Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Report of what it's like to live there - 06/01/10
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, I have lived in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, London, and Iquitos (Peru).
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?
Washington, DC is home base. On Ethiopian Airlines, the trip is about 15 hours. With a connection in Europe, west Africa, or the middle east, it's 20 hours or more.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Government / U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most expat housing is in single-family homes in individual walled compounds. Expats live in both the older neighborhoods and the new ones, so styles vary. The enormous houses with pools, expansive gardens, etc. found in some parts of Africa are not common here, but housing is generally very nice. Commute time ranges from 15 minutes to over an hour. Avoid rush hour if you need to cross town.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are tougher to come by in Addis than many other places, as there are no large supermarkets. Shopping generally entails multiple stops at markets, specialty shops, and several supermarkets (which don't all carry the same items).Cost isn't too bad, but imported products (think olives, cheese, packaged goods) are very expensive. Good quality meat can be hard to find, and pork and seafood are almost non-existant.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Check with local contacts or work colleagues before coming - if you are able to ship things in, there are all kinds of goods not available locally that it's nice to bring. Packaged foods, imported wine and specialty foods, etc. are very hard to come by. Pet food is impossible to find (and the price of gold) here - I'm glad I shipped it in large quantity.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There isn't much fast food, at least not in the sense of chains. There is excellent Ethiopian and Italian food in every neighborhood. Indian, Chinese, Korean, Thai, French, Belgian, Greek, Turkish, and BBQ is also available. Restaurants are very affordable:good Ethiopian food can be had for a few dollars, ten dollars will buy a nice dinner at any of the above, and it's difficult to spend more than thirty dollars anywhere in town.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I use the pouch. The mail is reliable, though.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is widely available and affordable.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, there are a variety of choices across town - gyms, pools, tennis courts, one golf club, etc.
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?
ATMs in Addis are not reliable at all. There are only a handful throughout the city, not all of them take foreign ATM cards, and they are frequently broken or out of cash. There is a dramatic foreign exchange shortage in Ethiopia, and it can be hard to get foreign currency, even at banks. You should prepare in advance for trips or expenses that require spending foreign currency. Credit cards are more widely accepted than ATMs, but are still a rarity.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and international non-denominational. Possibly others.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There are a few local English-language weekly newspapers, but the quality is poor. There is no English-language broadcast TV.ArabSat and South African DSTV available - I'm unsure of cost.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Very little. Ethiopians greatly appreciate foreigners' attempts to speak Amharic or other local languages, but very few do.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Very few provisions are made for individuals with physical disabilities. There are some modern buildings (shopping areas, office complexes, hotels) with elevators, but only in the newer parts of town.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
None are safe, all are affordable. Safety is an issue of working brakes, seat belts, headlights - not generally a crime threat.
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?
A four-wheel-drive SUV is best. If you don't leave Addis, you can get around in a sedan, but even in Addis the roads are ugly. You don't need a huge SUV, although many people drive Land Cruiser- or 4Runner-sized cars. Toyota is the most popular.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Moderately high-speed internet is available. It's not great, but is getting better. It's not cheap. Again, it's through the state-owned telephone company.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There is only one provider, the government-owned monopoly. Service is terrible - far worse than in other African countries. Be prepared not to talk to relatives and friends in other countries. Foreign phones and blackberries often do not work.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
I have been thrilled with my vet, and there are several others in Addis, too. I am not aware of any 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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual is the norm, and dress is conservative at work. The cool weather (at least at nights and in the rainy season) is a factor too. Out on the town, anything goes.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No, Addis is one of the safest cities I have visited in Africa.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
By far the biggest issue is food sanitation - people here seem to suffer from stomach maladies more than in any country I have ever visited. Altitude is also an issue, and some people have respiratory problems from pollution. There is no malaria in Addis. There are limited medical facilities available in Addis - most expats travel to Kenya or South Africa for all but the most routine medical issues.
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?
Unhealthy. Vehicle exhaust is not regulated, and the roads are crowded with older vehicles. In many parts of Addis, fires and construction are also issues. Outside of Addis, the air quality is much better.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Addis has a long rainy season from June-September, and a shorter rainy season around February-April. During those times, it is often cloudy every day, with rain throughout the day. The tourist slogan, "thirteen months of sunshine," is rubbish - it is much rainier here than I expected. Outside of the rainy seasons (about half the year), it is generally clear and dry. Daytime highs are generally in the 70s, with lows in the 50s at night. Most homes have neither heating nor air conditioning. Addis is at high altitude (7,500 feet), which causes some people minor health problems.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I have no personal experience. Many English-speaking expat children attend the International Community School.
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?
Most families with small children hire a nanny or housekeeper with baby-sitting duties. Household staff are readily available and affordable.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
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?
Just about anything you want. There are plenty of restaurants and nightspots, everything from hole-in-the-wall to modern and opulent. Many people entertain in their homes as well. Ethiopians and expats from many countries mingle in many areas.
3. Morale among expats:
Fairly good. There are lots of work-related difficulties, whether you work in health or education or business or government. But Ethiopians are hospitable people, and Addis is a fairly easy place to live.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes to all of the above. Addis is good city for families, with school functions, sports and music lessons available, and weekend travel. Many families have a membership at a hotel pool or health club, although the rain can limit time spent outdoors. Addis has plenty of restaurants and nightspots to entertain singles and couples, and there is a vibrant nightlife drawing in both Ethiopians and expats.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Ethiopia is extremely conservative, and sexuality is not openly discussed. However, discrimination isn't a huge issue, and at least in Addis a "live and let live" attitude prevails.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is great religious tolerance. Ethnic tensions (among Ethiopian ethnicities) definitely exist, but are often below-the-radar in professional and social life in Addis.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Trips to the Lower Omo Valley, Lalibela, Gonder, and the Rift Valley lakes have all been wonderful. The local cuisine is a big plus, too.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Many people try to leave town on the weekends, and there are quite a few day and overnight weekend trips. The closer locations are good for hiking, bird-watching, etc. Good domestic air service makes some of the further afield tourist sites accessible on the weekends as well. There are sports clubs, spas, restaurants, shops/markets, and nightlife. One movie theater plays first-run English movies. There really is a great deal of variety in all of the above.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Artwork, Ethiopian crosses, silver, coffee.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Ethiopia has a fascinating history and culture. Travel opportunities in the north (mainly historic sites and churchs) and south (mainly national parks and the Rift Valley lakes) abound, and are entirely unique to Ethiopia. The food is delicious - some of the best on the continent. You can save plenty of money living in Ethiopia, but it's easy to blow it on regional travel.
11. 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:
ideas that Addis will be hot and sunny year-round, or that Ethiopia will be like anywhere else you have visited!
3. But don't forget your:
patience, openness, rain coat, sunscreen, and Pepto-Bismol!