Kabul, Afghanistan Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Kabul, Afghanistan

Kabul, Afghanistan 07/18/19

Background:

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

I have done assignments for DOS in Tajikistan and Botswana and for the U.S. Army in Germany along with TDYs to many other places.

View All Answers


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 am from St. Paul, Minnesota. It can be difficult flying anywhere from Kabul. Most flights must go through Dubai or Istanbul. Europe isn't too difficult but the U.S. will take a couple of days.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

10 months.

View All Answers


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

U.S. Embassy.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing at the U.S. Embassy is decent, especially now that the newer area is finally finished.

View All Answers


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

The cafeterias at the Embassy are pretty good. There is a pizza place, Thai place, and a Turkish place along with several coffee shops at Camp Resolute Support next door all of which are decent. There are a couple of small PXs that have some stuff.

View All Answers


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

I did not ship anything to post. I do have a full kitchen in my room so it is possible to cook.

View All Answers


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

There is a pizza place, Thai place, and a Turkish place along with several coffee shops at Camp Resolute Support next door all of which are decent.

View All Answers


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

No.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

DPO or APO.

View All Answers


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

You can have someone clean your room through the Kabul Embassy Employee Association (KEEA). It wasn't expensive but I don't remember the exact price.

View All Answers


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

A nice new gym just opened up in the new housing unit plus there are several other gyms. You don't have to worry about lack of workout space.

View All Answers


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?

There are several ATMs at the Embassy and Camp Resolute Support.

View All Answers


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

There is a weekly multi-denominational service at Camp Resolute Support.

View All Answers


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

None.

View All Answers


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

Yes.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

No.

View All Answers


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?

You cannot bring a car to post.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet is supplied through the Embassy free of charge and is decent. You can stream on it.

View All Answers


2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Post will supply a phone.

View All Answers


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?

It is Kabul so spouses must get a job at the Embassy in order to come to post. There are EFM positions here.

View All Answers


2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

None.

View All Answers


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

It is not formal at all for most sections.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

It is Kabul, Afghanistan. If you do not know the security concerns you haven't been reading the news.

View All Answers


2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Yes, the pollution here is really bad in the winter. Kabul is in a valley and everyone burns anything in the winter. It is better in the summer but still not good. There is incredible medical care here. If it is anything dangerous you will go to Bagram and be seen by top notch military doctors before being evacuated from post.

View All Answers


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?

Yes, the pollution here is really bad in the winter. Kabul is in a valley and everyone burns anything in the winter. It is better in the summer but still not good.

View All Answers


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

There can be a lot of stress here.

View All Answers


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

It does snow in the winter, but usually melts right away. I can get down into the 20s F which isn't cold to me but is to people from warmer states than MN. The summer is hot and dry. It is dry all year. Expect to get very dry skin and maybe even nose bleeds from the dryness.

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

My morale is excellent every other Wednesday when I check my bank account. Other than that, not so good.

View All Answers


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 lots of various events at the Embassy. I do not participate in them, but I think if you find some activities or clubs you like you will definitely have better morale.

View All Answers


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

You are confined to the Embassy for obvious security reasons. I heard there is a Tinder group here, which my office joked about for a couple of weeks once we found out.

View All Answers


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

There are no issues I know about at the Embassy for LGBT since you are confined to post.

View All Answers


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

No, we are confined to post for obvious reasons.

View All Answers


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

Yes, there are quite a lot of social and religious divides in Afghanistan.

View All Answers


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

R&Rs are great here. You get three in one year and can be out of the country for 65 days. I was in Tajikistan a few tours ago which is very similar to northern Afghanistan. I would love to come back here and tour the country when it becomes peaceful again. I think it would be pretty special to see Badakhshan Province, Bamyan, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and other places. Sadly, you cannot do that now.

View All Answers


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

Since you are stuck at the Embassy you cannot visit any "hidden gems".

View All Answers


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

There are some trinket stores, jewelry stores, and carpet stores at the Embassy and Camp Resolute Support but nothing special.

View All Answers


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

Money, money, and money.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, I got a great onward assignment and been able to save a lot of money here.

View All Answers


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

Ability to have a normal life for a year.

View All Answers


3. But don't forget your:

Common Sense: this is a war zone. You will hear and maybe see complex attacks within the city of Kabul. Please treat it seriously.

View All Answers


4. Do you have any other comments?

I thought I would have more of a sense of accomplishment for the work I have done here but a lot of it feels pointless and a waste of time and money. I am paying my dues by doing this assignment but I don't feel like I was able to make a positive contribution like I was at other posts.

View All Answers


Kabul, Afghanistan 06/18/14

Background:

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

I have lived in ten countries; this is my second Embassy tour.

View All Answers


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. There are daily connections via Dubai, requiring an overnight. Emirates, Safi and Fly Dubai all connect to Dubai, with USG employees continuing to Dulles on United.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

One year.

View All Answers


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

U. S. Embassy.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most people are housed in hooches (aka CHUs or shipping containers). Living in a hooch isn't as bad as I'd envisioned. . .compared to my previous post in the former Soviet Union where heat and running water were frequently out in embassy housing, it sometimes seems downright luxurious as utilities are quite consistent. Couples, and singles that get on the shared apartment list, live in surprisingly nice apartments (which are also much safer) on the West Side of the compound. Be sure to sign up for the apartment list upon arrival even if you don't think you want to move to one! (I didn't sign up right away but after Taliban rockets landed near my hooch I signed up and wished I had done so sooner). Don't bring more than a few hundred pounds. . there's VERY little storage space.

View All Answers


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

The Italian PX at ISAF has European goodies that are slightly pricey. The American PX at ISAF has household basics. The two Blue Dot shops on the embassy compound have Embassy Kabul gift items, alcohol, and snacks.

View All Answers


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

Most essential items are available in the PXs or Blue Dots. However, specific brands aren't always available so if you are picky about things like shampoo brands, it would be wise to bring your own (Dove and Pantene seem to be consistently available, but other options vary). Same with laundry detergent. Other than specific brands of toiletries and laundry detergent, most other items are available. Storage space in hooches is extremely limited, so I would strongly suggest not doing a consumables shipment until you arrive at post and determine what you really need vs. what you can purchase there. There is also a monthly consumables swap in the apartment courtyard where you can buy/sell items.

View All Answers


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

Pizza Hut and Burger King hooches on the embassy compound and Cianos (very good, affordable pizza) on the ISAF compound.

View All Answers


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

Wasps and mosquitos in summer but for such close living, there is surprisingly little in the way of critters in the housing or offices (though we do have two office mice, sigh).

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

DPO. . .very slow and unreliable. This is a morale-buster for many staff (1.5-2 months for letters and packages to arrive).

View All Answers


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

You can get your hooch/apartment cleaned for a reasonable amount, though they don't necessarily do a very quality job.

View All Answers


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

There are several gyms at the embassy, and one large one at ISAF. There is also a hooch that houses yoga, bosu and Core X classes.

View All Answers


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?

There are ATMs on the embassy and ISAF compounds.

View All Answers


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

Several weekly services for various denominations at the embassy and ISAF. There are prayer rooms throughout the embassy and ISAF compounds, which are mostly used by Muslim local staff.

View All Answers


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

None. While Afghan staff appreciate a few phrases of Dari or Pashto, in reality everyone is so busy and tired from work that language learning is rare (except for the few who receive Dari training prior to arrival at post).

View All Answers


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

Physical disabilities are really not allowed on the compound due to periodic duck and covers and the needs to be able to run in bulletproof gear. For any injuries that prohibit people from temporarily running (sprains, breaks, etc) staff are med evac'd, usually for several months even if it's relatively minor.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

USG is not allowed to use non-motorpool transport.

View All Answers


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?

