Yerevan, Armenia Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Yerevan, Armenia

Yerevan, Armenia 03/27/17

Background:

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

This was my first post with DoS, however I have been a government contractor in Baghdad and Kabul, as well as working in Delhi for several months with Dell.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Nashville, TN, USA is about 15 hours of flying from Yerevan, with connections available through Paris, Vienna, and Dubai.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Nine months.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is the sole reason I felt it necessary to write up a Real Post Report. Housing locations are great, with relatively short commutes. Sizes are also decent for the most part; apartments downtown vary in size but homes are mostly large to accommodate families.



However, it's the sing-family homes that are the main issue. Many people I know living in them have had roof leaks. Even one apartment dweller who was on the top floor of a building had a leak this spring. Repair work isn't the finest here so several people also reported recurring issues with their roof. One person I know suspected he had some items inside his home stolen by repairmen; he certainly hasn't located them and they were last seen as the workers arrived.



The homes also lack insulation in walls and ceilings, making for cold winters and hot summers. The situation is better in the apartments downtown, but you still tend to run the A/C regularly to deal with the hot summer. Apartment dwellers have radiators for heating that are turned on or off seasonally by the building, so you have periods of freezing or overheating when the seasons change.

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

The local market has many of the same items under foreign brands. You can easily get household cleaners, shampoo, etc, but you are reliant on the local quality which isn't what we expect in the US.



Grocery costs are inexpensive. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are great tasting; be sure to try the apricots during the couple of weeks they are in season!

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

Honestly, more peanut butter. That's about the only thing which I really miss!

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

Menu.am is a great delivery service that has food to you in under an hour, sometimes less, for less than 1 USD in delivery charges. They offer delivery from most restaurants and some other businesses. You can use either the website or their phone app to order

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

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Daily Life:

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

Mail delivery through the embassy is fine. No DPO exists nor is it expected to be arranged soon since this is a former Soviet Socialist Republic which maintains strong ties to Russia.

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

You can cheaply hire local drivers, which is recommended over the taxi services for safety reasons. Costs run up to 60 USD per week. Likewise, you can pay for household help at a rate of ~3 USD per hour; that rate applies to maids, cooks, and gardeners.

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

Various gyms outside the embassy are available. Costs are comparable with the USA and facilities available vary. The higher end places (~1000 USD/year) offer spa services with membership, such as sauna, steam room, etc.

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

Credit cards are accepted, but cash is highly preferred especially for smaller purchases. ATMs are common and I'm unaware of any problems with crime (such as card info being skimmed).

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

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

English is widely spoken, knowing a bit of Russian helps outside the city. Local tutors are available, the embassy newsletter has current pricing for each person's services. You'll see tutors who are also maids/cooks, and some tutors who are professors.

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

The city is not built with the disabled in mind, so there are no wheelchair ramps, elevators can be small even for two standing adults, etc. There are medical hospitals, but I cannot attest to how they are at helping the disabled.

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Transportation:

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

The train system is very affordable at 25 cents (100 AMD) per trip. Taxis are about 2 USD per trip or less to most places in the city but I found few had seat belts and sometimes drivers would try to overcharge me, especially if they didn't use a meter. A phone app called GG taxi is what I now use whenever I have to rely on a taxi, since the app meters the fare.



There are other local transport options such as mashrutkas (hell no, even if the embassy did allow us to use these), local buses, and electric powered street cars, but I have had no reason to use any of these. You can easily walk most places in Yerevan

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

For travel outside Yerevan, you'll want some type of SUV. Some roads are modern and well maintained, but even those can have stretches where it's under repair and you will traverse gravel or dirt to get back onto tarmac.

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Phone & Internet:

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

High-speed internet is available. Downtown it was a quick installation. Some homes needed trenching to get service which took a month or more. The embassy employee association can help you rent a USB wireless NIC to get internet while you wait on install.

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

I went with a local provider, Viva Cell. I bought a smartphone outright for ~250 USD and pay about 15 USD/month for service. Local cafes and restaurants have free WiFi, you just need to ask the passphrase. This will help keep your data usage under the cap.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Vets locally are not bad, but not great. Same with kennel services, which are mostly offered by the same vets.



I'm not aware that animals need quarantine, but I got my dog locally after arriving (a rescue). You should be aware that people don't treat their dogs particularly well here. Also, dogs sometimes roam the streets downtown either solo or in groups of 3-4. Animal control can be called and will (try to) catch them, but others appear in a few weeks at most.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

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

Typical embassy attire - no less than a polo shirt and Dockers.

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Health & Safety:

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

Due to occasional demonstrations downtown, usually in Freedom Square or Republic Square, you should maintain personal awareness of your surroundings. It's generally very safe to walk the city, even at night in the less well maintained parts.

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

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Air quality is decent, with some bad days. You can generally tell by looking at Mount Ararat; on a clear day there's a great view of the mountain. Some days, you can hardly see the top of it.

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

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

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

It is temperate, with a colder winter and a hot, dry summer. We see all four seasons here. Spring and fall are shorter, maybe a month and a half.

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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

No direct experience with this; embassy kids seem to keep busy with sports and music lessons, etc.

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Expat Life:

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

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There are many opportunities to socialize, from jazz clubs to martial arts.

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

I think it's good here for singles and couples/families. I see this as a pleasant place, with only the social problems you might expect from a developing economy which occasionally struggles with corruption.

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

NO. The local culture is strongly anti-LGBT and there have been incidents of violence directed at them, as well as problems like graffiti on LGBT friendly businesses (what few there are).

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

Gender issues are a concern here. You also will encounter dislike ranging to hatred for the Turkish and Azeris.

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

See Tatev, especially the tramway. It's a bit of a journey but worth the four-hour drive. For a hidden gem search out the largest medieval castle in the Caucasus, Dashtadem Fortress. It's not listed in most guidebooks and there is no charge to go inside. It's huge by comparison to most other places in the country https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dashtadem_Fortress.

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

Adventurous souls should try Yell Park, near Dilijan. It's a zipline place!

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

The Vernissage has a lot of local handicrafts such as wooden chessboards, jewelry, etc.

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

It's safe, there are lots of good restaurants, and the people are friendly.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, definitely. I wish I could extend my stay!

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Yerevan, Armenia 10/15/14

Background:

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

Athens, Greece and Tel Aviv, Israel.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Washington, DC. The best connection is via Paris. It's advisable to get a (free) AF frequent flyer.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We've been here for a year, and have two more to go.

