Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan 08/24/18

Background:

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

Many other experiences in Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

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?

The US. Getting here is usually quite the challenge. The most common routing is via somewhere in Europe to Istanbul, and then on Turkish to Bishkek. It's also possible to go via Dubai on Emirates/FlyDubai, Air Astana via Europe and Kazakhstan, or on Aeroflot via Moscow. Figure a good 24 hours at a minimum. Almaty (Kazakhstan) is a 4-hour drive away, and has lots of options to Europe and Asia.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

18 months.

View All Answers


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

US Embassy.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most families are in large houses in the southern part of the city. There are a few apartments downtown, although the trend seems to be to move more people out of apartments into houses for seismic safety reasons. Apartments and houses are spacious, although with odd layouts and decor. Houses tend to have yards and ample outdoor space. Commute times range from 10 to 30 minutes.

View All Answers


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

For a small city that is far from the big cities of Europe and Asia, Bishkek has a surprisingly good selection of supplies. The brands are different (Russian, Turkish, Chinese), but the quality of most things are good. Western dairy products are about the only thing that is really hard to find, and expensive when you do. Fruit and veggies cost next to nothing in season, and are some of the tastiest you will ever try.

View All Answers


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

Cooking oils, including olive oil and peanut oil. Spices for cooking Thai, Indian, or Mexican food. The usual "homesick" items like peanut butter. Between what is available locally and the embassy commissary, we really can get nearly everything. And Amazon is always there to supplement dry goods as needed.

View All Answers


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

There is a decent selection of restaurants. Russian, Korean, Chinese, Turkish, Thai, Indian, Georgian are all available, in addition to typical Central Asian fare. Namba Food is a delivery service that will bring pretty much anything in the city to your door. We've found the food to be much better than anticipated here.

View All Answers


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

Nope.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic pouch. Packages take anywhere from ten days to six weeks. Three to four weeks is the average, depending on timing of the cargo flights.

View All Answers


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

Most people hire a driver, at least for the first few months before their cars arrive. Pretty much everyone with kids has a nanny, and most employ a housekeeper part-time as well. US$300-400 monthly for drivers, US$400-700 for nannies, and around $2-3/hour for household help. Those that have a command of English usually make more. Many people really like their nannies, and most have worked for expat families for a long time. They know each other, and are good about organizing playdates, cooking classes, performances, etc for the kids. Most household helpers are kind and honest, but there have been issues. Being very clear with expectations is critical. There are more household help job seekers than expats.

View All Answers


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

In Bishkek, all nice restaurants and grocery stores take credit cards, and I've never heard of any issues with fraud. You'll need cash for small purchases, taxis, shopping at the markets, and for many places outside of Bishkek.

View All Answers


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

Russian is the language of Bishkek, and is the most useful for daily life here. Most expats learn enough to get by, and that is usually fine for day-to-day survival. The more Russian you can learn before arrival, the easier life is here. Kyrgyz is useful if you do lots of work in the countryside, and especially in Osh and southern Kyrgyzstan. Very few expats learn Kyrgyz, but local ethnic Kyrgyz very much appreciate it. Private language tutors are cheap, but the methodology is very soviet and therefore many expats give up after a few attempts.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

We aren't allowed to use local buses. Namba taxi is the local version of Uber, and is safe and affordable. The airport has a special airport taxi counter with fixed rates into the city. You'll never pay more than about 6 USD anywhere in the city, with 9-10 for the airport. You can charter a car and driver for very reasonable rates as well.

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?

High clearance would be good given the state of the roads. 4WD if you are into hiking and exploring the mountains. Snow tires are essential in the winter as the roads aren't plowed and you will spend half of the year driving on sheets of ice. Note that pretty much every car known to planet earth can be found here, with left and right-hand drive vehicles common. Like everywhere, the big Japanese and Korean car brands tend to be the best.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

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

Our internet was set up prior to arrival and has been fast and reliable. We pay US$80/month and can stream movies and call with Facetime with no problems. Some neighborhoods have more issues with internet, but on the whole it is far better than what we've had elsewhere.