No personal vehicles allowed. . .most staff don't get out much. If you do it will be in an armored SUV. Important note: women should bring scarves to cover their heads when leaving the compound, including to wear in the vehicle. Burqas are common attire in Afghanistan, but foreign women do fine with long sleeves, long pants or skirt, and a head covering.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet is free for USG staff in hooches and apartments (bring a wireless router in your carry on luggage in order to have access as soon as you arrive!!!) Routers can also be purchased at the ISAF bazaar.

View All Answers


2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

The embassy issues you a phone. This should be kept on you at all times, even just when stepping out to use the communal laundry area, in case of a duck and cover.

View All Answers


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?

No pets allowed.

View All Answers


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, this is not allowed. However, there are good EFM positions at the Embassy (in order to bring a USG spouse to Kabul, s/he must have an EFM position).

View All Answers


2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Opportunities abound to volunteer to teach classes (everything from knitting to spinning). It's not possible to volunteer off the ISAF and embassy compounds due to security.

View All Answers


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

Business casual (it's more dressy than most imagine before coming to Kabul). Shirt/tie and not infrequently a suit needed for State, business casual (and an occasional suit) for USAID. Women should bring scarves to cover their head and conservative suits for outside meetings at ministries. Other agencies' attire varies (the security-related agencies rely mostly on khaki and camo). There are several formal dances per year; women should bring a few formal dresses (which is more than I would have expected); many men get tuxes affordably made at the ISAF bazaar. High heels shouldn't really be worn on the compound in case of a duck and cover, but one pair for formal events makes sense for women.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

Um, yes, it's an active war zone. There are periodic duck and covers and one needs to take security seriously here. It's a good idea to be cognizant of where bunkers are located and to ensure you have relevant phone numbers and your embassy-provided Blackberry on you at all times. If you have anxiety, this is NOT the post for you.

View All Answers


2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Many respiratory illnesses due to the air quality. Alcoholism is probably the most widespread problem, however. There are quite a few mental health issues, some requiring med evac, due to the high stress situation of the post. There have been a few broken bones sustained in exercise classes.

View All Answers


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?

Very unhealthy. Unbelievably unhealthy.

View All Answers


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, cold in the winter. . .you really do need clothing for every climate, particularly since you'll likely go somewhere warm from R&R in winter. Clothing gets dirty quickly due to high levels of dust; while business casual is the norm at the office for all non-security related personnel, I wouldn't bring clothing favorites.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

There are international schools but USG does not allow employees to bring children to this post, with good reason.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

The embassy is huge, though it's getting somewhat smaller as the political climate is shifting toward "normalizing" operations at the embassy (which will only increase the stress as the project management burden on fewer employees grows). Morale varies, though I'd say it's generally moderate. Extroverts and active types do well here due to the myriad social activities and plentiful exercise opportunities. I have enough fun there to have volunteered for a second year-long tour. However, many people have a difficult time, more often due to the high stress and fast pace of the workplace rather than the actual danger, though the latter is very real. The substantial R&R allowance helps a lot with morale, and unlike some posts where it can be difficult to schedule R&R, in Kabul it is sacred. You can go AMAZING places during a year-long tour here.

View All Answers


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?

Apartment parties, the Duck and Cover bar, CLO parties (very well attended since no one is allowed to socialize off the compound), exercise classes, meals in the cafeteria (poor quality food but since everyone eats there, it's sociable).

View All Answers


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

In terms of an ideal fit for this post, I think couples are best off since they are immediately placed in an apartment. This is not the post for a shaky marriage, however, as it's a lot of together time. Sociable singles tend to have pretty good morale; there are many parties and myriad activities. The Duck and Cover bar is a popular gathering spot, though it often resembles a frat party. Many men are "situationally single" and dating can be challenging for women here in terms of quality, though not quantity. Many staff are at post without their spouses/children and the time difference can make it a challenge to keep in frequent touch, particularly given the long work hours and general exhaustion. Many separated couples have a hard time, particularly since it's difficult to explain the Kabul experience to those at home. Many divorces seem to take place following departure from post. Coming here with a marriage that isn't going well only seems to make it worse.

View All Answers


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

Yes. Since we live in a compound it's no problem; however, most choose not to be open about their sexuality with Afghan staff, most of whom have much more conservative views. There is an organization for gay employees that hosts a well-attended annual party.

View All Answers


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

Not among the American staff as far as I've experienced. The Afghan staff tend to be much more conservative and women are not highly regarded in Afghan society, which sometimes poses a challenge for women supervisors. There is a lot of diversity on the compound, with TCNs from all over the world.

View All Answers


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

The close relationships. . .for better or for worse, the atmosphere is like college all over again! I have met amazing people on this tour and there is a sense of "we're all in this together." However, working long hours and living on a small compound surrounded by colleagues can be challenging for introverts.

View All Answers


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

ISAF (the adjacent military base) is a good place to get away, particularly the coffee shop (in winter or their deck in summer) and the garden (in summer). There are a TON of exercise classes offered at ISAF and at the Embassy. . .it's a great way to relieve the bountiful stress and to meet people. I don't normally work out a lot but going to exercise classes 6 days/week has been one of the highlights of my tour, both in terms of getting in to shape and meeting tons of people from myriad agencies.

View All Answers


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

Carpets and other items at the ISAF and embassy bazaars. . .virtually everyone goes home with multiple carpets.

View All Answers


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

Saving money, getting street cred.

View All Answers


10. Can you save money?

Definitely. Most people make approximately 80% above their usual salary. However, with the number of R&Rs this can go fast if one is not careful.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

Just how bad the air quality is. . .some people bring face masks. I also wish I'd realized just how little storage space there is. . I would have brought less!!

View All Answers


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

Yes, it's actually better than I expected. However, it's definitely not for everyone. Think about how well you manage stress and anxiety before you decide to come here and be prepared for a heavy workload. Frequently delegation visits and political imperatives heighten the challenges presented at the office.

View All Answers


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

Favorite items; it's very dusty here and the communal laundry facilities can be hard on clothes. There are MANY books and movies available in the CLO.

View All Answers


4. But don't forget your:

Winter jacket, bathing suit, and workout clothes. Favorite toiletries are also a good idea. If you know where you want to go on R&R, bring the guidebooks in your HHE since DPO is so slow here.

View All Answers


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

The Kite Runner and

A Thousand Splendid Suns.

In the mandator pre-departure training in DC, staff receive two books on the history of Afghanistan, which are helpful.

View All Answers


6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

View All Answers


7. Do you have any other comments?

Kabul is unquestionably a challenging post. However, the close friendships, the interesting work, the heightened pay, and the adventure have made it a worthwhile post for me. I would do it again, but the fatigue and stress are a constant challenge.

View All Answers


Kabul, Afghanistan 07/12/13

Background:

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

No. Nairobi, Asmara, Abidjan, Addis Ababa, Lusaka.

View All Answers


2. How long have you lived here?

11 months.

View All Answers


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

Foreign Service Officer with USAID.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

For high-ranking positions and couples, there are apartments. For mid-levels and singles, there are hooches. The hooches are 8' by 20' and in good shape. You have your own bath (plenty of hot water) and the living area has a twin bed, closet, dresser, desk, micro-fridge, microwave, DVD, TV with cable, and a small bookshelf. You can store your suitcases under the bed. Most of the hooches are on the east side on the opposite of the embassy. Great Massoud Road cuts through but it's been closed off. To cross, you have to walk through a tunnel that goes under Massoud. Apartments are on the sterile side but they are actually decent. You get real furniture and a small kitchen with a separate bedroom. Some are single units and others are shared. If available, they do let you pair up with someone to share a 2 bedroom unit. The upside for all housing is a short walk to the office.