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

My husband is an FSO.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Three main housing areas for Embassy personnel. Vahagni - right outside of town, it is a gated community, for the wealthy, or expats. Walking distance to school, about 20 min. to work, depending on traffic. Houses are large and all have gardens. Great for families with kids, but it is somewhat isolated from the center. Singles/Couples without kids or with very little kids live downtown. Very easy to walk everywhere and very convenient. Also about 20 min. commute to work.

Third area is Noy and close to Noy (don't know that name of that area). It is less than 10 min to the Embassy, large houses with gardens. Need to drive to school (10-15 min), sort of middle ground between Vahagni and downtown. More "connected" with Yerevan life than Vahagni, for good and for bad. For example there is more trash on the streets, but also more shops and closer to town.

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

These days almost everything is available - especially the more common items. Fruits and vegetables are abundant in season.

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

Only very specialized items. Otherwise, almost everything is available these days. Imported goods are more expensive than local.

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

KFC. Many restaurants, serving mostly Armenian, Georgian and Syrian/Lebanese food. Prices are very reasonable - we often have reverse sticker shock. If you spend $25,000AMD for three people, including some wine - it is on the expensive side. International cuisine is also available - but it is more expensive and in my opinion is not as good as local cuisine. On the whole though, food is fresh, made from scratch (including french fries!) and delicious.

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

No insect problems. Occasional mosquitos/flies.

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Daily Life:

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

Dip pouch.

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

Domestic help is very reasonable. 5 days a week full day is about US$400-$500 a month. Most people at post get domestic help and in general are very pleased.

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

Gyms are available - the two most popular ones are Gold's gym and Orange. Don't know the costs. The Embassy has a gym as well.
There are a few yoga studios, and more are opening. Cost of a private yoga class at home with a top notch instructor is 8,000 AMD (US$20). A 1 hour massage at home is about US$37.

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

Not all places accept credit cards even when they advertise that they do. But when they do accept them - they work properly. ATMs work well.

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

For daily living it's possible to get by with English only inside Yerevan, but it's very helpful to know Armenian, or Russian. Outside of Yerevan, most people don't speak English, but in recent years Armenians are realizing the importance of English and it is taking priority over Russian sometimes.

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

Probably.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are very affordable and are used often. They are not safe by U.S. standards - many do not have seat belts, the drivers smoke, and drivers in Yerevan in general are bad. Having said that - living here one needs to adjust to the rules of the game here (When in Rome...), and many people, including locals prefer to take taxis than to drive. Especially women.

Buses and mini buses are also abundant - although some foreigners use them, they are less pleasant. Often overcrowded and rickety. Because taxis are so affordable, that is the better option. There is a metro system here as well - I've yet to explore it.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

A sturdy car is good in terms of safety and bad roads. A small car is preferable for navigating small streets. We brought our Honda CRV 4x4 and are happy we did. Keep in mind that the likelihood of having some damage occur to your is pretty high. There are no carjackings.
Many roads are bad, with potholes, even inside Yerevan. Because of the poor road conditions outside of Yerevan, we are restricted from driving outside of Yerevan after dark.

There is a Honda dealership - and we had our car serviced once. They seem to have done a good job.

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Phone & Internet:

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

It is accessible, but not in all areas.

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

We can get cell phone plans through the commissary, or get pay as you go SIMs directly from the companies. Coverage is good in Yerevan and throughout the country.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Very few. Whatever is available is very poorly paid.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many, especially inside Yerevan. There are many, many NGOs and opportunities abound.

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

People here put a lot of stress on outward appearance, especially women. Even household help will arrive to work and go home nicely dressed and made up. For formal events people dress in very formal clothes, most women wear high heals, but it seems as though standards are relaxing somewhat.

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Health & Safety:

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

Although three of the four borders are closed to us - the border to Iran is open, but not for Americans - the country is extremely safe. There are occasional incidents, of course, but they are few to the point that we are often lax.

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

We need to get med evac'ed for anything serious, but for basic medical and dental needs the care here is good enough. Most hospitals are old style Soviet.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Air quality is good.

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

Seasons are very distinct, and arrive like clock work. Air is dry. Summers are very hot, but not humid. Winters are cold. Spring and fall are beautiful, days are pleasant and evenings are chilly.

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Schools & Children:

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

QSI is the main school for expats. It is a very small school with about 130 kids PK -12. There is a new director this year and hopes are high. The elementary school is quite good. There have been complaints about middle school and high school because classes are small and socially there isn't much of a choice. Having said that - the kids all got into good colleges, and they are a tight-knit group. For families with kids younger than middle school - it is certainly a good enough school. For families with older kids - you will need to investigate based on your child's needs. Selection of sports and activities are definitely lacking compared to a bigger school, on the other hand there is a lot of individual attention because classes are so small.

There is a French school, which is not considered very good.

Russian schools too are not great. There is one Russian school run by the Russian government and students need permission from the Russian Ambassador to attend there. Those who attend are quite pleased.

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2. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Yes. Rainbow is an English speaking preschool that many expats send their kids to. There are other options but I don't have much experience in this area.

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

There are some sports programs at school but they vary from year to year as the children come and go. Local sports programs are available - they have local standards of course and are Armenian speaking - open minded people can easily blend in.

Chess is huge, very serious and very high level here. It is offered at the QSI school, there are chess clubs, tutors, competitions for even very young kids. Soccer, too, is popular.

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Expat Life:

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

Small community. High morale. Most people end up extending here.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Concerts, dance, festivals, clubs, restaurants etc. One can find almost anything in Yerevan. It is a surprisingly active and buzzing place compared to its size. It is like a mini country within a country, because once one leaves Yerevan, it's like stepping into a different world.

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

Wonderful city for families, couples, and I think for singles as well.

It is a very safe city, children are welcome everywhere (although there are no special accommodations for kids in most places). More and more kid oriented places are opening.

Lots of restaurants, cafes, parks, museums and festivals.

It is a very lively city with a lot going on - not everything is in English but because Armenians are so inclusive and welcoming, if one is open minded, it is easy to join any activity and there will always be someone who speaks English to help out .

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

Not really. Armenians are very conservative. Homosexuality is perceived either as a disease or as a bad choice. Very little tolerance.

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

Population is nearly 100% Christian but religious prejudices are practically nonexistent. Jews are very much admired here and perceived as highly intelligent and a role model.

Because the population is very homogenous, other races stand out but as far as I know there are no prejudices.

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

Visiting with people. Hiking.

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

There is an abundance of music/dance related activities. This is an excellent post to take lessons in anything you've dreamt of doing and either couldn't afford or didn't have time for: pottery, art, singing, musical instrument, ballet for adults, exercise classes etc. All very affordable and high quality. Many people buy pianos here.

Hiking is great - it is very affordable to hire a car and driver and guide.

