Vladivostok, Russia Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Vladivostok, Russia

Vladivostok, Russia 06/22/17

Background:

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

No. I lived previously in the FSU for approximately six years in two other cities.

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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, USA. 16 hours of air time plus layovers. Better to route through Seoul or Tokyo than Moscow, unless you have no choice.

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3. How long have you lived here?

3+ years.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

For official personnel, housing was almost entirely townhouses with a few apartment buildings post was trying to get rid of. You can see the US consulate from the main townhouse complex, making the drive about 5-10 minutes in good weather and a walk approximately 15-20. As others have noted, driving and even walking in winter adds a number of dangers. Strongly recommend 4x4 cars with winter tires and buy snow boots and/or attachable winter traction devices to your boots.

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

Surprisingly good. Most goods are from Europe or Asia and the variety and quality were nice. Most grocery stores lack any English language signs, however, but it's easy to use a phone to translate from labels if your Russian isn't strong. Household supplies were relatively available, but again are European and Asian equivalents to U.S. brands. Costs fluctuated a lot with certain items very affordable and others much more expensive for no apparent reason.

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

Not much. Official Americans can get dry goods through diplomatic pouch. Alcohol (anything other than beer or wine) is prohibitively expense (a small bottle of American whiskey cost in excess of $70; the same that costs $30 in the U.S.) The things you will not be able to get locally will largely be perishables, however, so stockpiling in advance may not be helpful.

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

Excellent, excellent restaurants. I don't recall any delivery services available, but you could take out food from many locations. I took full advantage of the restaurants here and had at least a dozen places that I miss dearly now (Zuma - high end, trendy Asian fusion/sushi), Moloko & Med - European/American, Dumpling Republic - Asian dumpling/noodle house, Paulaner Brewhouse - german beerhall and restaurant, Khlopok - amazing Uzbek restaurant and my favorite place in VL, Syndicate - steakhouse with live jazz music, etc.). When I arrived in 2012, I was told there were few options for quality food, but by exploring, it was easy to find truly excellent restaurants and great new options opened every months. While warm weather months are precious given the climate, the outdoor dining scene explodes during this time of year and you'll find yourself tempted to go out for dinner every night/day.

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

I didn't experience anything and don't necessarily agree with comments about mosquitoes seen in other posts, but maybe my home was simply situated differently. Tick issues out in the woods was something we were warned about, however.

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic pouch. I never used local facilities.

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

I apparently had a different experience than other respondents. I had a part-time maid who was exceptional, very friendly, and very thorough. It was years ago, but was very affordable in my opinion given how well she cleaned and how much time it saved me.

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

Actually, excellent. I belonged to Geometria Fitness and the facilities were very nice, equipment was well-maintained, and there were a number of classes you could join (spin, yoga, etc.). Cheaper than equivalents in DC, but not necessarily "cheap."

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

You may use them, but security advice from post was to avoid credit card use in general due to the threat of information being stolen. ATMs inside of shopping centers major hotels, and banks were considered safe. We were cautioned strongly against using ATMs found on the streets/exteriors of banks due to rampant skimming and hidden spycams.

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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?

It is very helpful, if not essential. By 2015, approximately half of the nice restaurants in town had an English language menu (often just one copy). In a few cases, we actually translated these for them. I would assume this has increased since then. English language capacity was very limited in general, however. Locals generally study Chinese, Japanese, or Korean in school rather than English. Russian instruction for foreigners is available locally and is affordable.

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

The consulate was the only ADA compliant building in the city, perhaps the entire region, if I recall correctly. Vladivostok is an extremely hilly city and most building entrances involved stairs without ramps. Over three years, I never once saw anyone in a wheelchair and only once saw someone with crutches. I imagine it would be a very challenging place for someone with disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

Very. I didn't find buses or trams as smelly or dirty as others have noted. It's Russia. It's the Far East. I've been on some pretty dirty subway trains in New York as well and didn't find public transport here to be particularly bad. Taxis were becoming more reliable by 2015 with radio dispatch companies sending reliable cars to you (you must speak Russian in order to make requests, however). Marked taxis were more expensive, but far safer than flagging down local "gypsy" cabs (private drivers hoping to make extra money). Same advice in any country - be extra careful at night and if you feel that the car is taking you somewhere other than your destination, trust your instincts. In three years at post, I don't recall any reports of people being attacked or robbed by drivers, though. Very safe if you are smart.

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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?

