Almaty, Kazakhstan Report of what it's like to live there - 09/21/23
Personal Experiences from Almaty, Kazakhstan
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, this is our fourth tour and we have lived on every continent. Came here from Pretoria.
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?
Orlando, FL. The authorised cheapest route is via Frankfurt, about 7 hour flight till Frankfurt and then about 8 hours to Florida. Other options are Turkish Air and Qatar Air.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
2020 to 2024.
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We are in a townhouse which is very spacious and beautiful, it has four levels and four bedrooms. We also have a good size yard and are in a compound which has a playground and soccer field. It is not exclusively US housing compound, as most of our neighbors are locals. Another large complex where most of US mission families live consists of apartments in a few buildings. All in the same part of town, not far from the offices. Commute varies from 10 min walk to 20 min drive depending on your location and location of your office.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are readily available, there are many supermarkets and farmer markets. Prices are lower than in US and quality is good. There are many local products and many things are imported from neighbor countries like Turkey, China, Russia and from Europe.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing really, we find everything here, some imported items such as maple syrup or European cheeses may be more expensive than in the US but still comparable. Excellent and cheap local dairy, meats, chocolate, amazing honey and great seasonal fruit. It’s home of apples, this is the meaning of word Almaty.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are many Asian food restaurants especially Korean, Chinese, some sushi places, a couple of Indian and Thai places, lots of Turkish, Georgian and Uzbek cuisine places, lots and lots of nice cafes and breakfast places, all at least as cheap as eating out in the US. Many take outs and deliveries, Wolt, Glovo. Grocery deliveries are popular too.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
The only thing you should be aware of is tick season especially in the mountains and forests which is in May, early June. Wear appropriate clothing if hiking during those months. No other unusual insects, occasional cockroaches or small bugs
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and pouch, local post works too but not very reliable, I know Americans who use it though.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is available but is rather expensive. If you have a full time nanny or cleaner expect to pay 30-40$ a day, so about 1000/month. And not many will agree to cook or do shopping, think Europe rather than third world country. Some understand a little English but most don’t, so you will communicate by gestures or Google translate WhatsApp messages. Some people hire drivers but it’s rare.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are few gym chains here, Royal Fitness, Invictus and some others. I pay about 1500$ for annual membership. There is a pool, sauna and group classes included. There is a small gym at one of our office buildings. Lots of yoga, dance studios and other activities, prices vary. People are active here and locals love going to gyms, hike and ski and ice skate in winter.
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?
Yes, we use credit cards at any mall, supermarket, restaurants etc. You will use cash for farmers market, small green grocers, taxi. We use ATM at the consulate building but only because we don’t have to pay transaction fees, you can use ATMs at malls too.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is services in English at the Catholic parish, I believe mostly Koreans, but some European and American expats go there too. Not aware of others.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Russian is very useful here and many Americans take language classes, there are few teachers available to embassy/USAID staff and EFMs. In big cities some people speak English but not everyone so basic vocabulary will be needed.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I think so, lots of sidewalks, ramps, elevators and escalators at all the malls and multi story buildings. It’s very walkable and pedestrian friendly city. One of the consulate building has stairs but we are working on making it more wheel chair accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We can used buses, trolley buses, trains, Yandex taxi, electric scooters, metro. Buses and metro are super cheap but clean and very safe. Taxis by app like Yandex (like Uber) are also inexpensive, 15 min ride will cost about 5-6$.
2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?
If you like going camping, or to explore some mountain terrains, a 4x4 with high clearance will be best. In winter most people switch to winter tires to be safe in case of icy conditions. Not heard of car jacking or breaking, some people drive aggressively, honking is normal here, but it’s still very pedestrian friendly and lots of school age kids walk to school and feel safe.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is mostly fine, sometimes spotty but we had everyone online during pandemic and had no issues. It’s also very cheap, I pay 20$ a month for cable TV, internet and land line! It was installed for us prior to arrival
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local provider, it’s cheap and easy to get. I pay 10$ a month for data plan that I use for everything but streaming videos. To set it up, if you don’t speak Russian you may need assistance from a language speaker.
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?
Yes, a few good vet options, I don’t think they need to be quarantined upon arrival, non of the families I know had to quarantine their pets. There’s some paperwork involved that GSO will help you complete and submit. A couple of parks have doggy playgrounds and people love walking with dogs on the streets but be aware that not every public place/park allows dogs and some large dog owners are asked to put a muzzle on their dogs.