View All Answers


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

You can get most of your household supplies (eg, cleaners, laundry detergent, etc) over at the PX at ISAF. The embassy employees association (KEEA) has a small shop on both side of the compound. Think of them as really tiny 7-11s that are out of most things.

View All Answers


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

Go light. Nobody cares if you wear the same shirt over and over. Bring only one suit. I've worn a tie three times.

View All Answers


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

There's a trailer that sells Pizza Hut - it tastes like the real deal. They just dropped a trailer that will sell Burger King but no idea when it will actually open. On the west (Chancery) side, there is an Afghan dining facility. The food is good and reasonably priced. There is also a coffee vendor. On the ISAF side, there is an Italian-contracted pizza restaurant.

View All Answers


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

In Kabul, I have yet to see a single mossie. Flies are an irritant in the warmer months. The upside of winter is that the flies disappear.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

DPO. They switched a few months ago from military to commercial handling. It seems to take about 3 weeks for items to show up.

View All Answers


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

You can hire a cleaner through the KEEA. I think it's $10 for a full hooch cleaning. I've never used it. An 8x20 hooch isn't that hard to keep clean.

View All Answers


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

There are two gyms on both sides. Not bad. They can get busy so you have to find a time that works for you. You may have to go to different gyms to get in different workouts because the equipment is not consistent across all facilities. You can walk through the gate to the ISAF compound and use their gym, which is much bigger. There is a Crossfit group that has equipment outside one of the office buildings. There is a sand volleyball court, a covered tennis court, and a 25-meter pool with lanes. A lot of people like to run and you can do a 600 meter loop around the east side compound. Other people run over at ISAF for a bigger loop. ISAF has a field that doubles as a helicopter landing field. When it's clear, people play Ultimate and soccer on Fridays.

View All Answers


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?

There are two ATMs that dispense USD. There is a $2 surcharge. Never had any issues. You can use credit and debit cards at the PX. Never had a problem. The embassy has a cashier on the east side.

View All Answers


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

You can access religious services at ISAF. Or, you can borrow other works of fiction from the CLO.

View All Answers


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

51 channels with a mix of AFN and Indian channels. About 5 local channels as well. Stars and Stripes is available at the DPO and the west side health unit. All of it is free.

View All Answers


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

Not a single syllable. Use your time to study a language for your next post.

View All Answers


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

Ask yourself if you can run if a mortar hits. If the answer is not a confident "yes," don't come.

View All Answers


Transportation:

1. 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?

If you need to go anywhere, it'll be in an armored Land Cruiser.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Free internet piped into your room. Bring a wireless router. It's not speedy (forget Netflix) but it works. There is also MoraleNet with some wifi spots around the compound. You can sign up for that and it's free. Rooms also have VOIP with free calling to the US. Calls get dropped sometimes. Works fine most of the time.

View All Answers


2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

You'll be issued a Blackberry. Works ok for the most part.

View All Answers


Pets:

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

There's a robust cat population here. It does keep the mice and rats at bay (I've only seen one rat and two mice in almost a year).

View All Answers


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?

There are some on the development side. Lots of big projects and big pay packages. You have to have the job before coming, though.

View All Answers


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

Towards the business casual. Bring a few ties and just one suit unless you are State and working the chancery. In that case, you may have to dress the part.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

The embassies sit in a green zone that is well-protected but not perfect. The insurgents would love to get through. There are attacks with regularity, but mostly directed at Afghan Gov't institutions. You will hear them and there will be duck-and-cover alarms. For me, the scariest part is the airport run. It's a non-varying schedule so I'm amazed that a car bomb hasn't hit anyone yet.

View All Answers


2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The health unit is pretty good. I've had one cold that stuck around for 3 or 4 days. That's it. No GI issues from the food. I'm an office chief and I tell staff to go "home" when they are sick. In our confined offices, it's easy to be a Typhoid Mary or Mark.

View All Answers


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?

Kabul is in a bowl surrounded by hills. It's an LA effect. In the winter, people in Kabul burn everything. Snow turns brown in a day and you can taste the smog. There's a lot of construction all around and that creates a lot of dust. A lot of people walk around with the "Kabul cough" that clears up when you leave for R&R.

View All Answers


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

Winter is cold with snow. Summer is hot and dry. Temps in the compound are higher by about 10 degrees or so due to all the concrete. It's not bad. Do bring winter clothes, though.

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

Pretty large. I'd guess about 400 on the US Embassy compound across all agencies.

View All Answers


2. Morale among expats:

It's a mixed bag. Some thrive. Others (most) just do their thing and wait their time. It seems universal that people go into a week long funk after returning from their first R&R. You really do have to get out on R&R. It's a mental health issue.

View All Answers


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?

People make things happen. Try not to abuse alcohol. That's probably the biggest reason people are sent home. There's a zero tolerance policy for public intoxication.

View All Answers


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

If you are married and coming alone, don't come if your marriage is shaky. If you are married and coming as a tandem, don't come if your marriage is shaky. Either way, fix the relationship before putting this kind of pressure on it. Otherwise, there are no real redeeming qualities. It just is and then you leave.

View All Answers


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

There are some gays and lesbians here. I think that in the embassy compound it's pretty much live and let live.

View All Answers


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

I haven't observed any problems.

View All Answers


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

The Afghan local staff are great. If you get to leave the embassy compound for meetings, they can be quite interesting. Some of the issues are fascinating but the bureaucracy -- idiotic and unlike anything I could ever have imagined -- throws a wet blanket on any hope for excitement.

View All Answers


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

You're not going anywhere. You're not seeing anything. And with the military drawdown, field placements are drying up quickly. You are entering a minimum security prison.

View All Answers


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

Check the career box and save money. Unless you're running away from something, I can't see any other redeeming aspects.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

I wasn't surprised except for the insane bureaucracy. I'd do it once. No way twice.

View All Answers


2. But don't forget your:

Nice pillows and a light down comforter. Good sunglasses.

View All Answers


3. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Rambo III.

View All Answers


4. Do you have any other comments?

If you're on the fence, keep in mind that when the US troops withdraw, security is likely to become an even greater issue.

View All Answers


Kabul, Afghanistan 03/30/13

Background:

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

View All Answers


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. Usual routing is Dulles direct to Dubai direct on United (14+ hours), with the inbound requiring an overnight in Dubai. Dubai to Kabul on Safi Air, which is not as bad as you'd expect.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

View All Answers


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

The contributor is affiliated with the US Government and has been in Kabul almost a year, a ninth expat experience.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

U.S. Embassy housing ranges from decent (apartments) to abysmal (older hooches). There is a big disparity. Bring your spouse for an EFM job, and you automatically get upgraded to an apartment, regardless of grade. Those living in the older hooches on the west side have miserable accommodations - small, loud, and wet/moldy. Those on the east side have far nicer hooches and easy access to the Duck and Cover bar. The apartments are far and away the best living situation. Off-post villas for most TDYers. Overall, the living conditions are better than the military have across the board. Also keep in mind that there is MAJOR construction going on at the embassy, affecting the quality of life. Expect that to be the case for 4-5 more years.

View All Answers


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

Poor quality goods for relatively high prices on the embassy compound. Military PXs have a better selection and are more reasonably priced.

View All Answers


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

As little as possible. There is very little available storage, and you can get most of what you need here. Pack light!

View All Answers


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

Pizza is available on the Embassy and ISAF HQ compounds.

View All Answers


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

Mosquitoes mainly.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

DPO

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

Yes, several. Unfortunately, most are poorly set up, and you can't get a full workout done in a single gym. Crossfit is like a religion on the compound.

View All Answers


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?

ATMs are available on the Embassy, but they are out of money a good portion of the time.

View All Answers


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

I believe there are on ISAF.

View All Answers


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

A mix of Indian channels and AFN for those living on the embassy compound.

View All Answers


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

None.

