Baghdad, Iraq Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Baghdad, Iraq

Baghdad, Iraq 04/14/19

Background:

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

Hamilton, Rome, Stockholm, London, and Budapest.

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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?

The US.

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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?

SDA housing is fine; think beige Courtyard Marriott or a Residence Inn. Bathrooms are spacious but difficult for tandems (hot water, etc.) Best commute ever!

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

Limited variety, but plenty of basics. Supplement with your consumables shipments. Plenty of cleaning supplies so don't waste your time shipping any of those items.

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

Canned foods (tuna, crab, chicken), and a bread maker. Annie's Mac & Cheese. Some people ship wine; only do that in the cold months if you're inclined.

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

Pizza on site. DEFAC has plenty of variety. The environment gets dull, but every effort is made to prepare good food. Local staff can help with delivery options (burgers, local food).

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Daily Life:

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

Fine. A little slow, but all things considered...it is better than expected.

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

It is available. Don't know costs.

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

Two gyms. Two pools (one indoor open all year). Bring goggles and bathing caps if you want to do laps. Busy, but never too crowded. Water Polo optional.

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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?

Yes. No problems. You really don't need much money, as there is not much buy.

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

Catholic.

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

Not needed.

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

Yes, for security reasons.

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Transportation:

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

Suspect there are plenty of used bicycles (don't bring your best bike, as there's no where to go on it other than a loop around the compound).

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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?

Within a few days. Costs of $90 a month.

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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?

If you are here, it is under terms of employment, including a few positions for EFMs. Plenty of volunteer opportunities (organize something for the community)

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

Same as Washington.

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Health & Safety:

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

Environment usually prevents frequent departure from compound. Occasionally there are opportunities to leave the compound, and I'd say to take them if invited.

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

The heat is only oppressive for a few months, and even then its a dry heat, not a muggy, swamp like heat. Plenty of opportunities to exercise, but keep hydrated.

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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 not great. Worsens in the hot weather with smell of oil. Have not had specific health issues; scheduled any routine care during R&Rs.

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

Bring your meds.

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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)?

Make an effort to get out. Go for walks. Engage in community. There's generally something for everyone. People lookout for each other.

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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?

May-September will be very hot (well over 100). The rest of the year is actually quite pleasant. November-March chilly (low 40s in the evenings). Bring layers.

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Schools & Children:

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

N

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Expat Life:

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

Most people make the most of this post. Set some personal goals. Boredom and inertia are the biggest challenges.

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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?

Fitness classes, trivia, wiffle ball, frisbee, volley ball, tennis, knitting, cooking. The Community Liaison Office (CLO) does a great job. Find an exercise partner. Movies.

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

Many people here alone are balancing circumstances of family (children, aging parents, spouse) back in the States. Plenty of singles. Lots of support for all circumstances.

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

The LE staff are fantastic, but that's only exposure to locals

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

Gender equality is a cultural challenge.

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

Meaningful work (not everyone has that experience), excellent local staff, great colleagues.

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

If you have any opportunity to get out, take it.

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

Not really.

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

Simplified life.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Variations in weather. Bring a few colorful items (pillows for couch, cheerful shower curtain, bright sheets and towels, a throw for the couch, one or two items for the walls).

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

Yes and the time goes quickly.

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

Stuff. You need very little here.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

Structure your R&Rs carefully.

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Baghdad, Iraq 07/31/18

Background:

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

Yes

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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?

Last assignment was in Washington, DC.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I had a one year tour.

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

DoS direct hire at Baghdad Embassy Compound (BEC).

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Direct hires live in Staff Diplomatic Apartments (SDAs). Currently no roommates, not sure if/when that will change. You will have a two bedroom apartment to yourself (unused bedroom = living room). It's completely adequate and honestly way more than needed.

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

There is a PX with basically everything Walgreens or CVS would have (maybe not the exact brand you want). You could get by without sending consumables. Groceries is N/A unless you want to get stuff to grill yourself.

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

I shipped a ton of stuff and didn't come close to using it all.

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

The DFAC. It's not as bad as people say. Gets repetitive.

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

Not in my experience.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO.

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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 arrange cleaning service. Not sure why you would need it.

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

North gym is mostly cardio. South gym is mostly free weights. Both 24/7. Indoor 25m pool. No excuse to not get/stay in shape.

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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?

There is an ATM in the MWR. There's not much to buy.

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

There are services, but I don't know specifics.

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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?

Zero.

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

Yes.

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Transportation:

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

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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?

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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?

MIRI internet service. It's pricy but adequate.

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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?

Used my personal phone on wifi. Used work phone for work.

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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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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?

Spouses have to have a job at the embassy to come to post.

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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?

Depends on your job/section. Ranges from cargo pants to suits. Ask whomever you are replacing.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes. Does everyone take them seriously? No.

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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?

Health unit is good. Flu, etc. goes around sometimes just like anywhere.

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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?

Not great. Pollution. Dust.

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

Probably should not come to post.

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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)?

Days and weeks can melt together (Groundhog Day effect). Lots of self-induced unnecessary stress.

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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?

Insane heat in summer. Fall/winter is nice and even cold at times.

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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 kids. There is a sports and exercise class schedule.

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Expat Life:

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

Morale depends on the person you are talking to. Some people make the best of things. Some don't.

