Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/26/24

Personal Experiences from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 01/26/24


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

We have served in North Africa and Southeast Asia.

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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?

Washington, DC area. You could go through Tokyo, Incheon, Frankfurt, or Istanbul. It’s around 24 hours whichever way you go.

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3. How long have you lived here?

A year and a half.

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4. What years did you live here?


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

US diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Most people in UB live in apartment complexes or high-rise buildings in the Shangri La residences or Star Apartments. Both are really nice and just a few blocks from the center of the city. It’s about a 30 minute walk or 10-60+ minute drive to the embassy depending on the traffic. Housing size is a bit smaller than our previous posts but considering it's in the middle of the city, I can’t complain. You do only get one heated parking spot per unit so that can be an issue in the winter if you have two vehicles. Otherwise, Star is great for families. Kids can run/bike around and it's very safe. There’s a nice field to use in the summer and an ice rink in the winter, basketball/tennis court, greenhouse.

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

Availability of fresh fruits and vegetables is better than you’d think and, on average, a bit cheaper than in the US. Some veggies are grown locally but most seem to come from China. Fruits come from all over the world. Beef and lamb is Mongolian. Most chicken and pork seem to come from Russia.

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

Nothing really. If you try hard enough, you can find just about everything you need… just not everything you want.

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

I'd say Korean and Japanese are the most popular. There are a few Italian/Mediterranean, Indian, Mongolian, Chinese restaurants and a few others. There are plenty of options though very few I’d actually recommend. Eating out is much cheaper than in the US. There are a couple of delivery services but we have not used them.

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

There are very few insects. It’s too cold. Definitely none in the winter. Not sure I’ve ever seen a rodent in UB.

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Daily Life:

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

We get mail and packages through the embassy and can take anywhere between 3-6 weeks. There is DHL, UPS and Fedex here. Not sure about the local carriers.

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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 few people have full time help. It’s not a big thing here. English speaking nannies are available but not easy to come by. We have our house cleaned once a week and that costs around $30.

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

The Shang and Star Apartments have their own workout facilities and are included if you live there. If you were to join the Shang gym/pool it’s well over $100 per month.

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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?

Nearly all vendors regardless of size accept credit cards, however, US based cards don’t always work on their machines. We have a local bank account which is very useful, especially when none of the cards are working. We get our cash from the embassy cashier but know many who have used ATMs and have not heard of any issues.

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

Non-denominational Christian, LDS, Catholic.

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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. A surprising number of people speak English in UB, especially the younger folks. Local language classes are available and affordable.

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

Yes. Sidewalks are prevalent but not always in great shape and terrible in the winter. I’ve seen ramps that would be dangerous to use under any circumstance. I walk around the city a lot and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone in a wheelchair.

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

Local buses cost around 25 cents and have just recently been upgraded. You can wave down just about any car and they will stop and give you a ride for 1000 MNT per km. The US embassy doesn’t advise that you use this method but we do occasionally. There are also plenty of nice taxi services that can be hired via app or text message.

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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 plan to venture out of town, you’ll want a 4WD SUV or truck of some kind, though the locals seem to do fine with a Toyota Prius. Car theft/break-ins are not a big issue here. I would not bring a nice car here. The roads are not well maintained, especially in the winter.

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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?

Ours was available on arrival, very inexpensive and works well.

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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?

Mobile phone plans are also very inexpensive. We’ve never had an issue with service. We also have a US number with GoogleFi and it works fine here.

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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?

We don’t have pets but plenty of people do. Many adopt dogs and cats here. I’m told it is a hassle and very expensive to bring dogs here, especially large dogs.

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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?

A good number of EFMs work at the US embassy full and part time.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

A bunch of folks from the embassy volunteer at an animal shelter outside of town. Other than that, there are plenty of people in need here so I would imagine that there are many volunteer opportunities.

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

I think it depends on the person but it's not especially formal at work or in public places. There are various “balls” throughout the year and some wear formal dress and I’ve seen some in tshirts at these things. Men will want to have a suit or two on hand for events.

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Health & Safety:

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

Pickpocketing is about the only thing to worry about here. Otherwise, it’s a safe city in terms of security.

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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 pollution is the biggest issue. Local health care is not the best. I’m sure they could handle a broken arm or something but I wouldn’t have surgery here. The dental care is generally pretty good though.

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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?

Air quality is horrible for over half of the year. If you have asthma or breathing issues you do not want to move here.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

If you have food allergies, I would not eat out here. If you are sensitive to air pollution you definitely do not want to live here.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

I’m sure some get it. The days are a little short here in the winter and it’s so cold that you do not want to leave the house unless you really have to.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Extremely cold and dry. It does rain/snow but not a lot. That said, there was major flooding last summer to the extent that a few US/expat families were displaced for several weeks at Star apartments. Summers are very pleasant but very short.

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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 international schools here but only a few that pass muster. Most kids go to ISU and the rest go to ASU, BSU, and the French school. Our kids go to ISU and we feel that they are getting a great education.

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

Very little to none.

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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?

There are preschools here and most are not expensive.

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

There are sports offered through the schools (soccer, volleyball, basketball) and a variety of after school activities. Some of the kids here do gymnastics, piano, guitar, archery, etc.

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Expat Life:

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

The expat community is very small. If you’re social, you’ll meet just about all of them in the first few months. Morale is okay. I wouldn’t say it’s great but definitely not bad. Winters are tough but you get used to it.

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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?

It’s a city so there are plenty of bars and restaurants. Some cater to expat tastes more than others. There are charity events, embassy events, etc. If you’re a social person, you’ll stay busy.

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

It really depends on the person. There’s plenty to do if you seek it out. Star apartments is great for families. Kids can run/bike around the compound and it’s very safe. Restaurants are generally very family-friendly.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

It’s not hard to make friends with locals. They are generally welcoming to most expats.

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

Not really. You won't see any rainbow flags flying here. The US embassy sponsored a pride week in August and had a fantastic turnout but it’s still not something that’s widely accepted.

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

The prejudices that I’m aware of are towards the Chinese and those of African descent. Women are often not taken seriously by Mongolian men in the workplace.

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

Getting outside of the city and driving around on the steppe. We did a multi-day dog sledding excursion and that was amazing.

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

Hustai national park. Skiing at Sky Resort is great for families and very affordable. The Fat Cat Jazz club is always good. There are several temples in and around UB worth visiting. The monastery in Kharkhorin is amazing but it’s a bit of a drive.

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

There is a big fine arts scene here so there’s plenty of nice art to buy. Also cashmere, furniture, and leather goods.

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

You can walk just about anywhere which is great because the traffic can be awful.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How bad the pollution really was. How bad the traffic really was. What -40 really feels like.

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

Probably not. However, if you’re the adventurous type and love the outdoors regardless of the temperature, you might really like it here.

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

Swimsuit, vodka

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4. But don't forget your:

Ice skates, craft beer

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

There’s a great movie shot in UB that was selected for Cannes in 2023, “If only I could hibernate” but not sure it’s available in many countries yet.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Mongolia is a really interesting place and very beautiful outside of the city. However, there’s nothing positive I can say about UB. It’s not an easy place to live, especially in the winter months.

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