Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 07/16/19

Background:

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

This was our 3rd, after Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

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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?

It is difficult and very time consuming to travel back to the U.S. Plan on an entire day of travel through limited connections.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One and a half years.

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

Department of State.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

There are two main neighborhoods, one for singles, one for families, both of which are near parks. The houses are well-maintained and the neighborhood has more greenery than the city. There's a soccer field in the summer and an ice rink in the winter time. Star also has a gym and a greenhouse for tenants. The apartments have a gym, pool, and is connected to the mall with restaurants, movie theater, and a food court.

Commute times are about 10 minutes in the morning, if you leave at 8am before traffic picks up. If you leave later, it takes 20-30 minutes. Coming home usually takes 30 minutes.

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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 find most foods here, but organic or gluten-free foods are harder to find and more expensive than in the U.S. Fruit is more expensive in the winter because it is all imported. In general, you can get most things here. There's the pouch too, so you can order some things to supplement what you can't find here.

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

I'm glad for the spaghetti sauce because the local type is like the European sauce not the American sauce. Peanut butter and juices were nice to have on hand.

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

Pizza Hut, California, Rosewood and the Butchery, Xaan Deli, Millie's, and lots of coffee shops are popular places to eat. Lots of places deliver, even produce or meat shops.

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

No.

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Daily Life:

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

Use the Embassy pouch. It goes out once a week. Incoming mail comes twice a week and is generally reliable.

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

Help is available for about $3 an hour. It is difficult to find English speaking helpers, and they go quickly.

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

Both neighborhoods have gyms. They are both nice. It's free if you live 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?

Credit cards are widely used without a problem. We don't use ATMs, but others do with success at a select few.

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

There are a handful of churches with English services: LDS, Christian, etc.

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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?

Thank you, goodbye, yes, no, basic numbers will suffice. The Embassy has Mongolian teachers. Most people speak English at coffee shops, restaurants, and popular places.

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

Yes, because of the bumpy sidewalks and traffic.

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Transportation:

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

Help Taxi is very reliable and reasonably priced.

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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?

Toyota SUV, there are plenty of Toyotas here. A dealer is behind Star Apartments for oil changes, tire changes, etc. There are a lot of Toyota Prius' here, but I would NOT advise bringing a small or low riding car. When going to the country side, you'll be glad for your SUV.

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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. It is installed upon arrival.

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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?

Local provider is very cheap and reliable.

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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 only a few EFM jobs at the Embassy. They are both full and part-time.

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

Formal dress for the Marine Ball, nice dresses for embassy functions, and normal dress for every day in the city.

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Health & Safety:

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

Pick pocketing is the biggest crime in the city.

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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?

The air pollution is terrible in the winter, so you'll need to wear a mask. Because of that, if you have asthma or breathing conditions then it will affect you. People try to leave the city on weekends to get clean air. The summer still has moderate pollution.

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

Winter blues visits us here in Ulaanbaatar because the winter is so long.

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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?

It is really dry here, your skin will soak up lotion all year long.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are several international schools here: ISU, British, French, and more. American kids go to either ISU or the French school.

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

The French school is affordable for preschool age. It also offers after school care.

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

It is difficult to find activities for kids such as music lessons or gymnastics.

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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 is fine in the summer, but towards the end of winter it gets low.

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

Mongolians are very nationalistic and seem to look down on foreign men dating Mongolian women.

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

Everyone buys cashmere or paintings.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

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2. But don't forget your:

Skis, hiking boots, and adventure.

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Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 10/11/16

Background:

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

Third overseas experience with the Department of State.

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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?

Where is home these days? Our home state is TX and it's a good 24-hour trip (plus or minus a few hours depending on connections) plus the additional excitement of crossing the international dateline. Pack that melatonin and caffeine.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Over a year.

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

My husband works at the 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?

We are very happy with our housing. Most embassy employees (including us) live at Star Apartments, which is a wonderful little oasis in the middle of chaotic UB. It's very centrally located (easy walking to city center, about 35 minutes to US embassy on foot).



This summer the Shangri-La mall opened literally next door and houses a movie theater (including an IMAX!), restaurants, and upscale shopping. Star apartment consists of townhouses, a few stand-alone houses, and apartments. Most are very happy with housing as it's spacious and has a back-up generator. The complex is also home to the Embassy community center, medical unit, a nice gym, playground, and greenhouse (yep, that one is definitely seasonal).

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

I am really amazed with how many things we can get here. Most products are from Russia or Korea and the availability is truly impressive even in winter (although more limited). American products can be found at a steep price often Russian or European equivalents are more affordable. Sometimes there appear to be shortages (butter! cream!) so one shopping rule here is that you buy it when you see it if you think you will (ever) use it.



Yes, it's a consumable post and you will need that allotment for liquids (honey, maple syrup, olive oil, toiletries) and baking supplies as those are often hard to find and can be pretty expensive. But overall, I spend less on groceries here than I do in the U.S.

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

Liquids (olive oil, maple syrup, honey) and baking supplies which can easily be shipped in your consumables.

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

Restaurants can be hit or miss but some are reliably good such as Rosewood (US chef), Namaste (Indian), and Hana (sushi, yes, in a landlocked country) just keep in mind that the fresh seafood gets shipped in on Thursday evenings so it's best to avoid sushi after Mondays in UB.



There is an amazing smart-phone delivery system called "songo" (app) that allows you to order from restaurants online with a minimal delivery fee; the app also delivers grocery food items. It's game changer!



Then, there is also the very popular "greenbox“ an organic vegetable delivery service that fills a box with fresh, organic greens and delivers it to your front door for US$10. Cannot beat that.

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

This is where the cold can be helpful as it kills insects! However, I have had plenty of ant invasions in the summer and there are tons of pesky flies in summer as well.

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Daily Life:

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

Embassy is pouch only (DPO to Hong Kong, then pouch to UB) so keep that in mind when you are doing your consumables shopping.



Some have sent postcards through the Mongolian mail and they arrived in the US after a few weeks of travel.

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

Household help is readily available but it can be hard to find the right person (as is the case for other places as well). We have a part-time helper for a few hours every day and we pay her US$260 per month, which is the norm (perhaps a bit higher). Full-time nannies are around US$400 and up per month.

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

Star has a great gym with sauna. The Shangri-La mall opened an amazing gym next to Star with a swimming pool but the price is a bit through the roof and unrealistic for Mongolia (around US$200 per month). There is also a new Gold's Gym close-by with similar high prices. I take yoga classes with a fantastic instructor and pay about US$10 for each session.

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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?

I have not had problems using either. I know of a few ATM scams especially at the airport so something to keep in mind.

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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?