View All Answers


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

Local SIM cards are dirt cheap and come with more data and minutes that we could ever use. Bring an unlocked smartphone Beeline and Megacom are the big providers, with a few new companies trying to break into the market.

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?

Pretty much no entry requirements, other than the usual vaccines and a health certificate. Note that because of the difficult flight connections, getting a pet here is a challenge but certainly doable. Several decent vets are available for basic care, but bring you pet meds with you. Bishkek has many strays, especially outside of the downtown areas, so caution is needed when walking your dog. Traditionally, Kyrgyz people only keep dogs as guard animals, but this is rapidly changing especially among the upper classes of society.

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?

The local international schools often need teachers. Working elsewhere would require fluent Russian at a minimum, and the pay would be next to nothing.

View All Answers


2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Plenty of organizations and plenty of need in the country.

View All Answers


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

Formal at work and for events.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

The biggest danger is the reckless driving habits. I would describe the driving and pedestrian behavior as incompetent at best. Thankfully, it's pretty hard to go too fast on the roads here, especially in the winter. We feel very safe here; you will see families out walking late at night. There were security issues many years ago in South Kyrgyzstan, but these areas are much safer than before.

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?

Medevac for pretty much anything. Local health care is pretty bad for anything beyond the most minor issue. Some screening procedures (e.g. ultrasounds, x-rays) are ok to be done, and there are a couple of good dentists in town. Otherwise, you're headed at least to Dubai, if not Europe for anything more serious.

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?

During the summer the sunny blue skies are the norm. In the winter, the coal-burning power plants kick in and toxic mist covers much of the city. Coupled with the tendency of people to burn trash and keep private coal heaters, the air can be just awful in the winter. Snow tends to clear out the air, but we can have days of fog/smog covering the city. It's not as bad as China, but as we don't have good air quality monitoring yet, we don't really know how bad it is. Everyone has air purifiers for the winter.

View All Answers


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

It can get a bit dusty in the summer, but otherwise the dry air keeps pollen and other allergens down.

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?

Four distinct seasons. The climate is similar to Montana, or like Denver but a bit colder. Hot, dry summers with the occasional thunderstorm. Beautiful spring with mild temperatures and occasional rain. Snowy winters, but not too horribly cold. Bishkek is in a valley, so we are always a bit warmer in the winter than other cities. Fall is pleasant as well. We are on the edge of a desert, so low humidity and dry conditions are common.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

QSI and ESCA (BIS) are the two most popular choices. ESCA currently gets the better reviews, although they actually filled up in certain grades. QSI has had some long-standing administrative issues, but many kids still go there.

View All Answers


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

Hugh number of preschools, including at least two Montessori programs. Costs are low and parents seems pretty happy with them. QSI also offers English-language preschool, but it is much more expensive from what I hear.

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

Morale at the embassy is really good. People seem to really like it here and describe it as one of their favorite posts. The expat community is small, but friendly.

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?

The Bishkek International Women's Club (BWIC) organizes a decent number of get-togethers, as well as several parties each year. Hiking and skiing are very popular, and given the massive mountains on our doorstep, lots of opportunities for trekking and exploring exist.

View All Answers


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

The embassy has a large number of families, especially with small children. Families love it because of the safety, cheap household help, and decent schools in the lower grades. Singles and couples do ok; there are social opportunities but the city isn't that large. Regional travel is challenging with few flights and visa restrictions. The happiest people without families are those that love the outdoors.

View All Answers


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

Most Kyrgyz are warm and curious about foreigners, and I've never encountered any hostility for being from elsewhere.

View All Answers


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

The beautiful snow-capped Tian Shan Mountains outside the window every day. Exploring the nearby hikes and parks. Skiing for a fraction of what it costs in the US/Europe. Yurt camping at Song Kul. Exploring the silk road cities in south Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

View All Answers


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

The scenery is amazing, the cost of living is low, and the people are friendly. It is a family-friendly post with high morale and a strong community.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

We anticipated life here being much harder. We didn't realize how pleasant and enjoyable this tour would be.

