Ashgabat, Turkmenistan Report of what it's like to live there - 03/14/12

Personal Experiences from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan 03/14/12

Background:

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

This is my 5th expat experience - Jeddah, Saint Petersburg, Baghdad, Lusaka.

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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?

My home base is Florida. The trip is really long with multiple stopovers.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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

State Department.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

There are only two choices for housing. Really nice apartments with high ceilings or townhouses located on the residential compound. Both have pluses and minuses, but either way you can't go wrong. Commute time is negligible, except when there are road closures for Presidential travel.

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

Availability is decent. The relative cost is a little high, but the COLA covers that fairly easily.

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

Most things are available. Make sure that your sponsor does a good job of alerting you to what is recommended for your consumables shipment.

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

The best pork chops in the world are available in Ashgabat (one particular cafe). Plenty of good Turkish style restaurants, one pretty good Chinese restaurant and shashlik cafes, but western style restaurants tend to be expensive and the quality often disappoints.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Tough for vegetarians.

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

I saw some ants a couple of times. People say that there are mosquitoes, but I haven't seen one.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch. There are basically no good options for express mail.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Cheap and available.

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

Yes -- many.

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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?

Not very useful unless you're ordering something on Amazon. No ATMs. This is a cash society.

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

The Embassy of the Holy See offers religous services.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

AFN only.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Working knowledge of Russian is best, but most folks get around just fine with English.

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

The city is not equipped to accommodate people with physical disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

Safe is a relative term. Compared to medium sized cities in the US they would be considered safe.

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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?

Ashgabat has great roads. If you're a city dweller, any car will do. If you think you're going to go camping every weekend, then a beefier vehicle.

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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?

The embassy is upgrading the current set-up to provide more bandwidth to the users. Right now it's $70 per month.

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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?

The embassy will provide one.

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Pets:

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?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There is a decent vet. No kennels.

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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?

No.

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

Fairly formal.

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Health & Safety:

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

Things are pretty orderly in Turkmenistan.

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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?

The embassy has a well-stocked health unit, but beyond that London is your destination.

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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?

The embassy provides distillers for cooking and drinking. Post recently confirmed that a local bottled water supplier has drinkable water.

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

Hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Did I mention that it is hot in the summer?

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

This is the school with a can do attitude. I specifically chose Ashgabat because of the small classroom sizes for high schoolers. My son has flourished with the individualized attention. I would say that his circle of friends is smaller than other posts, but they are great kids and in some ways the relationships are more meaningful.

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

Check before coming to Turkmenistan.

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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?

Nannies are available for a reasonable price.

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

Only through the school -- this is limited to the basics.

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Expat Life:

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

Small -- very small.

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2. Morale among expats:

Excellent.

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3. 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 many people that have really made a great life for themselves and in return made positive impacts on the people they met along the way. This is a closed society, but if handled correctly, hobbies and activities can be a major source of enjoyment.

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

Yes, yes, and yes. Some would say that this place is a little boring, but really most people seem to enjoy themselves albeit not as stimulating as other cities.

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

Not really.

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

Probably, since human nature, unfortunately, is human nature, but as I stated earlier Ashgabat is pretty orderly.

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

This is a fascinating country with a long and varied history. The working environment is in many ways unique, mind-boggling and interesting all at the same time. The highlights are many, and Post morale has maintained a high-level for the entire two years that I've been here.

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

The is a fire crater, an underground lake, ancient Merv, dinosaur tracks, and of course all the white marble monuments.

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

Carpets. The carpets are really great.

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

Turkmenistan has many benefits all of which out weigh the negatives. At the top of the list is touring countries outside Turkmenistan are easily assessable and affordable -- Thailand, Ukraine, Dubai, China, Russia, Europe and Turkey -- all via Turkmenistan Airline and Fly Dubai. Regional travel is a little more problematic, but still very reasonable.

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11. Can you save money?

Definitely.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

In a minute.

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

Expectations of what it is like to live in the Stans. This is not the easiest place to live but there are many more that are. Don't expect to live a pampered lifestyle as this is definitely a place that is only as good as YOU make it. The Embassy does a pretty good job of looking after folks, but in the end it is up the individual to adapt.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunglasses.

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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