Amman, Jordan Report of what it's like to live there - 05/26/13

Personal Experiences from Amman, Jordan

Amman, Jordan 05/26/13

Background:

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

No - the second with the government. We previously lived in SE Asia.

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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?

Washington DC - 18-20 hours because of bad connections.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years so far.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

My husband is posted at the U.S. Embassy here.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Mainly low-rise apartments with a few houses. All places are within a 10-minute drive of the embassy, and many are in walking distance.

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

Getting more and more expensive. Groceries here, by and large, are more expensive than the in the US (except for locally-grown produce and products). Also, the quality here really varies. We find ourselves ordering a lot of household goods through Amazon.

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

Tires for my car (they are expensive here, and not all sizes are carried).

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

All fast food places are here, they deliver, and their prices are reasonable. But we don't like to order from them when Middle Eastern food is healthier, just as fast, and just as cheap.

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

There aren't a lot of mosquitoes, but ground-floor units get them and they are vicious here. But at least they don't carry diseases. Ants are also an issue. Not much else.

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Daily Life:

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

All through DPO. Jordan's mail service only goes from their post offices. There is no local mail delivery service.

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

Cheap compared to the US - around $700-$800 per month for full-time help. Most help is from the Philippines and is English-speaking.

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

Yes, but they are very expensive outside of the embassy.

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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?

You can use them.

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

Yes - there is a Mormon church, an Anglican church, a Catholic church, and some non-denominational churches.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes - Jordan Times, but I don't think you can get it delivered. You can buy it from street sellers. For TV, we get AFN and some local package that doesn't have a lot of channels, but you can buy more than what we have.

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

It helps to know some of the local dialect, but you don't need to know a lot to get by.

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

A lot. That said, we do have some disabled people at the embassy, and the embassy and ACS are continually making improvements to make those places more accessible. But the rest of Jordan is not.

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Transportation:

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

Not really safe. Taxis are affordable. I prefer to drive myself.

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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?

4WD is ideal, as there are times you will drive on very bumpy or nonexistent roads, but we have gotten by without one. I would recommend an SUV or some type of larger vehicle because the biggest vehicles on the road get the right of way. Japanese cars are well serviced here. You drive in the right lanes, same as the US (wheel on the left).

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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, but it's terrible. No one is happy with their service. If you have a business that thrives and requires high-speed Internet, then you will be very unhappy. Price is about $35 - $50 per month, but that is for a set number of GB.

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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?

We are fine with the plan from Zain that we get through the US Embassy.

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Pets:

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?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Decent enough and getting better.

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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?

Not really. Pay is very low on the local economy, and most organizations want Arabic fluency. Also, as Americans affiliated with the US Embassy we are prohibited from going to a number of places near the border, refugee camps, etc., which limits jobs that might be available through the UN and NGOs. For US Embassy employee spouses, the best opportunities are through the US Embassy or ACS (if you are a teacher). Many spouses here work, as there is not much else to do if you don't have small kids.

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

Conservative, but a veil is not needed.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes, this is a danger post, so you always need to be vigilant. Unfortunately, the places we are allowed to go to, especially on Friday afternoons after the mosques get out, are shrinking as more and more protests--some of which can turn violent--happen. Currently we are prohibited from driving on the desert highway (one of the main roads) from Ma'an to Aqaba at any time (not just Friday) because of fighting tribes, so we drive on the Dead Sea highway instead. The situation is always changing. However, if you stay in the embassy bubble area of Abdoun, you will feel like you haven't left the west, for the most part, which is kind of a shame.

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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?

A lot of allergies because dust is everywhere, as is pollen, in the spring. Medical care is plenty good for the basic stuff, but for anything major you are better off leaving the country. Dental care is good. Mental health services are virtually nonexistent (other than the embassy psychiatrist who travels a lot and is not at the embassy much because her position is regional). A number of people who have curtailed did so because of the lack of mental health services for either themselves or their kids.

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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?