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

Beautiful Armenian Rugs! Lace tablecloths.

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

Armenians are exceptionally warm, hospitable people making the country a pleasure for foreigners. They are inclusive and inviting, and they make us feel almost like royalty. Touring is beautiful, especially in the spring. Prices are very cheap compared to the U.S. (except imported goods), so it is easy to save money, and also do things that in the U.S. are cost prohibitive (for example a weekly massage, private exercise classes at home, concerts etc). There are 4 distinct seasons, fall and spring are beautiful. Lots of fresh fruit and veggies in season. A lot of cultural activities: concerts, art, festivals etc. Yerevan is a walkable city, and families stroll in the evenings often. Very safe and child friendly. House keepers and drivers are good and very affordable.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Most definitely.

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

Fancy car if you have one - roads and driving are bad.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor, open mind and willingness to be spontaneous!

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4. Do you have any other comments?

I love it here, as do most people at the Embassy. Coming here, one needs to keep in mind that it is a post Soviet country but as far as hardship tours go, this one is easy. In other words it is a Post Soviet "Lite" experience. Not everything is good here of course - corruption is rampant, trash everywhere, even in fancy neighborhoods, driving is terrible, but with an open mind and open heart this country and its people have so much to offer that it is a real pleasure.

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Yerevan, Armenia 09/19/11

Background:

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

No - Heidelberg, Germany; Poznan, Poland; Lublin, Poland; Vladivostok, Russia.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Washington, D.C. 14 + hours via Paris, Zurich, or London.

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3. How long have you lived here?

14 months.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing clusters and apartments in the center. Commute from the houses furthest away, Vahakni, is about 30 minutes in the morning. From the city center, 10 minutes maximum. Housing is decent for families, close to the international school. However, far from work. Singles, couples and small families should consider living in apartments in the city center. You don't have to worry about driving as much. The only downside is that if you have a small family and live in an apartment, you child will need to take the bus to school. Not a tremendous hardship, though.

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

There are more western-style grocery stores opening up around Yerevan. Produce is seasonal and sometimes there can be shortages. Last year, around New Year's, there were no eggs to be found for two weeks! You can always order your favorite food through netgrocer or amazon.com.

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

Cleaning supplies and paper towels - they're expensive here. Also, anything with a lithium battery cannot be shipped overseas.

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

Not a lot of fast food options here. There is a KFC and Pizza Hut, I've heard they're pretty good. There's no McDonald's here, the closest is in Tbilisi. You can find pizza in just about any restaurant. Dining out is cheap, you won't spend more than $10 per person. Some really delicious Armenian restaurants that serve great kabob, shashlik, and dolma.

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

You can order organic foods through the embassy commissary. There is also an organic store in Yerevan that has good reviews. It's hard to find meat that is tender: it tends to be very tough.

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

None at all, very dry here. There are no mosquitoes, unless you're near any sort of body of water.

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Daily Life:

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

Through the Embassy.

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

Help is available, it's not that cheap and the quality I'm told is not that great.

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

Yes, there's a small gym at the Embassy, Gold's gym (expensive!) in town, and some other private gyms.

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

This is a cash society. You can use your credit card at places like the Marriott Hotel, but that is about it. There are ATMs throughout town, but not all are very secure. The best option is to cash personal checks at the embassy to get money.

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

Yes, Catholic mass at the orphanage mentioned above.

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

You can order AFN cable for a fee.

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

It helps a lot to know Armenian or Russian, particularly the former when traveling outside of Yerevan. Young people speak English, the older generation does not. Especially when shopping, you'll need Armenian or Russian.

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

A lot. This is not a physical disability-friendly country. Drivers are aggressive and there is not a lot of sidewalk space for walking. Have never seen anyone on the street with a physical disability.

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Transportation:

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

The train takes forever to get to Tbilisi, and that's the only place it goes. Buses, marshrutkas, and taxis are plentiful, but you're putting your life in the driver's hands every time you board one. The bst bet is to drive yourself around. Local driving here is quite precarious.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Bring a 4-wheel drive like a RAV-4 or something similar. There's a Toyota auto dealer with a great mechanic shop in town, with American/European service and quality. Though the roads are well-paved throughout the country, there are pot-holes and some parts of the roads outside of town are unpaved.

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Phone & Internet:

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

Internet is improving. Can't remember how much, but it's not that expensive.

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

You can purchase one here. They work everywhere in Armenia.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No

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

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Few teaching jobs on the local economy, some jobs for EFMs at the Embassy.

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

Professional, suits for men, skirts for women.

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Health & Safety:

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

Not really, other than traffic. Driving habits here are poor and quite dangerous with little concern for pedestrians. Need to be alert when crossing the street.

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

Medical care is decent for Americans. There's a private hospital in town where foreigners can go. Anything serious and you'll need to be medevaced.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

In Yerevan, it's moderate to unhealthy. The cars run on cheap gasoline. Though it's over 3,000 feet high, Yerevan sits in a valley and the dust and pollution frequent settle in the air. Once you leave Yerevan, the air quality improves.

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

Continental, though not nearly as extreme as Russia. Seasons literally change when they should: spring arrives in March, summer in June, fall in late September, etc. Winters are not that bad in Yerevan; there is not much snow. Once you drive outside of Yerevan, the climate changes dramatically. There can be a 20-30 degree difference after only a 30-minute drive to the north of Yerevan. Summers are uncomfortably hot in Yerevan: head for the mountains.

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Schools & Children:

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

Quality School International (QSI). The building is brand new, very solid structure, adjacent to one of the housing clusters. It is better for children in lower grades. Children in higher grades, especially high school, have a more difficult time as there are few social outlets. Not a lot of extracurricular after-school activities. However, overall, it is a good school with good teachers.

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

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Yes, but I do not know too much about them to comment.

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

Not a lot, I am not aware of any after-school sports at the school. Embassy families organize soccer for kids during the school year.

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Expat Life:

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

About 60 embassy people, not sure outside of that.

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2. Morale among expats:

Morale is average. Some people are happy here, others are not. It makes a difference if you know the language, Armenian or Russian, and like to explore around the country.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Going to a cafe and sipping on Armenian coffee and smoking ultra-thin cigarettes. That's what the locals do. Visit the Ararat Cognac factory. Take your child to the puppet theater. Go to a concert. Jazz scene is actually pretty good here. Or, you can get out on weekends and go exploring. There is one golf course next to one of the housing communities which is not that great, but the only one in Armenia. Plenty of places to go rock-climbing. There's a decent ski-run not too far from town.

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

Great for families especially with younger-aged children. Might be tough for singles, society here is pretty conservative. Armenia is an isolated country: borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed, the only open border for Americans is with Georgia (about 5 hour drive from Yerevan).

