Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Report of what it's like to live there - 12/04/23

Personal Experiences from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 12/04/23


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

No. I've lived in the US, Europe, and South East Asia for the past decade.

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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. There are several direct flights between Addis and major American cities. Connection to DC, our hometown, is about 12 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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4. What years did you 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?

As many embassy families, we live in a large house in an area close to the international school ICS. Our house is very large, four stories. Some have very large yards, not ours though. Commute from our house to the embassy is about 40 minutes. A lot of other embassy staff live in a building close to the embassy.

Many other expats live in apartments all over the city, like Bole or Kera neighborhoods. Folks directly renting on the market (e.g., UN, World Bank) tend to have much more modern and more renovated dwellings than embassy employees.

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

There is a limited availability of goods in Ethiopia due to very stringent trade rules. Produce is plentiful and affordable, although there are some limitations in what you can find. They don't have, for example, lemons or many berries, but there are a lot of nice fruits and vegetables. Meat can be sketchy, and products like tofu are very limited (I go to a specific restaurant to buy it). Dairy products are not safe to consume due to a carcinogen they contain. As far as packages goods go, they are ridiculously expensive. For example, a jar of Nutella is $20, a bag of potato chips $15, a bottle of French wine $60-80. Same with cleaners etc. Most expats bring things in suitcases from trips or order them via services such as IDS.

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

Just about everything. I order almost everything online. Canned tomatoes, good flour, cooking oils, all spices, paper products..... I would stock up on all the basics before moving here.

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

Italian restaurants are popular here, but they're not very good. They're more like gathering places than foodie spots. There is a good vegetarian Indian restaurant, a decent taqueria, some high-end restaurants that look nice (but the food is far from great).... We use Deliver Addis for takeout. It works sometimes, sometimes it doesn't, but it will do. There are of course good Ethiopian restaurants, but it's easy to get tired of the food because it's very limited. Restaurants are ridiculously expensive for being mediocre and in Addis Ababa (e.g., easily $20-25 dollars per meal, while restaurants in Cape Town for example offer great fare for $6).

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

No. There are mosquitoes but not malaria-carrying, and we haven't had issues.

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Daily Life:

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

We have access to embassy DPO. Life is much easier for us than many other expats. I don't know anything about local postal facilities.

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

Help is plentiful and high quality. Very few Ethiopians speak great English, but we communicate fine. We pay our full-time housekeeper $400 a month but that's on the high side. Many people employ an army of staff- drivers, gardeners, cooks, nannies etc. We have a full-time housekeeper and a part-time gardener who also does the shopping for the housekeeper.

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

I use the embassy gym but there are commercial gyms that are high quality. People run in a nearby Entoto Park. Many expats with kids at ICS play soccer etc. there. Otherwise, there are no sports facilities or running trails in the city.

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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?

Yes to all.

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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?

I speak no Amharic and don't lack it. Yes, there are many local tutors and they are affordable.

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

Absolutely. Addis is basically a big construction site, it would be next to impossible to move around with, for example, a wheelchair.

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

There are taxis and some app rides that are safe. They are so-so affordable. Taxis in for example Cairo or South Africa are juch cheaper. No buses or trains that are safe to use.

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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?

High clearance SUVs are the best. Mirror thefts are common so we secured our mirrors with some kind of pins. I only park in places with parking attendants. People will do really stupid and desperate stuff here, like steal your Toyota sign or whatever.

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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?

It is available but it's not super reliable. VPNs are recommended. He had fiber optic cable installed by a previous occupant so not sure how long installations take.

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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?

Everyone uses Ethiotel (gvt monopoly service) although Safaricom is also available. We bought a sim and inserted into our phones. It's not super cheap (about $60 a month) nor great, but it works.

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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 several good vets here. No quarantine requirements. No other considerations I'm aware of.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

We dress formally at the embassy. Ethiopians are pretty conservative in some ways, so you don't want too much exposed skin (and it's frankly too chilly for that anyway).

