Amman, Jordan Report of what it's like to live there - 03/31/14

Personal Experiences from Amman, Jordan

Amman, Jordan 03/31/14

Background:

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

No, we have lived in Iraq and Tunisia previously.

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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?

We travel to the West coast mostly, and with connections the travel time is about 18-20 hours. From Washington DC it is closer to 14 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Almost 2 years.

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

My husband works for 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?

The housing provided by the U.S. Embassy is largely apartments and all are in Abdun and Sweifiah. The apartments are pretty spacious and vary in size between 3-5 bedrooms. Some have gardens or patios while others are on higher floors and sometimes have roof-top terraces. Almost all have a living room/dining room and a separate family room. The commutes here are great -- the embassy leased housing is all within 5 minutes to the embassy.

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

It depends on what you buy. If you buy local fruits/veggies/meats, it can be pretty cheap. They import everything, so you can find anything, you just have to pay for it. For instance, Pillsbury or gold medal flour in the grocery store could be US$10-15 a bag, but right next to it you'll see flour from Oman for US$2-5 per bag. It's really all about shopping and brand names -- if you want Ocean Spray, you can have it, but it'll cost you more.

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

I've really been able to find most everything we need here or order it through the DPO. Although, humidifiers come in REALLY handy for the dry times.

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

They have everything in Jordan except great chefs. Every chain restaurant you can imagine is here, as well as stores. The prices tend to be higher than the U.S. though not exorbitant for food. The best restaurants are Middle Eastern places like Sufra, Fakhr al-Din, and Levant, though there are also some good Asian places like Yoshi, Umami, and Vinagarette, though they really don't have a chef culture or inventive food choices.

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

There can be ants particularly for ground floor/garden apartments but no major bug issues. At the Dead Sea there can be flies at certain times of the year.

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Daily Life:

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

We use the Embassy DPO but locals use the post office downtown.

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

Very available and it ranges from 400-700 JD per month for full time help depending on how experienced the person is, etc. I'm sure Jordanians probably pay less, but that seems to be the average range for expats. Overtime or hourly tends to be around 3JD.

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

There are and the costs are very similar to cities in the U.S.

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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?

While credit cards are becoming more accepted, it is a cash based culture. We use ATMs affiliated with banks here without any problems. More and more vendors are also offering to charge your credit card in US$ or JD, so that's nice for people who want the option.

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

There are a few. I know there are several Catholic churches, AIC is the main international English speaking church; also, there is an Anglican church and something called Oasis. Most meet on Saturday evenings.

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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?

Not much, Jordanians love to speak English though it comes in handy with cab drivers, working people, and outside of Amman.

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

Yes, though amazingly people seem to do it. There are no real continuous sidewalks, and they all are about 8 inches from the road, so treacherous for the disabled. I think you'd just have to go everywhere in a vehicle if you were disabled.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are safe and affordable IF they use the meter. Just make sure it's running before you go anywhere and get out if they tell you it's broken. I would not take the buses -- they are very crowded, and I don't even know if they have trains.

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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?

Small SUVs are preferable. Amman is a VERY hilly city, and Jordanians are terrible drivers, so it's nice to be in something bigger. Parking makes it so you want a smaller car, though it's not impossible to find a place for a larger SUV either. I think you can't import a car older than 5 years, or with tinted windows, though there are enough of them on the road 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?

Yes, though "high-speed" is a relative term. It's around 16 JD per month.

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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?

There are several companies, though Zain and Umniyah tend to be the most popular

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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?

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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?

It is varied. There are opportunities but they don't all pay well so it really depends on your expectations. But I do know a lot of people who work in AID/NGO type work. There are also a lot of teaching jobs, etc.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Several, depending on what you're interested in. There are organizations focused on the refugee population, migrant workers, Jordanian poverty, etc. Embassies and international groups and churches are great ways to find out about places to volunteer if you have an interest.

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

Fairly conservative, though in Abdoun you see quite a range. As a woman, I wouldn't wear shorts and a tank top, but jeans and t-shirts are common. For work I tend to wear more professional attire.

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Health & Safety:

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

Jordan is very safe and relatively crime-free. There have been more instances of petty theft with the growing population of largely poorer people. There is also frequent tension in the air because of regional instability but Jordan itself remains pretty stable - knock on wood!