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

Probably not that great, but not really sure. It's a conservative culture.

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

No, but there are not too many places of worship other than Armenian Apostolic. There is an orphanage run by the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Theresa's Order) that has a Catholic mass every Sunday. I've heard there is a synagogue and mosque.

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

Traveling to the south and north of Armenia to visit ancient monasteries, taking a ride on the world's longest aeriel tramway across a stunning landscape.

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

Visit one of several cafes in Yerevan, take a weekend drive to visit an ancient monastery, travel to Tbilisi.

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

Carpets, cognac, and kabobs.

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

Traveling outside of Yerevan, visiting ancient monasteries and being the only foreign tourist there, beautiful Spring and Fall seasons.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, if you don't travel too much outside of Armenia.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, absolutely. We've had a nice experience here. Lots of downtime with the family, interesting sights to visit. This is not a thrilling place with lots of excitement, you have to temper your expectations.

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

If you think you'll need it, bring it just in case.

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3. But don't forget your:

Personal Vehicle. You'll need it around here, because you won't want to rely on public transportation and you'll want to get out of Yerevan frequently to see the sights. Bring your sunglasses and sunblock for the summer. Yerevan is 3,000+ feet up and very sunny. You'll grow tired of seeing the sun shine almost every day here.

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

Any history book about Armenia, it's an ancient civilization with a lot of tragedies. This nation has been to hell and back and keeps on ticking.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Calendar - Movie made in the early nineties by a Canadian-Armenian film director. Hilarious and a wonderful introduction to this country.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Consider this country if you have a young family. It has a lot to offer. Two years will be enough, though.

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Yerevan, Armenia 10/14/09

Background:

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

Fourth expat experience.

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2. How long have you lived here?

I have lived there for two years (one more to go).

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

Diplomat.

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

From DC, best connections through London, Paris, Vienna. It can take 20 hours or more, depending on the layovers.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is generally large, especially for families, although singles or couples without children are often housed in smaller city apartments. Houses are outside of downtown, much more automobile-dependent. All U.S. Embassy residences are within 10 kilometers and a 20-minute drive from the Embassy.

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

Fruit and vegetables in-season are plentiful, delicious and inexpensive. Out of season they are rare and expensive. Best to play squirrel and freeze many for the winter. Anything imported will be expensive.

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

We shipped a lot of consumables, most of which is available here (but quite expensive).But you won't find peanut butter or many ethnic ingredients.

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

No U.S. fast food franchises, but plenty of excellent restaurants. Most restaurants are quite affordable, though there are a few high-end establishments.

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

Scorpions can be a problem.

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Daily Life:

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

We receive mail by diplomatic pouch.

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

Very available and not too expensive. We pay our nannies/housekeepers approximately $25/day, which is probably on the high end.

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

Yes. There are several excellent gyms, including a Golds Gym with a 50-meter pool.

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

You can use credit cards in many places (hotels, supermarkets), though Armenia is still largely a cash economy. Plenty of reliable ATMs around town.

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

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

No English newspapers. Via cable/satellite you can get plenty of English-language television, including CNN, BBC, Eurosport, Discovery, etc.

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

Very helpful to know some Russian or Armenian, as most people on the street won't speak English. Though people are friendly and appreciate any effort you make to speak the local language.

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

A lot. Streets are generally not wheelchair friendly. Many buildings don't have ramps.

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Transportation:

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

Safe and quite affordable. We use taxis all the time.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Many people have SUVs but a sedan will usually work quite well, as long as you are in the city. Road quality varies out in the regions - in which case a SUV would come in handy. There are plenty of places to repair cars, though in many cases you will want to have your own parts. I have never heard of a carjacking here. The main concern about driving is that many drivers can be quite (and pointlessly) aggressive, pushing their way through traffic, driving on the wrong side of the road. Traffic police rarely go after aggressive drivers.

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Phone & Internet:

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

Yes, but internet is still a bit spotty in Armenia. It is likely to continue improving, however. We pay $35 per month. There is probably better service out there (for a higher fee).

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

Everyone has a cell phone. Useful for convenience, though probably not critical for security; Yerevan is very safe.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

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

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Not really. You would need to speak Armenian, and wages are rather low.

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

Suits. In public men never wear shorts in warm weather (though I do sometimes).

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Health & Safety:

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

Good. About one-third of cars run on natural gas, which helps keep air pollution to manageable levels much of the time.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Standard.

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

Very few. Yerevan is a very safe city for living or walking around.

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

Diagnostic care is quite good, though the U.S. Embassy has its own medical unit. Major care, including childbirth, involves medical evacuation. Dental care is supposed to be quite good.

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

Very dry. Very hot summers, cold winters, though it might only snow once or twice. Nice fall. Best time for visitors is probably September (July and August are far too hot).

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Schools & Children:

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

The main international school is Quality Schools International Yerevan (QSI) (www.qsi.org), attended by children of Embassy staff, other diplomats and ex-pats. Our experience with it has been pretty good, though our sons were in kindergarten and first grade. Total enrollment is about 70 students.

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

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

There are some cooperative pre-schools. We sent our kids to a small preschool run by an Armenian-American expat during our first year here, and were quite happy with it.

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

Yes. Through school or other programs. We have our sons playing soccer, tennis and swimming.

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Expat Life:

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

Decent. The U.S. by far the largest Embassy. There are relatively few American business persons, though a few more Europeans. One measure is the size of the international school - 70-odd students.

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2. Morale among expats:

It can vary, but generally we find it to be quite good. Morale can certainly be affected by Yerevan's isolation; three closed borders (including Iran), with Tbilisi the only major city within driving distance. Flying out is expensive and during the winter the airport frequently fogs in.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

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

It's a good city for families, and the Embassy is very family-friendly. Housing for Embassy staff is quite good, teachers (art, music, other) are readily available and affordable. There are a number of sports facilities, especially for swimming and tennis (including a Golds Gym with a modern 50 meter pool). It is easy to drive outside of Yerevan on weekends, though we never do so. We never lack for something to do. I can't speak as much for how it is for singles and couples without children, though downtown is very active so I would think it would be pretty good.

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

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

I don't know about religion, but my wife has never had concerns going on her own around the city (on foot or by taxi). In Moscow, by contrast, she would never leave the embassy compound on her own.

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

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

Hand-sewn carpets, paintings and other artwork.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, as long as you spend prudently.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. Prior to Yerevan we worked in Moscow. It has its challenges, but Yerevan is a much easier place to live.

