Karachi, Pakistan Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Karachi, Pakistan

Karachi, Pakistan 08/02/15

Background:

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

No; have lived in several cities OCONUS prior to Karachi.

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

The U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C.. The total travel time from IAD to KHI is about 25 hours, with a connection in Abu Dhabi or Doha.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

Foreign Service with the U.S. 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?

Housing for the American personnel in the U.S. Foreign Service is amazing. Most of the housing is located in the same compound as the U.S. Consulate. The commute, if you call it that, is via foot, and it is about a five-to-seven minute walk from the Residence to the Consulate. USG employees are not permitted to self-drive and none of the USG employees have their own vehicles at post.
The apartments have tile floors, granite counters, stainless steel appliances, and in-unit washers and dryers. You may opt to have daily maid service for a fraction of the cost of hourly maid service in the U.S.

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

Since the cost of living is so low in Karachi, the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies is low. There is are Western-style grocery stores at major shopping malls in Karachi. The prices at those stores are on-par with non-Pakistani wages. It is relatively easy to find household supplies and groceries at those grocery stores.

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

Spray sun tan protectant and insect repellant.

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

There is a plethora of both Western and Pakistani fast food and decent restaurants in Karachi. Almost every restaurant delivers to the Consulate for a pithy charge. With enough coordination, USG employees are permitted to physically go to the restaurants off-compound. it is relatively inexpensive to dine out in Karachi. The restaurants in the Western hotels are comparably priced to cater to a more affluent clientele.

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

As with any warm-climate area, insects are prevalent. Fortunately I did not see huge spiders or cockroaches. Geckos are everywhere as they help reduce the insect population. Malaria is rampant in Karachi and I recommend taking anti-malaria medication and/or insect repellent while in Karachi.

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Daily Life:

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

USG employees are able to use USG-issued mailing addresses to send and receive mail at the Consulate. The transit time for snail mail can take anywhere from seven to twenty-one days from CONUS to Karachi. Mail delivery can be delayed or suspended due to the current security situation in-country.

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

There is ample domestic help available to USG employees. The costs are so much palatable than the costs of domestic help in Weatern cities.

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

There are two nicely-equipped gyms on the USG compound and the Marines also have their own gym. There is no cost to use any of the three gyms, which are open 24/7.

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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?

It is best to use cash. Credit cards and ATM cards should only be used at reputable retailers. Identity theft is not as prevalent in Karachi as it is in the U.S., but be mindful of your use of plastic when paying for things.

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

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

Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, and depending on your role within your employer, i.e. USG, education, NGO, etc., you may or may not ever need to speak or read Urdu. As a courtesy, you may want to learn basic phrases like "How are you?" and " Thank you."

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

Yes, most definitely. The infrastructure in Karachi is abysmal. The city is not ADA-compliant or even near ADA-friendly. As with most lesser-developed cities, people with mental or physical disabilities are shunned. Karach is no exception and I do not advise people with disabilities to visit.

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Transportation:

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

No, no, no, and yes.

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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?

USG employees are prohibited from bringing their own vehicles to Karachi. Violence is rampant and USG employees do not self-drive in Karachi.

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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 and no. USG employees may opt for Internet speeds of up to 8 MB upload. The most common Internet speed is about 2 MB. Costs for the speeds are about US$80 and US$25/monthly, respectively.

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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?

It is best to bring an unlocked cell phone to Karachi. You can purchase a pay-as-you go plan for that phone. Cell phone connectivity is often spotty throughout Karachi. The Government of Pakistan will bring down cell networks at random times so it is best that you have a CB radio for emergency communication.

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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?

USG employees are not permitted to bring dogs to Karachi. Cats are permitted, but very few people actually bring their pet to post. Again, due to the current security situation, an evacuation is always imminent. Pets cannot travel with the USG employee when he/she is evacuated.

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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, not for USG employees.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

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

The dress code at work is fairly casual. When USG employees interact with the public, it best that they dress professionally in business suits or traditional Pakistani dress.