View All Answers


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

Don't come! The design of the embassy compound requires someone to be able to navigate stairs. There is also the altitude and the frequency of donning PPE that would make it difficult for someone with any physical disability to manage.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, but it is not good. Don't expect to stream video; and video chat is spotty. Facetime and Gmail chat work better than Skype here. The internet is also censored, so get a vpn before coming. Overall, the personal internet quality is a morale killer for me.

View All Answers


2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Government-issued for Embassy employees.

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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?

Jobs? Yes, some. Decent jobs? No. I would never recommend that a Westerner take the security risk of coming here unless affiliated with a government.

View All Answers


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

Depends on your position. It goes from business to tactical chic. This place is hell on clothing, though, especially shoes. Expect to toss whatever you bring at the end of your tour.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

Yes. This is an extremely dangerous city. Most people tend to discount the insurgent threat in Kabul, but it really is bad. Westerners are targeted for kidnapping for ransom.

View All Answers


2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Major issues are air quality, GI issues, and IEDs. But there is a very good med unit here.

View All Answers


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?

Very poor, particularly in the winter, where particulate matter is in the air from every item imaginable being burned. Very toxic. Dust is heavy in the dry summer.

View All Answers


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

Wet and somewhat snowy winter. Dry, hot summer. The altitude prevents the temperature from climbing as high as it does in the desert-like South.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

Huge.

View All Answers


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?

Again, most socializing revolves around the Duck or CLO events. There are some private parties in apartments. All-in-all, it is a very college-like scene, with a skewed gender ratio in women's favor.

View All Answers


3. Morale among expats:

Better than it should be. This is a really depressing place where the work often feels futile. I suppose the fact that the current crop of people here are determined to make the best of a bad situation is what makes it bearable. Overall, there is very little joy in Kabul, but people manage. I imagine this is a less-fun version of what Saigon felt like in 1974.

View All Answers


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

Those here as a couple do well, providing they have a solid relationship and don't mind being cooped up together. Single females are a commodity here, and will do well if they are only looking for a casual relationship. Interactions socially with Afghans are negligible.

View All Answers


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

I can't speak from personal experience, but it is a big embassy with a fair-sized community.

View All Answers


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

Given the limited interaction with the local population for the majority of positions, it is not that big of an issue. Women are advised to dress modestly.

View All Answers


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

You work with some generally good Americans. Otherwise, this has been my worst tour by a long shot, and this is not my first danger post.

View All Answers


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

Drink, work out, or buy over-priced items at the bazaar. There is a very serious volleyball league. The Duck and Cover is the main gathering point, but it has the feel of a very sketchy, predatory college bar. People mainly just try to make it to the next pay day, while counting down to R&R.

View All Answers


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

Carpets. Gems. I don't trust the vendors enough to waste a lot of money in the bazaars though.

View All Answers


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

The pay and the ability to leave up to five times for 65 total days. There really are no redeeming qualities to this place.

View All Answers


11. Can you save money?

Yes. Unless you really go nuts on the R&Rs.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

Probably not. There are other danger posts that would have been far less miserable.

View All Answers


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

sense that it will be just like Baghdad or Islamabad; or that you will be making a difference here. Also leave behind your 4th and 5th suitcases that you won't have room to store.

View All Answers


3. But don't forget your:

Body armor and tolerance for monotony and boredom.

View All Answers


4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

View All Answers


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

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001



The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia





There are multiple great books, but my memory fails me at the moment.

View All Answers


6. Do you have any other comments?

I would look to the I or P of AIP if you have to do a tour in this region. Herat is also significantly nicer from what I hear. This place has all the bureaucracy of Washington, DC, but it is in the middle of a war zone.

View All Answers


Kabul, Afghanistan 12/27/10

Background:

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

Not my first experience - I have been with the State Department, Foreign Service for 22 years

View All Answers


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?

Home is California. It takes around 3 days to get from Los Angeles to Kabul which includes an overnight in Dubai. There are quicker and less expensive connections but due to the "Fly America Act" we have to take a much longer and more pricey way of getting here. Coming to Kabul generally requires an overnight but going home can usually be done in around 24 hours. That is...if Safi, the one airline we can fly in and out of Afghanistan is actually flying that day. They cancel quite often and are known for always departing late.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

Currently posted here - going on my 7th month

View All Answers


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

Posted at the American Embassy

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

The housing situation here is probably the sore spot for most folks (It's probably tied with the horrible and disgusting food we are forced to eat at the cafeteria - yes, it's free, but you can't even call it real food) but for me it's been ok since I was lucky enough to get my own "hooch" (shipping container) and was never made to share which most newcomers have to do. Married couples automatically get an apartment which is not really fair when you think about it. They will put two total strangers, adults, in a small container and make them share an 8 foot by 15 foot living space for weeks and sometimes months until a single hooch opens up for them but married couples get to glide right into a nice size apartment the day they arrive. I just can't understand why they aren't forced to share a hooch....considering they are married and al. They are almost building an entire new area of "hooches" that we will all be forced to move into soon. They are smaller than what we have now, stacked on top of each other and right next to each other so you will get no sunlight in your home and honestly - the entire new compound looks like a concentration camp but managment keeps telling us how great they will be. NOTE: most of managment lives in apartments and some have never even seen the inside of a hooch. Still, you are told before you get here what you will be living in so you just have to make the most of it. Some people have really decorated theirs nicely and made them feel quite homey so it is possible to live comfortably for a year in one. As far as your commute goes - 5 minute walk at the most.

View All Answers


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

For those living in an apartment and have a kitchen with a real stove you can find a lot of different items here for cooking and baking. The embassy has a service where you can place an order and they will go out onto the local market to try to find what you want. It's really hit and miss. We are allowed to shop at the PX down the street but there is nothing there to buy. It's quite depressing really to go in there since the shelves are usually empty the majority of the time. We have APO and people use that to order items they need while posted here.

View All Answers


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

If you are going to be living in an apartment you will have room to ship a lot of things but if you are assigned a hooch you need to be careful not to go too crazy shipping items to yourself since you are very limited on space. I suggest shipping paper products, personal products (shampoo, soap, tons of lotion for the very dry weather here, any contact lens supplies, toothpaste, etc) enough for at least a few months and then you can always do another shipment later on and/or order via the internet. I highly recommend an air purifier for your hooch/apartment and a humidifer. Some air freshners and/or candles for masking the sewage smell that always seems to linger in the air here. Nowadays you can pretty much get anything you want or need via the APO so if you do forget something - you can buy it once you get here.

View All Answers


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

Nothing

View All Answers


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

I can only imagine how hard it would be to live here and have a special diet. The food we are served in the cafeteria is pretty abysmal and unidentifiable. Everything is overcooked, flavorless, high in calories and loaded with MSG and other things to make it appear fresh. I know a lot of folks worry about gaining weight here since the food is free and there's so much of it but I honestly don't know how that can happen. I lost 8 pounds my first few months and wasn't even trying. There are many restaurants who will deliver to the embassy so I try to do that a few times a week so I won't starve to death. They really need to do something about the contract they have regarding the cafeterias - it's not fit for humans. Even the feral embassy cats won't eat it!

View All Answers


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

None really to speak of. We had an infestation of bees this summer but they basically left you alone if you left them alone.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

We can received letters and boxes through the APO here in the embassy. Any boxes or packages though have to be mailed via the APO next door at the military base.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

Yes, there are several gyms on the compound. they are small and some have very outdated equipment but they are there and they are free to use.

View All Answers


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?

I won't use my credit card here even though some vendors now in the baazar will take them. There are several ATMs at the embassy, and next door at ISAF, and there is the embassy cashier as well for cashing checks.

View All Answers


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

They hold services over at Eggers military base. Not sure what they are exactly or if they are any good but I've read they are over there.