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

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3. But don't forget your:

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

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Armenia is a former Soviet republic and still has much of that legacy. Things don't always work as well as you would like. It is also isolated from the rest of Europe. But it has a rich cultural heritage and the people are generally warm and welcoming. This assignment has worked out very well for us.

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Yerevan, Armenia 07/26/08

Background:

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

No; With Foreign Service: Vilnius. Prior to Dept. of State, I spent 5 years working in Chisinau.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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

USG Diplomatic service.

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

Travel time to Yerevan from DC is anywhere from 14 to 24 hours. If you are looking for a Western carrier, then routing through London, Paris, Munich, Vienna or Prague is best. Those traveling from the U.S. tend to prefer London and Paris given the often very lengthy layovers from the Munich and Vienna hubs, though both Heathrow and de Gaulle have well documented problems with baggage.

Those traveling out of Yerevan, particularly those with kids, also seem to prefer the mid-morning departures to London (11am) and Paris (9am).The Munich, Vienna and Prague flights depart Yerevan sometime in the 2-5am range--good for getting to the East Coast of the U.S. in time for lunch (or to Los Angeles in time for dinner). Though Istanbul is technically an option this is a hit-or-miss charter flight that often does not stick to its schedule; there were several instances where travelers stranded in Istanbul had to purchase tickets out of pocket through Vienna when the Turkish flight was cancelled with no notice. Moscow, Amsterdam, Sharjah, and Dubai are other possibilities, though on Armenia's national carrier (Armavia) or a regional Middle Eastern company. Standards in service on these routes often leave something to be desired. ALL flights but Moscow run but 2-4 times per week (i.e. no daily service) thus limiting your possibilities if you absolutely positively need to be somewhere on a particular day.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

The Embassy has apartments for singles and couples, and stand-alone single residences for more senior officers and those with families. Housing is generally generous, as Armenia is in the largest category, Tier Two, for Posts (20 percent above DC standards). Most stand alone homes have gardens with grapes and fruit trees (fig, apricot, pomegranate, apple, cherry). Armenian architecture is very interesting--they love large foyers with very high ceilings but cannot seem to grasp the importance and utility of closets. In most homes, therefore, the large interior landings in the homes are covered with Embassy-provided wardrobes. Embassy housing is clustered into approximately 6 districts in town. Yerevan is a very compact city. At worst, Embassy folks have a 12-15 minute commute; most folks get into work in less than 10 minutes.

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

Groceries are expensive and becoming more so. The Cost of Living Allowance has gone from 15 to 30 percent during my tenure and it is not keeping up. You can often grow or pick fruit in your backyard or balcony and canning is big. I recommend heading to GUM--the old Soviet 'mall' turned produce market to get the best fruits and vegetables. You'll still pay the foreigner surcharge, but the quality will be better. Bring small change and a willingness to buy things by the kilogram; Armenian vendors don't sell bananas or apricots, for example, by the single item. Though there are some decently sized Western supermarkets like Galaxy, SAS, and Star, you'll probably find yourself going to more than one place to find what you need. I'd strongly recommend shipping household supplies you know and trust--or buy from the Commissary or through ELSO.The local stuff is indecipherable and of questionable origin and safety to those that will be exposed to the products. For pest control, for example, the Embassy's Safety Officer recommended exactly nothing available on the local market for use against ants; the local solution was to spread kerosene on the floor.

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

Any and all items related to baking (chocolate chips, yeast, coconut, frosting), over the counter medications like NyQuil and sunscreen and particularly contact lens supplies, and anything to do with kids given the high price, suspect quality, and hit-and-miss availability of diapers, clothes, activities, DVDs, car seats, and outdoor games. Also home cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, sports equipment, and any snack, food (particularly ethnic) or other item that you would really need or miss. The Embassy Commissary is pretty well stocked, and restocks quarterly, but you have to check the expiration date.

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

There is little to no Western-style fast food in Yerevan. The only game in town in fast food is chicken, with Southern Fried Chicken and the newly opened Rostoks (Russian KFC) on the market. If you want McDonalds, it is a 5 hour trip to Tbilisi. There are generally a couple of decent places to eat within the major ethnic culinary areas. Chinese places are very much hit or miss (and open and close) but we enjoy Beijing. There are more decent options available in Italian food--with Ankuhl, The Club (good pizza), and La Cucina at the Marriott among others solid selections. A sushi place opened recently near the Opera. Expect to pay U.S. prices for a decent meal--usually $15-30 per. The restaurant scene has improved dramatically over the last several years.

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Daily Life:

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

I understand the Dutch have bought into the Armenian postal system and are working to improve standards. DHL and FedEx, I believe are in Yerevan. The Embassy has pouch, delivered weekly. Transit time from the U.S. is 2-3 weeks. Transit to the U.S. is about a week.

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

Help is readily available; good help much less so. Word of mouth is important in finding good help, although we found that the help didn't always grasp that expectations and duties would vary, sometimes greatly, between families. Many Embassy families employed a part time gardener (US$60/month), full time nanny/housekeeper (US$300-$500), and part time driver (US$200). Turnover, particularly in gardeners seemed high. I found that Armenian landlords cared more about their fruit trees than about their homes and would have their preferred 'specialist', usually a relative, lined up for an incoming family. Families that required English from their domestics paid more--something like a 20 percent premium on the prices noted above.

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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?

Most folks use credit cards sparingly at places like the Marriott or at the Embassy's in-house travel agency, Globe Travel, to purchase plane tickets. Armenia remains a predominantly cash based society. ATMs are popping up--I think the Embassy has three or four machines from different banks (HSBC, Cascade) on compound. Both FSOs and local staff use these ATMs to no ill effects that I know.

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

I understand there is a non-denominational international church, as well as representatives of the Roman Catholic, Methodist and Mormon churches that had English services.

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

International Herald Tribune is around, but pricey. Ditto for the international versions of major news magazines. Embassy personnel utilized either AFN or a rather pricey local cable platform called Super System which provided CNN, BBC, Discovery, National Geographic, Eurosport and others which, I believe has a US$200 set up fee and a monthly charge of something like US$35.

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

In Yerevan, most everyone spoke both Armenian and Russian, with English popular with the young. Outside Yerevan, the staying power of Russian is much less pronounced. All street and nearly all business signs are written only in Armenian. A few places here or there in the very center of Yerevan had English.

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

Immense. The infrastructure in central city Yerevan is terrible--the provinces are only worse. Ramps, designated parking spaces and the like are basically non-existent. Sidewalks are generally torn up and there are very few crosswalks--and those that exist aren't respected by drivers.