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Health & Safety:

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

Lots pf pickpockets. People have cell phones stolen all the time. All our houses are very secured (barbed wire etc.) Driving-wise, potholes are an issue. t is common to be surrounded and touched by very aggressive beggars, which can be unsafe.

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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?

Many, many health concerns. Ethiopia is by far the most unsanitary place I've lived in. We bleach all our vegetables and most embassy employees are constantly ill (e-coli, amoebas, parasites, respiratory issues). Some people never eat out. Urination and number two all over the city are common, there are almost no public toilets, etc.

There is very little hand washing going on and sneezing and coughing is always done in the open and in the direction of others. Embassy employees get medevaced for many things, but there are several decent clinics here (Swiss Clinic). We used an x-ray for our kids who broke a bone (Pioneer Diagnostics) and it was fine. There is a good local dentist (OraCare).

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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?

Air is usually very bad. Ethiopians burn trash and cook with wood. Vehicle emissions are the worst, since many vehicles on the road are decades old.

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

Not sure. I guess it depends on the specific allergy they have.

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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)?

Absolutely, but mostly due to restrictions. It is unsafe to travel in most of Ethiopia now and I don't see that changing. Flying out of the country is expensive (average ticket is $500). Living here feels a little bit like living during COVID and it can feel very claustrophobic. Other than stupidly expensive "bazaars" and drinking/eating (which is not super enjoyable), there is nothing to do. There are no parks, good theaters, interesting museums, cinemas, trails are off limits....and this seems to get to most expats eventually.

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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?

Climate is actually great. November-April is sunny and dry, temps in the 70s. May to October is rainy season, but I didn't find it too rainy or depressing.

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Schools & Children:

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

ICS is the most popular international school. It doesn't live up to its reputation though. Communication between school and parents is lacking, and the school is not as open to the community as it likes to say it is.

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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?

There are several preschools. They are expensive, Western prices. ICS has after school activities on most days.

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

No, not really. All of our kids' activities are centered around the school. There are horseback riding lessons at the British embassy, and I believe the French.

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Expat Life:

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

It's huge. Having a lot of friends is actually the best part of living here. Ethiopia is not a pleasant place to be in, so morale is not super high, but people get together to party and commiserate.

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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?

Mostly drinking. We do have a running group, however, and some people play golf and tennis too. As mentioned, there are a lot of "bazaars" too where people go more to get together than shop. Vendors sell local goods for ridiculous prices.

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

I wouldn't say it's a good place for anyone, but because there is little to do, it's probably a better place for families than others, cause you get to focus on your kids.

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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?

Not sure. Many people of African descent have reported experiencing racism. Ethiopians are fairly reserved but not unfriendly. This is a very, very religious country, and in my opinion, almost fanatical, and there are obviously deep grievances over everything (Oromos vs. Amharas vs. Tigrayans.) Ethnic hatred permeates the country, so we stick to expat circles. There are a lot of very educated and cool Ethiopians, of course, in artistic and academic circles.

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

No. This is a very homophobic country.

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

Yes to everything.

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

While the country was still somewhat open, we enjoyed hikes to Bishoftu crater lakes and the rift valley, for example. But that's off limits. Travel elsewhere in Africa, although expensive, has been the most rewarding part of living here so far.

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

No. Most expats frequent same places.

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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 great textiles and baskets. There are several decent galleries, too.

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

The weather is nice.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Expect restrictions to last. We came hoping the unrest will quiet down and we'll be able to visit places like Bale mountains, Gondar, Lalibela etc., but don't count on that, situations is getting more and more restrictive and many nationwide conflicts seem here to stay.

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

Absolutely not. I did not want to move here in the first place, I had to.

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

Common sense. I try to laugh at things for the most part, Addis is a highly disorganized and inefficient city (really, it's more like an enormous village), having a sense of humor helps.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor.

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