You can take classes through the embassy. I took classes before we arrived and I was thankful to have an understanding of the alphabet and was able to hold very, very basic conversation (the Mongolian language is no easy feat). There is enough English spoken in UB that one can easily live here without speaking Mongolian. However, outside of UB it's a different story. Not many foreigners speak Mongolian even if they have lived here for many years.

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

YES. Anyone navigating the sidewalks and streets has challenges (holes, uneven surfaces, lack of safe space completely) and once the ice and snow are on the ground, it becomes much more challenging.

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Transportation:

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

Buses are not recommended due to over-crowding and pick-pocketing. There is an English-speaking Taxi service called "Help Taxi" that is a bit more expensive than local taxis but they are reliable and speak English. Overall, it's pretty cheap to get around town.

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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?

Definitely SUV or something that survives off-road. Roads in UB are paved but once you leave the city, chances are you'll head off-road. Winter conditions leave terrible potholes on the few paved roads as well. Many people have Toyota's: easy maintenance for them here. Also keep in mind that diesel engines do not work in the extreme cold.

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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?

Another benefit of Star! We arrived to installed internet and since everything is pre-wired, this is a painless procedure.

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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?

Bring an iphone/smartphone so you can install the songo app for food delivery! Tedy center can unlock phones (although you might not want to see how they do it as it involves pulling out some wires and fusing some before they confidently tell you it's unlocked). It generally is easy-- just take a Mongolian speaker to help you translate.



Mobicom provides local sim cards and pay-as-you go plans are very reasonable (I pay about US$100 for 3G data and phone; this lasts me about a year). The Mobicom office close to Shangri-La mall employs English-speaking staff.

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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 the embassy. I work on the local economy in higher education and consulting. Local rates are definitely not what they are back home but there is a chance to make a difference in an emerging country and economy.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Plenty of orphanages, NGOs etc. Whatever you are interested in.

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

Mongolian women like to dress up to most events (often short skirts, even in the dead of winter). The colorful and beautiful Mongolian national dresses are popular on Mongolian holidays.

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Health & Safety:

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

During spring (and around holidays), there is an increase of drunk people (mostly men) who like to harass foreigners on the street. I have had a few instances of this, but never felt threatened or uncomfortable. It's just normal big city stuff. The biggest problem here is crossing the street without getting hit as well as avoiding petty theft.

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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 embassy medical unit is fantastic. It is staffed by a US nurse and a fabulous local doctor (pediatrician) and local nurse. That said, there are regular medical evacuations for anything beyond routine care. A new hospital (Intermed) opened last year and medical care seems to be getting better.



Dentistry here is good and cheap.



The biggest health threat is the terrible winter air pollution that is on par with (and sometimes worse than) Beijing and New Delhi during the winter months. See my article in the October 2016 edition of the Foreign Service Journal. It's one of those things you think you are prepared for until you live in i. I will never take clean air for granted again.

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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?

See above. Terrible, simply terrible winter air pollution from October through March/April. Some children develop respiratory problems. Face masks are a necessity.

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

If you have asthma, I would reconsider coming here due to the air pollution in winter. My son has food sensitivities and I've been amazed at the variety of gluten-free products (though expensive) available here. There are many non-dairy milk alternatives as well.

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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)?

Well, we have about 6 months of bitter cold winter. So you have to make the effort to get out and exercise even if it's -20/-30F and the air is polluted.

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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?

Oh, it's cold alright! UB is one of the (if not the) coldest capital cities in the world and with good reason. That said, the summer and fall are beautiful! It's also a very dry climate all year round so make sure to drink plenty of water and hydrate your skin.

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Schools & Children:

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

All embassy kids go to the International School of Ulaanbaatar (ISU). My kids are elementary-school aged and we've been very pleased with the kids' education and their teachers. There are some logistical issues with the school administration that cause frustration (lack of communication; limited new arrival information) but hopefully the new school director (arriving Fall 2017) will address this.

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

ISU has a preschool (Pre-K 3 and 4) but the tuition is crazy expensive. That said, we sucked it up for our daughter as there are limited alternative options.

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

Children grade 1 and up can choose from a number of after-school activities at ISU. Local classes outside of that for sports are hard to find and often have inflexible schedules; that said, one of the Mongolian Moms organized soccer lessons at Star apartments with a (semi)-professional player and a new ballet school opened up across the street. Things are always changing here.

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Expat Life:

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

The embassy community seems like a close group. There are many activities and you can be as involved as you like. Morale is higher in the summer/fall than the bitter cold winter!

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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?

Aside from embassy, the ISU PTG is a great resource as is the international women's association (IWAM). It's a small group of expats here and chances are, you'll meet all of them after attending a few events.

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

Families with school-aged children like it here as the school is great and provides a nice community for families and children. The winter air pollution greatly limits outdoor winter activities in the city. I imagine it to be a difficult post for families with younger children due to limited activities and the winter pollution; on the other hand, nannies are readily available and inexpensive. Couples seem to fare well. I imagine it to be more difficult for single people as the expat community is small.

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

Amazing, beautiful countryside and landscape esp. in Gobi (looking for dinosaur fossils) and the West (don't miss the annual Kazakh/Mongolian eagle hunter festival).

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

Head to Terlej park (about 1 hour drive) for horse-back riding, hiking, exploring or sledding in the winter. We even went dog sledding on the frozen river in the winter, an unforgettable experience for sure.



Hike around the Observatory or Bogd Khan mountain south of the city; go skiing and sledding at Sky Resort in the winter; spend some time at the amazing National Museum; warm up with coffee and treats at favorite coffee shops like Millie's and Code.



Or just hop in the car and drive anywhere outside of UB for a change in scenery and fresh air.

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

I have never shopped so much in my life! Our house resembles little (or rather, big) Mongolia at this point. You can get anything you want: custom-made furniture & clothing, beautiful artwork, cashmere and camel/yak wool products, rugs, sheep-lined fur coats, etc.

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

Well, it's not a stunningly beautiful city and it has its share of problems (traffic, pollution) but you are in Mongolia!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I can't say I didn't know about the pollution ahead of time but I didn't realize that it penetrates every aspect of your life in the winter (it's in your hair, your clothes) you simply cannot prepare for it and you can't escape it unless you leave the city.

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

Despite the pollution, yes. It's an amazing place to live and get to know.

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

Bikini.

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4. But don't forget your:

Heavy duty winter gear, pollution mask, and patience on the road.

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

There are new documentaries in production at the moment, most notably "Live from UB" and "The Eagle Huntress" (the latter having received mixed reviews).

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Yes, it's cold and far, far away but this is a beautiful off the beaten track kind of posting. We extended our assignment as others have done and we'll be sad to leave Mongolia.