View All Answers


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

Yes, absolutely.

View All Answers


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

Surfboard, scuba gear, belief that lanes are necessary on a road.

View All Answers


4. But don't forget your:

Skis, hiking boots, snow tires, and taste for mutton.

View All Answers


Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan 09/21/17

Background:

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

Fifth overseas tour, all at high differential but pretty good family posts.

View All Answers


2. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

View All Answers


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

U.S. government.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Overall good, nice apartments downtown, and even for some families. Houses spread out in south between downtown and the embassy. From downtown during rush to embassy can be 30-40 minutes, but usually less. Lots of people have a 10-minute commute.

View All Answers


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

Cheap for produce, slightly cheaper for meats, a bit hard to find a few things, but almost everything available at good grocery stores.

View All Answers


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

Not much, did not even take advantage of our 2500 pound consumables allotment.

View All Answers


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

Lots of pretty good choices, little American fast food, just Nathans and KFC.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic pouch - 2 weeks.

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?

OK and not too expensive. The U.S. embassy has small but good gym.

View All Answers


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

ATMs probably ok to use. I cash checks.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

Not much, but basic Russian helps.

View All Answers


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

Yes, quite hard, no great sidewalks.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

Taxis, cheap and reasonably safe, one company offers internet-based call up, most of the time fare is 1-3 dollars for 5-20 minute ride in town.

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?

I'd bring at least a small SUV or 4WD like a Subaru, there are both left- and right-hand drive cars available for purchase, but rumors that importation of right-hand drive will not be allowed in future - plus they are quite dangerous to drive. Bring left-hand drive for sure. Serious opportunity for hard core off roading if ones into that.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

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

Some people pay $25-20 and say home internet is OK. We started at $80 a month and with that can almost always stream Netflix.

View All Answers


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

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?

OK vets, there is also well known dog trainer who also boards for something like $7 a day.

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?

Only teaching or embassy jobs, not too easy to find other local positions.

View All Answers


2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots, but takes some effort, Russian language skills would be very useful in this regard.

View All Answers


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

Fairly formal for work.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

Overall quite a safe city, people walk the parks in the dark early evening hours, little kids walk to school, its really very safe.

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?

Medical is not great and its quite remote for medical evacuations, etc. The U.S. embassy health unit has a medical practitioner and is well-equipped.

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?

Great, a bit of smoke in fall, but it clears out, crystal-clear air 30 minutes from town in the mountains.

View All Answers


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

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)?

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?

Moderate, not too hot, not too cold, beautiful springs and falls.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

QSI has really come down in overall quality, teachers for the most part are great, however the senior administration is unresponsive, with leadership unable to connect to the parent community. The school does not value parent input and acts as if they are a monopoly provider here, and is unresponsive to the customer, in my opinion.



There are however some good options, particularly for up to about age 13 - ESCA is really emerging as a great school and community. HOPE is pretty good as well, and their religious push is not excessive.

View All Answers


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

I heard ESCA put in an elevator for one or two students!

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?

Some, but mostly through the school, piano instructor at your home for $7 an hour, mall, games, laser tag, a marginally safe ropes course.



There are tons of hikes to do outside town, absolutely amazing and several ski resorts within an hour drive that have 10-dollar lift tickets and are excellent for learning, if one is OK with not quite as safe operation as in the U.S.

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

I would say morale is quite high, particularly for people who love the outdoors, though it is also a lovely downtown for walking and going to cafes. It is our best post so far.

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?

Lots of get-togethers, hikes, skiing, camping, going to restaurants together.

View All Answers


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

Good for all, especially for families with kids up to age 13 or so, best to have a love for the outdoors and pretty parks.

View All Answers


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

Not great.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

Work has been great with good embassy leadership and good morale despite a somewhat strained bilateral relationship.


The outdoors are amazing.


Really good families and people here.