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Transportation:

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

Technically, on the right as in the U.S. Factually, wherever there is a free inch. Most folks like to go left into the oncoming left lane waiting at a red light around a line of cars to try and time the light and scoot to the front of the line at speed when the light turns. Fender benders are common. Also know that neither cars nor pedestrians follow the rules. Pedestrians, usually dressed in black even on the darkest night, will jaywalk across busy, fast-moving traffic. Folks exiting public transportation on the far right often will exit, go around the front side of the vehicle they just left (blindside to traffic following them), and try to dash across the street before the vehicle they exited has filled up and moves on. If you are not an experienced driver with nerve, do not drive--taxis are plentiful and cheap. For those that do, make sure your insurance, including local insurance, is up to date; corruption is prevalent in law enforcement.

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

I know of no one who has taken a train. City buses are iffy in terms of schedule reliability and safety. Taxis are also hit or miss; there are a couple of good firms that drive modern vehicles with seat belts and air conditioning, but these western vehicle staples are by no means the norm. Taxis generally charge US$1 to show up and wait for you to get in and then charge a fee of about US$1 per mile.

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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?

Most Embassy folks seem to prefer SUVs like Honda CRVs or Toyota's RAV for the clearance, driver sight line, safety, weight and traction in winter. Others like to drive hand me down old Soviet Nivas--since parts are plentiful and the basic motor is easy to repair with usually nothing more than a hammer and a screwdriver. Whatever car you bring, you should bring filters and spare parts (tires, windshield wipers). An oil change of synthetic oil costs US$150. Locals drive a mix of Soviet cars, late model German BMWs and Mercedes. The Mafia and oligarchs seem to prefer new Lexus models and Hummers. I believe there are Ford, Kia, Volkswagen and Toyota dealerships in Yerevan. Most Embassy folks, whatever their car model, seem to use the same 'international' service center. Labor in Yerevan is cheap, parts are not.

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Phone & Internet:

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

Higher speed internet is available through the state monopoly. Embassy residences could sign up for high speed internet through the Employee Association/Commissary for US$35 per month.

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

All Embassy personnel are issued cell phones. Spouses and others on the general market may find a variety of phones and plans to meet any need. The two vendors in this area are ArmenTel, the state run telephone company, and Viva Cell. I understand a third vendor is entering the cell phone arena.

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

Internet has gotten better, particularly within the Embassy housing pool, so folks use Skype, Vonage, and their sister systems. Others use the IVG line from work, or connect to it through the Marine watch standers. Traditional land or cell lines are very expensive.

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Pets:

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

Given the packs of feral animals roaming the town, veterinary care is not widespread. There was one vet who will get you the necessary paperwork ($25) to export your animal to the U.S.Most folks who went away on vacation had their household help or Embassy neighbor tend to their pet while they were away.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

No. If one were able to secure a job with a local company, I would suspect the pay and working/office conditions might not be worth the trouble. The Embassy is part of a pilot program through DC’s Family Liaison Office to establish a ‘SNAP’ coordinator to Post to assist spouses find jobs on the local market. Given the almost universal necessity for strong Armenian language ability, there have been few success stories beyond one or two to have found a home with an NGO or at the Marriott. The Embassy has 6-10 family member positions, though almost all are full time and most require a security clearance. One might develop some at-home work like English language tutoring or music instruction.

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

Formal. The locals we meet, including those that struggled to make ends meet, put their money into looking good. I agree with a previous poster--micro skirts, 3 inch heels, and low cut tops were prevalent.

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Health & Safety:

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

Generally good. Armenia reminds me very much of Arizona, including the dusty haze that can settle over Yerevan in between bouts of precipitation. Fog is prevalent from mid-December through mid-February in Yerevan.

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

Tough in a difficult neighborhood, I find there aren't many security issues with Yerevan. I know of a couple of instances where folks who left a laptop or other valuables in plain site in the back seat of their car were victims of smash and grabs. The Embassy keeps a close eye on its residences by clustering most of its housing and through RSO's mobile patrol. Urban common sense sees most through fine. At the macro level, there is occasional sniper fire across the Armenia-Azerbaijan border; though I understand a good number of diaspora travel back and forth each summer, Nagorno-Karabakh is off limits to USG personnel.

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

Sunburn, scorpions, and stupid drivers. Yerevan is at altitude, so some suffer from altitude headaches within their first week of arrival. With temperatures commonly 15 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and 105 degrees in summer, there were weather-related health and safety concerns. Armenia was traditionally a hotbed of science and medicine in Soviet times--most have left for sunnier employment opportunities since independence. You may have to go to different clinics to find the technology, but it is there. Ironically, the issue now is the quality of specialists. In one case I know of, there was an MRI taken in Yerevan but no one of local standing to give a good read of the film. There is apparently only one endoscope machine in the country. The generally substandard medical care available on the local market is one significant contributor to why Yerevan is a 25 percent hardship Post and why the State Department deemed it necessary to begin stationing a FS Heath Practitioner at Post beginning in 2005.Medevacs to London are common, though the Embassy sends folks to good, often English speaking, specialists or handles most things in house. A local heart surgeon, internist and registered nurse augment the FSHP in the med unit. Armenian medical experts rarely go into great details about ones condition or treatment--they have the MD and expect you to listen to their learned advice. Be prepared to ask lots of follow up questions if you are used to the freer give and take of information with U.S. medical professionals. Dental care is top notch with English speaking specialists using the latest Western technology. A cleaning costs US$55, a crown US$250.

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

There are generally two seasons--really hot and really cold. In summer, Yerevan is like Arizona--lots of scrub brush, grit and dry heat. In winter, expect either extreme cold or lots of snow, which the locals cannot or do not clear off many roads. Winter is very gray for weeks on end.

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Schools & Children:

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

My children were too young for QSI (www.qsi.org), the only real Western show in town. My impression is that several Embassy families homeschool their children. I understand the school generally gets passing marks for the younger grades, but students and support tends to peter out by those of junior high school age. QSI is currently in the process of breaking ground and building a new facility; I understand the current facility shares space with a furniture factory. Embassy Yerevan is fast becoming a family-friendly Post and should continue to see a proliferation younger children--whether QSI will see a rise in its student population is an open question--most locals are priced out, the international community is shrinking, and USG personnel elect to home school.

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

To my knowledge none--though I know of no school age special needs child. I understand that the wife of the new FSHP (Health Practitioner) is an accredited pediatric special needs therapist who might look to volunteer.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Embassy families tended to band together to create their own daycares or to hire nanny support to tend to their children. There were one or two daycare center operators available on the local market. Our experience was that Armenian moms and grandmoms stayed at home and looked after the children while the fathers were at work.

