Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/25/23

Personal Experiences from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 08/25/23


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

This is my fourth decade working or living in East Asia, South Asia, and South America.

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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?

USA. Non-stop flights from Addis to NYC, DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Toronto. Ethiopian airlines has an extensive network of non-stop flights to north america, Europe, Asia, and Africa.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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4. What years did you live here?

Currently live here.

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5. 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?

Housing is in different neighborhoods of the city, mostly single family homes of two to three stories and an apartment building. The biggest neighborhood is close to the ICS international school, and about 20-50 minute commute to and from the Embassy, depending on the time of day.

There are two other neighborhoods in which most families live. The houses in one neighborhood are closer to a bigger array of shops and restaurants, and has a more cosmopolitan feel (not many embassy houses are located here now). The apartment complex is about a 25 minute walk from the Embassy, and mostly singles and couples with no kids or pre-school age children.

There are a couple other houses scattered around the city. Some have yards of varying sizes, some have no yards, and most have a carport. Houses have a water tank due to unpredictable water supply, and a generator for frequent power outages.

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

Most food products are available, but some are very expensive. Pasta and local fruits and vegetables are available at a reasonable price. Meat and poultry, eggs, etc are available and okay. However, some items are very expensive, or unsafe (milk, peanut butter, etc., better check with the HU to confirm the concerns with these products). I suggest bringing liquids and items in your consumables shipment that are expensive to obtain in Ethiopia:, such as oil, cartons of soy milk, peanut butter, and non-perishable items. Once you get to post you can send a supplemental consumables shipment.

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

Most food products are available, but some are very expensive. Pasta and local fruits and vegetables are available at a reasonable price. Meat and poultry, eggs, etc are available and okay. However, some items are very expensive, or unsafe (milk, peanut butter, etc., better check with the HU to confirm the concerns with these products). I suggest bringing liquids and items in your consumables shipment that are expensive to obtain in Ethiopia:, such as oil, cartons of soy milk, peanut butter, and non-perishable items. Once you get to post you can send a supplemental consumables shipment.

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

Lots of Ethiopian and Italian food restaurants. There are some Indian, Chinese, and other Asian restaurants as well. Check out some of the evening dinner show programs, such as Yod Abyssinia or Fendika.

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

The usual lower-latitude developing country issues. Mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic mail.

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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 plentiful and reasonably priced.

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

The US embassy has a pool, and a walking trail around the perimeter. None of the residences have pools. The apartment building has a tiny pool, in the shade of the building. There is also a gym at the embassy and some in the hotels in the city (for a fee).

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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?

No, credit cards are only occasionally available. ATM are everywhere, but not all are safe to use. Better to use one at a hotel or embassy.

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

Every major denomination has English religious services: Evangelical, Adventist, Catholic, Lutheran, LDS, ++.

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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?

It would be helpful to know the local language, but you can muddle through most of the time. Technically English is part of the curriculum after grade six, but In practice most can't speak it. A few words of Amharic is helpful in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia is a country of many languages, and not transferrable in other regions of the country.

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

The usual developing country caveats apply: Addis Ababa is a hard city for people with disabilities. Consider your warned if you or your family has disabilities.

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

Public transit is not allowed, and even if it were I would not take it, as it is overcrowded, dirty, and unsafe. Either take ride hailed taxi apps, or drive your own POV. Most ride app drivers don't know how to figure out pin drops, making it challenging to call a taxi. There are some taxis people get the name and number for, and just call on them for rides.

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2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?

Get a sturdy car with high clearance and if your vehicle is expensive, be sure to get comprehensive coverage (like Clements). Local liability insurance is cheap and mandatory, but not helpful for damage to your own vehicle. Parts availability is limited, sp take your own, or order replacements online (except for motor oil, which cannot come by mail but can come via your consumables shipment).

As of this writing, the motor pool mechanics will do small maintenance and repair jobs on your POV for a fee after normal working hours on Friday afternoon, such as oil and filter changes, installing theft protection clips on your mirrors, and installing drive cams, etc. Toyotas are most common here. I suggest bringing an extra tire or two and an extra wheel rim in your HHE, so that when you get a flat tire(s) you have options besides the donut tire. Some people get multiple flat tires on the same trip, so it's safer and not too expensive to just have an extra wheel you can put on the CAR and carry it around with you. Purchasing a duty free CAR here can still be very expensive, and we are happy we brought our trusty family vehicle from the US and it works fine here

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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?