View All Answers


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

Very easy city to live in, clean, parks, monuments, really a nice place, and mountains are 30-60 minute drive away, awesome nomadic culture, tourism is really taking off - adventure tourism, off the beaten path type especially.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely, it is a fantastic place to work and live.

View All Answers


2. Do you have any other comments?

A real gem of a post!

View All Answers


Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan 01/16/15

Background:

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

Yes- as a government employee. We lived in Belgium for a year as students.

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?

Oregon. From Bishkek to Oregon, count on 34 hours. Bishkek is an hour away from the airport, then you sit and wait in their cold, dirty airport. Then it's to Turkey, Germany, San Francisco, then Oregon.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

19 months, with a 3-month medevac back to the States.

View All Answers


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

Spouse of a Foreign Service Officer.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

The houses are very large, as well as the apartments. Every house has 3 levels, including kitchen, dining room, living room, extra rooms in the basement and bedrooms upstairs. Closets are unusual. The layouts can be strange or even awkward. Every house is decorated to the extreme. Our curtains are a ritzy shimmery gold, a chandelier in EVERYBODY'S bedroom and every ceiling has dramatic sculpture and detail to the woodwork. Nobody enjoys the style of their house, but they are nice houses and very spacious. Certain aspects of the houses are cheap- baseboards might fall off the wall easily from bumping into them, if you need to wipe something off the wall- suddenly the paint is all washing off on your rag, etc. Everyone's bathrooms smell like the sewer and it's gross. Somehow there is no blockage to the smell from the sewer and it therefor smells often. It is gross. Commute is around 20 minutes, unless traffic is bad.

View All Answers


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

In the summer veggies are DIRT CHEAP. Everyone buys strawberries and freezes them for the winter. Winter prices go up quite a bit. Prices may compare to the States in the winter. You will never see a sweet potato, and the mangoes and avocados are worthless- but you can find everything else here. Obviously, peanut butter and other products are harder to find, but definitely not impossible. There are specialty stores that carry western products.

View All Answers


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

You can get anything through amazon. Just bring a lot of the liquids- like Peanut butter, or your favorite shampoo. You can get everything else here.

View All Answers


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

There is nothing recognizable here- not even a McDonald's. Everything is local. Lots of good restaurants. You can get a really nice main course, appetizer, dessert and beverage for less than US$20.

View All Answers


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

None.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

DPO- I haven't clocked it, but I would say it takes around a month to get your mail.

View All Answers


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

Around US$3 an hour for nannies and cleaners. I've noticed an unspoken rule for the maids that they get paid for 8 hours of work, though they only work 5. A full-time driver is around US$20 a day. A gardener US$10 a day for 3 hours of work.

View All Answers


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

There are a couple gyms.

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?

Everyone operates on cash.

View All Answers


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

I think there is one Christian and one Catholic church.

View All Answers


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

Everyone speaks Russian, but Russian is a really difficult language to learn. Most set out to learn in with a tutor and give up after a couple months and decide to be fine with a small base to get by with. I know about 5 words and point and motion and it works in the market enough. There are some nannies and drivers who speak English well, and they can help you when you need.

View All Answers


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

Not a wheelchair friendly place at ALL.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

Taxis are fine.

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?

The roads are insane. You'll never ride over so many bumps and dips in your entire life. They don't repair anything well. If there is a man hole opening, they won't cover it- they will stick in a tree branch so you don't run over it. In the winter, everything is covered in ICE.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

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

Yes- US$100 a month and reliability varies. This year seems to be better than last, but I know several people who seem to always have their internet out. I think the key is being attentive and as soon as it goes out, try to reset it at home (that works a lot) and if it is still out, to call your service and get someone on it right away. They rarely need to come to your house, you just make a call and a few hours later it's working again. When it IS working, we'll stream movies on multiple devices at the same time, with no problems.

View All Answers


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

Everyone gets one at the Embassy. They're not great.

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?