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Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 02/28/15

Background:

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

No. We've also been posted to Washington, DC, Manila, Abidjan, Bishkek, Kiev and Colombo.

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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?

UK. Shortest is 12 hours with Aeroflot via Moscow. Although longer, I'd recommend to transfer through Seoul, or Beijing - it does pile on another 6 hours or so, but the choice of airlines is greater that way and it usually ends up more comfortable. Turkish Airlines offers connections via Istanbul, but the dead-of-night stop in Bishkek (with de-planing) is exhausting.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Over 3 years.

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

Official assignment.

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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 vast majority of UB's expat residents live in apartments, with very few free-standing houses. The standard of apartments varies by cost, of course, and ranges from socialist era apartment blocks to more upscale condominiums, often built during the recent boom years when mining was at its peak. Most expats live in the centre of UB, although some (including ourselves) opted to live further out of town, in Zaisan, where air quality is better. However this does make for commuting times of 30-45 minutes which is an issue for many. If one has a car, heated parking spaces are a must, and which does restrict one's choice.

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

Not too bad. Of late, availability of groceries and supplies has declined, and prices remain very high for imported produce, especially fruits, vegetables and other fresh produce which are at painfully raised levels. Local produce can be of decent quality, but is also not cheap, and the range is rather limited to meat, dairy and flour-based products. Basically one does need a source of imported food, and occasional food trips to places like Hong Kong are advisable. For cleaning products and toiletries there are a good selection of German products.

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

Good quality cotton-only bed linen. A football/foosball table for the long winters. Good quality cat litter. Muesli.

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

KFC and Pizza Hut are recent arrivals. RoundTop pizza, the Californian chain, is very decent. The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and Caffe Ti-amo are the only international coffee chains, but with some very decent local cafes also. There is a good selection of restaurants, with some excellent South Asian and Japanese food available. Reflecting the socialist past, one can find several Ukrainian, Cuban and Russian places as well. Of late Korean food has become popular, although the quality of the many restaurants varies widely. Prices start at about US$10/person to eat out at the more basic places, to about US$30 at a fancier place, and places with far, far higher price tags.

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

Nothing to speak of in UB - none of the typical concerns of tropical countries like dengue or malaria. Cockroaches happily absent! Biggest problem would be gnats and mites in summer in forest and lake areas, so do bring some repellent for such trips.

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Daily Life:

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

By pouch and also with the regular post, using a PO Box. Mongolian post has always been very reliable, including shipment of parcels/packages, although it's slow (3 weeks or so from Europe or North America). Items ordered from retailers like Brooks Brothers come by DHL/FedEx in 5 days or so. I enjoy sending letters by Mongolian post as they have some really beautiful stamps.

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

This is not something that's really a common thing in Mongolia, unlike in SE Asia for example, and homes are rarely equipped for live-in maids, for example. It's more common to hire someone on a daily or occasional basis to do cleaning/ironing etc. Payment varies widely, starting from US$20/day - we generally paid about US$30-$40 depending on the work at hand.

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

Yes, at international hotels and in many of the residential compounds.

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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?

No problems. Credit cards are widely used and ATMs available around the country. I don't have concerns about fraud as I would in many other places. The other day I saw a lady telling her young daughter quite loudly and openly what PIN to enter at the ATM - generally it's pretty trusting and I just hope it does last!

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

Several Christian denominations.

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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?

It helps enormously to know some basic Mongolian - this is not an English-speaking country, although many people nowadays do learn it. Even basic Mongolian skills will generate a great deal of goodwill which makes everyday transactions much easier and more pleasant.

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

Yes. With the economic boom there are cars everywhere with most pedestrian zones parked over and cars competing for limited space. Also in winter the sidewalks are covered in ice and become extremely slippery. Many buildings have ultra-smooth marble entry stairs which are super-slippery and just dangerous.

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Transportation:

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

Trains are pleasant and cheap and a first class sleeper car (for 4 or 2 persons) is the way to go. They are slow but the fun is in the journey itself, and it's a great way to see the diverse landscapes of Mongolia. We travelled a lot on the trains and they seem perfectly safe. As we drove ourselves everywhere, I can't comment on the buses. Taxi services are quite well organised and seem well managed - given the ultra-slow traffic speed in UB I would't worry about accidents. As for personal safety again, based on hearsay, so long as you use a good company it should be fine.

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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?

This depends largely on whether one plans to travel much outside UB. For city driving a sedan or hatchback is fine, but not much use outside the capital. Mongolian roads can compete with the world's worst, and have to be seen to be believed, so a 4WD is a must if one plans countryside excursions. The Toyota Landcruiser is the most popular among Mongolians, with the similarly heavy-duty Nissan Patrol also quite prevalent. Japanese brands dominate and have official dealers with service/maintenance offered. Given the vast distances and extreme weather, reliability is a must. A 2nd gas/petrol tank comes in handy for the long distances.

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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, up to 15MBS. We paid about US$20 monthly for unlimited 5MBS service.

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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?

There are several good local companies offering a variety of plans and pay-as-you-go arrangements (we use Mobicom). Quality of cellphone service is very good generally, and coverage is surprisingly good even outside UB.

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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?

We used 'UB Vet' who offer medical and boarding services of a good standard.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

Very limited at present, although the labour market does tend to depend largely on the state of the dominant mining sector, which currently finds itself in a severe downturn.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are a few opportunities with local NGOs, although without a knowledge of Mongolian, one will be very limited in the ability to work with local colleagues.

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

Certainly quite formal and Mongolians do dress up, especially on national holidays and ceremonial occasions. This is a place where dressing down is generally not admired, even very remote regions. Scruffy appearances are a no-no.

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Health & Safety:

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

Mongolia as a whole is a pretty peaceful place, and crime is very mild by developing country standards. I've yet to hear of a carjacking, for example. There are some scams like pickpocketing of phones, and then asking for a reward to get it back. Violence against foreigners seems to be closely correlated with drunks at night, so - knowing these factors - one can manage risk. I walk pretty much everywhere in UB and the biggest danger are the undisciplined drivers. I'd say that the biggest security concern comes with travel outside UB and not being prepared, given the long distances and extreme weather - go well prepared (with plenty of water) and preferably a satellite phone. People in the countryside are extraordinarily helpful if you do get lost, but one can drive for hours without seeing a soul!

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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?

Water quality can be poor so care is needed, and always travel with good stocks of bottled water. Hepatitis C is widespread, with many medical workers infected.

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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?

Seriously bad in winter - according to WHO the worst air quality of any capital city. Half of the population lives in traditional tents, using coal for heating. The result is heavy smoke that gets trapped in the valley which UB finds itself in, and which functions as a natural windbreak. Heavy duty air purifiers are essential, as are regular excursions outside of UB for a breath of fresh air. Air quality in summer is fine.