4x4, winter tires/all weather tires. Even with such a car, I lost control of my car twice and slid downhill. By luck, these never resulted in any collision with others. Russian drivers are often amazing in their winter driving skills (awe-inspiring, actually), but collisions in winter were a daily occurrence. Major roads would also be shut down in winter if the road's grade was too steep, funneling everyone to the same few thoroughfares. That resulted in a lot of accidents, frustration, road rage. I rode a motorcycle here infrequently (there is a big riding community here with a huge festival in May), but road conditions are poor and drivers show little concern for bikers. I quit early in my tour and never rode again for safety reasons.



Parts for Asian-make vehicles (Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, etc.) were readily available. Parts for European and, particularly, American make vehicles were unavailable or extremely hard to locate. I had to order a part through the pouch, but local mechanics are actually excellent and very creative. Theft from vehicles was more prevalent than theft of vehicles. If you don't have a garage or a private parking lot at your building, you may be at greater risk if you are parking on the street. Many apartment complexes have a guard or at least drop-arm gate to protect against car theft.

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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, but you may have to try several options before finding what works for you. I tried two cable providers and was very disappointed, though I did catch my neighbors splicing the service from the second provider. Eventually, I settled on a 4G modem service that was extremely fast and fairly dependable.

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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?

Several options here (MTS, Beeline, etc.) that were pretty reliable and relatively cheap.

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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?

Yes. I used a veterinarian recommended by other consulate employees and he was excellent. My dog was rather small (carry-on size) and the process to import and export the dog was surprisingly simple. You just need to make sure that your veterinary exam before export is made within the strict time limit before your departure date.

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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 sure. Limited opportunities without very strong Russian language skills. Jobs within the consulate were limited (CLO, nurse).

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

Business casual. Jeans and slacks are common for men. Women tended to dress more formally than their male counterparts.

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Health & Safety:

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

Be aware of the environment in light of bilateral relations. In 2012, this was a much more forgiving atmosphere. By 2015, there was a bit more anti-American sentiment. Having lived in Moscow, I found the people of Vladivostok to be much more worldly, open-minded, and accepting of other cultures than their counterparts in Moscow. Unlike western Russia, large portions of the population are of Asian descent and mixed families were common. That being said, foreigners (identified by language or appearance) will draw attention and not always in a positive way.



There were some issues with feral dogs at post, but the local government "resolved" this before the 2012 APEC Summit. They did not reappear in numbers even after three years, but may not be the case now. We did not have any issues in Vladivostok during my three years at post, but you would regularly see reports of bears and even tigers entering smaller towns and villages further north.

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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?

See above. Local medical care improved dramatically after the building of the medical center on Russkiy Island in 2015, which employed quality professionals and advanced equipment. There was also a European medical clinic that opened in 2015. Major issues would require a medical evacuation, but you can at least expect proper diagnosis and stabilization/preliminary treatment locally.

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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?

In general, excellent. Your location next to the sea blew away most of the pollution and resulted in most of the year being bright and sunny even when it was extremely cold. As others have noted, however, locals often burn their trash for weeks on end in summer and that ruins all the beneficial effects of the sea breeze. Fog here is amazing. One moment, it can be clear and bright. The next, you can barely see ten feet in front of you.

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

It is unlikely you will find a restaurant with gluten-free or other specialty menus, so you'll have to self-sufficient in this regard.

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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)?

Happily, Vladivostok is sunny with clear skies the majority of the year. This was a huge surprise to me. Even when it was bitter cold (-30), it was bright and clear unlike Moscow, which is generally gloomy, grey, and overcast for much of winter.

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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?

June-September was amazing - warm, sunny, clear skies, with few days of rain or storms. As noted previously, the outdoor dining scene and outdoor/rooftop bar scene explodes during these months. Winters can get very, very cold (thermal underwear, goose down coats, insulated boots, etc.), but days are still usually sunny and cloudless. When snow does fall, however, it stays around forever and makes life complicated here - driving is treacherous, walking is a challenge (there are almost no sidewalks in this city), accidents are common/people drive way too quickly, and many roads get closed. Brownouts were common and in winter and could have implications for life safety. By 2015, all embassy residences were outfitted with emergency generators, but this may not be the case for private citizens.

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Schools & Children:

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

As noted by others, very limited. The School For the Gifted was the only real option and was the school that American, Japanese, and Korean expat students attended (English language instruction). Expats with small children enrolled them in local kindergartens/preschools, and their children quickly learned Russian.

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

Yes. Soccer/European football is very popular with active sporting leagues. As of 2015, an American football league was starting up with teams from cities throughout Russia competing with one another.

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Expat Life:

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

Extremely small, however morale seemed to be very high. Vladivostok is a well-kept secret in my opinion. It is listed as a hardship post and, for certain people, this may hold true. However, the quality of life here is surprisingly good, the restaurant/cafe/bar scene was amazing, goods are relatively available, and if you are friendly and make an effort to communicate in Russian, most locals were extremely nice and accommodating. It is the overseas assignment that I miss the most.