The only ones I know of are with the schools.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

Most people get SO EXCITED when they find out you're American, are very friendly, and love to speak English to you- to the point of annoyance. I haven't experienced any hostility, besides observing one protest against America outside a coffee shop I was at (but it was only 5 people and mild tempered). Things go bad when it's late and/or people are drunk- which is often. People here love to drink vodka (it has it's special section in every store). The police are unreliable and Kyrgyz are SAVAGE when it comes to fighting. They will have an entire group against one guy and beat him to a bloody pulp. They have incredible road rage. During my stay, a friend got in a fender bender and stayed in their car, because the other driver was acting aggressive. The other driver proceeded to get so violent and out of control he RIPPED OFF THE DOOR HANDLE. But for day to day life, I am a mother with 3 small children, and I have always felt completely safe. I always go to the parks by myself and have had no problems, same for when my husband and I go out alone for dinner. It's when you're at a bar late at night, when things get troublesome.

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?

Basic health care has been great. There are two local doctors at the Embassy who are wonderful and competent and now there is a PA and before him there was a Nurse Practitioner. We have been to the Embassy Health Unit often with our kids and have felt very well taken care of. For anything serious- the local care is bad. Even educated people here think their back aches because they slept with the window open. I was told not to sit on the cold floor at an airport because I was pregnant, they are obsessed with kids wearing hats, and someone told me that if you wear glasses, they make you have a C section. I did, however have an ultrasound for US$12 that went very well.

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?

Moderate. Winter is are a bit nasty because everybody burns coal. The intensity varies. Trash burns all over the place in an unorganized fashion. Trash piles or cans will be smoldering for hours on main or residential roads. Summers aren't so bad. Last winter seemed so intense, but I think I've grown accustomed to it. Last year I would always want to open the windows for some "fresh air" and it would smell like a campground instantly.

View All Answers


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

DRY. You will invest in humidifiers. We have them in all our rooms and some people have them in the living areas of their house. My 4 year old daughter told me the inside of her throat "had a rash" when her humidifier broke. Dry skin can be a major problem, as well. The soles of my feet are constantly dry and cracking.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

I've had little experience with ESCA and all the teachers there seem very nice.

View All Answers


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

There are preschools EVERYWHERE. You won't have trouble finding one.

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

Varies. Some people love it here. Some people hate it and leave very early. Certain aspects of living here are stressful. Some of the people here are very friendly and warm- but at the same time, they lie to you and try to cheat you. When it comes to driving, and crossing the road on foot- people are just plain stupid. I can't count how many times we've almost run people over or hit other cars because people are SOOOOOO wreckless. There is SO MUCH DIRT EVERYWHERE. If you have small children you carry around, be prepared to be constantly covered in thick dust. It's ugly here. Every building is square and cement. It is so unattractive. It improves in the summer with leaves and trees, but the winter is so ugly. Broken windows, falling apart houses, smoldering trash, pollution- it's just not a beautiful city.

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?

Restaurants, hiking, rock climbing, bars. Entertaining at home.

View All Answers


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

It's good for everyone. There is a lot to do for kids. Indoor playgrounds and bouncy houses everywhere. I've known a lot of single women here who all seem to be happy here.

View All Answers


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

The only thing I enjoy here are the incredible mountains. Words cannot describe how spectacular they are. But in the city, you can't even see them because of pollution. That's about it. The local dishes are good, but there are only a few- lagman and plov are good.

View All Answers


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

At first glance, there's not much to do here. But there are a lot of restaurants, mountain activities (hiking, rockclimbing), opera house and ballet (for cheap). There are random activities going on all the time- butterfly exhibit, special performances, art exhibits, etc.

View All Answers


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

Felt everything. Really cool rugs.

View All Answers


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

Saving a lot of money. If you like to hike, the mountains are simply unforgettable. Really glorious. You can eat at some decent restaurants for pretty cheap. The variety of restaurants is surprising. Georgian, Lebanese, American, Chinese, pizza and of course local food.

View All Answers


8. Can you save money?

Yes.

View All Answers


Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan 05/13/14

Background:

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

We have also lived in the Middle East, Europe, and South America.