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

Hayfever is a problem in summer, given the grasslands, so come prepared. On food allergies nothing particular comes to mind.

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

Very cold winters - UB holds the proud accolade of the world's coldest capital. However, with good clothing it's perfectly manageable. Summers are pleasant and quite hot. Spring can only be described as moody, with massive swings in pressure, temperature and precipitation in a matter of hours.

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Schools & Children:

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

The International School of Ulaanbaatar (ISU), sadly, was our only really negative experience in Mongolia. Low teaching standards, an abysmal management more focused on building new facilities than children, poor discipline and questionable ethics are the unfortunate hallmarks of ISU. The American School of Ulaanbaatar, in contrast, gets positive reviews from parents - despite the name, the curriculum is actually Canadian. There is also a new British School of Ulaanbaatar, but it's still in formation, and hard to assess, although the signs are promising.

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

No direct experience, but there are plenty of private kindergartens available. Some expats put their children into Mongolian pre-schools and are happy.

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

Yes, but not that organised as in many other countries, and a great deal of detective work and follow-up would be needed. Information management and marketing is not a Mongolian forte. Horse-riding comes to mind.

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Expat Life:

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

It varies according to the state of the mining sector, and with the downturn the current expat numbers are substantial, but not high. With mining-related personnel making up the vast majority of foreigners, morale is also closely correlated to that industry's fortunes. Given the major backlash in Mongolia against mining (due to concerns about environmental damage, conflict with the nomadic lifestyle, corruption) this can be expected to continue. Several mining executives have been prevented from leaving the country recently pending legal proceedings, and this had a major impact. For the diplomatic community, morale tends to be good.

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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?

Dinner parties, picnics, visiting the theatre, opera, hiking.

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

For singles and couples I would say it's fine. For families, the key will be the choice of school, and one needs to give real priority to this important decision: I would hesitate to recommend to bring older children to UB at present given the paucity of choice, and the impact that lost time may have in their academic career down the line.

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

Should be fine I would think.

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

Not pronounced but there are some pockets of misogyny and racial prejudice, with some minority extremist political parties occasionally causing disquiet.

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

Travelling to some truly spectacular places around the country, incredible monasteries, landscapes in one of the world's last nomadic societies.

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

Mostly travelling around the vast country which is highly diverse.

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

Endless cashmere, camel hair and yak wool items. Beautiful coats, hats, gloves. My personal favourites are the cashmere sleeping bags we picked up (at US$60 each!).

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

Touring for sure - Mongolia is really unique, with a fascinating culture, history and amazing diversity of landscapes (forest, desert, mountains, steppe) plus flora and fauna.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes, but one shouldn't do so at the cost of one's comfort in what can be a difficult post, given the climate and pollution. Mobility is important, but this doesn't come cheap. Mongolia is a vast, diverse country and it pays to explore the place, but this does take time and money.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How bad the International School would be.

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

Yes, but we would be careful on the choice of school and steer well clear of the International School.

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

Tropical diving gear and flip-flops.

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4. But don't forget your:

Wanderlust.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, "The Lost County" by Jasper Becker.

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Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 05/29/12

Background:

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

No, Stuttgart, Okinawa.

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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?

Houston, Texas. 18 hours of flying with bad connections.

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3. How long have you lived here?

8 months.

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

State Department.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

American Embassy housing is excellent. Most expat housing is great too. Almost all are apartments. Commute time for American embassy people is 10-60 minutes, depending on time of day and housing location.

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

In Ulaanbaatar there are grocery stores that cater to foreigners that have most common items. Regular grocery stores are well stocked with meat, dairy, sweets, pickled veggies, beer, and vodka. Prices are reasonable except for imported fruits and vegetables but you can get them year round.

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

Spare auto tires. Snow skis. A mountain bike.

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

There are currently no American fast food chains here. There is plenty of Mongolian, Korean, etc fast food. Local food is very cheap. A good, but basic, meal costs less than 5000 tugruk (currently US$4)

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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?

There are few foods labeled as organic/bio. Much of the local product probably is due to cost of those "enhancements". This is a tough place for vegetarians. The Mongolians are meat eaters and it is almost impossible to find a meatless meal outside of Ulaanbaatar.

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

Not so far, but we have not done a summer here.

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Daily Life:

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

We use the embassy 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?

Between $300-400 per month, but inflation is rapidly increasing labor prices.

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

Embassy does not have a gym. The residents at Star have a nice gym in the complex. Running and biking in the city are not attractive from any standpoint.

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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?

No experience.

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

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

Yes, cost unknown.

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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?

In Ulaanbaatar, foreigners can get away with no Mongolian. One would not be able to function in the countryside without the basics. Mongolian is a difficult language, but 2-3 months of study will provide that basics that will allow good daily interactions. One has to learn Mongolian Cyrillic to do that. Russian goes a long way with Mongolians over 35. German helps a little bit as well as Chinese and Korean.

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

Lack of elevators, horrible sidewalks, if they even exist, the brutal cold.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are safe and affordable. Trains are a Mongolian experience. Buses are said to be a haven for pickpockets, but very cheap.

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

A rugged, high clearance four-wheel drive is a necessity if you want to gallivant about the countryside. Toyota Land Cruisers are the local vehicle of choice among the wealthy. If you stay in Ulaanbaatar, any car is fine. Our Suburu Outback has done well but we are limited by some of the river crossings and mud bogs. No experience yet on obtaining auto parts. Good snow and/or off-road tires are a must; bring extras in your household goods. Never heard of a carjacking here.

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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, more expensive than in the USA.

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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?

Cell phones are cheap and easy to obtain.

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Pets:

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

No.

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

There are a few local veterinarians. Pets are becoming more common in Ulaanbaatar. Dogs are utility animals in the countryside.

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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?

Unknown.

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

Business suits for men and fashionable dress for women.

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Health & Safety:

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

There is a significant element of xenophobia here. Random foreigners get punched walking on the sidewalks. Pickpockets are common and present at crowded markets and stores.

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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?

Local health care is low quality. Mongolians have a lot of health problems.

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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?

Ulaanbaatar is the most polluted city in the world in the wintertime. The combination of coal-fired stove smoke from the gers, the coal-fired and unscrubbed smoke from the power plants and the automobile exhaust is horrendous. Face masks when outside and air purifiers in your home are required. Bronchitis is common. The pollution mostly clears up by April and returns in November.

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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?