View All Answers


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

We have AFN and a few other assorted stations from Dubai. It's free and it's not too bad. Havn't seen any papers around but that's what the internet is for.

View All Answers


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

None really since you don't get off the compound on a regular basis but knowing a little bit is nice so you can speak with the locals who do work at the embassy.

View All Answers


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

I can't imagine it outside the embassy compound and can't really imagine someone with a disability living on the compound.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

Wouldn't know - we aren't allowed to use them.

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

It's free to everyone here and for the most part it works really well. Now and then we have an outage but our IM folks are great about keeping it up and running.

View All Answers


2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

The embassy will give you one when you get here.

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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?

Not on the local community, but there are a lot of jobs for spouses here on the embassy compound.

View All Answers


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

If I see one more pair of cargo pants after I leave here I might lose my mind! Folks here either dress up for work like they would back in DC or some are more on the casual side, and others have gone completely native. It really depends on your office. When you are out in public you just need to cover your head if you are a woman and try not to expose too much skin and you will be fine.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

umm....yes....we are living in a warzone.

View All Answers


2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

We have some very good nurses here - and a great PA as well. We had a great doc when I first arrived but this new one seems very detached and is only here killing time. Expect to get a lot of colds, chest infections, coughs - mostly from lack of sleep, working so closely with others who are sick and from the poor air quality. You can stay pretty healthy if you eat right, get plenty of rest and just take good care of yourself.

View All Answers


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 really bad. You are basically breathing in a pound of dust every time you walk outside in the winter and since they burn dung all winter long to stay warm you are breathing in fecal matter as well. If you live in one of the many hooches here you will notice the walls become coated with a slimy black goo....that is what you are breathing in.

View All Answers


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

The weather here has actually been really nice. Summers are hot but not humid and the evenings are lovely for sitting outside. So far this winter it has gotten pretty cold in the early mornings and evenings but the sun is always shining and during the day it actually warms up to around the low 50's. I've been told that this winter has been mild so far and usually be now we should have had a lot of rain and snow but it's been very dry - which probably explains the massive amounts of dust in the air.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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?

No

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

Too many to count! I think we outnumber the Afghans!

View All Answers


2. Morale among expats:

Good and bad....some folks will complain no matter where they are posted so you can't expect a feeling of good morale from them but others will make the most of any situation and there are quite of few folks here like that and they make this place and make it a bit more pleasurable to be here.

View All Answers


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?

Not much, so one must be creative. Drinks at the Duck and Cover, dinner out now and then if RSO permits it, some entertaining in folks' apartments. Most of us work 6 to 7 days a week, 10 to 14 hours a day.

View All Answers


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

No kids allowed. A lot of the married couples I know here seem very happy. There's isn't much to do in your spare time so you just have to be the type of person who is happy just spending one's free time reading, working out, watching movies and for some - drinking.

View All Answers


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

Within the embassy community - no problem at all. Outside in the "real Afghanistan" probably not a good idea to advertise it.

View All Answers


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

Not within the embassy community at all.

View All Answers


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

Working with some really great folks, getting involved in some of the local orphanages and being able to spend any free time I had out there teaching English and just hanging out with the kids.

View All Answers


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

Visit the limited restaurants we are allowed to go to for official business, walk the 5 minutes to ISAF on Fridays and go to the baazar and well, that's about it.

View All Answers


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

Carpets, jewelry, assorted knickkacks from the baazar next door.

View All Answers


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

Money - that's bascially the only and best advantage of being here.

View All Answers


11. Can you save money?

Yes, you can save a lot of mone

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, it's been a great experience for me and I've met some wonderful people here.

View All Answers


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

Good clothes and shoes - anything you don't want to toss before your tour is over. Your need for sleep....because you won't be getting much while you are here.

View All Answers


3. But don't forget your:

Camera, sense of humor, warm clothes for the winter, and a lot of patience.

View All Answers


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

Three Cups of Tea, The Bookseller of Kabul, My Life with the Taliban

View All Answers


5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Osama, The Kite Runner, etc....

View All Answers


6. Do you have any other comments?

This place can be tough for some and boring for others but it's really not so bad. If I didn't have a family waiting for me back in the U.S. I would have signed up for a second year without a doubt. I think the main issue most folks have here is the poor sense of leadership and management coming from our FIVE, yes, FIVE Ambassadors. Morale could be a lot better but they tend to squash anything and everything that could make it that way. I would say for the most part none of them really care one bit about the folks serving here but only about their own careers and their onward assignments. Shame really - but I'm sure it's like that at a lot of posts.

View All Answers


Kabul, Afghanistan 08/02/10

Background:

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

Third overseas post

View All Answers


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?

Most people take the United flight from Dulles to Dubai, stay overnight and take a flight to Afghanistan the next morning. Safi, an Afghan carrier, also flies to Frankfurt five days a week. Total travel time is about 18 hours in the air to the east coast.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

1 year

View All Answers


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

U.S. Embassy

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Embassy housing is on-compound. The apartments are really nice, but are scarce. Tandem couples, Senior Foreign Service and select others get them. Many have been partitioned so that they can be shared, which is a popular option. Everyone else is in hooches - sometimes shared. Other organizations seem to range from Narco-Mansions with staff and pools to, well, more hooches.

View All Answers


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

There are three stores on compound that have household supplies and some food at U.S. prices. The concierge service will go out and get you anything but adds a heafy markup. There is ongoing discussion over having more healthy, local goods available to buy. In the city, there are several good supermarkets at Western prices, and millions of roadside produce stands selling an amazing quality and selection of seasonable produce (and yummy bread). You can get pretty much anything packaged in Kabul.

View All Answers


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

More food and toiletries. A humidifier - the winters are really dry. Wine! Packers seem to be divided on whether you can actually ship it here or not.

View All Answers


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

This has been a real surprise. Namaste is great Indian; Lebanese Taverna and the Grill for Lebanese; Mai Thai; Flower Street (which has a branch at the Embassy); Cianno's pizza at ISAF HQ; Sufi and Jirga for Afghan food. All of these places deliver through www.easyfood.af and are good, if a bit pricey. There are still some American fast food places on bases outside of Kabul. On the compound, we have DOD-provided contracted food. The good: it's free. And there's Baskin Robbins. The bad: it was designed for a 20-year-old soldier who carriers gear up and down mountains all day. In other words: it will make you fat. An Afghan vendor runs a lunch-only cafeteria on-compound for local staff; a good meal there costs about $3.

View All Answers


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

None that I've seen.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

APO takes about two weeks. FedEx and DHL are here but don't seem to be much faster. There are U.S. Post Office branches at ISAF headquarters and Camp Eggers.

View All Answers


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

The concierge service cleans hooches and apartments for very little - we pay about $80/month for them to clean three times a week. Non-Embassy folks have full-time help, which is the norm in Afghan society. You will never, ever see a woman working as a domestic worker.

View All Answers


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

The Embassy has three gyms (with another on the way) and a lap pool. The Serena has a gym popular with expats if you can go there. A few others are scattered around town. I suspect women would not be welcome at a local gym.

View All Answers


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 widely accepted. There are very few banks in Afghanistan, and almost none outside of Kabul.

View All Answers


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

There are services at the Embassy, Eggers and ISAF. There's even a rabbi who comes in on holidays!

View All Answers


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

AFN on the compound; Indian satellite channels everywhere, including HBO, National Geographic, etc. There is an English-language Afghan weekly newspaper.

View All Answers


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

Kabul Afghans tend to speak a lot of English, but Dari, (and Pashto in some quarters) is very appreciated. Everyone should at least learn greetings and formalities.

View All Answers


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

All. No sidewalks, frequent terrorist attacks, etc.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

There are buses and taxis but very few expats are allowed to use them.

