Dushanbe, Tajikistan Report of what it's like to live there - 04/30/21
Personal Experiences from Dushanbe, Tajikistan
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
This was not our first expat experience. We have been posted to two other embassy assignments prior to this one.
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 normally travel from DC to post, but due to COVID, I don't think it's possible to give a good answer to this question. Under normal circumstances, there is NOT a waiver for FlyAmerica and the three common routings were via Dubai (2 legs of travel), via Frankfurt (2 legs of travel), or via Frankfurt and Istanbul (3 legs of travel). The direct flight to Frankfurt has not restarted since COVID hit, so there are only 2 ways in and out right now, and Istanbul is the only way that supports pet travel.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
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?
The housing pool is a mix of apartments and single-family homes. The homes tend to be fairly large, but sometimes with weird setups and often no closets (wardrobes are provided). Commutes vary from walking distance to 25-30 minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Fresh fruits and vegetables and cheap and readily available when in season. Other items, the cost varies depending on how specific you are about brand. Overall, we spend less on groceries here than we do in the US.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Definitely ship peanut butter, maple syrup, and canned tomatoes and black beans.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Sevara's Kitchen is a local home-cooked food delivery service that provides family sized portions of food 3 days per week (M/W/F) as well as fresh salads and breakfast breads. The variety of items offered has increased while we've been here. We've been eating this quite a bit over the past few years, and have not had any issues with food-borne illness.
There are a few restaurants that people frequented pre-COVID, but there's a tendency for things to pop up suddenly, be in business for a short while, and then unexpectedly close. If you like the food somewhere, enjoy it while you can.
Salsa is an old standby - lots of good options, and they've been here forever. Try the burritos (and the drinks!).
Lots of turnover in restaurants during COVID. Couldn't say for sure what's still open...
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Not that we've experienced. In fact, there's been a noticeable absence of insects in our house. No ants, no mosquitos; some large flies come in seasonally, but not biting flies.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Mail delivery has actually gotten worse while we've been here. We were a pouch only post when we arrived, and then they added DPO. Now we're part of a hub and spoke model that operates out of Almaty. All of our mail goes there, then gets put on a truck and comes overland. Normal delivery times are about 3 weeks-ish.
COVID has impacted this (as it has a lot of things). We used to fly the mail from Almaty which was maybe faster, maybe not depending on flight schedules. We don't have any cargo to speak of coming directly to the Dushanbe airport anymore.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is readily available. Housekeepers/cooks/nannies/gardeners are all employed by the community. You can get updated prices from the Community Liaison Office (CLO), but I think most people pay somewhere around $500 per month for in-home services. Gardeners are much less.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Public gyms are still off limits due to COVID, but there was/is a Cross-fit type gym that embassy employees frequented as well as X-Fit that has a climbing wall, indoor pool, and large workout areas. We've not used either, so I can't comment on pricing.
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?
We do not use credit cards at all locally - cash only. There is an ATM at the embassy (recently installed), as well as at the major hotels that are generally safe to use. Many people get both US cash and somoni at the Embassy cashier.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is a small Catholic church that holds an English language service weekly, but I'm not aware of any other formal religious gatherings. I believe some individuals hold services in their homes.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Some Russian or Tajik will help you get by, but you can also just use Google Translate as required. Language classes at the embassy are well-attended and the instructors are fairly good.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, as sidewalks (when available) are in poor repair and generally uneven.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local mass transport is off-limits for Embassy personnel. Taxis are both plentiful and affordable (not sure any driving here is really "safe").
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?
Recommend 4 wheel drive and decent ground clearance if you want to get out into the mountains. Many people at post have CR-Vs, 4-Runners, and the like.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High speed internet is readily available and can be set up with minimal hassle through the Embassy Association. The actual speed fluctuates, but it generally supports streaming and has become much more reliable during our time here.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Embassy employees and family members can get a local sim card through IRM, and they're cheap and easy to refill using kiosks found around the city.
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?
There is one veterinarian I know of who makes house calls to provide services. His English is okay, but some are put off by his manners. People in general tend to be scared of larger dogs, and dogs are often not welcome in local parks in the city. Pet food tends to be available in the stores for dogs and cats, but cat litter locally is of poor quality and should probably be shipped in.