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Health & Safety:

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

Karachi is the largest city in Pakistan and terrorists groups hide in Karachi due to the sheer number of people who inhabit that city. Crime is raging and it is a very dangerous city. The level of anti-Western sentiment is high and Pakistanis are often killed because of their professional associations with Westerners. It is advisable for Westerners to heed the advice of their respective security section within their employer, I.e. school, embassy, consulate, NGO, etc.

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

Health concerns abound in Karachi. It is a poor city with subpar medical care. There a few stand-out medical facilities but those are for the more affluent patients.

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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 air quality is not unbearable. However, Karachi has a very peculiar smell. Since Karachi is on the water, the smell of rotting fish and other sea creatures and even dead people, permeates the air. You quickly become accustomed to the smells and it is just another day on the beach.

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

Almost any medication is available without a prescription in Karachi. People with allergies, or any other general medical ailment, can easily purchase drugs on the local economy. The prices of those drugs are very reasonable compared to prices in Western cities. The best part is that you probably do not need a prescription for your allergy drugs, etc.

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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?

The climate is warm almost year-round. Karachi does not have four seasons, but the cooler months are November through February. It is one of the most southern cities in Pakistan so it rarely snows in Karachi. It does not rain very often, but when it does, the city almost comes to a halt. The poor infrastructure in Karachi allows the rainwater to flood the streets and causes havoc among the already-maniacal drivers.

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Schools & Children:

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

In spite of its name, the Karachi American School does not have students from the USG community. Due to the current security situation in Karachi, USG-children are not allowed to accompany their parents to post.

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

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

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

Not applicable as USG-children are not permitted in Karachi.

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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 size of the expat community in Karachi is fairly small. The Karachi American School and the USG employees seem to comprise most of the expat community.

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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?

USG employees pretty much stick with each other. The reason is predicated on the current security situation. Non-USG employees adhere to different rules so they may have more input on the social goings-on in Karachi.

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

USG families are not allowed at post due to the current security situation. There are a handful of single USG employees who are single and all of the U.S. Marines are single. It is rare that USG couples are posted together in Karachi.

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

Pakistan is generally homophobic. That said, there are a few homosexual USG employees in Karachi.

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

Yes, yes, and yes. It is unfortunate but these biases are still very much alive in Karachi and throughout Pakistan.

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

Due to the security situation for Westerners, I was not able to sightsee as much as I would have wished. The highlight from my experience in Karachi was a tight-knit community with fellow Westerners.

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

The secret gem for USG employees is the housing. There is a true sense of community and camaraderie among the USG employees.

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

Custom-made wood items such as furniture and custom-tailored clothing.

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

The cost of living is dirt cheap; the average annual wages for a Pakistani is US$1,500. As an expat earning Western wages, you can live like a king in Karachi. It is very easy to save more than half of your annual wages while living in Karachi. The weather is not too bad either. Yes, it is hot in the summer, but the humidity is relatively low, which makes the high temperatures more bearable. The sun is often out and cloudy days are far and few between.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes to the nth-degree.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I wish that I had learned Urudu prior to going to Karachi.

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

Yes, most definitely.

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

Hopes and dreams. Seriously, leave behind personal effects that you will not use. The USG apartments are fully-furnished, including towels, bedding, flatware, etc., so you do not need to bring anything except your clothes and toiletry items.

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4. But don't forget your:

Open mind and patience.

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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?

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Karachi really is an interesting place in which to live. I would visit it again, but not live there. My reason is that there are so many cities in the world in which to live, why would I want to live in the same place twice?

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Karachi, Pakistan 06/01/14

Background:

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

No. Kabul, Shanghai, Beijing, Jeddah, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Seoul.

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

Washington, DC - About 18-20 hours with connections. To the US (and most places), one usually connects in the Gulf region.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Most are here on one-year assignments - I've been here about 10 months.

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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?

For U.S. Consulate personnel, housing is new and on secure compounds. There are a few expat compounds in Karachi that have increased security, and many homes/apartments/colonies have high walls and their own strict security protocols.

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

Generally, pretty good at the larger places. The US Consulate has a small commissary of the basics, and the larger grocery stores (Hyperstar, Farid's) have significant amounts of foodstuffs and general items. Stock can sometimes be missing though, so if you see it, buy it. Pakistan, like other places in the region, still is focused on the small neighborhood shops - leaving steady, reliable distribution of unexpired goods a dream.