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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?

Plenty of opportunities to blow off steam in productive and unproductive ways. You can definitely make bad decisions here. Or you can get in shape, get paid, and get out.

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

Depends how you define "good." I'm not single, but it's obvious there is a dating "fishbowl" going on. Looks miserable to me, but go for it if that's your scene.

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

As a post, it's probably fine. I don't know of any issues that happened. I'm not LGBT, so I can't say for certain.

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

Not among Americans. TCN contractors have their own issues.

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

Good people. Good money. Good work experience.

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

I enjoyed stripping away the "fluff" from my life for a year. I lived really minimally, and I'm better for it. That was the highlight for me. No commute. No shopping, cooking, etc. A different kind of life experience that I can't have in the real world.

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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 CLO puts on a bazaar a couple times a year. Some of the wares looked nice. Art was expensive, maybe worth it?

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

Money. Work experience. Onward assignment.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Not much. I feel like I planned pretty well.

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

Yes. I did the tour at the right time.

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

Lots of the stressors of your normal life. Granted, you will pick up some new ones. But it can be a growth experience if you let it.

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4. But don't forget your:

Morals.

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

Don't bother.

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Baghdad, Iraq 01/04/16

Background:

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

No.

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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?

East Coast USA. We had the option of flying out of Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) commercially, then transiting through either Istanbul or Dubai. From there it was usually two-more legs to get back to the Land of the Big PX. Alternately, DOS employees and some contractors have the option to fly Embassy Air, a thrice-weekly charter plane to Amman. From Amman there were usually more flight options, although the return flight almost always necessitated an overnight stay at the Amman Airport Hotel (part Days Inn and part house of ill repute). Traveling from BDSC to the Embassy requires a 10-minute helicopter flight.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Twelve-month tour.

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

Government. U.S. Embassy employee assigned to the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC).

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Containerized Housing Units (CHUs) only. While this makes the commute great, be sure to guard against being available for work 24/7.

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

The Diplomart was pretty well stocked with everything that you actually need, but the best bet was to rely on the DPO. Most DOS contractors were unable to use the mail, though, so they'd load up while on leave.

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

Bring as many of your favorite comfort foods as you can smuggle into this hellhole. A single bag of Tostitos can make the difference between curtailment and sticking it out until your next R&R.

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

There was one pizza restaurant when I left, and a small coffee shop. Both were unremarkable and subject to closure on short notice.

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Daily Life:

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

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

BDSC does have a very large gym, althuogh PAE is known for closing it at random hours for irregular cleanings. Good luck trying to find open stations during peak hours, though.

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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?

Bank of Baghdad ran an ATM on the compound, and I think the withdrawal limit was a few hundred dollars a day. The Diplomart accepted both credit and ATM cards.

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

None, and don't embarrass yourself by trying to work Arabic phrases into your daily routine. Many of BDSC's third-country national contractors are actually trafficked Indians, Pakistanis, or Bangladeshis, so they're apt to just smile and nod anyway.

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

Do not come to Iraq if you have physical difficulties. If you can't run to a bunker, then you're putting other peoples' lives in danger. If you can't manage any other medical issues, such as diabetes, etc., it's best to stay home.

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Transportation:

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

Personnel are required to remain on the compound, and any transport to the airport is done by armored vehicles.

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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?

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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?

USWiCom offered moderately reliable service for between 60 and 120 USD a month, depending on bandwidth.

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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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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?

Cargo pants and a collared shirt will get you through nearly every day here. When you want to dress it up, take off the ball cap.

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Health & Safety:

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

In addition to the "Yes, it's Baghdad" guidance, take all the precautions you would at any other high-crime post. This place attracts a lot of people of lesser character, and thefts/assaults/rapes do happen on BDSC.

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

The Diplomatic Support Hospital here is a decent trauma facility, although it's no substitute for real-world medical care. If you have any kind of medical issues, don't come to Baghdad.

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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?

Dusty, particularly when the wind blows. During the winter it can even rain mud here.

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

Hot for two-thirds of the year, and near-freezing in the winter. Pack a fleece, you'll need it.

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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?

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Expat Life:

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

Large, and low. Most people are either waiting to leave or are simply here because they couldn't make it in the outside world.

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

Probably not. While you could bring your spouse to post if they have a job lined up, would you really want the drama of having him/her leered at in the gym?

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

It's compound living so you should be fine, although there are a great deal of traditional biases against same-sex partners from both the locally-employed staff/contractors, as well as the military.

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

People of Muslim faith should be prepared to encounter some pushback from the current occupants. BDSC has become a military encampment, and the cultural shift is visible.

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

There's usually some free time to catch up on your Netflix, but other than that, BDSC doesn't have a whole lot going for it. Unlike other hardships posts, Baghdad is not known for the excellent quality of its personnel. People are here (and specifically at BDSC) for some reason, personal/financial/professional or otherwise. Beware of people who use the tour as an opportunity to re-invent themselves.

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

There is nothing to do here. Unlike the Embassy, BDSC doesn't even have a CLO to depend on. Apart from the Internet, you'll probably spend all your free time panning your next R&R.

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

Having a front-row seat to the beginning of World War 3?

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How long it would take to feel like I'd actually left this assignment behind me.