Good off the main roads; unhealthy on the main roads.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Beautiful climate. Can get cold (with snow/ice) in winter and hot in summer, but it is moderate most of the year with cool breezes in the evenings even on the hottest days in Amman. However, everywhere outside Amman can be about 10 degrees warmer.

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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 like ACS a lot for our elementary school kids. It may not have the academic rigor or amenities of some other international schools in some other posts in larger cities (or places that have more money), but it is a warm and caring place with some fantastic teachers. Most people we know are very happy with ACS overall. Some families like ICS, and a few send their high school kids to Kings' Academy. A surprisingly large number of families also home school.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

ACS is trying to get better. It can handle minor needs issues, but not major ones. ICS will take special-needs kids, but I have heard some people are not satisfied with their programs. There is a school called Al Masar, which is geared towards kids with special needs, however I don't know of embassy families who send their kids to school there full-time. Instead, they make use of the after-school programs there for occupational therapy, etc.

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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?

Yes, a number of preschools. Many people are happy with their choice at Little Academy or Hill House, but personally I would only send my kids to preschool at ACS or Ecokids as these are up to American-level preschool standards.

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

Yes, baseball, soccer, tae kwon do, swimming, and horseback-riding primarily.

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Expat Life:

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

Not that big - you will see each other over and over.

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2. Morale among expats:

Overall it's okay. There are people who truly love it here - primarily fundamentalist Christians and Arabists. The other people who love it are people who have lived elsewhere in the Middle East (or tough hardship posts) and feel like Amman is paradise by comparison. We like it enough to have extended our time here, and the work is really interesting, but life here can be both stressful and boring at the same time (an odd combination).

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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?

Really not much. Mainly hanging out at the embassy pool when the weather is nice enough, and going on picnics--sometimes with friends.

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

For families yes. I'm not as sure about singles and couples. It's really kind of dull.

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

Absolutely not. There are some gay hangouts, but people cannot be openly gay here.

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

Yes, yes, and yes. It is very tough to be Jewish here (i.e. don't tell anyone you are Jewish - many people may be okay with it, but some distinctly and vocally are not). There are also times when it is tough to be female, and you always have to dress conservatively (not a veil, but with longer sleeves, skirts, etc.). My Asian friends tell me that many Jordanians treat them like servants. And many domestic helpers in Jordan are treated terribly by their employers.

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

Visiting Petra, Dead Sea, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba. We also love the abundance of sheep and goats, many of which pass by our front door.

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

Visit historical places, find hillside areas (that are not covered in trash) for picnics. See the Children's Museum, eat wonderful Middle Eastern food.

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

Olive wood handicrafts, Syrian furniture, rugs, tile work, Palestinian embroidery, and local pottery. There are a few interesting things to spend your money on, but Jordan is not a shopping haven.

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

You can save money because there isn't much to spend it on if you don't travel much outside of Jordan. The weather is great, and if you are an ancient history buff, Jordan has many amazing places to see.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, if you don't leave Jordan. Driving to Israel is great, but it is a very expensive country. Flying out of Jordan to anywhere is incredibly expensive.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I'm very glad we came, but I wouldn't come back again for a second tour.

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

medicine (for the most part). If you have something you really need, check before you come to make sure it is here. Many prescription drugs are available over the counter for much cheaper prices than in the US.

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3. But don't forget your:

ice scraper (for the car), school supplies (very expensive in Jordan), treadmill (unless you plan to belong to a gym - jogging outside here is hazardous), and waterproof shoes.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:


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


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6. Do you have any other comments?

If you are completely devoted to your job, or if you have kids and don't go out much at night anyway, then you can have a good tour in Jordan. Currently it is still a stable place to be, but every year the situation in the Middle East eats away at this very poor country. It has few resources and can't handle the influx of refugees from Syria for much longer. Terrorism is unlikely to be the big problem here - it's going to be economic instability. One other point: the US Embassy is going to undergo major renovations starting in late Spring 2014 and lasting for 2-3 years. As the embassy is the main source of social life (pool, playground, club, etc.) for most American Embassy families, this could drastically change the dynamic for people coming in during that time period.

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