Amman, Jordan Report of what it's like to live there - 07/24/14
Personal Experiences from Amman, Jordan
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Not a first post. With FS, we've lived in Manila, Lome', and Chennai before here. As a military brat I lived in Brussels, Kinshasa, Algiers, and Niamey.
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 don't have a home base (no home ownership) but typically end up in Virginia. Flights from Amman can go either direct to Chicago or NY or typically transit Vienna, Frankfurt, or London to go to DC.
3. How long have you lived here?
We've been here for 2 years and have another 2 years to go. We extended to avoid a PCS between 11th and 12th grades for one of our kids.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Department of State Foreign Service - U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
All homes are within 5km/10-minute drive of the Embassy (which totally beats the 1 1/2 hours my husband used to drive in the DC area). Most residences are apartments, all will have various degrees of issues with dust, construction noise, water issues, neighbor noise, traffic. Please adjust your expectations accordingly. People seem to ignore the fact that they are moving to a water-poor (therefore not used to and not built for the sporadic but expected rain deluge) desert, Muslim country in the Middle East, and think they are special/important with regards to wishes for ground floor residences with lots of green space for their dogs, away from dust and construction and the Call to Prayer, and walking distance to work, shops, restaurants, school, etc. This sort of request is much like asking in all seriosness for a pet unicorn.
Yes, I sit on the Housing Board.
Homes have water delivered (city for normal use, GSO for emergency delivery), propane (FAC) and diesel (GSO) delivered, electronic security systems installed, full shutter protection on windows (for the zombie apocalypse). Many homes have radiators and/or sub-floor heating for winter, though a/c can double as heating units as well.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Costs -look like- what you'd pay in the U.S. or are higher, therefore with the conversion (70fils=$1, 100 fils=1JD) you end up paying quite a bit more.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Whatever you forget, Amazon will provide. Or drugstore.com. Or any other website. DPO even allows liquids in limited quantities, so there's no need to hoard. We order in paper towels, toilet paper, and napkins, for quality/quantity sake.
We have an IKEA. IKEA, BABY!
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Pretty much everything. Of course some favorites are missing (Chik-Fil-A anyone?) but Abdoun has Chili's, PF Changs, Buffalo Wings & Rings, a lot of fast food,and of course every form of Arabic food you could want. We have Caribou Coffee, Starbucks (one is even drive-through), Costa, and tons of Arabic coffee shops/cafes. Prices look like American prices (3JD for a Starbucks coffee) but 70fils=US$1 so the prices are about a third more once you convert.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
During the rainy season (winter-ish), the ants can get pretty heavy in the homes. Mosquitos can increase in the summer time. Not much else.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
At the Embassy we have DPO and DPM. DPO is the primary personal mail service for both receiving and sending mail, packages included. We fill out customs forms for packages mailed. Please warn family members in the U.S. that they will have to fill out a customs declaration sheet for every package mailed as well. Amman also has DHL and Aramex for international packages.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Readily available, though Jordan has a sponsorship program that costs serious JD for foreign born domestic help. Many people hire part-time helpers that are sponsored by other families. Please follow all labor laws when hiring help. For part-time help, it's not uncommon to hear 4JD/hour.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. The gym at the Embassy is free but gets busy at the high times (before 9, at lunch, after 4). There are several gyms around for membership. I don't know the prices as I'm not a member at any of them, though I've heard they are considered expensive. The Embassy gym has a trainer that comes in for fitness/boxing/kick-boxing but his schedule is a little unreliable.
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?
There's an ATM in the Embassy and a number of them around the Embassy. We've used them fine, including the ones at the Taj Mall. Primarily, Amman is a cash society so aside from the malls and restaurants in Abdoun, or the tourist destinations, you won't use your CC too much. OK, also Amazon.com.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Each available Christian faith offers English language services. Jewish services are not available.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
In Abdoun and the tourist spots, very little. In the rest of Jordan, you need to know some Arabic. MSA is different than the local dialect, so be aware that even if you think you're speaking Arabic, locals may not understand.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. When sidewalks are present, they are uneven and planted with trees, with curbs that are often a foot high with no ramp access to the street. When I say uneven, I mean that it's common for each home/storefront to have designed their own sidewalk space with no discussion with the neighbors, so they don't match, much less meet evenly. Elevators in building, from apartment buildings to medical buildings are often designed for 3-4 normal-sized people.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yellow taxis are a common form of transportation. There are no trains, and city buses are prohibited by RSO, though the JETT (Jordan Express Tourist Transport) bus to the tourist destinations are allowed. Typically, between work and home shouldn't cost more than 1JD.
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?
You can bring pretty much anything. I wouldn't bring an expensive or brand new car just because of the inevitable dings and scratches you will get. Sand/dust is hard on coats of paint. It also means your car will often be quite dirty (we don't wash our car but a couple times a year, it helps to keep track of finger prints or activity on the car that perhaps shouldn't be there). Fender benders happen. For up-to-date restrictions on the age of the car, please check with Shipping.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. It's quality depends on where you live and the kind of service you have. With all the hills, valleys, and concrete walls though, typically bandwidth is far far below what is promised. And for what you get, the cost is high.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Everyone has one, get one. Or two (a lot of people carry a work phone and a personal phone). The phone companies are OK as far as cell service but terrible across the board for customer service. Actually, you'll find that customer service in any industry here is pretty abysmal. Accept that and your life gets much better very quickly.
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 quarantine. Basic paperwork is required to bring in a pet to Jordan, namely the certificate of health and rabies certificate. More complicated are the requirements to transit Europe and the restrictions on transporting pets via various airlines. Vets are available as well as a couple kennels. Best to talk to people at Post about who they use. We also ship in our cat food and cat litter.