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

Priority Staffing Posts are like an abusive relationship. As much as you'd like to swear that it's over this time, that you'll never again subject yourself to that suffering and hardship, we all know what the reality is.

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

Expectations that you'll be working at a post that's even remotely functional.

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Baghdad, Iraq 02/26/14

Background:

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

I've lived in Nigeria and Western Europe before my foray into Iraq.

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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?

Home base is Midwestern U.S. - Trip usually took about two days to get out, three days to get back with a mandated overnight in Amman.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Lived there for 2 years from 2011-2013.

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

Worked at the U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

SDAs, or staff diplomatic apartments, are where most embassy personnel live, usually with a roommate. Apartments were made for one person, but house two (up to four if you are short term!). There is also the "East End" which houses most of the contractor personnel.

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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 a few options at the small stores on compound but you would do better to ship non-perishables in your small consumables shipment.

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

A cookie sheet - the ones they give you are too big to fit in the oven!

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

There are a few places on compound to get food but not a great selection. You can eat healthy at the DFAC, but you have to work at it. Having ice cream every night won't help!

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

Never had any issues with insects.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO - usually slow, but eventually it'll get there - if it's not too big. Some people take advantage of the DPO and send inordinate amounts of things to themselves - someone I worked with said she had shipped about 250 lbs of flour at once to herself through the DPO. Insane - that holds up everyone else's mail to make room for flour.

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

There is none - you (and your roommate) are on your own!

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

The two gyms on compound are fairly well equipped and free. If you can't find time to work out here, you're just making excuses.

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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 get U.S. cash at the cash machine which is often out of money - then use it to pay for things at the store or buy things at Baghdaddy's.

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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?

Daily living? None. But it helps to be friendly with the local staff.

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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's not high speed, and it's very expensive. But it's better than nothing.

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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 get your Embassy-provided cell, which works for the most part. But there are also landlines in each apartment which have U.S. phone numbers that friends and family can call.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

You can volunteer for many things - running karaoke, teaching a class in whatever you're good at, sorting books, gardening, putting on a play, mass casualty exercises, etc...

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

Business casual to business professional to jeans…it all depends on what section you work in!

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes, about a million. The Embassy gives us a false sense of security but restrictions are very high.

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

The medical care is actually fairly decent on compound. They have an x-ray machine and can do minor procedures there. Anything more serious you'll go to the airport hospital or out of country.

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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 varies, but can be very unhealthy at times. I looked out my window one day and the air was ORANGE.

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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?

Gets hot in the summer, and cool in the winter. I've likened it to the weather in Las Vegas.

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Schools & Children:

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

No kids allowed!

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Expat Life:

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

Very large, and morale is okay for those who try.

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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?

Game nights, karaoke, dancing, talent shows, plays.

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

I'd say it's an okay place for couples since both are working (you can't come if you don't have a job). It can be okay for singles as well but it's still not easy to figure out the good ones from the bad ones...

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

The compound is fine for GLBT, the city less so...but since you won't really be going out in the city, it's not a big deal.

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

Getting in shape at the gym? Not much to see in this country club prison/embassy.

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

Well, there's dancing, karaoke, fun runs, and other things to do if you make an effort to get out there ('there' being the compound). Making friends with other countries' compounds make for some nice nights to relieve the boredom of compound living.

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

I really didn't buy much in Baghdad - some Embassy logo items from the employee association store.

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

Saving money! It's very easy to save money on compound when you don't have to pay for much.

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9. Can you save money?

Definitely!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Just how monotonous it can become after awhile.

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

I'd still go there - I made some good friends and some good money. :-)

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

Winter boots, most of your stuff, high speed dreams...

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4. But don't forget your:

eBooks, DVDs, games, and workout gear!

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Baghdad, Iraq 01/03/14

Background:

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

No - previous tours in the Arab world and Washington as an FSO.

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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?

East coast. From the Embassy in Baghdad, it was a several-day slog home, involving a planes/trains/automobiles kind of transportation model (specifically, a bus to a helicopter to a propellor plane to a series of commercial flights in Amman, all with lengthy stopovers). Coming back to Baghdad entails a stay in Amman, as there is generally a six-hour layover between inbound flights and the Embassy air flight. Expect to arrive cranky, underslept, and smelling of jet fuel.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

Foreign Service Officer.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Officers, unless they are married with a spouse at post or high-ranking, live in jerry-rigged two bedroom apartments (they were designed as one-bedrooms, but space constraints mean that people live two - or four, depending on the length of your assignment - to an apartment). The walls are very thin so be prepared to know a lot about your roommate's personal life, perhaps more than you would really like to know. The SDAs were built with really cheap materials - less the 30k blast-resistant windows, which are inoperable - and the breakers often flip, resulting in a weekend without electricity in half the apartment, for instance. There is only four minutes of hot water, so you will have to work out an arrangement with your roommate for morning showers. Furtniture is fine, sort of like a Howard Johnson's. Bring stuff to spruce up your room and it will feel a little less depressing.

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

The PX is going away, and shipping takes months, so bring all the toiletries you'll need before your first R&R. Your shoes will be ruined by the cobblestones, so bring flats or wedges if you're a woman. It gets chilly in the winter so bring sweaters and a jacket. Bring stuff to gussy up your apartment. And lots and lots of specialty food supplies if you plan on cooking - which you should, as you can now get good Iraqi fruit and vegetables pretty easily at the 215 apartments and by Babylon restaurant across the street. The DFAC is disgusting and your hair and clothes will stink after "dining" there.

