Astana, Kazakhstan Report of what it's like to live there - 06/20/21
Personal Experiences from Astana, Kazakhstan
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. I have lived and worked extensively as an expat in Europe in several countries as well as South Asia and Latin America.
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?
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
Coming up on two years.
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?
Modern apartment - 3 bedrooms. Very comfortable.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Expensive. Lots of local and Russian products. Fresh fruits and vegetables only really in the summer. This is a meat-eating culture. - mostly beef, chicken and a little bit of horse. Pork hard to find. Fresh Leafy greens also challenging.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Comfort foods, pork products, sauces and spices.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Wolt (Finish food delivery app is available). Some fast food chains - McDonald’s, Burger King, kfc and Russian black star burger. There are some sit down restaurants that always seem to have pizza and sushi and beef dishes. With the global pandemic most places have been take-away only.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos in the short summer, otherwise no issues.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Kazpost is available but mail has been slow since start of the pandemic. Those at diplomatic missions may have more options. I have personally lost many packages and letters that just never made it .
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Cleaning service , childcare - around $8 usd an hour.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
All closed due to the pandemic.
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?
This is a cash society. Outside of cash people use the Kaspi card and Mobil payments. Credit cards (visa and MasterCard) are taken at more upscale establishments in the capital.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need Russian language to survive day to day here. Even a little bit of Russian goes a long way. If you don’t have russian , be prepared to be breaking out Google translate a lot for even the simplest tasks.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be tough given the lack of accessibility and the extreme winters.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yandex is the local taxi - have cash in hand and be ready to chat in Russian.
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?
SUV all-wheel drive with snow tires. The car should be reliable and able to survive brutal winters. That said, besides the mall, a few grocery stores and maybe a hotel or restaurant - there is really no where to go. This is doubly true since the start of the pandemic.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes - but can be spotty at times.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Use a local provider - beeline. It’s cheap and seems to work fine.
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?
Not a dog-friendly place unless you live out in the country side or have a large home and yard with a high fence. I wouldn’t want to have a dog here. Cats are probably fine. Dogs are just not part of the culture in the city.
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?
Local university and international schools.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
More conservative than Europe but generally fairly casual. Given the long, brutal winters - one will be wearing many layers and bundled up. During the worst of winter, it’s like living in a space station - you’ll need to “suit up” before heading outdoors. Summers are extremely pleasant though.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
None. This is an incredibly safe place.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Pandemic has been a concern recently, otherwise no special concerns.
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?
Fairly good. There are a few days in winter when the wind dies down and the coal power stations are cranking out smoke - but it’s transitory and blows away in a day. not much of a problem.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
This is a meat heavy culture. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you will suffer.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Winters are long, extremely cold and minimal daylight. This can be an issue for some folks.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It’s a winter wonderland. Snow starts in October and goes until April. December through February you can experiences stretches of -40F temperatures for weeks. So cold - vehicle electronics and Mobil phones can have issues outdoors. Summers are beautiful and low humidity from June - August. May and September are transitional but there is no real spring or fall here.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
QSI and Haileybury are both decent schools.
2. 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?
Russian preschools are available. There is also a good preschool at QSI but pricey.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Russian language activities are available but since the pandemic this has not been the case.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Morale has been low since the pandemic started. Between the pandemic and the tough winters and isolation on the steppe this can be a tough post for people. There are some expatriates working at the university but I have not had a lot of time to interact with them.
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?
None really since the start of the pandemic.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for families who can ha for the long winters - a bit tough for singles as nowhere to go and tough to meet locals.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Tough to meet locals unless you are fluent in Russian and make an effort to seek people out. People seem to keep to themselves here. Very family oriented place.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Probably tough - rather conservative and big family-oriented culture.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There doesn’t seem to be a huge issue here.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Enjoying the parks and green spaces in the city during the short summer - biking and walking around. Nowhere to really go - some folks go to Borovoe lake - 3 hours by car north in the summer. That’s about it. This is the steppe.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Enjoying the parks in the summer. Weekend on lake Borovoe in the summer.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
No. Nothing to buy here really.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Clean and safe.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Be ready for a long and cold winter. Winter activities and indoor activities. This is a make your own fun kind of place.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Come here for the job - no need to come here for the city.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Desire to travel, expectations for long hot summers.
4. But don't forget your:
Winter gear and indoor hobbies and activities.
5. Do you have any other comments?
This is a tough place to work. Best for folks who love winter and speak Russian. That said it is an interesting and large country. What Nur-Sultan lacks, other parts of the country are very different.