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

Personal Experiences from Erbil, Iraq

Erbil, Iraq 04/23/18

Background:

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

No, I have lived in several other cities in the region and around the world.

View All Answers


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

Washington, DC. Using the recently reopened Erbil International Airport the flight should be one-connection before you get to DC 14 hours later. With the airport closed (Baghdad could close it at will for no reason) it's a multi-stop trip that takes two days to and from Dulles.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

About nine months.

View All Answers


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

Diplomatic mission.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

The compound is composed of houses that have been divided into smaller units. Nearly everyone has to have roommates, but at least at this time you get your own bedroom. Sharing a bathroom, living room, and kitchen is normal. You will likely have two roommates but consider yourself lucky if you have only one. Senior people are the only ones who get their own place. They used to give you your own place if you're a section head or here for two years, but that's no longer the case.

View All Answers


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

Relatively expensive. Western goods are expensive, and so are meat, veggies and fruits. There are random runs to the stores that only a handful of people can get on each week where you can get groceries; otherwise you can't get much. The fruit and veggie guy comes on the compound three times a week and charges exorbitant rates for his stuff. There are three tiny stores on the compound but they don't carry meat (that's not expired) or anything perishable. You're expected to buy prepared foods from the three on-compound restaurants with the $52/day you get.

View All Answers


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

Anything you can't get via DPO or pouch. Stuff like salsa, olive oil, or other liquids that come in large containers and don't travel well.

View All Answers


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

There are three restaurants on the compound and you can get a lot of stuff delivered. If you're a political or economics officer, or USAID, you get to go out a lot for meetings at restaurants (there are many and are reputed to be great), but most people are limited to what's on the compound or to ordering out. The food options are pretty limited when it comes to healthy food. Most of it is fried or starch-heavy, but it's cheap.

View All Answers


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

There are mosquitoes and ants, but nothing major.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

Pouch and DPO. DPO is running at about six weeks delay now, but it may speed back up if you're lucky to be here for that.

View All Answers


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

There are none available. There are cleaners on the compound but they do a marginal job at best. You're better off cleaning your own place if you can.

View All Answers


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

There is a large well equipped gym on the compound open 24 hours and free. It has everything you can think of to get you in shape (there are few recreational opportunities) during your tour.

View All Answers


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

There is one ATM on compound but it charges you $3 per transaction, limited to $200 per withdrawal. No one else takes credit cards and you don't want to use them anyway. Get cash from the cashier (limited to $500/week) for all your spending needs.

View All Answers


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

There is nothing on the compound unless someone gets people here as they've done here and there.

View All Answers


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

There is a Kurdish tutor, but you won't need Kurdish or Arabic for daily life.

View All Answers


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

Yes. You have to be able to get in and out of armored vehicles and most of the buildings don't look ADA compliant.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

You're not allowed to use them. You'll have a bodyguard team to take you where you need to go.

View All Answers


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

You're not allowed to bring a car.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

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

You get Internet through mobile hotspots. The cost is about $35/month for unlimited Internet, and it's fast enough to stream Netflix and video chat with people.

View All Answers


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

You get issued a phone. You can use T-Mobile international for $50/month and you get 2G speeds in Iraq.

View All Answers


Pets:

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

You're not allowed to bring pets to Erbil, but there will be plenty of stray cats to keep you company.

View All Answers


Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

There are about five jobs for EFMs on the compound and they have to have them before they arrive. There is nothing else available and EFMs can't work off compound.

View All Answers


2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

You can help with events on compound.

View All Answers


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

Business casual for some, but relaxed casual is the norm. You rarely have to dress up, but do bring a couple of formal dress outfits for special occasions like visiting VIPs or big events.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

Not on the compound. There are tons of layers, people, and systems in place to keep everyone safe. It restricts your life outside the compound, but it's still Iraq and you wouldn't get any danger pay if you could go out for a cup of coffee when you want to.