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?

We don't have a home base in the U.S. but any flight to Kyrgyzstan is long no matter what part of the country you're flying from. We have connected through Istanbul and Moscow and both are good options.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

We lived there in 2005-2006 and again in 2011-2012.

View All Answers


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

Academic.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We rented an apartment both times we lived in Bishkek. There are a wide range of houses and apartments in different parts of the city. We prefer apartments in the center. The U.S. Embassy is a little out of the city which is inconvenient, in my opinion, if you're working there, but the traffic is never horrible and it's a pleasant drive out to the Embassy.

View All Answers


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

There are a wide range of groceries available and I rarely felt limited there but I wasn't looking for certain brands and got very comfortable with substitutes and making almost everything myself. Everything is cheap if you stick with local products.

View All Answers


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

We weren't able to ship anything either time we lived there but it wasn't a problem. I never did find a source for coconut milk, fish sauce, curry paste, or tamarind. There are a couple of small Chinese stores where you can get date/red sugar to use for brown sugar plus your typical Chinese ingredients. The bazaars have a wide variety of food and I shopped almost exclusively at them rather than the few supermarkets.

View All Answers


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

There are no Western chains there. But there are many, many great restaurants in town with international and local cuisine. There's also a lot of good street food. Eating is cheap in Bishkek except in a few Western-style places that don't have great food anyway.

View All Answers


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

Flies, mosquitoes, and ants are the only annoyances in the summer.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

Yes, quite a few, although most aren't in downtown Bishkek. They can be pricey.

View All Answers


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

There are plenty of ATMs around and we never had a problem using them. Hardly anyone takes credit cards here or at least the kinds of stores I frequented didn't.

View All Answers


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

The more Russian you know, the better off you'll be. Few people speak English, although I've known people who didn't learn any Russian and were fine. It was becoming more common to hear Kyrgyz in Bishkek and it's a good idea to learn a little Kyrgyz too. It would be appreciated. But Russian is still more useful in Bishkek.

View All Answers


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

Kyrgyzstan doesn't accommodate physical disabilities very well. While we know physically-disabled people who live there comfortably, it's not always easy.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

We rode the marshrutkas all the time if it was too far to walk. They're cheap and safe, although crowded and minor pickpocketing might go on, although it never happened to me. There are plenty of taxis; you can call one, or get one on the street. We always just got one on the street when we needed one.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

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

We paid about US$50/month for internet access that was able to stream videos.

View All Answers


Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many. There are plenty of ways to get connected.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

We never had a problem or concern beyond your usual precautions living in a city.

View All Answers


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?

I know some people think it's really bad, and it can be in Bishkek on the streets, but overall it's not bad at all especially in comparison to many Asian cities.

View All Answers


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

It's always reminded me a lot of the intermountain western U.S. Hot, dry summers and cold snowy winters with spring and summer lasting a couple of months each.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

The two major international schools are QSI Bishkek and Hope Academy. We couldn't afford either school and had to homeschool but if I had a choice, I'd choose QSIB over Hope for academics. Both schools are willing to work with homeschoolers who want to do some electives there. The people at both schools are very nice. There are several other international schools here that are good too but I don't think very many Western expats use them yet.

View All Answers


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

Not much, although we knew people who were recently hired to help with this at the international schools. We also had friends whose kids are SN and they choose to homeschool because the international schools couldn't help much.

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?

There are lots of options from kindergartens to nannies and everything else. 200 som/hour for many services was fairly typical in 2012.

View All Answers


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

There are a reasonable number of options through the schools and the gyms in the area. Our kids (middle school) were happy with what we were able to work out.

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

We didn't know very many expats but we certainly were happy as a family in Bishkek.

View All Answers


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

I suspect it would be better in Bishkek than in many Muslim-majority countries.

View All Answers


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

There is currently a move toward Kyrgyz nationalism, which is unfortunate since about a third of the population isn't ethnically Kyrgyz. Bishkek still has a large Russian population and it's a very diverse city. Expats rarely have any kind of trouble in Bishkek. Certainly there are gender issues here but they aren't as obvious as in many places.