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

Things are generally available, and my needs are simple.

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

Full range of restaurants are available, including fast food places (McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC). The Dolmen Mall has a food court with branded places, and many restaurants - same in some of the larger hotels. Karachi has quite the restaurant scene with various foods in some really palatial indoor/outdoor settings. My local friends have introduced me to many mainstay Pakistan foods that are incredibly inexpensive and quite delicious - however, since we don't get out much, it's pretty much off the regular radar.

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

There are insects, and disease-bearing mosquitoes that will hone in on you, but it isn't unbearable. This is not the place you want to walk barefoot, as there appear be large/small ant colonies in many places.

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Daily Life:

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

Through a special U.S. Government service. I don't know much about Pakistan post, as most letters/items I receive locally are delivered by courier services.

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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 - but standards are wildly different between expectations and reality. Trust may be an issue as well.

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

The Consulate has its own new facilities, including a pool, and there is a tennis court at the former Consul General's residence. Some of the larger hotels (Pearl Continental, Marriott, Movenpick) have minimal gyms and exercise floors, but nothing extensive. I imagine that larger gyms do exist in Karachi, however, US Government personnel can't really go them even if we knew where they were.

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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 avoid using credit cards unless for an air ticket, or if I was traveling, at one of the reliable hotels. ATMs in most places seem to work okay, but I have only ever used them within the confines of one the secure hotel compounds - I would never use them anywhere else.

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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?

Basic greetings is fine, but like elsewhere to really understand Pakistan, you need to learn Urdu. I do not speak Urdu, and it generally limits the depth at which you can explore, understand and make the most out of your time here.

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

While the Consulate is fully accessible, one could say that nearly all of Pakistan is not. There are steps everywhere, one-two person elevators that are frequently inoperable, uneven sidewalks (if there are sidewalks). That being said, our Consular section sees applicants in wheelchairs and other needs on a daily basis, so there is a community out there, it's just that you don't see any of it in our limited view of public life outside of the compound. Overall, this isn't a place where someone with physical disabilities would have any sense or ability to be independent.

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Transportation:

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

No, and U.S. Consulate personnel can't use them. I'm sure there are some reliable taxi companies here, but most people have a driver. A bus in the western sense does not exist here, there are plenty of buses in Pakistan - all usually adorned with a crown of local laborers sitting on the roof - but the buses appear to be falling apart as they go down the road in all their colorful mosaic'd glory.

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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?

US Consulate personnel drive in special vehicles, but you'll see every manner of a car on the road here. Rarely does a traffic light seem to work, and wide roads are limited (and generally lane-less). Many locals have drivers all the time - who wait roadside for their employers to finish at an establishment. Accidents are common, motorcycles (with multiple passengers - 3 or 4 people on one moto is not uncommon) are everywhere too.

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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?

Basic Internet (like 20 MBps) is available on the U.S. Consulate compound inexpensively ($30.00 per month), though faster service is available at inflated cost. Generally, in places most expats will live/reside/stay, it is available, generally reliable, and not 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?

Carry two, as these are frequently robbed. Pakistan, finally, got some 3G service in May 2014, so smartphones are useful now. However, most people carry a very basic phone (think old Nokias) since they get stolen/and/or/robbed often.

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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?

Dogs are not allowed at the U.S. Consulate, and cats only under certain strict and limited conditions can reside on the compound. I don't see many people here in Karachi with pets.

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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?

Some, but getting one with any kind of suitable and expected Western salary would be nearly impossible - there are many skilled and experienced people here making competition for the best jobs indescribably fierce.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many, I'm sure - but US Consulate personnel can't participate in much of anything outside the compound.

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

Business attire when needed, but Pakistan business culture has an engrained business formality to it.

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Health & Safety:

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

Many - especially for those that don't easily blend in. Local employees are frequent victims of theft, always with a threat of violence. The Consular section here gets daily calls from Americans who are receiving threats, or have been victims of violence, including home invasions, following, outright theft, etc. U.S. Consulate personnel observe strict security awareness (and methods) for a reason.