View All Answers


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?

No one brings a car here. The standard vehicle for exapts is an up-armored Land Cruiser.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Free on the compound, and crowded. Available and expensive throughout the city. Outside of Kabul, only if you're on a base.

View All Answers


2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Get one! There are four carriers and pricing is good. Service can be spotty - networks in Kabul get overloaded, any many field locations don't have coverage at night. Blackberries are increasingly popular.

View All Answers


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?

No.

View All Answers


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

I think there is a vet. Afghans don't really keep pets.

View All Answers


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?

Yes, with a contractor or an NGO. However, the glory days may be over - there is a concerted push to hire more Afghans and fewer expats.

View All Answers


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

Work depends on the location. In the main Embassy builing, business. The further away from the Ambassadors you are, the more casual it is. Most people in NGOs (and defintiely in the field) have their own uniform: cargo pants, logo polo shirt/hiking shirt and cargo boots. Plus or minus a holster and beard. The flights in look like an army of fly fisherman. Women have to wear pants off-compound, and cover their heads in all but the most liberal of places.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

Um, yes. All of them. Depending on your organization, you can be confined to your compound all the time or be allowed to walk around and take taxis - it really depends. Embassy folks can only leave for meetings, and only in an armored GSO vehicle. A lot of people have security details.

View All Answers


2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

All the usual diseases, plus dust-related ailments. On the other hand, food poisoning seems like less of problem than I expected. There are good hospitals at the NATO base located at Kabul airport, and Bagram. Serious cases get medevaced (and dentevaced).

View All Answers


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?

Kabul has an air quality issue. There are far too many cars, and frequent dust storms. People with allergies and asthma tend to have problems here. Afghanistan has got to be the dustiest country in the entire world.

View All Answers


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

It's sunny (or at least hazy) all the time. Short, mild winters - it snowed maybe three times this year. Summer is hot, but since Kabul is at 8,000 feet, it cools off at night and is never really unbearable. Beautiful, long spring and fall - you can eat outdoors from approximately March through November.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

There is an international school but, needless to say, most people don't have kids with them. No dependents for USG personnel.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

Gigantic. Even if you take out the 120,000 NATO troops, I would say 20,000 civilians, and a large Afghan-American community.

View All Answers


2. Morale among expats:

It depends. If you're here for the money, every day is tough. A lot of people really enjoy their jobs. Getting off the compound makes it better. The Embassy is very high pressure with grueling work schedules.

View All Answers


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?

On the compound, eating and drinking in people's apartments or in one of the few outdoor spaces. There is a bar on compound called the Duck and Cover that sometimes has live music. In the city, usually at people's houses or restaurants. A lot of socializing in Kabul revolves around alcohol - I think it would be difficult for non-drinkers.

View All Answers


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

No real families around. It's quite a scene for singles (the male/female ratio is very skewed; fishbowl environment). Definitely better for couples, but it's hard on a marriage - you're together all the time.

View All Answers


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

If you're Afghan? No. If you're expat? I don't think anyone cares.

View All Answers


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

This is a Muslim, male-dominated society. Foreigners tend to get a pass on most things (you can find pork and alcohol in Kabul), but women are definitely treated differently - from staring to flat ignoring during meetings. It's very difficult to meet Afghan women, so you're usually at the mercy of men. Even within the expat community, the ratio has got to be 10:1 - your colleagues stare at you too.

View All Answers


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

Travelling around Kabul and to other provinces (especially Bamiyan). Afghan food. Carpets. Melons. Wood carvings and embroidery. Lovely old Afghan houses with fruit trees and Afghan hounds. Feeling like my work was important.

View All Answers


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

Learn about and buy carpets. Order food from local restaurants. Go hiking at the Queen's Palace. Work out. Come up with elaborate events to keep yourself busy.

View All Answers


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

Carpets by the dozen, from everywhere. Wood furniture. Embroidery. Raw-cut gems. Turquoise Mountain necklaces. Oh, and five R&Rs to amazing places.

View All Answers


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

Afghanistan itself is an amazing country - beautiful scenery, nice people, good food. It's from another era. Unfortunately, most people don't have much opportunity to experience it, and are confined to compounds.

View All Answers


11. Can you save money?

More than anywhere else in the world.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

All in all, yes. It was not an easy year, but I'm glad I did it, and I met a lot of great people. I would only come back, however, to a job that allowed me to leave the compound frequently.

View All Answers


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

Tank tops and mini-skirts, nice shoes, furniture.

View All Answers


3. But don't forget your:

Sports equipement, consumables, and good attitude - even if you live on a compound, this is still a foreign country that's worth getting to know.

View All Answers


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

The Odyssey guide to Afghanistan, Caravans (James Michener), Ghost Wars (Steve Coll), The Places in Between (Rory Stewart), A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner (Khalid Hossani), all of Sebastian Junger.

View All Answers


5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Caravans (cheesy but entertaining), The Kite Runner

View All Answers


6. Do you have any other comments?

Beneath the crowds and poverty, Kabul is really worth getting to know. Get into it!

View All Answers


Kabul, Afghanistan 07/10/10

Background:

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

First experience.

View All Answers


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?

Home base is DC.Travel to Kabul is two days:a late night flight from Dulles to Dubai, followed by an overnight in Dubai and a noon flight to Kabul. Travel from Kabul to DC is 1 day:afternoon flight to Dubai followed by a red-eye to DC, arriving early AM at Dulles.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

Since December 1, 2009; husband has been here since May 2009.

View All Answers


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

Followed USAID-career husband here as an EFM.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

VIPs, married couples, and a few lucky singles (sharing with another staffer as roomates)get nice enough apartments. FYI -- signing up for a 2-year tour no longer entitles single staffers to an apartment. Housing for others is trailers called hooches -- like a mini dorm room w/is own shower. Some unfortunate staff have to share a hooch with a roomate. Short-term staff live in shared hooches (called T-hooches), living with up to 6 other staffers.

View All Answers


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

There's a small convenience mart and a PX on the compound, and a few PXs at ISAF and Camp Eggers. There's also a conceirge service that can be used to order groceries. But you have to plan what you need in advance (orders take 1+ days to fill), and be prepared for some surprises (asking for cilantro, getting anchovies). Otherwise people use online stores that ship via USPS (netgrocer, amazon, target, etc).

View All Answers


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

Depends on if you're in a hooch or apartment. We did pretty well in bringing the stuff we really needed. One thing that has been indispensable is the 3M removable adhesive hooks. I also highly recommend bringing a Kindle or other e-reader. Bring lots of moisturizer and chapstick.

View All Answers


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

Restaurants are surprisingly expensive. There are a few places that will deliver to the Embassy

View All Answers


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

Nothing too bad in Kabul, but some field posts deal with malarial mosquitoes, scorpions, and other icky creepy crawlies.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

Via APO for most items. There's a post office at ISAF, so shipping packages no longer requires a trip to Camp Eggers. The dip pouch is slow, slow, slow and not recommended.

View All Answers


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

The conceirge offers apartment/hooch cleaning and laundry services.

View All Answers


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

Yes. There's also a weekly yoga class.

View All Answers


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?

There are two ATMs, one which only takes MC and one which only takes Visa. There's also a cashier, the KEEA store (selling embassy logo gear, some veggies, and booze), and the PX at Camp Eggers do take credit cards.

View All Answers


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

Yes, at Camp Eggers.

View All Answers


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

Embassy TVs are connected to Armed Forces TV (AFN). Some shows are a little behind, but they do air current episodes of "contest" shows (SYTYCD, Top Chef, American Idol, etc.) I read US newspapers online.

View All Answers


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

Almost none.