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

Some sort of teleporter device to whisk me away to Amman for the weekend.

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

DFAC, whatever meal you can cobble together from what you've brought in your suitcase, ordered online, or grown in the garden (the only saving grace of this place - a large volunteer community garden).

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

The Embassy sprays for insects.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO, which is awfully slow.

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

There are two well-stocked gyms, Golds and Curves. It's a good place to get fit.

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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?

You only use dollars on compound, or those fake funny paper coins that are a holdover from the DOD days.

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

Apparently Baghdaddy's bar turns into a church the morning after. Fitting.

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

Don't come if you can't run for a bunker.

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Transportation:

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

Public transportation is limited to golf carts or a really dorky adult tricycle.

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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?

How about a US$300,000 armored Suburban? There are probably 300 of them sitting unused in the parking lot here, rotting in the heat.

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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 crappy and really expensive - US$100/month for what seems like modem service. OK for Skype, but streaming video won't work.

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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?

Asia cell, blackberry provided by your office (and you will be expected to sleep with it).

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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 animals allowed at post. There were a couple of loyal stray dogs in front of the Blue and Red CACs but they mysteriously disappeared. There are one or two cats who stalk the compound at night, yowling. Everyone misses having animals around.

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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?

I know several couples with a trailing spouse who was able to work at post, i.e. co-CLO. These people seemed to be the happiest.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Volunteer community garden.

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Health & Safety:

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

We're in Baghdad. This country is experiencing levels of violence unseen since the "bad old days" of 2007-8, yet our differential has been slashed by 15%... a curious, and I think very political, decision. Other benefits are being cut too, notably the number of days you're allowed out of country and the number of R&R's you can take. Meanwhile, travel restrictions are tighter than ever in the IZ and Red Zone (if your movement is even approved) and violence has skyrocketed. This is not a safe place to be, for anyone.

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2. 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?

Hot, dusty (years of war have decimated the green canopy around Baghdad, so there is nothing to hold the dust down). You will have a persistent low-grade cough.

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

Dusty and very, very, very hot and sunny in the summer. Bring a hat and lots of sunscreen. Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun. Chilly in the winter - bring a coat.

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Schools & Children:

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

No kids, no school. Life on the NEC has been described as a minimum-security assisted-living facility. That sounds about right. The only kids you will see are grown men drinking to excess and acting stupid at Baghdaddy's.

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Expat Life:

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

Huge, wretched.

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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?

Drinking, going to the gym, going to events at other embassies in the IZ.

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

Ladies - assume that all men are married, even if they don't wear their rings and hit on you incessantly. Chances are, they are.

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

This is a fine place to be gay. No issues. (Obviously, I mean the Embassy. If you are a gay Iraqi, there is a good chance you could be brutally murdered because of this - see the "Emo killings").

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

Very few.

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

Helicopter ride to the airport upon departure!

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

Cheesy imported souvenirs at the Blue Dome.

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

Easy access to the gym? Knowing that every day you wake up you're another day closer to leaving. Perhaps knowing that your work is meaningful and having the chance to make good friends who can ease the pyschic load of living in camp-jail. Seriously, this is an unhappy place to be, and morale has really tanked over the past year. Most people just hide out in their rooms and watch TV, or else pickle their livers at Baghdaddy's.

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9. Can you save money?

If you don't blow it on R&R's, and less now with the reduced differential.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

That this year would be so depressing, lonely, and hard. Expect major strain on your relationships back home.

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

Never, ever, ever again. Run as fast as you can away from this post until they open up travel opportunities outside of Iraq on the weekend.

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

Connections to the outside world and notions of fidelity.

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4. But don't forget your:

Knowledge that anyone can survive anything for a year, pretty much.

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

Imperial Life in The Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone,
We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (American Empire Project)
.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Don't serve in Baghdad. Don't serve in Baghdad. Don't say I didn't tell you.

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Baghdad, Iraq 01/09/13

Background:

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

I haven't been home since I got to Baghdad, but it would depend on how you went. The trip out is fairly easy-- either you can take Embassy Air at zero-dark-thirty to Amman (2 hours) and then one of the Royal Jordanian flights direct back to the States. I think the most popular one is Chicago, and it's 11-12 hours. On the way back, you could fly direct to Amman, or to Amman through Vienna or Frankfurt, but because of the Embassy Air schedule, any route through Amman will require that you spend the night in Amman. The Embassy Air flight leaves in the morning, then with all the waiting around at BIAP, you're back on compound by mid-afternoon. The trip back in is really annoying. There are more possibilities for flying commercial opening up. I believe it's pretty much the same story, though - going out is okay, coming back in requires an overnight layover somewhere.

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

(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. Embassy and has been living in Baghdad for eight months, a second expat experience.)

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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 commute is the other highlight of life in Baghdad. A 5 -minute walk, tops, from your housing to your office. Housing is mostly shared apartments for FSOs (tandems and 1s and above get their own place); hooches and windowless rooms for contractors.