Spring and fall are beautiful but variable. There is snow, but not much sticks. We have not experienced a summer yet. Winter is absolutely brutal. We had a mild winter in 2012 and it reached -35 F/C regularly in January. Makes for great skiing since it never warms up enough in the winter to create icy patches like in Colorado.

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Schools & Children:

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

Our first grader has had an excellent experience at ISU. The instruction started out very basic, but became much more rigorous after a few months.

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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?

We don't have direct experience, but have heard very favorable comments from other parents.

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

ISU has a good after-school program. There are many commercial after-school programs, but some will require Mongolian language.

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Expat Life:

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

Expats are not hard to meet.

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2. Morale among expats:

Excellent for the outdoorsy types. Low for homebodies.

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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?

Some in the embassy and ISU communities.

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

Excellent for families and couples. There is a lot to do. Plenty of indoor kids activities in the winter like swimming, bowling, and museums. The American Embassy kids run around in packs at the apartment complex and have a great time riding bikes, at the playground or at each-other's houses. Don't know what it is like for the singles, but it would take some work to socialize. There are plenty of bars and dance clubs. The Mongolians especially like Irish bars.

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

Unknown but there are no overt signs of gay friendliness.

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

Definitely a xenophobic streak, but it is not widespread. Religion does not seem to be a big deal here. Mongolian society is traditionally male-dominated, but the opposite is true in non-traditional settings. For example, the embassy has very few male Mongolian supervisors. We don't have a great deal of business experience, but the majority of day-to-day contacts seem to be women.

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

Staying in a ger (yurt) at a farmstay run by a Mongolian herder. Long horseback rides across the beautiful step. Meeting the wide cast of characters that are the Mongolian people. They are unique among the Asians.

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

The museums are good and there are plenty of historical sites. Horseback riding is fun, cheap and a great insight into Mongolian culture. Opera and theater and good and not expensive. Shopping is okay for selected items. The ski resort in Ulaanbaatar is surprising good for its small size; very inexpensive and well run.

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

Airag, aaruul, cashmere, puzzles, horserides. World class vodka.

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

This is a great place for folks who like to be outdoors. Some of the many things to do include horseback riding, camping, hiking, and climbing. Touring, eating, and camping are cheap if you do it Mongolian style which means somewhat basic and rough. The countryside is absolutely stunning and there are endless places to explore.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes. if you do not travel outside of the country much.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely.

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

Sports car. Requirement for order and pristine urban settings. Fine palate. Love for soy milk.

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3. But don't forget your:

Love for adventure. Air purifiers, hiking boots, extreme cold weather coats, underwear and boots. GPS.

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

Any of the Jack Weatherford books. He understands the Mongolian psyche and puts it into words that can be understood.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Story of the Weeping Camel
Story of the Weeping Camel

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Mongolians remain the descendents of Gengis Khan (Chinggis Khaan). They are warriors (men and women) and are fierce, proud, rude, strong, and straightforward. They are very different from other Asian societies I have experienced. I get along with them very well, but it takes an open mind. There is a large and growing divide between the lifestyles of city and country people.

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Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 02/19/12

Background:

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

Manila, Guam, Paris, etc.

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

Manila, Guam, Paris, etc.

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3. 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?

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4. 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?

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5. How long have you lived here?

1 year.

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6. How long have you lived here?

1 year.

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

U.S. State Department.

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

U.S. State Department.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

State is at Star, which is nice.

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

State is at Star, which is nice.

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

Limited.

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

Limited.

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

Food.

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

Food.

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

U.S. prices.

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

U.S. prices.

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

Few.

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

Few.

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

None.

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

None.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch.

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

Pouch.

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

Cheap.

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

Cheap.

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

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

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

Doable.

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

Doable.

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

Yes.

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

Yes.

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

Some on cable only.

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

Some on cable only.

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

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

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

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

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Transportation:

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

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

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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?

SUV.

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4. 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?

SUV.

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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?

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

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

They work.

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

They 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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2. 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


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

Yes, limited services.

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

Yes, limited services.

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

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

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Health & Safety:

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

None.

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

None.

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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?

Fair....language is a barrier...SOS has a monopoly and is cash...U.S. prices.

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

Fair....language is a barrier...SOS has a monopoly and is cash...U.S. prices.

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5. 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?

2nd worst in the world.

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6. 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?

2nd worst in the world.

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

Almost no crime, coldest capital in the world.

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

Almost no crime, coldest capital in the world.

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

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

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

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5. 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


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

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8. 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.

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

Large.

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3. Morale among expats:

Good.

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4. Morale among expats:

Good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very open people to all cultures.

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

Very open people to all cultures.

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

Food.

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

Food.

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

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

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

Culture.

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

Culture.

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21. Can you save money?

No.

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22. Can you save money?

No.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

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

Yes.

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

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

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5. But don't forget your:

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6. But don't forget your:

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

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8. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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10. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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11. Do you have any other comments?

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12. Do you have any other comments?

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Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 02/05/11

Background:

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

No. It's my third expat experience.

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

Washington, D.C. is my home base. It takes at least 30 hours via plane from Ulaanbaatar to Washington Dulles. There are no direct flights from Mongolia to any part of the U.S. All flights go through Seoul, Beijing or Moscow.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Currently living in Ulaanbaatar; have been here for about a year.

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

Foreign Service employee with 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?

Housing for direct-hires with the U.S. Embassy is very nice. The city may be a dump, but it's refreshing to live in a spacious, Westernized home. Some of the homes have heated floors, Jacuzzis and saunas. Traffic is gridlocked during commuting hours; an hour to travel two miles is commonplace.

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

Groceries are expensive. Most items are imported from either China or Russia. Items imported from the U.S. are grossly inflated to account for shipping, customs and taxes.

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

Junk food (Doritos, Oreos, cereal, etc.) and salsa. But eat them fast. Since it's so dry here, everything rots super fast.

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

Fast food is unheard of in Mongolia. This country is too poor to sustain a chain of fast food restaurants. There are versions of fast food restaurants in the city, but they are not anything that Westerners are used to. However, there are reasonably-priced decent sit-down restaurants. Most restaurants are so well-priced that you could eat almost every day and still manage to save money. Service in restaurants is abysmal. Expect what should take an hour for two people to eat, to take between 90-120 minutes. The influx of mining companies and other Western companies has sped service up in only a handful of restaurants. Tipping is not expected, but I still tip in hopes of better service for future patrons.

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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?

Fresh fruit and vegetables are sparse. Vegetarians are almost laughed at in this country. The Mongolian diet is very rich and meat-heavy. The land is too dry to raise crops for organic foods, fruits and vegetables. Surprisingly there are two vegetarian restaurants in the capital city. The food is good at both places and again, reasonably-priced.

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

Flies are common during the summer. It's too cold the rest of the year that bugs are virtually nonexistent.

