Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Report of what it's like to live there - 03/03/08
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?
I've also lived in Loei, Thailand; Bogota, Colombia; Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; Inchon, South Korea; and Sidamo, Ethiopia.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I work for the U.S. Embassy as a Foreign Service Officer.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Washington DC to Addis flies via Amsterdam, Rome, or Frankfurt. It takes a full day to get here.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Embassy housing is very nice and tends to have well-tended gardens and plenty of space.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Though expensive, you can get most groceries and household supplies in Addis. I haven't been able to find 13-gallon trash bags or good sponges. Bring plenty of good cleaning supplies since they're hard to find here.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
An SUV instead of a Sedan. I'd also ship plenty of warm clothes--layers are good. Long sleeve shirts to shed in favor of t-shirts as the day heats up. The quality of toys and kids' stuff is pretty low, so I'd recommend bringing gifts from the West.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are plenty of decent restaurants but no fast food. There's Thai, Chinese, Indian, Ethiopian, Korean, Tex-Mex, Georgian, and others.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
You can use the Ethiopian postal service. It's pretty good about sending things out, but not so good about getting packages to the recipients in Ethiopia. Don't send any packages from the U.S. to Ethiopia unless you use DHL or FedEx or UPS.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Super cheap and available. I have 3 domestic helpers.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
There is one ATM in the Sheraton Hotel. That is all. I don't know about credit cards; don't count on being able to use them anywhere.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes! There's a wonderful Anglican church called St Matthews. There's an International Evangelical Church and there's a Catholic Church. There may be more.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes, there are a few English language newspapers available. You can also get a satellite TV service. I don't know what it costs.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Knowing some Amharic is helpful. The more you learn, the easier it will be to get by. However, many foreigners who live here don't speak it and they manage.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be pretty rough since the roads and sidewalks are a mess.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
American style-- right.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
They are not safe but very affordable. They have no seat belts.
3. 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?
If you want to drive around the city and never leave it, bring a sedan. If you want to leave the city at all, you'd better bring a Sport Utility Vehicle. Toyotas are the most popular here although Nissans, Suzukis, Fords, and others are here as well.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Have your family call you. It's easier and cheaper. My family calls me on Skype.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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 plenty of NGOs.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
At the Embassy, it's professional. Suits Monday-Thursday and business casual on Fridays.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Moderate to unhealthy depending on the day.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The quality of medical care is improving but it's still nowhere near U.S. standards. The Embassy provides pretty good healthcare but it's limited to mission personnel only.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The rainy season (June-August) is quite chilly and wet. It feels like you're on Noah's Ark, and then the weather clears and it's absolutely lovely and dry for many months (September to May).
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
My older child goes to International Community School, which uses an American curriculum.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
I use a nanny. But there is a preschool at the Embassy for kids who are potty-trained.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
I'd say it's pretty large. There are plenty of Europeans, Americans, Africans, Asians, and even a few Latinos.
2. Morale among expats:
Fair to good. It depends on who you're talking to and which season it is. The rainy season is rough, and many people leave for its duration. But the rest of the year, the climate is dreamy. There is lots of construction going on and new restaurants are popping up. There's also a new movie theatre, so morale is improving, I think.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
As the mother of a school-age kid and a toddler, I'd say there's plenty to keep you entertained. I can't speak for singles and childless couples. I've heard that the nightlife gets old after a while.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, yes, and yes.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not really. Ethiopians insist that there is no homosexuality in Africa and they believe that it's perverse.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Ethiopians are pretty tolerant of all religions and there's much diversity here. Also, they aren't prejudiced against whites. As for gender prejudice, it's a male-dominated society. But women are allowed to work, drive, go to school, etc.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Travel in county is interesting. Addis Ababa is unlike the rest of the country, so to experience the exotic, you need only head out of town. Flying about on Ethiopian Airlines is pretty cheap if you're a resident of Ethiopia.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Silver and gold religious jewelry, beads, leather goods, hand-made drums, paintings on goat skin and cowhide, Ethiopian spices...
9. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Addiction to high-speed internet access. It's super slow here.
3. But don't forget your:
Hats, sunscreen, running shoes, long-sleeved shirts, bird guide, binoculars, hiking boots, sense of adventure.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Sweetness in the Belly
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Sweetness in the Belly
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Endurance (VHS only)
7. Do you have any other comments?
Ethiopians are very kind and welcoming. The poverty is shocking at first, but you get used to it. If you like to do volunteer work, the opportunities are endless. Children are pretty happy here. It's a good post for families.