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

You can get things super cheap at the PX (as long as it stays open, there's noise about closing it since the military is long gone), only don't expect to do much actual grocery shopping here. All you can get, food-wise, is frozen junk food, cake mixes, noodle cups, and more varieties of beef jerky than you knew existed (ditto protein powder). And a lot of meats for barbecuing. The selection of toiletries/cleaning products is not bad, though. There's also a small local grocery on the compound where you can get more normal "ingredients" (vs. just heat-and-eat), dairy, and produce.

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

Ship yourself spices if you intend to cook, and any ingredients you're fond of because you're almost guaranteed not to find them here. Otherwise, ship whatever you think you need to keep yourself sane for a year.

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

DFAC and the Grab 'n Go are still serving you delicious, free, government institution meals. There's also Tarboosh (local fast food, decent), PJ's Pizza (dubious Middle Eastern pizza), and Green Bean Coffee (military Starbucks) for a little variety. I'm not sure how much longer it'll be open, but right now you can still walk over to Union 3, where they have North End Pizza, which is legitimately good thin crust.

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

Flies in the fall/winter. I think in the summer it's too hot for bugs. In warmer weather there are tiny lizards everywhere... they're kind of cute, actually.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO. Sometimes really fast, sometimes painfully slow. There's a post office on the compound.

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

Free, 'cause you're gonna do it yourself.

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

Nothing but gyms here. If you can't get in shape while you're serving in Baghdad, you can't do it anywhere. There are two gyms, one with more cardio, one with more weights. Very nice indoor and outdoor pools. A lot of variety in exercise classes.

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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?

On the compound, sure, knock yourself out. Off compound, probably not, but you're not going to be doing a lot of shopping off compound, anyway.

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

Plenty of services on compound, of all stripes.

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

AFN + some Middle Eastern/Gulf satellite deal is still provided free. Seem to be a lot of movie options. If people get papers, they get them on their Kindles or iPads.

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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?

Learn the basic greetings and pleasantries in Arabic if you'll be meeting with Iraqis, otherwise none.

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

On the compound, none. In the city, myriad.

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Transportation:

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

Um, no. Although there are taxis zipping through the IZ 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?

Just bring yourself. Motorpool and RSO will do the rest.

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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, yes. High-speed, no. You can choose between three speeds; the top one is $300/month, the middle is about $100/month. Even at the top speed, it takes about 4 hours to download a half hour TV show. It is not speedy. It's usually fine for Skype, though.

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

The embassy will give you a cellphone, and also maybe a BlackBerry. The BlackBerries don't work as phones, so you'll have to have both.

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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?

You're not bringing pets here. Maybe adopt a lizard?

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

The only "pets" here are the bomb-sniffing dogs (which you're only allowed to pet at designated events) and the feral cats that live in one of the bunkers out by the outdoor pool. I did hear of a development implementer managing to get a vet to come spay a cat on a conference room table...

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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?

EFM jobs on compound... otherwise...

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

At work, the same as any at Embassy/USAID Mission. In public, for men it's the same. Women: Iraq is not as conservative about dressing as some other Middle Eastern/Muslim countries, but don't wear your V-necks out to meetings with Iraqis.

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Health & Safety:

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

Many. The embassy compound hasn't had any indirect fire since I've been here, but it's still Iraq. Very restricted movement is still the norm here. Even in Erbil, you'll have a PSD with you wherever you go. In Baghdad, forget getting out of the IZ unless it's "Mission Critical".

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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?

If you can avoid getting shot at or car-bombed, the only real health concern is the dust. The Health Unit is well equipped to handle minor things, anything else gets you a trip to the hospital at BIAP, and then probably medevac'd.

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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?

I find the air quality to be actually fine, except for the occasional dust storm. The dust actually hasn't been so bad since I've been here: maybe 3-4 really dusty days. If you're sensitive to that kind of thing, though, being here might be tough.

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

Hot in the summers. Relentlessly hot and sunny. It will be between 110-120 degrees all day, every day, all summer, from May through the end of September. Nothing but sun, not a cloud in the sky. It's oppressively, oppressively hot here in summers. Do not take this lightly. October and November are lovely, and winter is chilly and rainy, where chilly = highs in the low 60s.

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Schools & Children:

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

Obviously not for kids, but there's lots of 5ks, 10ks, triathlons, etc. on the compound to keep us entertained.

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Expat Life:

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

Around 13,000 currently on the US compound, although that's coming down fast. Within the IZ there's also UNAMI, the Brits, Australians, Italians, and Dutch. All of the embassies (except US) occasionally have happy hours, holiday parties, quiz nights, etc., and it's pretty easy to go.

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2. Morale among expats:

Crashing now due to glide path anxieties, but will probably come up again once that's done. To a point.

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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?

Lots of clubs, Baghdaddy's, the gym, the corniche, the pool... you can always go to DoJo's at the UNAMI compound or the al-Rasheed hotel to get out for dinner, if you can get Motorpool to take you.

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

There are no kids here, obviously. I think couples have an okay time because they get their own apartment and life is fairly "normal". Having a roommate has been the hardest part of being here for me -- it's a drag.

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

On the compound, sure, it's fine.

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

Not on the compound. I've found some Iraqis interested in discussing religion with Westerners, but haven't encountered any prejudice. I have definitely met some male Iraqi counterparts who will barely look at me, a relatively uncovered woman, in meetings. Oh well.