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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?

Well, it is a developing country. The air in Karachi can smell, and the scent of burning trash can waft through the air at any time. However, being close to the ocean (and the consulate being close to city-interior wetlands and the ocean), there is a enough wind at all times that flushes things out eventually. As of June 2014, there is new standing WHO guidance on Polio in Pakistan (yes, it is still here), but obtain the one-time oral vaccine and it isn't much of an issue. Local staff at the Consulate (and bigger hotels), especially those prepping foods, are focused on cleanliness, and while everyone gets ill here at some point, it doesn't happen nearly enough as one might expect. Other issues involve mosquito-transmitted diseases, the omnipresent threat of bird-droppings falling unceremoniously upon your head, running into a bat, and possibly a quick slip on the shiny new floors of our new consulate building. There are suitable hospitals here, with some standards of U.S. care, and medicines are readily available from trusted hospitals if needed.

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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?

Depends. Yes, there is pollution, and there is always trash (or something burning somewhere), but in the areas closer to the ocean/bays, there is always some sort of breeze. The US Consulate is located next to some brackish bay/mangroves, so we get a fair dollop of interesting scents wafting through.

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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?

September to April, pleasant. May-August, hot to very hot to very very hot - Sweaty weather.

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Schools & Children:

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

I know the schools popular with expats have sports programs.

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Expat Life:

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

Hard to gauge - the vast majority of expats here are actually expats of Pakistani heritage. Overall, morale at the U.S. Consulate is surprisingly good to great - and it has been this way for many years. Expat families with kids at the Karachi American School all seemed content and happy here, but they are well aware of the security issues as well.

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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?

Hanging with friends, movie nights, social events, visits to the hotels, hobbies.

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

U.S. Consulate personnel can't bring our family members. Singles and Couples generally make a life for themselves among colleagues here, with limited forays into the social scene of the city if they have friends. Alcohol is generally not sold in Pakistan (only to certain people), but that being said, at private parties, it is usually available in limited amounts.

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

Well, it is Pakistan, and there are issues here. That being said, there is an active social scene that involves private parties among trusted friends - but it is extremely difficult to get involved with, and even so, security precautions (your own or employer enforced) make planning and attendance a burden. Even a basic internet search about Karachi (or Pakistan) will turn up some things (like a Fall 2013 article from the BBC), but this isn't a place where a parade will happen anytime soon. Family/social pressures in Pakistan are so strong and deep that any "out" person is like a god/goddess of unicorns.

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

Yes, and no. At least what I gather from the media and local friends, Pakistan has significant issues amongst its own religions, sects, beliefs, etc - and these difference sadly often lead to significant violence. There are professional women here of all types, but in comparison, the numbers are smaller than one would expect from outside knowledge or thought of Pakistan. For the most part, there is still, unfortunately, a significant portion of the female population that for many cultural, religious, family, or other reasons remains outside education or professional life.

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

My job has been interesting, and I work with a great group of people who share the same circumstances. As U.S. Government employees, our opportunities for unofficial engagements (or being out much in the city) are slim to none.

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

Trinkets, collectibles, fabrics, carpets, clothes.

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

Saving money, interesting and feisty city of 20 Million+, nice temperatures.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, very much so. However, expats here are easily taken advantage of, so buying a "high quality cheap carpet" is just not going to happen. It is generally inexpensive here, but you do get what you pay for. More and more goods appear to be imported from China and elsewhere - and they work for the most part, but don't expect to make heritage purchases here.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

For a one-year assignment, it was much better than I imagined. I won't be looking to return here, since any opportunity or desire I had to learn and experience Karachi/Pakistan was severely limited by my employer's security policies and procedures - which, sadly, I don't see relaxing anytime soon. However, our security concerns are real and happening - and I have been safe.

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

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Karachi, Pakistan 03/27/13

Background:

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

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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. About 20 hours, depending on how long the layover is in Dubai.

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3. How long have you lived here?