View All Answers


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

A person with slight physical disabilities could do ok if living on the embassy compound. Living in either the city proper or out at a field post is impossible. If you can't run from an attack, don't come. You'll be endangering not only your own life, but the lives of the soldiers who will have to try to save your behind.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

No and no.

View All Answers


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?

No cars allowed.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, but the demand for bandwidth often exceeds the capacity. And sometimes the internet goes out due to weather.

View All Answers


2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

The embassy will give you a (crappy) cell phone. If you want a fancier phone, you can bring your own and swap out the SIM card.

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


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

There are the usual embassy kitties; some friendly, some not. There is a vet that is brought in to care for them on occasion. Pets from home are not allowed.

View All Answers


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?

Lots of expats work for USAID contractors.

View All Answers


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

Dress code for work depends on which agency one works for. DoS employees wear standard DC business dress. FBI, DEA, and security types wear cargos and earth tone tops. USAID types wear anyting from DC business dress to local garb. USAID women tend to dress more in line with Muslim dress codes than DoS women. When out in the city, at an event with Afghan VIPs, or in the field, women should dress in accordance with Muslim custom. Long pants, tunic tops long enough to cover the bum, with chest coverages and sleeves past the elbows (at least), and a head scarf.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

You could be blown up or rocketed at any time. It's a war zone.

View All Answers


2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Don't come if you have serious medical concerns. The med unit only offers the most basic of care. Any remotely serious medical concerns and any type of dental work require a medivac. Also, pregnancy is not allowed. Any woman who becomes pregnant is given 3 days to leave.

View All Answers


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?

Poor, poor, poor. We're inhaling all sorts of pollution, dust, smoke, smog, and fecal matter. The smell is terrible in the winter, and the dust is very uncomfortable in the summer.

View All Answers


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

This past winter was pretty mild. I'm from upstate NY, so I didn't find the cold unberable. Summers are hot and dry, with 30+ degree swings in temp from day to night. Summer nights are also almost invariably windy, starting at about 5pm.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

No kids allowed at post. Spouses are only allowed if the embassy is willing to hire them as EFMs.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

Large and getting larger. I think we're close to 1,000 embassy staff on the compound.

View All Answers


2. Morale among expats:

Variable. Some thrive here. Some hate it. It depends on who you talk to and whether there are any crises unfolding. The food offered in the dining facilities gets everyone down.

View All Answers


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?

Depends on how comfortable one is with pushing the rules. There's lots of drinking on the compound, if that's your scene. Contractors and other embassies host events as well.

View All Answers


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

Singles seem to do ok here. Guys outnumber girls by a wide margin, so there's lots of good hunting if you're a single girl. But since there's no going out at night, the dating scene is limited to drinks at the Duck & Cover. Life for couples is both good and bad. The good is that you're together. The bad is that you're together ALL THE TIME.This can put a lot of strain on a relationship, especially as there's no where to go when you need time apart to cool off after a fight.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

Not for expats living on the compound.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

The embassy compound has a pool, a tennis court, and a sand volleyball court. There's a bar on the compound, and sometimes we have special events (dances, happy hours, etc).There's also quiz night once a month. Other activities depend on the talents of embassy staff. We used to have a weekly salsa night, but the I think the staffer who was leading it departed post. Some people go out to "official" events in the city hosted by outside contacts (contractors and other diplomats). And the other embassies sometimes host events. Otherwise, other activities on the compound include movie watching, board game playing, and working out. On Fridays there are bazaars at ISAF and Camp Eggers. But be prepared to work very long hours, leaving little time for play.

View All Answers


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

Carpets. Piles and piles of carpets. Gemstones, especially lapis. Furniture and textiles. Jewelry. Istalif pottery

View All Answers


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

If you work for the embassy, it's possible to save a lot of money, what with hazard pay, post differential etc. Lots of leave time (up to 65 days/year) is another perk. Otherwise the only advantage is that saying you live in Afghanistan is a real ice breaker/conversation stopper!

View All Answers


11. Can you save money?

Yes, but it's variable. It's quite easy to spend lots of money on carpets and jewelry. If you have an apartment and choose to cook at home, your food bill will probably be pretty high. And because life on the compound is kind of deprived, there's a great tendency to spend a ton of money on food, luxury lodging, and shopping while on leave.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

No

View All Answers


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

taste buds. The food in the dining facilities is awful. Very high in fat and calories, and sky-high sodium content. Seriously. There's 950 mg of salt in the rice pilaf. Daily recommended allowance is 1,000 mg. Clothes that are dry-clean only. The dry cleaners here will just ruin them. Usually they just throw the clothes in water. Leave behind your thoughts that this is going to be an exotic post, unless you're out in the field. Life on the Kabul compound is like living in America's tiniest, most poorly-stocked college town. Interaction with Afghans and local culture is limited for most people.

View All Answers


3. But don't forget your:

iPod or other music device, computer, running shoes (to burn off all the bad food), Kindle or other e-reader, board games, moisturizer and lip balm, STURDY SHOES!

View All Answers


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

The Places in Between, Winter in Kabul

View All Answers


5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

View All Answers


6. Do you have any other comments?

View All Answers


Kabul, Afghanistan 09/07/09

Background:

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

No, I have lived in Bucharest, Romania and Paris, France.

View All Answers


2. How long have you lived here?

1 year (Sept 2008 - Sept 2009).

View All Answers


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

Government employee assigned to U.S. Embassy.

View All Answers


4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Travel time from Washington, DC to Dubai, UAE is 14 1/2 hours on United Airlines, then an overnight layover in Dubai, followed by a 2-hour and 40 minute flight to Kabul via SAFI airlines.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is either a hooch (containerized living) or apartment. The housing situation is bad and will only get worse before it improves, due to the influx of personnel and poor planning for housing. Higher-ranking officials, couples, and personnel who volunteered for a 2-year assignment have their own apartments. Lower-ranking personnel live in a shared apartment or single hooch. TDY personnel might sleep on cots in bunkers.

View All Answers


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

You eat in the chow hall, currently run by KBR.The food is usually fried and fatty, but not too bad. There is a dining facility for the Afghan employees, which American staff can use, and isn't too bad. But the menu doesn't change, so you get tired of it. There is a small convenience store now that doesn't have a wide variety, but soon it will be expanding. Employees order through netgrocer or buy junk food at the nearby military facility. With the housing crunch, it isn't a good idea to bring a lot of extra items with you to take up valuable space.

View All Answers


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

iPod with docking station, good laptop with CAT-V cord, a small blender, work-out gear, yoga mat (the few in the gym are filthy), 2 sets of plates, cups, utensils, good digital camera for travel, good carry-on luggage that holds a weekend worth of clothes for use on your RRBs, bedding that you don't mind throwing away when you leave.

View All Answers


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

Officially, there is no going into the city to restaurants, although some staff go into the city to attend "official" functions or functions that they claim to be "official". Listing the locations wouldn't be appropriate, but when you get to Kabul, you'll find out

View All Answers


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

There are a lot of ants, mosquitoes and a few scorpions if you live in the hooch area.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

You receive packages and letter mail at the embassy, and you go to the local military APO to mail packages out. Letter mail from the embassy is free.

View All Answers


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

There is a concierge service at the embassy that will clean your apartment or hooch, but there have been some theft problems reported.

View All Answers


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

There are 2 small gyms at the embassy with pretty good cardio equipment and weights, but both are becoming overcrowded with the "surge" in personnel. The embassy started a yoga class, which seems to be popular, and there is a swimming pool and tennis courts.

View All Answers


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?

There are ATMs at the embassy, all safe to use, and a cashier's window where you can cash a check.

View All Answers


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

I believe there are non-denominational services at the embassy and other services (Catholic / Protestant) at the nearby military facilities.

View All Answers


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

All apartments/hooches have AFN television. You can obtain Stars & Stripes at the embassy. If you want any other publications, have them mailed to you.