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

Highlights have mainly been the sweet taste of freedom you get immediately upon landing in a country that is not Iraq when you go on R&R/RRB. And trips out to Erbil --- although forewarned is forearmed: the housing at the consulate there is TERRIBLE.

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

Baghdaddy's... and the gym... and barbecues at the pool/on the corniche when the weather's nice enough... and the gym...

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

Right now you can go buy tons of crap (and a few nice rugs) at Union 3. If they shut that down, I don't know what. Whatever you can get your LES to buy you on the outside, I guess.

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

Advantages are the money and close camaraderie with your colleagues if there's a good group of people. You can wrangle a trip to the Citadel up in Erbil; otherwise there's no sightseeing at all.

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11. Can you save money?

You can't do anything *but* save money here, unless online shopping is your coping mechanism.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Sure. It hasn't been terrible, really. There's a good group of people here, the work is interesting, and there's always R&Rs. The glide path has destroyed morale for now, but I'm sure that once the embassy is right-sized, morale will be better.

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

pets, children, family, and any ideas that you're going to get to see even a smidge of the "real Iraq" (outside of Kurdistan).

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3. But don't forget your:

sunscreen, hat, swimsuits, shorts, idea that you have to hydrate constantly in summer, e-Reader (actual books eat too much of your UAB), hard drive full of movies and TV shows to keep yourself entertained. Also, bring (or plan to send) sweaters and a warm jacket for winter. It does get chilly, and in Kurdistan it gets actually cold.

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

They'll give you all the reading you need at FSI.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

You could always watch Battle For Haditha, but it wouldn't be very accurate about how Iraqis feel about Americans currently.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

If you need a high-threat post, this isn't the worst you can do.

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Baghdad, Iraq 11/09/11

Background:

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

Pristina.

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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?

Chicago. There are direct flights to Amman from Chicago and NYC.About 12 hours. There is also a direct flight from DC to Kuwait. There are now embassy air flights going to Amman and Kuwait...no more C130s.

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3. How long have you lived here?

6 months.

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

I am an FTE State Department employee who is PCS to Iraq.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Same as other posters described...shared apartments for FTEs. Contractors are a little worse off, but they do have their own room.

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

AAFES. Currently, food is free in the DFAC, and nobody has said anything about that changing after the military leaves.

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

I was given a bicycle and have found it to be very useful. The DFAC and the chancery are on opposite ends of the compound, so it has been very helpful. I had no idea that you could ship one in your UAB...who new?

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

This is in limbo. At the embassy there is a Coffee Bean that looks to be staying. Pizza Hut and Subway may be leaving. There is another pizza place, North End pizza, that is good and might be staying. Did I say that things are changing around here?

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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?

I would say none.

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

Flies and more flies. They can be very annoying.

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Daily Life:

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

Here is another recent change. The embassy has switched to DPO from APO.This will affect contractors the most, as they are now restricted to two pounds in or out. You have to use click-and-ship to pay for postage. No more free letter mail.

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

None.

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

Oh yeah...no problem here.

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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?

They have them and they are fine. Provided by Baghdad bank on the compound.

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

Yes.

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

Stars and Stripes and the Internet.

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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?

None.

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

A lot.

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Transportation:

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

Not if you want to stick around.

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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?

MRAP if you have one handy....that's a joke you will understand once you arrive.

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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?

Here is another upcoming change. It is currently provided for free. It is quite slow during peak hours and not that much better at non-peak. Soon we will be charged for Internet, and the rumor is that it will be $150 per month. But, the upside will hopefully be a lot faster speeds...this has been rumored to start in February of 2012.

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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 have the choice of an embassy phone or....an embassy phone. You can use an unlocked phone and just take the embassy SIM out and place it in your phone.

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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?

I hear the Taliban is hiring....

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

As stated before...it is looking more like a real embassy. It probably will continue down this path, given that the embassy will be the only show in town shortly.

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Health & Safety:

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

Hmmmm...yeah. The main concern at the moment is the military leaving. As previous posters have stated, there is indirect fire quite frequently directed at the green zone and embassy compound in particular. Having the military around has provided a buffer and obvious security blanket for the embassy community. Come January 1st 2012, it all falls under the Chief of Mission. It remains to be seen what this will mean....I am hoping it will be just fine, as I am here for a while.

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

The Health Unit is nice. There is a hospital that the embassy is taking over (near the airport) for more serious issues.

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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?

Dust storms are the worst aspect of living here. They don't happen too often, but it is no fun.

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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?

Very dry, as it is a desert. Hot and dry in summer, and dry and cold (but not too cold) in winter.

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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?

Nope.

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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 other embassies in the IZ that have parties...Italians, English, Aussies and a few others. I haven't attended, but I hear that the parties are fun.

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2. Morale among expats:

Hard to say...most are a bit stir crazy. It is kind of like a minimum-security prison. (Not that I have ever been to minimum-security prison, I am just projecting.)

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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?

Baghdaddies or parties at other embassies...Or, if you are higher on the food chain, representative events, from what I hear.

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

Sure...

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

Yeah.

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

No.

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

I have enjoyed the job since you get to do things here that you would never get the chance at another embassy. Things change by the day, and something you worked hard on might go away, but if you enjoy a challenging environment, this is it.