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?
Yes. Please check with the Global Employment Advisor (GEA/GEI) and the Local Expatriate Spouse Association (LESA). The U.S. has a de facto work agreement with Jordan, so each position is determined individually. Many members run home-based businesses, after COM approval.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
If you're with the Embassy, the refugee camps are not an option without RSO approval. Seriously, don't go unless you have permission to go from the right people. Otherwise, there are events and opportunities open to serve orphans and get involved in various charities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
At work: business. Outside: typically business casual. Jordan is a conservative Muslim country so women are expected to dress accordingly... sleeved tops, no shorts, etc.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes, but not typically within Amman itself. Periodically areas within Jordan flare up, and of course Jordan borders a number of difficult places - Israel/Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. At the moment, we are truly the eye of the storm. As such, people seem to arrive at Post and forget that security is an issue and that the 15% danger pay is in place for a reason. Last August we were very close to authorized departure, at the same time this August we are welcoming 34 new direct hires/families, including 46 children. Life in Amman can be very comfortable but it can also turn on a dime.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Amman is a medical tourism destination. Doctors of all sorts are found here and the quality is decent. Some medical issues still require medevac, and though MED prefers all women medevac for pregnancy delivery, many women give birth here.
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?
Depends on the time of year. We have a few heavy dust seasons but for the most part expect moderate dust on and in everything.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Awesome weather 10 months of the year (one month typically pretty cold with snow, another month typically pretty hot around August). This summer, the weather has been particularly mild.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are 3 schools primarily used by Embassy families. The American Community School (U.S. AP program) has about 150 of our children, the International Community School (British curriculum, not IB) has a handful, and King's Academy (high school only, boarding, AP) has fluctuating numbers each year. This year there were 2 students, next year we anticipate 4-5 students. There are other options as well, Whitman Academy (religious based) and a thriving homeschool group (both Embassy and non-Embassy kids).
Our children attend ACS in both high school and middle school. The academics are good, the grounds are limited due to location though there is a construction progect currently on building a gymnasiuam/natatorium as well as an underground auditorium. It's slated to finish Fall 2015. The biggest challenge with the school (currently at around 750 students, PreK to 12) are the cliques and the divisiveness between the expat kids and the local kids. Bullying is a problem, don't believe anyone who says it isn't.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There is a school here for special needs, called Al-Masar, for mild needs to severe needs. Therapies are also offered after school or on appointment basis. ICS has a fairly well-developed program for mild-moderate needs, though, if one student is accepted, they expect all students in the family to attend ICS. ACS does not have a special needs program.
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?
There seems to be a preschool around every corner. Nannies are also hired by families. Our kids are not preschool age, so I don't know that much about then other than the ones people find and use seem to be well-regarded. There is a thriving preschool playgroup (Embassy and non-Embassy families) for easy contacts and info sharing.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, but you have to hunt for them. Horseback riding is available (ask around, several people go to Saifi Stables off Airport Road), basketball (ask around), soccer (ask around), tennis (available on the Embassy compound), baseball (Amman Little League). Because Jordan is relatively land-locked there is a minimal swim culture. You'll find that girls who are into sports often end up in local clubs with all boys. ACS offers after-school sports for middle school and JV and Varsity for high school. These are not the same level of competition you're used to at other schools or in the U.S.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The U.S. Embassy community is roughly 800. Morale is generally high with pockets of those who are not happy at post.
The refugee population is about 1 million.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, yes, yes. Security issues aside, there is something for everyone here. Having said that, Jordan is not a big country and you can see/do everything you'd want to at least once within a year. People who aren't into outdoorsy stuff can get bored over time. How many times can you go to Petra? (Four at last count.) How many times can you go to Jerash? (Four at last count). How many times can you go to the Dead Sea? (Three at last count). You get the idea. We've only gone to Aqaba once so far because a) it's 4 hours away and b) the quickest way to get there is along the Desert Highway which is currently prohibited through a particular town which means a roundabout way that adds a couple hours. Singles tend to stick together and create their own fun with trips to Wadi Mujib or Wadi Rum or the Dead Sea. There are several organizations that arrange weekly hikes and trips all around the country (Tropical Desert and Experience Jordan are only two of them).
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Um. It's a relatively moderate (compared to the neighbors) Islamic country, but no, not really.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. Yes. And Yes.
5. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Mosaics from Madaba. Dead Sea mud products. Paintings from Jerash. In-laid Syrian furniture that makes it to Amman.
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Great history in Jerash and other ruins, the Dead Sea, Petra, Um Qais, desert castles (Kerak and others).
7. Can you save money?
Depends on how you live.
It's expensive to visit Israel. The grocery store can pack a wallop (we're a family of 6). If you travel to Europe you'll spend to your last dime. Staying at the resorts is expensive. Housekeepers/nannies aren't free.
But if you like to adventure out, take day trips, eat local, walk/bike, follow a guide-book... you'll do just fine.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That it's a LOT easier to live in than I expected. There's a lot more green in Amman (during certain times of the year) than I thought. That Jordan really is amazing, especially Petra but well beyond Petra as well.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Ab. So. Lutely.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Skis? I'm not sure actually. Jordan has a little bit of everything - snow, rain, desert, heat, history, modernity, easy travel in-country, proximity to Europe, grocery stores, recently released movies... did I mention IKEA?
4. But don't forget your:
Camping gear (if you like that sort of thing).
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Lawrence of Arabia?
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Read the guide books. Then put them aside and venture out.