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Daily Life:

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

I use the diplomatic pouch through the embassy. USPS mail takes so long that I've canceled my Netflix subscription. It takes at least one month for mail delivery to-and-from the States. The time lengthens during inclement weather or when flights from Hong Kong are delayed.

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

Domestic help is readily available and relatively inexpensive. Be sure to vet your domestic help through someone else prior to hiring him or her. Finding people who cook Western dishes is not easy, especially since Western ingredients are also hard to find. Housekeepers are often referred by one expat family to another. I "inherited" my housekeeper from a departing expat.

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

Yes. The main housing complex has a nicely equipped gym. There is also an over-priced gym, not affiliated with the U.S. Government, that wealthy people can use.

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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?

Don't even try it, but if you are brave, use credit cards only in major retail establishments. ATMs? Forget it about. They exist here but expats have been advised against using them.

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

Buddhism is the main religion in Mongolia. I don't know of any English-language religious services available. Mormons, Christians, Catholics all practice in Mongolia. There are no temples or mosques that I'm aware of.

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

BBC and AFN are available in expat housing for embassy employees. The embassy bears the cost of those T.V. subscriptions so I don't know how much they cost. Bring an e-reader (Kindle, Nook, etc.) to Mongolia. You'll need it as anything written inEnglish is hard to find.

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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?

You need to know basic words and numbers just to get around Ulaanbaatar. Almost everything is written and/or spoken in Russian and Mongolian.

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

Yes, most definitely. Like special-needs children, physically disabled people hide in the shadows for fear of their safety. The sidewalks are very uneven and wheelchairs rarely exist. The rise in steps leading to buildings are often high and have no handrails. Elevators are a luxury in this country. Forget about trying to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act in this country. You'd have more luck with finding dinosaur bones in the Gobi.

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Transportation:

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

Local trains and buses are overcrowded and not advisable for use by expats. The costs to ride in local trains and buses is nominal. I think it's about $.50 to get from Zaisen to the embassy. Taxis are plentiful here. But only use taxis from a reputable taxi company. Almost anyone with a car claims to be a taxi driver. And yes, taxis are affordable. It costs about $2 USD/one way, to go from the main embassy housing complex to the embassy. Seat belts in the back seats of taxis are often hidden by seat covers. Passenger seat belts are often removed or don't work.

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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?

If you are brave enough to drive here, it's best to bring a 4x4 or vehicle with a high clearance. The streets are riddled with pot holes and open unpaved roads. There are only about 1,000 miles of paved roads in this country, which is about twice the size of Texas. Car parts are not impossible to find, but can be expensive. Most car parts are imported from China or Russia. There are no local restrictions on vehicles. Actually there are no restrictions. Period. Monthly or annual vehicle inspections? haha. Good one. On the plus side, carjackings are rare in this country.

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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. I pay about $30 USD/month for 2 Mbps of internet connectivity. The speed is rarely ever 2 Mbps, but it's fast enough for me to watch online videos.

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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?

Buy one, buy one and did I mention, buy one? Cell phones are a must, especially when traveling outside the city. Direct-hires with the embassy are assigned cell phones and the embassy covers those costs. Cell phones not tied to contracts (unbroken) are easy to find at the TEDI building. Even if you're not with the U.S. Embassy, get yourself a cell phone. MobiCom is the largest cell phone carrier in Mongolia.

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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. However, fleas in cats and dogs, and parvo in dogs is rampant. Ensure that your four-legged friend is well-vaccinated before, during and after your assignment in Mongolia.

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

Since this country is so poor, Mongolians will chastise you for wanting to domesticate a cat or dog. The homeless animal population is out of control. Feral cats and dogs run rampant, especially during the summer. Only the heartiest of animals survive the harsh Mongolian winters. There are a few vets in Ulaanbaatar and they even make house calls. The vet clinics are sub par but the care animals receive is excellent. The cost of veterinary care is very low. I paid $60 USD to have my cat de-clawed - and that included the anesthesia and follow-up care. There are no kennels in Mongolia. Bring cat food, dog litter and cat litter with you. All three items are available here, but for an inflated cost. Just as you drink potable water, allow your pet to drink potable water, too.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

Not really. Outside of working at the U.S. Embassy, jobs aren't plentiful. Speaking Mongolian is a requirement when finding work outside the embassy. A few spouses are tutors in English, Japanese or Chinese. Local wages are meager when compared to U.S. wages.

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

It's business casual at the embassy; men in dress slacks and dress shirts and ties. The dress code is a bit more lax for women. During the summer, the local women often dress like prostitutes, inside and outside of the embassy. Stiletto heels are worn throughout the year. I still don't know how women can gracefully walk on the even sidewalks without tripping. Maybe those women are born wearing stilettos?

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes. Mongolia is landlocked between China and Russia. Enough said. Aside from that, Mongolia is fortunate to have a relatively stable political climate.

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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?

Mongolia is a developing country with scarce medical services and unreliable transportation, making the provision of timely and adequate medical care challenging. Smog, not fog, also limits visibility and causes delay at the airport and health issues. Medical care in Mongolia is almost a joke. The embassy has an onsite health unit, managed by a U.S. direct-hire who has prescription-writing privileges. Direct-hire women are not permitted to give birth in Mongolia. People have been medevaced to Seoul or Bangkok for emergency medical care. If you break a bone, you'll be medavced, too. X-ray machines and the like are rare here. There is a Korean health clinic that has the latest medical equipment, but I've not been to it. Direct-hires with the embassy are eligible to use the SOS Clinic in Ulaanbaatar.

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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?

The world's worst level of pollution occurs during winter, which is from October - April. Mongolians are still very much a traditional nomadic people. Gers (gares), which look like big tents, are the traditional housing for Mongolians. Gers do not have indoor plumbing or electricity so heat is provided by coal-burning stoves. Mongolians will burn almost anything, including tires, to stay warm. The U.S. Embassy is located in a geographical bowl, with mornings being the worst; with visibility reduced to less than 100 yards. Summer is the best time to be be in this country. The air is barely polluted and visibility is at its best.

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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?

From October through April, temperatures remain below zero Fahrenheit, and relative humidity is quite low (18% - 30%). It's very dry here. You'll need plenty of lip balm and body lotion. Ulaanbaatar has the dubious honor of being the world's coldest capital.

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Schools & Children:

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

I don't have kids and don't have personal experience with the International School of Ulaanbaatar (ISU). I'm told that the school is highly accredited and the teachers are all capable.

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

There are no accommodations in local Mongolian schools for special-needs kids. In fact, kids with special-needs are frowned upon and cast into the shadows by Mongolians. I don't know if ISU provides accommodations for special-needs kids or not.