View All Answers


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

Learning about Central Asian culture and religion. Making new friends. Learning new languages. Meeting people from all over the former Soviet Union and hearing about their lives.

View All Answers


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

There are many outdoor options especially if you have a car. We enjoy doing CBT stays. There is lots of hiking, climbing, and horseback riding. We weren't able to go much but regional travel is amazing. Go to Uzbekistan if you can.

View All Answers


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

Shyrdaks, textiles, and chuko bones.

View All Answers


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

I'm not sure there is anything in particular that's amazing about Bishkek although I really liked it there. I especially liked the food and the people. It's a pretty cheap place to live and it's nice to have four seasons. The air is generally clean, the mountains are lovely and very close, and Kyrgyzstan is interesting to explore. You can't beat a field trip for your children that includes a just-butchered sheep for lunch.

View All Answers


8. Can you save money?

Yes.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

YES!

View All Answers


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

First world life. You'll be frustrated, of course, if you want everything to run smoothly. But you don't have to expect third world conditions either.

View All Answers


3. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure. Kyrgyzstan is a lovely and fascinating country if you give it a chance.

View All Answers


4. Do you have any other comments?

Bishkek is very good city to choose if you need a hardship post that is safe and livable.

View All Answers


Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan 12/17/11

Background:

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

Harare, Srimangal, Washington DC, Delhi, Brussels.

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?

From the US East Coast it is 8 hours to London, then 9 hours to Bishkek. Alternatively, 10 hours to Istanbul and 5 hours to Bishkek.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

15 months.

View All Answers


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

Overseas assignment.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

The maximum commute would be 25-30 minutes, if you deliberately live far from your office and leave at the peak of the rush hour. But traffic densities are visibly increasing from year to year. Housing is easy to find: Soviet era apartments, modern apartments and modern houses are all on the market. The critical thing is to make sure that the utilities are working reliably, especially heating.

View All Answers


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

Two supermarket chains (Narodny and Beta) sell mostly Kyrgyz, Russian and Turkish groceries. There are specialised Korean and Chinese groceries. Clean and well-organised markets around the city sell fresh produce. Prices range from good value to dirt-cheap. Chinese and Turkish clothing and footwear are easily available.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

You can have a good Russian, Chinese, Indian or western meal for about $10/head. There are two fast-food chains (Begemot and Domino) which sell ok burgers and little else for $1.

View All Answers


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

There is no reliable certification of organic produce, but much of the meat, fruit and veg for sale is said to be organic anyway. Gluten-free products are not available; neither are manufactured meat substitutes, unless you count tofu.

View All Answers


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

The insect life is surprisingly benign. Even in high summer in Bishkek, mosquitoes are not a problem.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

I get friends to mail for me. Even a postcard home took about 2 months.

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, though of course not to the standard of suburban America.

View All Answers


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

ATMs are easily available in Bishkek. Some of them dispense US dollars. Most businesses do business in both dollars and local currency, and there is a free and extremely efficient trade between the two currencies, with money changers all over the city.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

The main cable TV channel offers a good enough selection of English-language channels. Books, newspapers, and magazines for sale locally are in Russian or Kyrgyz.

View All Answers


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

English does not take you far. Expats mostly learn enough Russian or Kyrgyz to deal with plumbers, taxis, markets, etc.

View All Answers


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

This person would be dependent on their own resources. Local people with impaired mobility are often housebound as a consequence.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

Some expats use local city buses, which run to clear, organised routes, but can get extremely crowded at peak times. Taxis cost $2-3 to go from one side of town to the other, and can be ordered by phone from some well-recognized companies. You can pick up a taxi on the street, but there is a very slight risk attached.

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?

Bishkek is the final resting place for every type of vehicle known to man: Ladas mingle with American Lexuses, German station wagons and Japanese minivans. Take something rugged and simple that likes potholes and ice. If you buy a new car, it will soon get its first dent.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

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

The fastest consumer broadband, which can just about stream a YouTube video on a good day, costs about $55/month.

