined with high altitude = harder than usual for many people to breathe, especially asthmatics.

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

Come with meds and treatments (ie: eye drops) as you may not be able to get your preferred items locally. Many people develop skin sensitivities due to the high altitude/greater UV exposure so moisturisers and stronger sunscreens are needed.

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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)?


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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?

Mild and dry climate except for winter which is cold and rainy.

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Schools & Children:

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

We experienced ICS. Love the teachers, the leadership not so much.

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

Limited and often depends on which expat specialist teachers are living here. Kids football is run by a Canadian-Ethiopian at several locations around town including ICS.

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Expat Life:

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

Huge population and varying morale. Lots of people seem to dislike it here. Few love it. Many just "get on with it".

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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?

People tend to socialise in the area they live in, due to the bad traffic. We tend to socialise with other school parents or work colleagues.

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

We like it; we have made good friends, our child is happy and we have excellent colleagues. Not sure about singles.

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

No. A same sex partner will not be given a visa. Ethiopians are generally vehemently against any relationship which is not Male/Female traditional.

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Locals are mostly tied up with their own extensive family networks. We have made good friends in the returnee community though.

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

Lots of inter-communal tensions and even overt struggles between some groups. Violent protests broke out in mid-2020 and people were killed; this was not the first time. Do some reading on the Amhara, Oromo and Tigrayan struggles at a bare minimum before you arrive.

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

Bale Mountains were amazing. We loved Bahir Dar for its lake and the ability to just float around in a boat in silence, watching the birds. We haven't seen as much as we would like due to COVID and I don't imagine that's going to change before we leave in 2021.

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

It's hard to see the beauty in Addis as it is a big, grey, concrete city. I strongly recommend looking down the little cobbled alleyways and at the people dressed in their finery on their way to weddings and church. The beauty is in the small vignettes rather than big grand monuments or scenery in the city. Outside the city the countryside is diverse and has some truly breathtaking scenery.

There are not many tourist things to do that don't involve visiting a church. I dont think I've ever been to a country with so little diversity in the types of places to visit.

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

No. There are some beautiful fabrics and handicrafts and if you can ship furniture a gallery called Zebra specialises in Gurage-style rustic furniture.

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

It's Africa-lite - little serious crime, choice of schools, big enough expat community to have a vibrant lifestyle. Addis is a travel hub as Ethiopian Airlines operates from here to most major cities in Africa, Europe and Asia. Go see the rest of Africa!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

That Ethiopians don't consider themselves African; they really do hold themselves apart as a separate people. They are extremely proud and this will be both frustrating (can't change a simple procedure in the office without a fuss) and inspiring as they try to work their way out of poverty and into modernity.

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

Yes. I enjoy living in Ethiopia immensely.

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

Preconceptions about Addis.

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4. But don't forget your:

Money. Lots of money. Addis is an expensive city, especially if you have lived in Asia.

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

Cutting for Stone

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Take advantage of the location as an airline hub even if you don't like Addis or Ethiopia itself. Get out and see places you haven't seen before and take plenty of breaks to nice destinations.

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