View All Answers


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

You have to have an Iraq Class One medical clearance. Bring meds with you (mail is very slow), and don't plan to get sick here. Because you get three R&Rs for a year tour you should plan to do medical stuff then.

View All Answers


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

The weather is very good most of the year. It will get dusty, dry, or humid depending on the season.

View All Answers


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

Nothing significant. There isn't enough dust or pollen to cause most people problems.

View All Answers


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

You need an Iraq Class One medical, and I don't think one should be here under all this stress if there are current mental health issues.

View All Answers


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

There are four seasons unlike Baghdad and Basrah. So it will get rainy, cold, and very hot in the summer. Bring clothes for every season, you will get to wear them.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

You cannot bring kids with you.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

The compound isn't that big and most people have their own small cliques. Morale is generally good but management does nothing to make things better, you pretty much have to manage your own morale.

View All Answers


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

All socializing is on compound unless you're political/economics/USAID when you can get off compound for "business." You can easily bring guests on the compound and have social events.

View All Answers


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

It's a small compound. It's usually easier for couples living here than for singles since they get their own house. While you can socialize with people you might be unlucky and find no one to do that with, and it gets to be hard over time because of the social isolation.

View All Answers


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

Yes, on compound.

View All Answers


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

None on the compound.

View All Answers


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

The money is great! The work is interesting but continuous (you're expected to work seven days a week). You can afford to travel if you want, but most will just go back to visit family safehavened somewhere or in the U.S.

View All Answers


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

You have to be creative. There is not much to do on the compound. There are a handful of social events like trivia night and sports, but it will get boring so a lot of people just work all the time.

View All Answers


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

Sometimes you get artisans coming on the compound to sell goods, but because of the threat you can't go out to shop for stuff.

View All Answers


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

The money. You can save a ton of money.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

That you live in a small space and you shouldn't bring much UAB. You don't have any storage space in your room.

View All Answers


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

Yes, it's tough working here but it's much nicer than Baghdad or Basrah.

View All Answers


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

UAB. You can really live out of two suitcases here.

View All Answers


4. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor. The small compound lifestyle and seven day work weeks are not easy, and you need to pace yourself and don't let the little things fester or you'll be miserable.

View All Answers


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

A History of Iraq by Tripp.

View All Answers


Erbil, Iraq 02/20/16

Background:

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

No, two previous assignments in the Middle East and previously lived in Europe as a student.

View All Answers


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

Washington, DC is a generally a two day journey (due to flight connections) via Vienna, Austria.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

7 months with another 5 months to go in this assignment.

View All Answers


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

U.S. State Department direct-hire (diplomat).

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Villas are separated into apartments with 2-4 bedrooms each. Section Chiefs and tandem couples receive their own apartments. Others share living spaces and kitchens but have their own bedrooms. The Housing office keeps the ratio to two people per shared bathroom unless there are extenuating circumstances.

View All Answers


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

There are three small shops on compound that sell basic grocery items, including alcohol, cheese, and frozen meats. Security situation permitted, there are weekly runs to the grocery stores for limited numbers of staff. It is best to use your consumables shipment very wisely.

View All Answers


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

More consumables. I did not ship enough spices, canned tomato products, tortilla chips, quinoa, or Trader Joes products. Only basic goods are available on compound.

View All Answers


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

There are two restaurants on compound. One is a higher-end facility with standard American fare. The other is a sandwich and pizza shop that is most popular for take-away lunches.

View All Answers


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

Ugh. Lots of Mosquitoes, ants, roaches and occasional termites. However, the roving street cats take care of the larger vermin.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

DPO

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

Yes. All free. There is a cardio room and a weight room on compound. Both are very popular, especially in the mornings and evenings. It can sometimes be difficult to find a free treadmill during peak hours. An outside loop around the compound is approximately one kilometer.

View All Answers


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

There is an ATM on compound and the Class B cashier will cash checks. U.S. Dollars are the currency of choice on compound.