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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/allergies affect people the most. That said, Jordan has pretty good medical care and a lot of people come here for medical care from other countries. I know several people who have had babies here and thought it was great -- we also see a dentist here and a pediatrician who are great.

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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?

There is a lot of dust in the air and several people we know have developed allergies to either olive tree pollen or dust. The air can definitely feel heavy and dirty even though there is enough wind that blows through. The really bad days usually don't last too long. With the ever booming refugee populations in Jordan as well as the very high cost of living in Amman, there are also more people burning trash during the cold months so that has contributed to poor air quality on particularly cold days.

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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?

The climate is very moderate. It rains November - February, and while the country is largely brown without a trace of green for most of the year, it is amazingly green from about February to April. Jordan is the fourth most water poor country in the world so "dry" is very much the definition of the climate around here.

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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 schools -- most of the embassy families have their children at the American school although a handful enroll their children at the British international school. The Canadians have recently opened a school, though I think the grade level is only through middle school. There are a few other religious schools as well. Our children are young so we have had our son in preschool. The main preschool choices among the embassy community seem to be Eco Kids and Hill House. We have been very happy with Hill House, which provides curriculum in English and Arabic.

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

I am not well informed on this, though I do know a few parents with special-needs kids who love the British international school and comment on how well their children are doing there, so I assume that school is more equipped with programs for special needs children.

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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. Both Hill House and Eco Kids offer programs for 2-year olds until Kindergarden and the enrollment is around US$4-5,000 per year. The programs typically run from 8am-1pm. There are many other daycares all over, though I don't have any experience with them.

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

Yes, though largely offered through the schools.

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Expat Life:

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

Huge, and I'd say pretty good. Lots of families with small kids end up in Jordan, so if that's you, there is a big community here.

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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?

For the US embassy personnel, a lot revolves around the Embassy and other people's houses. There are a lot of restaurants in town, movies, occasional concerts, and documentaries.

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

This is a great city for families, as Jordanians love children and families can find a lot of activities here. The major downside is a lack of outdoor parks/play space. Most families take their children to indoor play areas, or museums, etc., because of the lack of parks. I think singles and couples do fine here, though Amman feels like a small town and it doesn't take too long before you've sort of done it all. It is probably the most ideal place for people with small children.

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

It's probably not a bad city as Arab/Muslim countries go, but in general the Middle East isn't really a warmly welcoming place for gays and lesbians.

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

Jordanians are 60% Palestinian, and with Israel so close, there are a lot of strong feelings about the Israel/Palestine issue here, and you're very likely to run into people who have family who lost their homes or land and were forced to come to Jordan as refugees in 1948 or 1967, so if you're Jewish, I'd probably not say so until you got to know someone pretty well. I've also never seen a synagogue here, so I'm guessing there isn't much public support at least for the Jewish community here. There are a lot of negative feelings lately about all the refugees from Iraq and Syria, particularly as the cost of living is going up and poverty is on the rise. In general, I think women do fine in Jordan, but it is a very male-dominated culture, so something to be cognizant of at least.

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

We have visited Petra, Wadi Rum, Jerusalem. There is a lot of culture in the area though not always well maintained. The Jordanians are not great at marketing what they have but there are some real gems in the country once you become settled here.

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

Petra, Wadi Rum, Dana Nature Reserve, Umm Qais, Jerash.

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

Dead sea salts/muds/soaps, pottery, mosaics, art work.

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

The weather is great, especially for a Middle East destination. The days are pretty warm but because it is a dry climate the evenings are very comfortable and you can have your windows open most of the year. It snowed our first year for one day and melted quickly; but this year we had a week of snow that pretty much shut down the country. In general, seasons exist, but the weather is fairly temperate. You can drive all over Jordan and there are more things to go see than we first realized. You can also drive to Israel which is fairly easy.

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10. Can you save money?

It's possible, but hard. Things are really expensive here so you just have to order via amazon if that's an option for you or try to buy local products and steer clear of the malls.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Hmmm...¦ i'm not sure anything -- it's been fun to discover things as we go.

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

Yes, we've enjoyed Jordan and it actually became more fun the second year we were here.

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

Stroller and frisbee.

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4. But don't forget your:

Humidifier and sense of adventure.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Body of Lies,
Lawrence of Arabia (Restored Version) [Blu-ray],
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Special Edition)



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