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 Embassy actually has a fairly robust EFM workforce - most people who wanted to work while we were here had the opportunity. Those who don't want to work at the embassy sometimes had difficulty finding something fulfilling. Local salaries are generally low by comparison.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Women tend to dress more modestly - shoulders and knees covered. At work, western style business casual is the norm with some opting for suits regularly. It is not a "formal" embassy per se.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This has not been a huge issue while we've been here. Post has Mobile Patrol vehicles out round the clock providing fast support should there be a concerning situation.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Local medical care is not great - emergency treatment only. Most advanced medical issues require MEDEVAC. There is no routine dental care here (due to risk of hepatitis).
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 seasonally poor. Some people seems impacted by the air, while others do not. If you have respiratory issues, living here could make them worse. Post provides high quality air purifiers for the residences and ensures that landlords seal the windows to help with indoor air quality.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I'm a seasonal allergy sufferer in DC, but have had no symptoms while here. Food allergies are tougher to crack. You can probably do all right if you cook all your own food (and read Russian), but restaurants are not generally used to accommodating those with allergies.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Not that I'm aware of. Our light/dark patterns are similar to DC - without daylight savings time. COVID isolation has certainly been tough on everyone at post, but I think that's been a world-wide issue, not post-specific.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Winter temperatures are similar to DC with occasional snow. Spring tends to be wet, and it quickly transitions to a long, hot, dry summer. Pack lotion (even if you don't normally need it) and give consideration to hair products that limit static.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are two schools that most Embassy children attend - QSI and Silk Road Academy. QSI is the Embassy-sponsored school, has relatively small classes (10-12 students per grade), and offers decent one-on-one attention to kids. The facilities are not huge or well-equipped, but they are adequate. The school goes from Pre-K to 12, but the high school is less well-attended. School at post has been found adequate up to Grade 6. We've had quite a few Embassy children in grades 7-8 in our time here, but very few high schoolers. They tend to utilize the away from post allowance. We have enjoyed our time at QSI and the kids have found the teachers and administration to be supportive and have a common-sense approach. The people who attend SRA seem happy with the programs offered there. I believe tuition is lower, and it functions as a bit of a co-op school with parents providing some instruction. There is also a religious aspect to the instruction.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Very few if any accommodations are possible here. Inquiries can be made directly with the administration at the schools to determine if needs can be met.
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 is a local pre-school/kindergarten across from the Embassy as well as QSI, Raduga (Russian language pre-school), and in-home care. Schools do not provide before or after school care, but the bus for QSI picks up kids early enough to generally make it to work on time depending on your commute distance.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
QSI was a main source of activities, although they did not have a huge variety due to being so small. The school had karate, tae kwon do, chorus, soccer, track, and other activities seasonally. To do things on the local economy, Russian language is generally necessary.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community is on the modest to small side. Overall morale tends to be good - life here in the city is nice, and most people come to Dushanbe with a sense of what the city has to offer.
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?
Hiking is very popular, and the scenery is great. Hike Tajikistan offers weekly excursions to an every changing variety of locations - and it's a great way to meet people. Restaurants are also popular in non-COVID times. There was also an expat choral group, but they haven't met in over a year now.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It honestly depends on your interests. Dushanbe is a great city for getting outside and enjoying nature. If you enjoy that, you'll have a good time regardless of your family status. There seems to be a good mix of singles and families at post right now.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
African-Americans at post have felt singled out sometimes as it is less usual to see people here with dark skin.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I would say no. The host nation does not support visas for same sex spouses, which has caused a few issues in the past years. Similarly the culture is not overly tolerant of same sex relationships.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We have loved all of the hiking - the mountains just outside the city have offered ample opportunity to escape into the beauty of nature.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Rugs/carpets are nice and tend to be fairly affordable. Some of the local art is also interesting - check out the artists' colony. It's easy to have things framed here.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Great produce when it's in season (and affordable). The grocery stores have good variety of items, so it's easy to "live" here.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
4. Do you have any other comments?
The traffic here is not overly bad, but the drivers are poor in my opinion. They frequently start/stop/change lanes without any notice. It's not the worst we've seen - by far - but it takes some getting used to.