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Expat Life:

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

Small but variable. In the summer, thousands of Armenian diaspora return and flood the hotels and center of Yerevan. For the balance of the year, there aren't many casual visitors. The U.S., U.K., France, Italy, and Germany are the sizeable Western Embassies. Many diplomatic missions to Armenia are resident in Tbilisi or Moscow.

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2. Morale among expats:

Poor to apathetic. Those that came here hoping to make a difference promoting development, democracy, or anything Western seem to become disheartened rather quickly. The United States has poured US$2 Billion in direct assistance into Armenia in its 16 years of independence; billions more have been Western Unioned in via the diaspora all while the Yerevan leadership continues to seriously backslide on 'democracy'.Those in power, it seems, couldn't care less since the Glendale, CA-Yerevan money train and strong Congressional lobbyists pretty much ensures that any threat made about yanking development money rings hollow.

Corruption, the Mafia, and oligarchs colors everything. That three of Armenia's four borders (Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Iran) are closed (or closed to USG personnel) and that Soviet planners placed the international airport in an area that regularly fogs in during winter, coupled with the fact that the single road to Georgia is often closed due to weather during the four month long brutal winter leads to a pervasive 'island' feel which grinds folks down. I find no great sense of community or camaraderie within the Mission, perhaps a reflection that there hasn't been an Ambassador in Armenia for two years and that folks are necessarily 'pulled up'.Those that do best here are those that are generally apathetic to their external surroundings--those that are in Yerevan for the hardship and SND differentials--and head home to family immediately after work. It is a safe, quiet Post.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

I find Yerevan to be very much a place where you needed to make your own fun. We socialized with folks at restaurants and entertained at home. The Congress Hotel's and Vahakni Country Club's pool is a 'place to be seen' for Embassy and affluent Armenian families. Hitting the Hash seems like the main group sports activity after interest in a weekly softball game waned. Going out to eat is probably the most popular form of entertainment. Making the five hour drive to Tbilisi through some of Armenia’s most scenic areas is the most popular regional get away.

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

Post is becoming an increasingly family friendly post. It is generally safe and quiet and the locals love children--though you'll probably need to adjust to complete strangers coming over to touch the hands and face of your child. There are a couple of local parks with good playgrounds. The Embassy is completing an 8 acre recreational facility that should be on line in late 2008 and will have ball fields, tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, and a building with interior bathrooms and a small kitchenette.

Overall, I believe this is very much a post where you need to create your fun and activities; there is little to nothing within the Embassy community in terms of social gatherings in any broad sense beyond an occasional Marine House event, the Hash, and perhaps a floating poker game now and again. There is an opera, some movie theaters (no English) and a tennis club. Some folks join the Vahakni country club for the pool scene--but $250+ per month in the summer, even with the Embassy group rate discount, is steep for most. Let me put it this way, this is the first post I've been where I've heard the Marine watch standers complain about a lack of things to do and the local dating scene.

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

Armenia is a very traditional society. Though you'll often see same-sex friends within the younger crowd holding hands and men greet each other with kisses to both cheeks, this should not be confused with an open acceptance of anything more progressive than a 1950s mindset. That said, I know of two male officers who found partners.

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

Reflecting their friendly relations with countries such as Iran and that there are more Armenians that live outside Armenia that within its borders (very large groups in the U.S., France, Russia, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, etc), I found Armenians to be generally respectful of others. Those of color might receive some longer-than-comfortable-looks, particularly outside Yerevan. Everyone it seems, is followed around when entering a store. The most glaring prejudice I noted was again what I call the 1950s mindset--namely that a woman's place is in the home tending to the kids; it seems to be perfectly acceptable grounds for divorce if a new wife didn't 'produce' a child within a couple years of marriage. I also know of instances where local women were literally forbidden to work by husbands who looked upon it as a matter of pride to be the sole provider to his family.

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

There are several well-run tour organizations in Yerevan. All offer the same fare--trips to churches (Garni, Geghard, Etchmiadzin) or ruins in the hills or a BBQ at Lake Sevan. While these day trips are usually worth the US$25, be forewarned--most of the churches you will see are totally devoid of any interior decorations. Though folks should see the big 3 or 4, if only for their often breathtaking mountaintop views, after a while seeing similar old, partially crumbling, stone buildings with umbrella tops with stark interiors might not be worth the three hour one-way kidney-punishing trip on unpaved roads. For those within the Embassy community, the Language Lab will take field trips to the major sites.

For folks looking to get away from Yerevan, there are a couple of 'resorts'. One toward Lake Sevan, where folks can ski in the winter, was where the USSR Olympic teams trained at altitude. Another near the Georgian border, lends itself to rural tourism--hiking and the like. There is some theatre, some sports. For collectors of things Soviet there is Vernissage, an open air flea market on the weekends. There is also the water park, Genocide memorial, Victory Park, and the Cascades. Regional air travel, though not cheap, is popular, with folks usually hitting UAE at least once during their tour. Yerevan remains a 2 R&R Post with Rome as its R&R point.

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

Rugs, art work, both paintings, ceramics and wood carvings of Armenian churches, Mt. Ararat, and pomegranates. Soviet trinkets.

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9. Can you save money?

No. The dollar depreciated 30 percent against the Armenian dram in my two years. The COLA didn't keep up. Gas is $5 per gallon for the cheap stuff. Tickets out of the country, even to nearby UAE runs $350-$800 per person only to as far as Paris or London.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No. Yerevan can be a pretty city in the spring and fall and it is an easy hardship Post. That said, I didn't find the experience particularly rewarding from either a professional or personal point of view. My perception is that this is a check the box (hardship) or maximize my earnings instead of a we can (or should at least try to) make a difference sort of Post. Previous posters are correct--there were a number of contractors and those with family issues that extended; I felt like the entry-level and newer mid-level officers who were looking toward promotion were eager to move on to more rewarding opportunities.

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

Soviet trinkets, carpets, art, your watch since nothing really runs on time, belief that what happened 90 years ago isn't important today, your Rand McNally Atlas, since the national symbol of Armenia, Mr. Ararat (of Noah's Ark fame), isn't in Armenia.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, anything that is entertaining, particularly for your children, patience, your crash helmet should you take to the roads, sports equipment, your DVD/VHS collection and AFN decoder, snow tires and other car parts, your sense of humor in the face of corruption, arrogance, and Byzantine bureaucracy, your English/Armenian dictionary so you can read business and street signs. Sturdy winter gear. Your canning supplies.

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

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Though perhaps not specifically related to Armenia, Borat's stocky producer is Armenian and speaks Armenian during the movie.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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Yerevan, Armenia 01/09/08

Background:

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

No. We also lived in Lima (Peru), Salamanca (Spain), Casablanca (Morocco), Sarajevo (Bosnia), Amman (Jordan), Dhaka (Bangladesh), and Tbilisi (Georgia).