Internet is cheap but notoriously unreliable. It can be cut off at random times by the government during times of unrest or final exams across the country. Internet works best in the morning and day, and almost impossible at night. You can get unlimited voice and data SIMS for your phone for less than $20/month. Similarly, unlimited data SIMS for your Wi-Fi router puck for even less.

Ethio telecom has been the monopoly, but Safaricom is a new competitor. There are also some hard-wire Internet home services, but cost and efficiency may vary. If you must have good online access, probably get both a Wi-Fi Sim router puck which you bring from the US, and also local wired service, to have back-up options. Elevation apartments may have their own Internet service, but it can be unreliable and you may want to have your own personal Wi-Fi Hotspot service.

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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?

Bring your own phone from home, or use an official embassy-issued phone. Sim cards and plans are inexpensive.

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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 two-three vets that most diplomatic community people use. Basic pet care is okay. Decent pet food is expensive and hard to get, so take it in your consumable’s shipment or order on Amazon. The Embassy compound has green areas (keep your dog on a leash) and a dog run. Some homes have yards, others do not. It is generally not good to take your pets outside for walks, due to the sizable population of rogue street dogs who may attack your pet.

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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?

There are a range of family member employment at the Embassy in a range of positions, plus in the UN community, NGOS, and the international schools, depending on your background and skills. There is also a robust seasonal hire program for EFM children (16 and older) to work during the summer. Most could work longer if they were available.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots of volunteer opportunities available. Check with NGOs and churches. Our family is involved in a homeless feeding soup kitchen each week as it is rewarding and interesting.

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

Fairly traditional and somewhat conservatives dress. Given the altitude, long sleeves feel comfortable here.

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Health & Safety:

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

Security restrictions severely impact the ability to travel around the country to ?some of the popular cultural and natural wonders of Ethiopia. Also, around Addis Ababa, there are rising crime levels and anecdotally it seems that every week somebody has some sort of security encounter such as harassment, attempted thievery and pick-pocketing, and such. High unemployment and economic difficulties, inflation leads to many desperate young men roaming the streets.

Recently (as of July 2023) it seems that almost the entire country is off limits beyond the city limits. We are currently unable to go to recreational areas, gardens, or the Kuriftu water park outside the city. In my opinion, the current 30% hardship pay at post does not account for those factors. Other posts in the region (for example, Djibouti, Kenya) have similar hardship pay but it's my understanding, much more relaxed security consideration.

Given all this, and the security situation in Addis Ababa and Ethiopia, plus other factors not within the scope of this questionnaire, I cannot recommend this post at this time. I would rather serve in a more welcoming and productive post where the compensation and benefits are comparable or better.

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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?

Air pollution, unpotable water, and GI issues are common.

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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?

Some people develop a persistent cough which clears up when you leave to go on R&R. Check the air quality monitor sites to do your own comparison. It's not great here, but not as bad as south and central Asia.

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

Be aware as allergens are probably in most products.

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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)?

Just the sense of isolation and not being able to travel to most of the country.

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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?

Two seasons: Cool and rainy, followed by cool and dry. May-September is the rainy season.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are several decent international schools in Addis Ababa. ICS is the most popular and has decent quality. Other embassy families send their children to the French school, German school, or Bingham academy, which offer international education. Some families also do homeschool, and there is an active homeschool coop program with expat families.

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2. 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?

Yes, available. I hear that preschools and some day care is available, but quality may vary, and could be expensive.

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

Yes, most of the usual ones, if you know where to look. Tennis, swimming, martial arts, ballet, horse riding, skateboard park, and hiking.

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Expat Life:

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

Large, given that the AU is also based in Africa. Many African diplomatic missions, plus all others. Overall morale is okay, and improved since the ordered departure in 2021.

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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?

Lots of groups, clubs, hiking and travel clubs, socializing with other Embassy and diplomatic community members. Most hotels have nice restaurants and buffets, but a bit pricy. There are also embassy social events and private gatherings.