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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?

The expats held a monthly expat happy hour. Otherwise, you'd have to just go out and meet people. There is enough to do and enough opportunities to interact to make this very easy.

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

As noted by others and consistent with much of the FSU, this is better place for single males than single females. Couples will enjoy as well. Families will have the most challenges out of those three groups. While there are special restaurants with kid-friendly sections/events, some waterfront parks with nice playgrounds, and things to explore, the geography does not lend itself to letting children run around on their own too much. If they lack language, it may also be harder for children to socialize with their peers. Seems like expat children tended to stick together. Anecdotal stories from the School for the Gifted were that the locals could be catty toward the expat children, but I had limited visibility on this.

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

As noted earlier, appearing foreign will get you significant attention - sometimes good, sometimes bad. It will vary by person.

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

I met some amazing people while here and truly enjoyed my assignment due to this. As far as experiences, I missed Kamchatka, but colleagues and friends who went their described it as "amazing." I did visit Lena's Pillars in northern Yakutia and it was breathtaking. Sakhalin Island, where most expat oil companies were located, was a fairly nice place to visit. Within Vladivostok, Russky Island had many opportunities for hiking, enjoying beaches, kayaking/rowing, etc. While in Russia, I visited Kazan which was a fun break and very different from both Moscow and Vladivostok. Worth a trip.

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

Russky Island. Some of the beaches north along the eastern coastline were amazing, just be careful that you don't go into any regions that are under military control (i.e., Fokina) as a foreigner. Khabarovsk has an festival in winter where the city is decorated with ice sculptures. The Chinese city of Harbin is also an easy flight from Vlad and their winter ice festival (a whole city is built of ice) is supposed to be amazing - sadly, I did not make it during my tour, but others went and loved it, though they said it was incredibly cold.

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

Traditional Russian art and souvenirs are available, but there is no specific local "specialty."

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

Sea views from consulate housing, nice waterfront areas, very large townhouses, excellent restaurants, enough to do to keep you occupied and not bored, easy travel to points of interest in Asia, and an environment that encourages you to learn/develop your Russian language skills.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

It was a much friendlier, more open environment than I had expected. It took me a while to explore restaurants and cafes to figure out which were the best. It would have been nice to get some quality advice beforehand. However, you can now find a lot of reviews/photos online that weren't there in 2012.

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

Absolutely. I wouldn't have imagined that I would miss Vladivostok as much as I do.

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

Expectations that Siberia/the Russian Far East is a barren wasteland covered in ice. It's a hidden gem if you have a sense of adventure, an open mind, and don't expect it to be like living in northern Virginia.

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4. But don't forget your:

Winter clothes. As sunny and clear as it is most of the year, that lovely sea breeze is unforgiving in January.

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Vladivostok, Russia 04/05/12

Background:

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

No, this is my fifth 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?

North Carolina. Two-days via either Seoul or Moscow.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We just left after 18 months.

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

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?

Consulate employees mostly live in townhouses nearby. They are very large and well-equipped. Housing here is very good in general.

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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 buy most things in Vlad, but they tend to be pricey. Most things are imported from European Russia, and fresh fruits and veggies can be hard to come by in winter. Meat is very poor quality.

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

4x4, stabilizer winter traction footwear, and heavy winter clothes.

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

There's a Cinnabon and a fake Subway, but no McDonald's. There are a surprising amount of good restaurants in town. There is good Italian, Korean, Uzbek, Georgian, (of course) Russian, and other random stuff. You won't go hungry there, but the nice restaurants are pricey. Expect to pay $50 per person.

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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?

Not much.

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

Lots. Mosquitoes are horrible, but the real danger are the disease carrying ticks in the forest. Treatment for these diseases are spotty and locals avoid the woods during tick season of May and June especially.

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic pouch. No DPO.

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

Hard to find trustworthy and reliable help, and it's not cheap.

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

Yes, but the nice places are very expensive. Around US$200 a month.

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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 used local ATM's frequently with no problem. Most nice restaurants and some stores take cards. The only problem is that some places won't accept foreign cards.

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

The Catholic priests are Americans and the Lutheran pastor is German. I think they give services in Russian though.

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

AFN and internet.

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

A lot. Very few people speak English.

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

Lots.

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Transportation:

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

Buses are cheap and safe, but stinky. Taxis are also not too bad, but probably not too safe (even though I used them a lot). There are no registered taxis. Just some random guys who drive around and pick up passengers. It's better to take them in groups.