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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?

Again, I don't have kids, but I'm told that preschool is relatively inexpensive here. The kids learn both in English and Mongolian.

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

Mongolia does not have officially recognized sports clubs for kids. Horseback riding, archery and other activities, are popular outdoor activities for all ages. As with most countries outside of the U.S., soccer (the white, round ball and not the brown, oblong ball) is huge here.

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Expat Life:

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

It ranges between 250 - 300 people, and this includes the embassy direct-hires, mining companies, NGOs and Peace Corps volunteers. It's a small community, but seems to be relatively close-knit one.

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2. Morale among expats:

I can't speak for expats outside the embassy, but I think the morale seems to be medium to high. We have an excellent Community Liaison Officer (CLO), who has brought the embassy community, local staff and U.S. staff, for events year-round. I think the smaller an expat community, the closer they tend to be. Conversely, living in a smaller community is like living in a fish bowl. As with anywhere in the world, life is all what make you of it.

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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 entertaining to have a social life in Ulaanbaatar. Expats tend to stick together for social events. The language barrier is a big reason that locals and expats often don't do things together.

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

The city itself isn't that great for families. The "countryside", anywhere outside of Ulaanbaatar, is ideal for families. If you and/or kids like to experience the outdoors, then the countryside is the place to be. Ulaanbaatar has an active nightlife, both for singles and couples.

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

No, not at all. During the days when Russia controlled Mongolia, homosexuals were literally sent to Siberia.

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

Mongolian men are territorial with "their" women. Western men have been assaulted for being seen with Mongolian women. People of Asian descent, regardless of Asian ethnicity, have been attacked in the capital city. Centuries of tension between the Chinese and Mongolians has added fuel to that fire.

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

Learning about a new culture and new traditions.

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

Interact with other Americans and expats. No, really, it can be quite fun. There is a large Peace Corps presence and many PC volunteers enjoy meeting embassy employees. Aside from the outdoor activities during the summer, there is hardly anything to do in the winter.

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

Felt, wool, fur and cashmere. Mongolian cashmere is said to be the best in the world.

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

Mongolia is heaven for people who like the great outdoors. This country is steeped in history, including finding dinosaur bones in the Gobi Desert.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, most definitely. Considering that most Mongolians make an average of $3,000 USD/year, the living is cheap, but not easy, here.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, to visit, but not to live. Mongolia is a very fascinating country but at the same, it's been a challenge to live here.

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

Hopes and dreams. Just kidding. Don't bother bringing open-toed shoes and you don't need too many summer clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Open-mind and ability to put your situation in perspective. It is very easy to go stir-crazy, especially during the winter, in this country.

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

Kingship and Ideology in the Islamic and Mongol Worlds (Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization) by Anne F. Broadbridge, PhD.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

View these movies with a grain of salt:Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan; Biography - Genghis Khan (A&E); and Babies (2010).

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6. Do you have any other comments?

(1) Geographically and logistically remote, Ulaanbaatar is one of the most isolated missions in the Foreign Service.(2) The Mongolian government is aware of the pollution issues and making strides to reduce its high levels. (3) I often equate Mongolia, especially Ulaanbaatar, to how the U.S. was at the turn of the 19th century. (4) Driving is manical in this country, especially in Ulaanbaatar. People will create their own lanes, make left turns from the far right lane, jaywalking is not only legal, but it's the only way pedestrians cross the street, street signs are nonexistent and traffic lights rarely work. Man hole covers are often missing. The covers have either been stolen for the metal or kids leave covers off since they live in the sewers during the winter.(5) Enjoy and keep your mind open when visiting or living in the land of Changgis Khan.

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Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 01/15/09

Background:

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

Not my first expat experience.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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

There is a non-stop flight from DC to Beijing. The problem is getting out of Beijing to Ulaanbaatar. Air China is the most unreliable of the airlines that service UB. Unplanned stays of more than 24 hours in Beijing are common if you fly through there. It is also possible, but more expensive, to fly through Seoul.

Plan on at least 2 days to get to UB from the U.S. Plan on at least 1 day to get to UB from Europe. There is a train from UB to Moscow (5-6 days) and from UB-Beijing (30-36 hours). Assume a minimum airfare of US$1K to leave Mongolia to go anywhere; average airfare to the U.S. (if you buy it far enough ahead) is about US$2K-2.5K. There are about 8 or 9 flights a week out of the UB airport; international destinations are Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Moscow, and Berlin.

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

I work 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?

Many Embassy employees (not all) live at Star Apartments, a nice complex. The traffic congestion results in commutes varying from 30 minutes to 60 minutes from Star to the Embassy.

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

Groceries and household supplies are very expensive. Almost everything is imported. I try to avoid buying Chinese vegetables and fruits, but it is difficult. Groceries, when available, cost about 3 times what they would in DC. If you see something you want, buy it! You may not see it again. Finding fruits, vegetables, good cheese, seafood, and good coffee beans is the greatest challenge. If you like mutton, you will be very happy with the food here. If you are eligible for a consumables shipment, use it to the fullest. The Mongolian diet is meat-heavy and very bland. Pack your spices and salsas!

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

Good coffee beans. Dried fruits. Dried beans. High-quality flour and corn meal. Nuts, salted and not.

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

No fast food. There are a few restaurants that offer decent food. Average cost per meal in those restaurants is between US$8-10. The best restaurant in town is Hazara, an Indian restaurant.

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

Mosquitoes in summer. Avoid small mammals (like marmots) that have fleas that carry bubonic plague.

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Daily Life:

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

Right now, the Embassy has an FPO address.

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

Available and inexpensive.

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

There is a good gym at Star. Other apartment complexes sometimes have gyms and/or pools. There are also some private health clubs/gyms.

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

I do not use them here. There are a few ATMs around the city. Some stores accept credit cards, usually Visa.

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

There is an RC church as well as a non-denominational Protestant one. There is also a large LDS church. If you are interested in practicing lamaist Buddhism, there are some temples and the monasteries.

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

There are two English language newspapers. Each costs about a dollar. The UB Post is usually better than the Mongol Messenger. On TV, there is CNN-Intl, BBC, and AFN channels.

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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?

Any amount helps alot and is greatly appreciated by Mongolians. You do not strictly need it if you stay in an expat bubble, but it helps.

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

Enormous difficulties.

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Transportation:

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

Trains are generally safe. Buses are jammed and have pickpockets. Buses are privately owned (by each driver)who tries to maximize the number of fares on each bus. Few buses are well-maintained. Taxis vary as to safety and are generally cheap (i.e. less than US$5).

