Beirut, Lebanon Report of what it's like to live there - 01/25/14
Personal Experiences from Beirut, Lebanon
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
I worked and studied in Italy (Florence and Sassari) for three years.
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?
I don't really have a home base but flights to the U.S. were generally through Europe (Frankfurt, London, Rome, France) or through the U.A.E depending on the airline. No direct flights.
3. How long have you lived here?
August 2010-July 2013.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I taught at an international school.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Foreigners tend to live in the neighborhoods of Hamra, Achrafieh, or increasingly Mar Mikhael. Though the city is small traffic can be terrible making a 10-minute drive take 45 minutes. Often you'd be better off taking a leisurely walk, though the Lebanese will certainly look at you funny for doing so.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are plenty of stores that have goods imported from the U.S. and elsewhere. Local brands are of course a cheaper option. Most stores don't stock items regularly - so if you see something you really like, stock up.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Subway, Burger King, McDonald's, KFC, etc. are all available at slightly higher prices than in the U.S. There are also Lebanese fast food options. Tons of choices for restarants from casual to upscale. Everything can be delivered in Beirut!
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Nothing specific that I know of.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
You don't. Sending packages is very unreliable and they may get stolen. Just as an anecdote: My first week in Lebanon I had some post cards to mail and as I was walking with a Lebanese friend, I stopped and dropped them in the yellow mail box. My friend looked at me with a shocked look and said, "What are you doing?" "Mailing some post cards," I said. "That works???" I think they eventually arrived to their destinations.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
US$5-$7 per hour for cleaning. Many people get live-in help and it's quite affordable.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
They are widely available but quite expensive. Many are more like health clubs and charge a premium. Prices can be around US$100 or more. I have seen some low key gyms for areound the US$50 range but they did not look appealing to me at all. A CrossFit gym just recently opened up in Kaslik. If you lived near there that would be an interesting option.
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?
It's easy and safe. Only small mom and pop stores don't accept them.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Most people speak French and English in addition to Arabic. Lebanese Arabic is helpful for taxis, small shops, and certain neighborhoods.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I would imagine so! The sidewalks are used for parking, hanging out, storage, etc. They are often uneven and the curbs are of varying heights. It can be difficult to navigate a stroller so I can't imagine something like a wheelchair. Also, electricity goes out on a regular schedule making elevators inoperable.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There is no good public transportation. There are reputable taxi companies you can use (I like Charlie Taxi) and there are also shared taxis called (service taxis) and mini buses. I often used service taxis with no problem at all. It takes a while to get used to them and to be confident enough to demand the correct price but once you get the hang of it, it's not too bad and really cheap.
Phone & Internet:
1. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You can get a pre-paid line or a fixed line (meaning you pay for usage at the end of the month). I started with pre-paid and later switched to fixed so I could have internet access. It's much more expensive that in the U.S. and there is no such thing as unlimited data or minutes.
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?
The pay isn't good in Lebanon but there are some opportunities particularly in journalism, magazines, etc.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
I have heard of people volunteering in Palestinian camps or with migrant workers. There are many NGOs so I'm sure many more opportunities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
In public anything goes. You can see everything from mini skirts, low cut tops, and stilettos to a full covering. Dress for your own comfort level. In the work place it would depend on the particular business.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Certainly there is always the threat of things like car bombs or an attack by the Southern neighbors but in my time living there, it wasn't too much of concern. I never felt personally unsafe, in fact the city is quite safe in terms of crime, theft, etc. That said, there have already been 4 car bombs in the first month of the year (2014) and tensions are rising due to the situation in Syria.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Good care available at hospital such as AUBMC.
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?
I would say moderate. There aren't a lot of green spaces to take advantage of in the city.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Mediterranean climate. Long summer with great weather often into November. Rainy and cold in the winter. Very humid in summer.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
For English speaking programs, International College and the American Community School are the best. I did not hear good things about Wellspring. There are also several French language programs (IC being one of them). Both IC and ACS are good and I wouldn't say one is better than the other, they are just different. If you are in the market for an international school I would recommend checking them both out and talking to parents before deciding.
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?
I know several young couples who had babies while living in Beirut and they were all able to find good daycares/preschools.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Decent size. Many expats are journalists or university students. I'd say the morale is mixed. Some people love Beirut and others find it quite challenging. I think it depends on where you are coming from and what your expectations are. Lack of greenspace/parks, etc seemed to be troublesome for many.
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?
There are plenty of bars and restaurants, beach clubs (costly), wineries, snowshoeing/skiing, hiking. There are a lot of outdoors groups to help you get out of the city and into nature.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I would say it is good for all types of people.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I don't know that it is particularly good, but I did know gay people in Beirut.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Many Lebansese are prejudiced against people of color. If your are black or Asian you may be mistaken for household help. Most Lebanese families have domestic helpers from Sri Lanka, Ethipoia, Philipines, etc.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Skiing on a sunny day with no jacket, boating on the Mediterranean, exploring the vineyards, visiting the ruins at Baalbeck, living in Hamra, so much!
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Mar Mikhael is an up and coming neighborhood and there are a lot of interesting shops and restaurants popping up. Tawlet is a restaurant with food from around Lebanon that is worth checking out. Don't wait until the end of your stay in Lebanon to try Armenian food like I did.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Living on the Mediterranean is great. The weather is generally favorable though quite humid in the summer. The people are very friendly and welcoming. The food is delicious. The country is small but there are many places to discover.
9. Can you save money?
Beirut isn't particularly cheap so it depends on the job and pay.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a heartbeat!
2. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
3. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?