View All Answers


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

There are monthly non-denominational church services.

View All Answers


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

None for life on compound. It is very helpful for interactions with contacts within the community.

View All Answers


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

Yes. There are tons of uneven roads, rough stairs, and slick sidewalks. Moreover, Class One clearances are required.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

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

There are two internet options. One is a Fastlink service that allows for a limited amount of downloads- 64 gb for $69.00. Most people on compound choose this option because it provides fast downloads. I spend approximately $150 on Fastlink per month. The other service allows for unlimited monthly downloads, but is painfully slow (will not even support Skype).

View All Answers


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

Your cell phone and blackberry will be issued upon arrival.

View All Answers


Pets:

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

View All Answers


Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

View All Answers


2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

View All Answers


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

Business casual in most offices. Gym attire on weekends.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

See the RSO reports, travel warning, and watch the news (ISIS, anyone?).

View All Answers


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

Class One medical clearances are mandatory, for good reason. It is difficult to receive approval to leave the compound for medical consultations in the community. Major problems are medevac'd quickly to London.

View All Answers


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

Air quality in Erbil is lovely most of the year. However, dust storms in the spring and really hot, muggy days in the summer make things uncomfortable.

View All Answers


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

None.

View All Answers


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

Hot, muggy and nasty from May until September. Really nice from October to March. And borderline in April (hot, but tolerable). The winters can be rainy and cold. The houses are not insulated so it often feels colder than reality in the winter.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

N/A, this is an unaccompanied assignment.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

Small but very tightly-knit. Most people knew what to except before they signed onto this assignment. The ones that keep things in perspective have a better assignment. The promise of great EERs and linked assignments to lovely places in EUR and EAP make people happy. R&Rs are also helpful reminders of easier assignments to come.

View All Answers


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

Movie nights, monthly poker tournaments, exercise classes, 5ks, weekly trivia nights, holiday parties, and shuffleboard tournaments keep people entertained.

View All Answers


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

No families here. Spouses are allowed to come to Post if they receive an EFM assignment (there are 5 positions available at present- CLO, Housing, Consular Associate, Facilities Manager, POLMIL). Couples generally have a better time at Post than singles. There is very little dating here due to the high ratio of men to women.

View All Answers


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

Yes, if you are referring to the compound. However, GLBT activists in Iraq are often persecuted or killed.

View All Answers


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

None on compound.

View All Answers


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

R&Rs. We have been able to really stretch the US$3500 per R&R allowance to travel all throughout Europe, the Caribbean, and within the U.S. People at Post have also taken Safaris, traveled to Iceland, scuba dove in the Maldives, etc. you name it. Foreign Service employees also receive 20 admin days for use on R&Rs, which helps save your A/L.

View All Answers


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

The staff that is allowed to depart the compound for official events often attend meetings at historical buildings, beautiful churches, and mosques.

View All Answers


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

None.

View All Answers


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

Money! The financial benefits of this assignment are great (danger pay, differential, language pay, an additional differential for tenured employees or vast amounts of overtime for untenured employees, and a $52 a day benefit for food purchases). Enough to both put lots of money into savings and retirement AND to enjoy fantastic R&Rs. Foreign Service personnel assigned here for one year get 3 R&Rs that generally last 2-3 weeks each.

View All Answers


10. Can you save money?

Yes, absolutely! Best part of this assignment.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

I wish I had known how little of the city and region I would actually see on this assignment.

View All Answers


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

Yes. It has been good for my career and wallet.

View All Answers


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

Good wardrobe. The dry-cleaners reduce the life-span of most clothing items.

View All Answers


4. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor. Gym clothes and tennis shoes. Coffee press. Good attitude.

View All Answers


5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


7. Do you have any other comments?

Please do not enter into this Post environment without doing your research first. It is not a normal job or lifestyle.

View All Answers


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

Read More