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?
Some EFM jobs available, some telework, some volunteer. Local salaries will be lower, about half of American salary.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Catholic Church has a soup kitchen, there are orphanages, homes for handicapped children, hospices, dog shelters, a nice American Corner space where they appreciate volunteers for English discussion club.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
People like to dress nicely here, but nice casual, athletic shoes, hoodies, jeans are common for young people, to office and meetings people dress more formally, women may wear high heels.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No particular personal security concerns, situational awareness as anywhere. We feel extremely safe here and my children walk on the street and ride in public transport
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Air pollution in winter is bad due to coal burning to run central city heating system. Because winter is cold, we have more respiratory issues and colds, it’s also dry here so people tend to complain when first arrive about dry skin and chapped lips. Moisturiser and humidifiers for kids bedrooms are recommended. Any surgery or major issue will be medevacced
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?
In summer is moderately clean but in winter coal burning and more people using cars creates high air pollution. All offices and residences are equipped with air purifiers. More viral respiratory infections and allergies during cold months.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
They need to know what they are allergic to and avoid it. I don’t think there are any particular allergens here.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Because it’s a four season country with four-five cold months (snow and freezing temperatures) many people experience SAD and look forward to spring and summer. But there are sunny days even in winter. Not aware of other mental health issues, work environment is not stressful, local people are easygoing
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It’s all 4 seasons, cold winter (can get to -20’C), hot summer (can get to 35-36’C) and beautiful spring and fall. You will see lots of flowers in spring and summer, it’s very green with many parks and trees, leaves changing color and falling, lots of pumpkins in the fall, beautiful snow in winter. Lots of rain in spring and fall
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Most expats go to one of 3 international schools, AIS QSI (US curriculum), Heiliburry (British) and KIS ( IB certified). Our kids go to AIS and we have 2 graduating from this school. We have been happy with high school and elementary. All teachers except some language or teacher aides are international teachers that come from other QSI schools.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Don’t have experience but AIS has a number of students with special needs.
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, many options, in Russian and some in English. There are Montessori and traditional and some other types, no personal experience. Many families with babies and young kids come to this post.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, but usually some Russian is needed. There are soccer leagues, tennis, horse back riding, dance and ballet, martial arts etc. Gyms offer many classes for children but membership will be needed. In winter skiing, snowboarding, ice skating are very popular and easily available
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It’s probably medium size, there is AIWC women club and some others but expats here like to mingle with locals and explore different activities, lots of cultural events, theatres, so expat community is not tight, people find friends by interest. Lots of restaurants, bars, karaoke, nightlife. Expats seem to enjoy Almaty.
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?
A lot of cultural events, concerts, festivals, parties, holiday celebrations. Any time of day as it is safe to be out and about day and night. American diplomats do a lot of outings together, good morale.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, it’s good for anyone.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes, many people love foreigners and Americans, many are open to become friends but language can be a barrier.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I believe so, we have a number of LGBT staff among Americans and locals, i haven’t heard of oppression or discrimination.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I haven’t heard of it, not in big cities like Almaty. Kazakhs are majority Muslims and they respect their culture and traditions but prejudices and inequalities exist more in rural places, gender inequality is not an issue here.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Visiting beautiful nature and national parks, Tien Shan mountains right next to Almaty, Kolsay lakes, lots of hiking and winter sports. Many people like to visit Uzbekistan and other neighbor countries.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are many, join some what’s app groups or telegram channels for your interest and explore. We love cultural life, classical concerts and opera, but there are also lots of salsa bachata parties, many interesting workshops and art studios, local craft of felt art.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Lovely silk and felt hand made scarves, carpets, but not much, there are a few souvenir shops around, many things are made of camel wool, sometimes fur and leather as Kazakhs were nomads and relied heavily on meat, horses, camels and wool and fur to keep warm in winter.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Safety, modern malls, urban life, parks and lots of walking, and views of gorgeous mountains.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
We didn’t know much at all and were often pleasantly surprised. But be aware of seasonal works on roads and underground infrastructure that sometimes causes water outages. Power outages almost never happen.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely, we loved our time here!
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Love for avocados, they are expensive here.
4. But don't forget your:
Clothes for all seasons, from sandals to snow boots, your snowboards, bikes and scooters!
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Apples are from Kazakhstan, a few good books out there.
6. Do you have any other comments?
WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegram are very useful here, you can find any business or service via social media apps.