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

Things are changing with the military leaving and bases closing. There currently is a small bazaar accross the street where you can buy some local stuff, but the rumor is that it is going away. Much of the military-provided MWR extras are being scaled back.

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

If they don't take the bazaar away, rugs and fake watches and other curios.

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

Well, there is saving money and.....Weather is REALLY hot in the summer and it gets chilly but nice in winter.

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11. Can you save money?

If you can't save money here, you may be the worst financial manager in history.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

If I have a desire for money and promotion once again. It is probably not as bad as I thought it would be...but, the indirect fire is a bit unnerving. And it might not stay so indirect, as they have hit a few things more than once.

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

Love of freedom and liberty.

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3. But don't forget your:

Suntan lotion and lip balm.

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

Not sure...The training they give you in the area studies is pretty interesting and enough of a primer. However, unless you are in POL or other sections that interact with locals, you may never meet an Iraqi.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

None that I know of that give a true-to-life portrayal.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

I wanted to try and give a slight update on the things that are changing around here. The buzzword of the year is "transition". If you like working in a large embassy with a lot of unique things going on and are a bit of a fatalist as to what will happen, will happen, then this is the place for you.

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Baghdad, Iraq 09/23/10

Background:

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

Many expat experiences.

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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?

East Coast. It's a long journey. Plan on 16 or so hours to get to Amman or Kuwait, a down day there, and then a long day into Baghdad, If you aren't 'connected' to get on a helo, you'll spend the day at Sully Compound waiting on the Rhino.

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3. How long have you lived here?

6 weeks.

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

Government, US Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

SDAs, East End, Man Camp. You will be sharing space unless you are very, very senior. It sucks. The SDAs are divided into 2 rooms. One of them, the original bedroom, has built in closets but it is significantly smaller than the other room. The 'other' room was meant as a living room. It's quite a bit larger and has two windows instead of one. It will have a standing bureau instead of a built in closet. The "living room" is a tiny windowless area that I find incredibly depressing. The kitchen is ridiculously overdone and ultimately useless for anything other than storing water and booze or making coffee. I am not a contractor but I do security. Man Camp is closing and until new housing is built, many of the WPPS personnel will be doubled up in CHUs. Some of them are wet, some dry. I know they're doing it by seniority. it's been a serious morale killer. This is supposed to be a temporary thing and decent housing will be in place by spring of 2011.

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

The prices at the PX are about what you would pay in the US. Many people opt to do their own laundry and buy detergent there. You can buy booze, dvds, cleaning supplies, etc at the PX.

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

Not much! TImes have changedd since I was here in 04. Don't bother to bring a laundry basket, a full length mirror, plastic bins to store stuff, hooks or hangers or other Target type items. They have all that stuff here now. Bring liquids, though, since it's troublesome to get stuff through the pouch.

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

There's a Subway, Pizza Hut and Green Bean Coffee shop at the REC center. There is also a Popeye's and another pizza place across the street at FOB Union III. There are Grab-n-Goes at many of the buildings that have sandwiches and soda, chips and snacks that are all free.

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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?

Ha. Well, there is a "healthy selection" bar at the DFAC but it's usually greasy too.

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

Well, I've had irritating flies in the DFAC buzz me.

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Daily Life:

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

APO. It's surprisingly fast. I do Netflix here and am impressed with the speed.

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

None available. There is a laundry service that is free, including dry cleaning. I have asked around and I still can't find anyone who wants to clean my SDA forextra $.

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

If you're motivated, you can spend a whole lot of time working out. PS - the new gym by the DFAC, is called Gold's, since it has lots of free weights. The older gym in the REC Center is called Curves because it has a lot of cardio machines. There's plenty of room for all.

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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 do debit cards at the PX and get 20 bucks for each purchase. I hear you can cash checks somewhere. You don't need cash much here.

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

Yes. I don't go but I've seen the schedule. There are groups for everyone - protestant, catholic, lutheran, other, jewish, muslim, etc

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

You will have AFN in the SDAs, East End and Man Camp.

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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?

None. Most of the local BESF guards are from Peru, so if you want to practice your Spanish, you will have plenty of people to talk to.

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

You can't come here if you have physical disabilities. That being said, I have seen a lot of people of extreme size. I would think they'd have some issues finding PPE that fits or being fit enough to run for the bunkers when the Duck & Cover goes off.

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Transportation:

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

Ha!

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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?

Everything is already here and armoured.

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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?

Same - you have it in all the spots. It's very slow during peak times. I have had a hard time streaming Netflix but it can be done- you will have a US IPS address so no need for a proxy. Bring a wireless router. The ethernet cable is provided in the SDAs.

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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?

Iraqi cell phones suck. You'll be issued one but the service is poor. You will have a phone in your SDA with IVG. I don't know about Man Camp or East End.

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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)?

The EOD dogs will make you homesick if you are a dog lover. The stray, homeless dogs in the IZ will make your heart ache.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

No.

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

Some people dress like it's a real embassy - ties, suit coats, dresses, high heels. One caveat: ladies, (and I am one) DON'T wear high heels. Do not wear shoes you can't run in. And you will need to run when the Duck and Cover goes off.

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Health & Safety:

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

IDF is a great big deal. I cannot stress this enough (and I am a security person). You should take the IDF threat seriously. We have Duck and Cover alarms sound every day. We have had major rocket hits, with significant damage, happen on a weekly basis.