View All Answers


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

A SIM card costs $3-5 and you're off. Beeline and Megacom are the biggest networks. For $10 you can get a "VIP" phone number.

View All Answers


Pets:

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

View All Answers


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

Most expats with pets entrust them to a friend or gardener when away. There are good enough veterinary services in Bishkek. Samson clinic is recommended.

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?

To give an idea of the local job market, an executive assistant with a degree and fluent in English, Russian and Kyrgyz would earn about $7 an hour. For those without fluent Russian, the opportunities are limited to specialist assignments with international organizations, teaching, and volunteering.

View All Answers


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

Formal at work.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

It's fairly safe, so long as you're sensible. There are stories of drunks getting mugged coming out of bars and of policemen trying to get foreigners to turn out their wallets.

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?

Road safety is probably the greatest health hazard. The health care infrastructure is rudimentary and underfunded. An expat with acute appendicitis, for example, was operated on in a public hospital and then medevaced to Istanbul as soon as possible to convalesce.

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?

Mostly good, though there are parts of Bishkek that suffer from the combined heating and power plant's emissions in winter.

View All Answers


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

The climate is continental. Early morning in January might be -20 degrees Celsius. Mid-afternoon in July might be +40 degrees in the shade.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

There is a QSI School which follows the US curriculum. It's small and the academic level is just about acceptable until age 13, after which the classes become tiny. Another US-model school is the Hope Academy, which has a strong missionary influence. There is a new European School, founded in 2011, which hopes to make a mark.

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?

Not really.

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

It depends what you count as expat. The western community is smallish and close-knit, unless you count the US base at Manas airport.

View All Answers


2. Morale among expats:

Morale is high among those with a job. For those without it is important to keep busy.

View All Answers


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

If you like making friends, you will make them, entertain, and be entertained.

View All Answers


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

Very few people complain about life in Bishkek. Morale is high. Single men seem not to remain single long in Bishkek.

View All Answers


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

Bishkek boasts a small gay scene, but the city is where it is.

View All Answers


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

Bishkek people are familiar with African-Americans from the US airbase, though there is some giggling and staring, mostly from teenage girls. Kyrgyz women have a reputation for feistiness, and have no problem speaking their mind, at least in Bishkek and the north. Women can dress pretty much as they like - and do. Relations are good enough between European Russians and Asian Kyrgyz. There was brutal fighting in 2010 between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, but expats are unlikely to meet anything more serious by way of ethnic prejudice than curiosity and the very occasional drunken outburst.

View All Answers


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

Learning Russian, fruit that tastes like fruit, surprising kindnesses, trips to the mountains, eating out, the state opera, and ballet.

View All Answers


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

Hiking, riding, skiing, opera, ballet, eating.

View All Answers


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

Vodka, furry hats and felt cushion covers.

View All Answers


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

Bishkek is one of the world's least expensive capital cities. In the summer months Kyrgyzstan's unspoilt mountain scenery is a paradise for hikers and horse-riders. There is a good choice of organizations that will arrange itineraries, guides and accommodation. There are beach-side resorts, ranging from Soviet to 4* quality, on Issyk-Kul lake. The people of Kyrgyzstan are generally open-minded and welcoming to foreigners. Visitors are unlikely to be hassled, and will make friendships if they are able to surmount the language barrier. The climate is pleasant from May to October, with an abundance of fruit and fresh produce. Summers are positively Mediterranean, but the less said about the winters the better. Bishkek is good for eating out on the cheap. Visitors from all other central Asian countries are jealous of our range of restaurants.

View All Answers


11. Can you save money?

If you can't save money here, you never will. How much can a person spend on felt cushion covers ?

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

View All Answers


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

Fear of cholesterol.

View All Answers


3. But don't forget your:

Russian verbs of motion.

View All Answers


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

Still waiting to be written.

View All Answers


5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

View All Answers


6. Do you have any other comments?

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