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

There is a single community within the Mission, and your social life will be what you make of the opportunities available. There is a large, single expat community, including NGO and humanitarian workers. Plenty of local restaurants and cultural activities. However, I would caution against going out alone on the street after dark, unless you have a ride or a confirmed taxi to pick you up. Knowing some of the local language is helpful but not necessary.

Also a good post for couples and families. Lots to offer, once you find what you are looking for.

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

It depends. Most Ethiopians are reserved, and while friendly to non-African foreigners, beneath the surface they are hard to get to know.

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

Ethiopia is not an LGBTQI+ friendly post. There has been significant reporting on this. Look before you leap.

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

There is a very large diplomatic community here, with the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa. No special factors, though persons of color may sometimes not be easily identifiable as diplomats or foreigners, and subject to more scrutiny by local security forces and police. Other foreigners get extra scrutiny for standing out as foreigners, whereas individuals of color can sometimes blend in and attract less attention. So, it goes both ways. Gender equality may not be the greatest here.

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

As of this writing, most excursions outside Addis Ababa in Ethiopia are not possible due to security constraints. Most tourist destinations in the country are off-limits. You could pay for an air ticket to Hawassa (lakes), Arba Minch (semi-okay safaris and boat rides, nice views from hotels), and Harar (fly via Dire Dawa for 1 hour ride to Harar desert city). The other places Ethiopia is famous for (Axum, Lalibela, national parks, and Danakil depression salt flats) are off limits now. Some people go overseas for trips, depending on affordability: Zanzibar, Kenya, Tanzania, Djibouti, Seychelles, Egypt, etc).

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

Addis Ababa has very limited green areas and places for nature-based activities. However, Entoto park above the city offers biking and hiking trails. Also, within Addis, there is Friendship Park. There are some parks and hikes outside the city, but due to security restrictions, travel outside the city is currently forbidden. There was camp ground at the Langano campground a few hours by road from Addis, but I hear that may have closed.

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

Yes, there are places to buy handicrafts and artwork, baskets, woven items. That said, the shopping infrastructure is not great or well established. You have to know where to look for certain things and it takes a while to find out.

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

High Altitude (8,000 feet) means cooler weather, and even though there are mosquitoes, currently there is no malaria. Also, Addis is well connected with many places by non-stop flights. Restaurants, jazz clubs, cultural restaurants, Zoma museum, movie theater in a couple of malls. Also, Entoto Park is a nice place to for walking, hiking, along with restaurants, horse rides, go-carts, ropes course, and zip line, and trampoline park. Affordable and accessible (if you have a car).

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Ethiopia is a very proud and independent country, and proud of the fact that they are an African country that has never been colonized. Ethiopians have a mix of fascination and disdain for foreigners and knowing that helps to adapt to the culture. Ethiopia is also a very religious country, and the orthodox and Muslim calls to prayer sounds throughout the day and night. Being a very religious country, there are frequent religious holidays where roads are blocked and movements are a challenge. Also, know that this post is at high altitude and you will feel sick or uncomfortable for a few days until you adapt to the thin air.

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


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3. But don't forget your:

electronics with you that you may need. It can be complicated to order electronics via Amazon after you have arrived at post unless you know somebody willing to bring an item for you in their suitcase.

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4. Do you have any other comments?

It would be helpful to know the local language, but you can muddle through most of the time. Technically English is part of the curriculum after grade 6, but In practice most can't speak it. A few words of Amharic is helpful in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia is a country of many languages, and not transferrable in other regions of the country.

The Embassy provides a shuttle to and from residences each day and are available if scheduled ahead of time. The cost is currently $3.70 flat rate each way, and is generally safe and comfortable. Shuttles come as early as 6:45 on weekday mornings, so be prepared for early wake-ups. In the evenings there are generally 3 shuttle runs around 5, 6, and 7 pm.

Traffic is horrible during rush hour and during rainy season (Jun-Sep). Commutes from residences to embassy via shuttle, taxi, or POV are around 20-60 minutes. Returning home from the embassy takes 45-90 minutes. Adherence to traffic laws is unpredictable. Fender benders can take hours to resolve, even with embassy roving patrol support. We drive our POV here, and also take taxis or the shuttle to the embassy.

Overall, its not a bad post, but check on specific questions with others and do your due diligence.

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