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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?

Not really.

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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?

Dusty. If you have even the most remotely sensitive eyes, you'll find yourself buying drops at the PX.

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

Hot in the summer. Hot and dusty. Very arid.

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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 kids. There are groups who play volleyball, soccer and tennis. Bring your racket.

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Expat Life:

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

Huge. There are a ton of people here.

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty good for the most part. Everyone works a lot (I do 7 days a week, 16 hour days). Most people seem very type A and motivated. I am not a contractor though, I work at the chancery and can't speak about morale among PAE or WPPS personnel.

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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?

Drinking. Sometimes you go to parties at someone's SDA, but they're so small it's kind of freakish. People have barbeques outside of the REC center

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

It's not the wild west it once was (sigh!). Man Camp is filled with guys, but since they can't drink anymore they keep to themselves. Baghdaddies, the only bar in town, does a brisk business on Thursday and Friday nights. There are a fair amount of geographic singles here. It can get kind of skeevy at times with trashy guys and girls grinding away on the dance floor.

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

GLIFFA has an active group here. I have seen very openly gay PDA at Baghdaddies and at parties, and no one seems fazed by it.

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

Well, hmm. Depends on where you work. Some are loving and accepting of Iraqis, some aren't.

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

Money. I've done some good stuff for my EER. I was in Baghdad during the war, and this is a completely different environment (it was better then, if you can believe that).

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

Work out. There are 2 gyms here. The pool is VERY nice is you're into swimming. Again, Baghdaddies is the bar. They have yoga and other workout classes. There are movie nights and dance nights, like salsa and ballroom, but I hear only girls show up for them.

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

There are shops across the street at FOB Union III. It's mostly junk.

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

The money is good.

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11. Can you save money?

Oh yeah. I have my BMW already picked out.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I knew what I was getting into. I didn't know the IDF thing was so extreme, though. You can get killed here. Don't think it's safe. IT IS NOT!

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

Nice clothes, high heels, and idea that you will have a lot of free time to learn the violin or write the great american novel.

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3. But don't forget your:

DVDs, a few party clothes, tennis racket, swim goggles and cap. Corkscrew.

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Training Day (this movie just rocks!)

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Baghdad, Iraq 08/30/08

Background:

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

4th - Central America and South Asia.

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2. How long have you lived here?

4 months.

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

Government.

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

Direct from Washington Dulles to Kuwait or to Amman via connections. Military or Charter air into Baghdad.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Trailers or Embassy Apartments.

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

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

I shipped too much - lay out the stuff/clothes you are considering sending and narrow your stuff down. Send good TP and laundry detergent as it is in demand here.

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

A few sketchy restaurants in the International Zone.

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Daily Life:

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

APO - usually around 1 week from the U.S.

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

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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?

You can use debit cards at the PX.

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

Yes - at the Embassy.

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

Stars and Stripes is about it.

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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?

None - Spanish is actually very helpful here in the IZ.

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

Might be a bit tough to get to the duck and cover bunkers. If you have physical (or mental) disabilities, this is truly not the place to be.

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Transportation:

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

Same as U.S., if you drive.

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

If you are looking to lose weight by no longer having a head and wearing a nice orange jumpsuit in the process, feel free to use local transportation.

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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?

No POVs allowed at Post.

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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 - decent speed.

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

The MCI cell phone system that uses a U.S. phone number is likely the worst cell phone system ever made. Iraqna (and Asia-something) work far better.

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

Calling card via IVG.

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Pets:

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

Pets aren't allowed.

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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?

There are some EFM jobs at Post.

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

Business casual for work, casual in public.

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Health & Safety:

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

Dust can get very bad.

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

A few...

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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?

Stomach issues from water/food and respiratory issues due to dust.

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

Hot and dusty. Repeat X 365 days...

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Schools & Children:

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

We're not quite ready for kids here yet...

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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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Expat Life:

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

Absolutely huge. There are so many people here it is insane. There are always so many people hanging around the public areas around the palace that I wonder where I should work to have that much time off here.

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2. Morale among expats:

All things considered OK. It gets tiring dealing with constant taskers from Washington that come at the end of the day or that you just completed for someone else. Hope that you have a good office that works well together.

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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?

It's possible to be social and have fun, but it is far from being the best Post in the world to be a single male.

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

I was really surprised to find that couples seemed very happy here. The dating scene is very different from the previous unaccompanied posts I've been as a single male. Baghdad is likely the only post in the foreign service where it is far better to be a single female than a single male. Beware the jokes for ladies when you leave Baghdad and land back in the real world -

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

I hope it's better for GLBT than it is for straight folks.

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

Many of the 3161 (direct hire/non careeer State Department) employees, some who are very overqualified for their positions, complain of odd treatment by Foreign Service Employees.

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

Exercise, read, watch DVDs or go to the occasional happy hour.

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

Upgrades to business class.

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9. 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?

Yes - It was my turn to step up and come here.

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

Winter clothes, POV.

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3. But don't forget your:

Hat, sunglasses and sunblock.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

CNN and Fox News.

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

CNN and Fox News.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

I'm glad I came when I did, but the sheer size of this place is insane. When you compare the size of Embassy Baghdad to Embassy Kabul, it makes absolutely no sense that Baghdad needs to be this big.

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