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

The contributor is affiliated with the US Consulate and has been here for almost a year, a third expat experience.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

1-bedroom apartment. 5-minute communte time (if you walk slowly). There's a move to put some people off-compound. In that case, it'll be 3 bedrooms with a 20-40 minute commute (randomized timings of shuttles, so your start time can be anywhere between 5AM and 11AM) It hasn't happened yet, but the possibility exists.

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

There is a small (emphasis on small) commissary. The cost is whatever it would cost you in the US + between 25-100% (depending on the item). Eggs will run you $0.70 at the local supermarket and about $2.00 in the commissary. (They buy them from the local supermarket, so you're paying for the convenience of not going out). Imported goods at local grocery stores are between 10-30% more than they are in the states. Imported fruits (strawberries, avocadoes) and vegetables (celery, baby carrots) are sometimes available but very expensive---twice what they cost in the States). On the other hand, the local produce (oranges, cauliflower, potatoes, okra, watermelon) are very cheap (less than a $1 a kilo for the most part). Dairy products imported from Dubai are also not expensive (you don't spend much on staples as long as you go out and buy them yourself).

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

Consumables. With the prices at the commissary and the general lack of availability of items, it is worth it to ship non-perishable food here.

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

The American Club (your sole option for dinner on compound) serves sandwhiches and such. A burger will run you $11.50 (yes, that's dollars); a local dish will run you around $5.50; a chicken caesar salad will run you around $5.85. BBQ Tonight (kababs), McDonald's, Fat Burger, Pizza Hut, KFC, 14th Street Pizza: they all deliver. Prices are cheap (a large pizza with meat is less than $5). There are also decent French, Italian, and Mediterranean restaurants here. The hotels also have a nice assortment of restaurants (including Japanese and Chinese). These will cost between $10 and $50 a head, depending on where you go and what you order. They, too, deliver. For a huge assortment of menus, check out KarachiSnob.com

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

Mosquitos (potentially carrying Dengue Fever). Flies.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO (same as APO or FPO). Note: Mail is not very reliable (especially outgoing mail). Incoming mail seems to often arrive missing items or in a severely battered condition, and outgoing mail can take anywhere between 2-8 weeks.

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

Readily available. Between $60-120 a month for a few hours a day, everyday, cleaning of a 1-2 bedroom apartment. (And I'm told by our local staff this is far too high...)

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

The gym here has lots of equipment. If you like working out (and can do it independently), you're in a good place.

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

Credit cards are accepted at all the supermarkets we are allowed to go to (but they don't always work). Bank of America, Capital One and Chase credit cards do NOT work in the commissary or at the club. SDFCU cards and USAA cards seem to do okay everywhere. There is an ATM inside the residence building, but it is often out of cash because everyone who works in the consualte uses it and there's only one. There is, however, a cash-checking person in the consulate every day. Basically, bring a check book. It's accepted at the commissary, and it is the most reliable way to get cash. You will most likely need cash whenever you venture outside.

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

Yes. There is an International Church of Karachi as well as Catholic Churches. There are a few Sunday services to pick from, but you can't go regularly/routinely (for security reasons).

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

AFN. $12 a month I think. Don't know about newspapers (but the internet works).

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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?

On compound, you don't need it. The basics are nice (especially for ordering delivery/take-out).

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

I believe there are two handicapped-accessible apartments on compound. Note: None of the FAVs are handicapped accessible, so it would mean you're literally stuck inside.

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Transportation:

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

Use of public transport is not allowed.

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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?

POVs are not allowed.

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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?

$70 for 8Mbps DSL. There are also cheaper as well as more expensive options.

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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?

If you're okay using a standard (numberpad) phone, the Consulate will give you one. If you want a smart phone, bring the kind that takes a SIM card and is unlocked (i.e. not Sprint or Verizon phones). There's only 2G here, so it might not be worth it (but you have the option to activate a data plan).

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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 vets. I believe they are decent. Only cats are allowed on compound.

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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 an option. (EFMs who come here need to have a position with the Consulate.)