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2. How long have you lived here?

10 months.

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

Author's husband is associated with MCC and author works for a private mining company.

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

Via London - BMED, or Paris (CDG - Air France) from East Coast U.S. about a total of 24 hours.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

For U.S. Embassy people housing is typically large houses in the suburbs with yards, etc. For others, catch as catch can (Armenian landlords have an overinflated sense of value of their homes).

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

Gum market for produce, Rooster's for meats, and SAS or Star or others for the 'typical small grocery store'. There is little you can't find here but sometimes you have to look. If you have access to the Commissary, you can even get some organic products.

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

Bring our own baking supplies (especially if you do not have access to the Commissary). Most houses don't have closets so we always buy IKEA (disposable) wardrobes. You'll need to bring a healthy supply of English language books (novels, etc.) if you are a reader.

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

KFC just arrived but there are lots of decent restuarants including a burger joint (City Diner) right out of middle America with the best burgers and fries you've ever had! Otherwise there are restaurants of a wide variety of cuisines - many very good, some high end (pricey)... you will never starve in Yerevan!

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Daily Life:

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

Surprisingly, the mail system works in Armenia! I get mail in a week from the US to a small town in the way south of the country (Kapan). Don't have friends or family pack CDs, or small electronics or anything else of potential value or interest to the customs department - but documents, letters, magazines, etc. all come in with regularity and in good shape.

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

Available and decent. We've been lucky (always check around first and remember, if they've worked for the Brits or Germans first, even better, Americans are way too easy-going on domestic help overseas). We (over)pay at about $4/hour.

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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?

Billions of dollars come into Armenia via the Diaspora every year. There is an ATM and a Western Union on every corner and in every hamlet. The banks don't know how to lend (credit? what's that?) but boy you can get 100,000 dram without blinking an eye.

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

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

The Herald Tribune and (NY)Times Digest are available for delivery. You can also find Time, Newsweek, and The Economist. Cable TV includes the usual CNN, BBC, etc. There is Satelite also but this depends on the landlord.

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

If you have basic Russian for the markets and taxi cabs you don't need to learn any Armenian but otherwise, you will need some basics - a few shopkeepers speak (VERY) limited English.

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

This city is not equipped to handle people with physical disabilities in any way.

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Transportation:

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

Right, like in the U.S.

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

There are buses and taxis everywhere but they are mostly old rickety things. Sure, they are very affordable but are they safe? They haven't discovered seatbelts in Armenia yet. There are a couple of taxi companies in Yerevan that have English-speaking dispatchers. All things considered, you could easily live here without a car.

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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?

We have a Honda CRV. Go with an SUV if you can - a smaller SUV is better for city driving (and for EXPENSIVE gas). If you don't have to have a car, you don't need one. If you find housing downtown, you can walk or taxi anywhere.

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Phone & Internet:

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

Yes, cost is based on usage but a DSL line can cost US$100/month (for a reasonable speed). Corruption and a lack of corporate competition have left Armenia woefully behind the rest of the world with respect to all Internet-type services. This may change in the next couple of years - but it is still surprisingly poor.

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

Get a SIM from either Armentel or Vivacell and work with them to get the best packages. We always choose"pay-as-you-go" because we can control costs that way.

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

Skype. Calling long distance from landline is expensive and not much better with cellphones.

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Pets:

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

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Not really. The usual inside Mission jobs like escorts or low paying jobs with NGOs. There is occasional consulting work if the trailing spouse has some marketable skill.

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

Fairly formal: suits/ties and at least jackets for men at work. Like much of the former Soviet Union, young women (in business or not) tend to dress like prostitutes - not realizing they look like that to Westernerns - flashy tight clothes, garish boots/shoes. It can take some time to realize your assistant or secretary is actually quite skilled once you get beyond the clothing choices.

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Health & Safety:

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

Moderate.

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

Almost none compared to any other city I've lived in. It's among the safest in the world.

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

It would scare me to have any health care handled in this country. The few decent practitioners who were trained under the Soviet system are fewer and farther between. Intense corruption for the last 15 years means many university degrees have been paid for. Which ones? Don't wait until you're on the surgical table to find out.

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

Four seasons: hot dusty summers but winters are long and gray and can get cold.

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Schools & Children:

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

There is a QSI. For the younger grades it seems adequate but folks with older kids send them off to boarding schools or don't take posts here.

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

None that I'm aware of.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

There are a number of reasonable daycare options and a couple of preschool groups. My friends who have little ones are quite happy with the availability.

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Expat Life:

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

There are many NGOs and some USAID projects here but few other embassies (Italian, Chinese, Syrian, British) so it's hard to put a figure on it.

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2. Morale among expats:

Ok. A few people really love it here. The city and the standard of living is much better than most developing countries but the Armenians tend to be uncurious and arrogant (they know EVERYTHING!) and undereducated (although they don't believe this).

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Again, like most posts, this revolves a lot around the QSI/school systems but there seem to be a great group of expats here so many dinners, parties, BBQs, and a group that cycles. It's a lovely place to be social if you choose to be.

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

I think it's a great city for all: lots to do for families, couples and singles alike. And, it's a great city for single women - it's very safe, lots to do, etc.

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

I think so. We have gay friends who like it here.

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

Expressed hate of Azeris and Turks (for historical reasons). Women are treated better here than in many other developing countries but they are still surprisingly poorly treated for being former soviets.

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

Opera, theater, shopping, going out for nice restaurant meals. The Embassy has programs all the time (e.g., Friday nights at the Marine House). In the summer there is Lake Sevan, the pool at the Congress Hotel, and the water park outside the city. In the winter, there is skiing not far from Yerevan. There is a very lively social scene, for all ages - activities for children, teens, and adults.

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

Fantastic carpets, hand-embroidered table linens, brandy.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, unless you eat at Phonecia and Dolmana all the time and buy lots of carpets at inflated tourist prices.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely! The climate, the (safe) city, the ease with which you can get around, the availability of so many goods - the living is easy here.

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

Basic consumables, carpets, art work... there is so much good stuff to buy here.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sporting equipment.

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

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Armenia is a gorgeous country - most of it is uninhabited and uncultivated. If you have the chance to travel outside the capital city, take advantage of that chance. It is important to remember that (un)officially there are 1.8 million Armenians actually living IN Armenia and 10+ million living outside Armenia (US, Russia, France, etc.).The existence of this Diaspora shadows and complicates everything that happens in Armenia and explains the sometimes odd situation of a given tax, or an industry, or a peculiar behavior. It's worth a 2-3 year post if you come in with your eyes open.

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