View All Answers


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

None..unless you are an officer that has meetings in town. If you are confined to the embassy, everyone speaks English.

View All Answers


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

Yes - folks with disabilities should not come here, there are no resources. If you can't run from the attack, you don't want to come..

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

No, no, no...someone tried to take a taxi from the airport once. I don't know if they ever found him again.

View All Answers


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?

If your vehicle isn't armor plated and you aren't qualified to drive an armor-plated vehicle and carry a weapon, you can't ship a vehicle here.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

There is internet available, for free, at the embassy, but the service is overwhelmed and sometimes is slow or goes down...then there isn't anything that can be done except to wait it out or use the internet in the office.

View All Answers


2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

The embassy will issue you a cell phone.

View All Answers


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?

No.

View All Answers


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

No pet care is available. There are stray cats that some people feed, and one or two gals brought their cats with them (possible only if you live in a hooch). But it is not a good idea to bring pets or to allow the strays in your home unless you like fleas.

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


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

For non-security personnel the dress code is similar to that at other embassies. There is a Marine Ball, and ball gowns are worn. There are also balls at other embassies you can attend. It is a good idea for women to bring at least one full gown, one black cocktail dress, and one other formal dress if you want to attend these events

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Very unhealthy. There is constantly sand, pollution and poop in the air.

View All Answers


2. What immunizations are required each year?

Anti-malaria pills can be obtained at the med unit, but you should be current on all other immunizations.

View All Answers


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

There are major security concerns. You are confined to the embassy the majority of the time because you never know when a vbied, bbied or IDF will strike next. There was a major bombing at ISAF, next to the embassy, about a month ago.

View All Answers


4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The embassy med unit is good. If there is a serious health concern, you will be medevac'd to another facility. Your skin, hair, and nasal passages will be dryer than you ever thought possible. If you have serious health issues (including anxiety/depression), you should NOT come here, it is a war zone.

View All Answers


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

The climate is similar to Denver's with some very hot days in summer and cold snowy days in winter. But also has cool spring evenings and mild fall evenings.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

Embassy staff don't bring children to this assignment.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

Large and growing.

View All Answers


2. Morale among expats:

Morale depends upon your mindset..if you go to the embassy knowing you will work long hours, be confined to the compound and not able to get out much, it is ok; after all it is a war zone. There has been a batch of folks lately who complain about their high heels being nicked when they cross the street, complain about the food and the fact they can't go to restaurants. I don't know what they were thinking when they volunteered to go to Kabul (again...a "war zone" ), but they should have volunteered for Paris or stayed home!

View All Answers


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?

A lot of drinking/partying goes on here, but there are those who don't partake in this at all and do just fine. They read, watch movies or get together at friends' apartments.

View All Answers


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

The "city" is confined mostly to the embassy compound, with the exception of NGOs who live in Kabul. Some couples come to the embassy together and live in a shared apartment. Employment is a condition of bringing your spouse. There is a lot of partying going on that both singles and couples participate in, but embassy staff are trying hard to arrange activities that don't revolve around partying. It is a stressful environment for everyone - married or single.

View All Answers


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

I don't believe it is a good environment for gays; it seems like they are not out in the open with their socializing, I but can't say for sure.

View All Answers


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

I haven't witnessed problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices, but it is a male-dominated environment and has proven to be difficult for females coping with not being used to being around males all the time.

View All Answers


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

Shop at the bazaars when they aren't closed due to a recent suicide bombing; work-out; party; sleep if you have the time.

View All Answers


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

Pashminas, items purchased from other countries while on R&R or RRB, carpets, jewelry...

View All Answers


9. Can you save money?

Yes.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. It was a tough tour, but I never worked harder in my life nor felt like I contributed more than at this assignment. It's all about mentally preparing yourself for the assignment, and then there will be no letdowns.

View All Answers


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

idea that you will find a husband if you are a gal. Most people are not looking for long-term relationships here. Also: any idea that you are entitled to go to restaurants/clubs in the city; the idea that the food in the dining hall is healthy; the idea that you will get sleep - get used to being tired; the idea that everything is equitable, because it isn't. Some folks have their own staff and never eat in the dining hall and never have bugs crawl on them when they sit outside. Don't bring too much stuff because there isn't a lot of room in the apartments/hooches.

View All Answers


3. But don't forget your:

travel guides. RRBs are a great time to visit the UAE, Thailand, India and other nearby destinations.

View All Answers


4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

View All Answers


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

Caravans, The Kite Runner, Three Cups of Tea.

View All Answers


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

Caravans, The Kite Runner, Three Cups of Tea.

View All Answers


7. Do you have any other comments?

View All Answers


Kabul, Afghanistan 03/19/08

Background:

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

No, I've also lived in the Near East, South and Central Asia.

View All Answers


2. How long have you lived here?

One year.

View All Answers


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

I work for the U.S. Government.

View All Answers


4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

DC-Kuwait-Dubai- Kabul. At least 24 hours or more.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Compound housing - we walk to work.

View All Answers


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

Very slim, order from the internet or bring everything.

View All Answers


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

Liquids laundry soup, baking goods, snacks, toliet paper, books, hobby equipment, sport equipment, soccer ball, tennis racket, balls.

View All Answers


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

Take out Mexican, Indian, Pizza.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

View All Answers


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

Cheap, but it can be a pain; they go through your stuff.

View All Answers


3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

ATMs are fine on the military bases; they spit out dollars or euros.

View All Answers


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

Sometimes on military compounds.

View All Answers


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

Satelite TV.

View All Answers


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

Almost none, depends on your employment in country.

View All Answers


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

A lot.

View All Answers


Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Both sides.

View All Answers


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

Too dangerous.

View All Answers


3. 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?

Cannot bring a automobile and you would not want to.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Very good, if you live on a compound.

View All Answers


2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Bring a phone and get a local sim card.

View All Answers


3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

VOIP or internet.

View All Answers


Pets:

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

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


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

Depends on on your job. Cargo pants, polo, boots or can be more dressy for official meetings. No need for high heels or dresses!

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Very unhealthy (fecal matter in the air).

View All Answers


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

Everyone has a gun, vehicle and suicide bombs are increasing over the last few months.

View All Answers


3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Where to start?

View All Answers


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

Long dry summers and short cold winters.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

Kids are not allowed; it's not good for children.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

A few hundred depending on where you live in the country.

View All Answers


2. Morale among expats:

Varies; depends on how long you have been here. First when you arrive it's great, near the end it's very low and if all your friends left before you.

View All Answers


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?

Hanging out with friends, watching movies, playing Wii, playing soccer or going to the bazaar.

View All Answers


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

Families are not allowed. Older couples seem to manage well but it's a test on any relationship. For singles it is hit or miss.

View All Answers


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

Does not appear to be very good.

View All Answers


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

Have not heard of any.

View All Answers


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

Watching movies, hanging out.

View All Answers


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

Rugs, lapis.

View All Answers


9. Can you save money?

Yes, as long you limit your internet shopping.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, because it was a means to an end and I met some wonderful people who will be life long friends.

View All Answers


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

Poor attitude, negative people, and the thought you are going to travel the whole country.

View All Answers


3. But don't forget your:

Understanding and a flexible attitude and lots of smiles! Being nice is not a crime!

View All Answers


4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

View All Answers


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

Kite Runner, Swallows of Kabul.

View All Answers


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

Kite Runner, Swallows of Kabul.

View All Answers


7. Do you have any other comments?

Take all your breaks out of here. It is good for moral for everyone to take their leaves. Living on a compound is tough and can be similar to middle school gossip.

View All Answers


Five stars on Amazon! Don't miss Talesmag's first book of essays, on cross-cultural food experiences from Mexico to Mongolia (plus recipes!)

Read More