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

At work: Whatever you work out with your boss. Some people wear jeans and a polo, some wear suits. It section-dependent. Do pack a few suits no matter what--you'll need one. In public: More formal than you would expect: suits for men, or at least a dress jacket and trousers. You'll never need a tux, though. The shoulder-to-ankle rule for women is a good one (and depending on where you go, sleeveless is probably not a good idea). Women should bring shawls (or buy them here, they're cheap)---you're expected to have one even if you're wearing a long-sleeve shirt. No one should go off-compound wearing shorts. The only time you'll need an evening dress here is the Marine Ball.

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Health & Safety:

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

You can't leave the compound without an FAV and bodyguard. I've experienced my first mini-evacuation here---just for a little over a week. I feel safe in the compound and reasonably safe while out and about.

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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?

None. There is decent medical care here. They'll medevac you to Singapore for anything serious.

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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?

Unhealthy. It smells horrible, like dead chicken, every morning and evening. The air in general smells like exhaust fumes. I don't know what that does healthwise, but it can't be good.

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

Hot and humid, basically all year. It has rained twice since I've been here.

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Schools & Children:

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

Karachi American School is actually a very good school. The graduates are the scions of Karachi's richest families and they get into Ivy League and top tier schools. That said, Karachi is an unaccompanied post. No children allowed.

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

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

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

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Expat Life:

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

Small.

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2. Morale among expats:

Low.

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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?

Depends on your definition.

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

Families aren't allowed. Singles occcasionally get frustrated by the security restrictions. Tandem couples seem to have an easier time.

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

It's a conservative muslim country. That said, you rarely leave the compound so it probably wouldn't matter so much.

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

Not on the compound. Women are not as respected as men period.

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

I've gone to Bangkok 3 times in less than a year.

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

We just jointly completed a 5000 piece puzzle. It only took a few months. All the Gulf States are a very short plane ride away and there are direct flights to and from them.

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

Pashminas. Hand carved wood furniture. Afghan and Persian Carpets.

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

Direct and relatively frequent flights to Dubai (1.5 hrs) and Bangkok (5 hrs).

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11. Can you save money?

Yes. There are not that many opportunities to spend money. You'll save more if you don't fly out a lot (but you might lose your sanity).

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. (The money was worth it.)

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

Sport equipment (except Golf Clubs).

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3. But don't forget your:

Swim Suit (one of your few sources of entertainment on compound).

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


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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

VICE Guide to Karachi: Pakistan's Most Violent City (on youtube)

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6. Do you have any other comments?

I wouldn't coem back. Think long and hard before you sign up for 2 years.

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Karachi, Pakistan 09/14/11

Background:

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

Keflavik, Naples, Dakar, Copenhagen, Colombo, Peshawar, Guangzhou, Bogota, Kingston, and Nogales

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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?

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 year - Summer-cycle 2010-2011

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

Government (US 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?

Housing for Consulate staff on the New Consulate Compound (NCC) consists of mostly one- and a few two-bedroom apartments in a three-storey building. The Marine Security Guard detachment has its own house, and there is a small house for the Consul General (both also on the NCC).The quarters are new and designed to US standards (mostly) but small. Because it’s new, the NCC landscaping is still somewhat lacking – the lawn is gravel, not grass, and all the trees are quite small. The commute, however, is a stroll across the compound. Off-compound housing is old, usually larger, and in a more lush environment. The commute can be 20-40 minutes each way.

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

There is a small commissary on the Consulate (membership only).There are only a small number of grocery stores approved by the RSO.Two are on the scale of a Costco, but with less emphasis on bulk buying. The others are smaller than a small Giant or Safeway in the US, but larger than a 7-Eleven. Imported can goods generally are available. Fresh vegetables and fruits are generally of poor quality and very dirty. They must be washed first in soapy water then in bleach-water to disinfect. Beef is actually a type of buffalo. It and the mutton and chickens available are of mediocre to poor quality – stringy and tough. No pork is available, except through the Commissary. Eggs are filthy. Long-shelf-life milk (UHT) is readily available.

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

Lots of books to read and DVDs to watch. Western ethnic (i.e. Mexican or Italian) or Chinese spices and sauces.