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

A front-wheel drive car is fine for the city. If you want to drive across land in the countryside when there is not a road, bring a 4WD vehicle. There is a Ford dealer and a Chevrolet dealer, as well as Toyota. Windshield wipers/blades are frequently stolen from your car when you park on the street. Both right-hand-drive and left-hand-drive cars are used here.

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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?

Really high-speed is not available, but you can purchase speeds between 264K, 512K and 1MB. Prices range from US$20 to $150 per month. It helps a lot if your apartment has a back-up generator as there are frequent brown-outs.

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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 U.S. Embassy issues cells phones to its employees. Purchase a calling card to call the U.S.; they are cheap. I use Vonage to telephone the U.S.

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Pets:

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

No.

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

There are a few vets.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

Very, very few.

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

Business dress at work. Casual in public. Mongolians, especially the women, are very sharp dressers. Expect to see stilettos all winter, no matter how deep the ice.

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Health & Safety:

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

Horrible in winter. Very good in summer. It is horrible in the winter because of what people burn to heat their gers. Ulaanbaatar was designed for 300K-350K people; current population is about 1.1M.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

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

Pickpockets and traffic accidents. Hostility toward Chinese. Rampant inflation and high unemployment have increased the rates of robbery.

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

Air quality is very, very bad during the long winter. If you get seriously ill, you will need to leave the country to go to Seoul, Bangkok or Singapore for acute care.

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

It is very cold and dry during the winter (November through May). The summers are warm. Rain occurs during the summer, and the amount varies a lot. The spring is windy, dirty, and brown.

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Schools & Children:

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

The school is very good through sixth grade. The new building for the ISU is very, very nice.

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

Few.

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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?

Available.

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

Football (soccer), basketball.

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Expat Life:

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

Two thousand.

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2. Morale among expats:

Varies.

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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?

Mostly going out to bars/restaurants/others' houses.

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

Varies. For families with teenaged children, the school may not be challenging enough. Families with young children tend to like being here. For singles, it varies enormously.

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

No. I am one of two people at the Embassy who are gay or lesbian. Mongolians do not think kindly (understatement) about homosexuality; the most educated Mongolian will keep their face still and tell you that it is a private matter not to be discussed. There appear to be more gay men than lesbian women in Ulaanbaatar. Mongolian women, especially those younger than 45, exhibit stylized hetersexual behaviour, especially in fashion. The traditional culture is very, very gendered.

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

Yes. Black people may have problems. People of Chinese descent may have problems. Women who are feminist are rare. The society is very family-oriented, and the definition of family isheterosexual.

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

Visit the remaining monasteries that Stalin's thugs did not destroy. Go to the opera. Enjoy the beautiful countryside, especially camping, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding. This is a wonderful country if you love being in the outdoors!

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

Cashmere. Wool felt. Carpet slippers. Carpets from Erdenet carpet factory. Furs (if you so that). Horsehair fiddles & bows. Bows & arrows. Deels.

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9. Can you save money?

Depends on whether or not you plan to travel outside the city. Buying food is expensive, as is gasoline and auto parts/repair. If you decide to leave the country, you will spend a good bit of money.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

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

Swimsuits, unless you plan to travel to Thailand or Bali.

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3. But don't forget your:

Wool socks. Long underwear. Camping gear. Fishing gear. Spices. Salsas. Coffee beans. Sturdy down coat (long).

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

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Genghis Blues (documentary).

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7. Do you have any other comments?

If you can enjoy yourself without a lot of external stimulation except for the outdoors, this is a good place to be. The outdoors is a glory. Most Mongolians who live in the city despair of their government and complain bitterly about corruption and inefficiency. The support for the government increases in the rural areas (which Mongolians call "the countryside"). Inflation gallops along and unemployment is high. The failure of the government to rationally use the country's considerable natural resources (i.e. mining) has harmed Mongolia a great deal.

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Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 10/10/08

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. How long have you lived here?

Over a year.

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

14 hours from D.C. to Beijing, then 2 hours to Ulaanbaatar. Or from D.C. to Seoul, then to Ulaanbaatar.

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

U.S. Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

1 to 3 level apartments and town houses for U.S. embassy staff.

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

Inflation has hit this country hard, something in the 36% level. Everything is more expensive, you can expect to pay 2 to 3 times the price for U.S. products compare to Washington D.C.

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

Oreo Cookies.

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

There are no U.S. affiliated fast food chains in Mongolia, just a few Chinese and Korean joints.

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Daily Life:

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

Central Post Office, at your own risk.

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

Price is ok, but more expensive then other Asian countries.

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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, in few places.

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

Mormon and other Christian sects are available.

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

CNN and BBC.

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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 much, but a basic level will be good for out of city travel.

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

Many difficulties, there are crater size pot holes all over the street, and many unpaved side walks.

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Transportation:

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

Same as U.S. but with Mad Max rules.

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

Train is ok, buses are old and not maintained, any car can be flagged down for a ride. Regular taxi driver will try to rip you off because you are a foreigner.

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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?

Mid size passenger car is ok for in the city driving, a 4 wheel drive with high ground clearance is highly recommended for out side the city.

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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?

Available but very expensive.

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

Cell phones are everywhere.

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

Skype, Vonage.

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Pets:

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

There are vet services available here.

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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?

Maybe with ISU, NGOs and mining companies.

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

Business casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

Always good in the country side, unhealthy to very unhealthy in the city.

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

Pick pockets, drunks, small gangs of hooligans at night.

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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?

TB and other respiratory diseases are widespread, SOS is ok, and there is a Korean hospital.

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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?

Winter lasts 6 months here, coldest time is January to March, temp can get -40F at nights. Summer can be very hot. Air is very dry all year round.

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Schools & Children:

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

ISU moved from a decrepit old Russian hotel to a brand new facility last year, a 100% improvement.

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

Not much, they do have a special ed teacher this year.

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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?

Preschool available with ISU, nanny is recommended for babies.

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Expat Life:

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

Small.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good.

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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?

Movies, Bars, Clubs.

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

Yes/yes/yes.

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

it"s a OK city for that.

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

Mongolian dislike Chinese very much, and blame them for many things I find ridiculous. There is even a small Neo-Nazi group here specifically targeted against Chinese.

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

Horseback riding, camel riding, yak Riding. Camping out in the country side. Fly to remote parts of the country. Basically anywhere out side the city is good.

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

Mongol bow and arrow, hats, cashmere.

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9. Can you save money?

You can if don"t go out much.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Maybe to visit, in the summer, but not to live here.

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

Beach wear.

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3. But don't forget your:

Camping gear, and long johns.

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

Anything with Chinngis Khan in it.

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

Anything with Chinngis Khan in it.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Anything with Chinngis Khan in it.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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