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

KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonalds are available. Local fast-food joints and chain restaurants also exist. Mostly, you can’t go to them, however. You can ask Motorpool to swing by and pick up something for you during one of their runs. There are several restaurants that you can usually go to. The RSO maintains a list. Places go on the list or drop off depending upon the security situation. Some of the restaurants are fairly good, most are mediocre. Someone’s gotten sick at one time or another at every single one.

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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?

Hardly any.

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

Mosquitoes mostly, and sometimes flies

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Daily Life:

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

DPO (like APO/FPO)

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

We didn't use any, although some did once or twice a week. Nanny = not applicable.

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

Both the NCC Staff Housing and the Marine House have gyms. There is a volleyball court, a half-court basketball, two horse-shoe pits, and a pool. Plus you can stroll or jog around the 22-acre compound.

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

There is a Citibank ATM in the Staff Housing.

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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?

Several English-language local newspapers are available, but are very unreliable in their reporting. Some foreign newspapers can be obtained, several days late. Cable TV provides several US and European channels. Service is unreliable, but not expensive.

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

Very usefull, but not essential for most positions in the Consulate.

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

Yes.

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Transportation:

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

You are not allowed to use any of them. Travel by USG fully-armored vehicles ONLY.

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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?

No POVs allowed at all.

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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?

DSL is available and not expensive ($20.00/mo)

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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?

Don't bother bring one - you'll be issued one by the Consulate.

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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?

Consulate housing allows only cats - no dogs.

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

None.

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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?

None for ASG dependents.

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

Don't bring a tux. Coat and tie are often required for meetings. Scarves or shawls for women are essential. No shorts off compound for either men or women.

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Health & Safety:

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

Very dangerous!Both terrorism and crime. You are not allowed out much, and travel everywhere in a fully-armored vehicle with an armed guard. Even to go shopping or to a restaurant. Venues for those and for any meetings are very restricted by security. Very little travel out of the city, and much of the city is off limits.

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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?

Karachi is very unhealthy. Water and air are polluted. Everything you touch is at least dusty if not downright filthy. The NCC is next to a mangrove swamp and near the port. Next door is a squatter village. Mosquitoes and flies spread diseases. The Consulate nurse talks about when, not if, you get sick…There is a health unit in the Consulate, staffed by a nurse, with twice weekly visits by a US-trained local doctor. Both are on call 24/7.The larger health unit in the Embassy in Islamabad is available for consultations. One local hospital, the Aga Khan, is quite good. The others are not/not recommended. MEDIVACs are easily arranged.

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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?

Somewhat unhealthy

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

Hot most of the year, usually humid, like most coastal cities. Two months during the "winter" are somewhat pleasant.

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Schools & Children:

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

Not Applicable - No children allowed. Adult dependents are allowed only if they are offered a job with the Consulate.

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

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

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

Not Applicable - No kids allowed.

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Expat Life:

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


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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?

Limited and sporadically available

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

Not good for families. If your spouse can obtain a job and therefore join you, it helps with both of your sanities.

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

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

Women are usually not treated as equals of men. Men without beards are often thought less of. Anyone dressing and/or acting “Western” (i.e., non-Muslim, non-South Asian) are generally despised.

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

Being there resembles a prison sentence – you’re stuck on compound and aren’t allowed out much. Too dangerous.

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

Not much. Or rather not much that you can get to. There are limited occasions to get to the museums or famous buildings and sites within the city. Very, very limited occasions to get to sites outside the city. There are numerous sites to see, if/when allowed. There is 7,000 years of history to see in southern Pakistan, but it’s very dangerous and the logistics of arranging a trip are difficult.

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

Not much. The rugs are available, but not particularly a bargain.

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

35% Post Differential & 35% Danger Pay

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, especially if you can stay sane without traveling out of country too often.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Didn't have much of a choice. Would probably have still gone, but I certainly don't want to have to go again.

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

Don’t bring a tux or too many fancy clothes. Some nicer outfits are OK.Don’t bring your car or a bicycle. Don’t bring fishing, hunting, or scuba gear. Don’t bring too much of anything; housing is small.

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3. But don't forget your:

Books & DVDs. Music. Any consumables for which you have a strong preference of brand.

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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