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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 4x4 with high ground clearance. I know you were told that about your last post, but it turned out not to be true, BUT if you want to drive in winter in Vlad it's a must. One colleague brought a FWD car with studded snow tires, but he couldn't even make it up our driveway in winter. My Jeep did OK, but I recommend winter/snow tires. Even during summer, the roads are horrendous with massive potholes.

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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 not too pricey. Less than $100 a month for fast DSL.

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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?

Get one. Not too expensive, but unless you have a local ID it can be hard to get a sim card.

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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)?

I understand decent vets are available, but I have no personal experience. Russians love animals especially dogs.

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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?

Nope.

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

Informal compared to Moscow. People only wear suits for special occasions and people will actually stare if you're wearing a suit, because it's so unusual. It's a very dirty city, especially in winter, so your clothes will become dirty/damaged very quickly.

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Health & Safety:

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

Driving here is deadly. The city is very hilly, similiar to San Fransisco, but the streets are covered with snow and ice 5 months out of the year. This makes driving treacherous. Drunk people at night can be a nuisance, but during my time I never witnessed any real violence on the streets.

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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?

Lots! For anything worse than a cold you should be medevac'd to Korea.

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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?

It is usually good unless our neighbors are burning their trash.

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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's Siberia! Generally it's colder than Moscow, but the winters are clear and sunny. They are very survivable even for the unitiated as long as you have the proper winter gear. Spring is monsoon season so it's very rainy and windy. Summer and fall are too short, but beautiful. In summer the town really is a beach community with lots of watersports which surprised me.

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Schools & Children:

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

My kids went to a local Russian kindergarten, which they loved. There is a school called "The School for Gifted Children" which teaches in English but the teachers and most of the students are Russian. There is no accredited international school as of 2012.

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

None.

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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?

My kids enjoyed their school, but the facilities are atrocious compared to the US. Their school costs around $500 a month. You can hire a full-time nanny for around $800 - $1000 a month, it's hard to find someone reliable and trustworthy. Also, pre-schools never accept kids who are not potty trained. Russian women can take three years maternity leave, so there's not much demand for pre-schools for small kids.

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

Not really in the American sense. Boys have martial arts class at school and girls do ballet. Hockey classes for kids are available.

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Expat Life:

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

Very, very, small. One of the smallest in the world in any city where we have a Consulate or Embassy I'm sure. This isolation is one of the most difficult parts of this post.

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2. Morale among expats:

Surprisingly high. Most expats are lifers married to locals, so they've chosen to make their life in Vlad, because they enjoy 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?

Bars, restaurants, clubs. Russians love to party.

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

I was there with my young family and we enjoyed it. Russians are very kid friendly and there's relatively lots for families to do. However, it's definitely a tough place. Single people like it if they speak Russian and are interested in meeting locals. Families with older children should consider carefully before moving to Vlad due to the lack of schools.

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

Russians are pretty homophobic, so I imagine it could be tough for openly gay people.

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

Yes to all of the above. During my time in Vlad, there was no racial violence that I'm aware of and there are lots of Asians in the city. However, the racism that persists in European Russia could easily spread to Vlad any time, so caution is advised.

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

Getting to know the locals, hanging out in bars and restaurants, traveling around the region to experience the untamed wilderness.

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

Hang out with locals, hit the bars/ clubs, learn to ice skate, ice fish, go to Kamchatka.

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

Cheaply made, but expensive, Russian souvenirs, vodka, restaurants, travel to other parts of the Russian Far East.

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

Learning about winter sports, living in a rarely visited (by foreigners) part of the world, getting to know a new culture. Russians in Vladivostok are very friendly and warm, especially compared with Moscow. A good comparison would be New York vs. Seattle.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, if you don't leave too much. Flights out are expensive.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, but not with school-aged kids.

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

Golf clubs, sandals, and 1st world living standards.

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3. But don't forget your:

Winter clothing, especially something for ice traction, a 4x4, and a healthy sense of patience and humor.

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


Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Not sure. Maybe Doctor Zhivago, but that applies to anywhere in Russia.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Vladivostok is truly unlike anywhere else in the world. It has a high hardship differential that is very, very, well deserved. I had previously served at another high hardship post, which in comparison was a cakewalk compared to Vlad. You really have to live like a local, because there are no expat facilities. However, Vlad is just so crazy and so off the wall, that's it's hard not to enjoy your overall experience there if you're an adventurous person.

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Vladivostok, Russia 06/01/09

Background:

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

Several

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2. How long have you lived here?

One Year

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

Foreign Service Officer at US Consulate

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

There are pretty much two ways to get to Vlad from the US -- through Seoul or through Moscow.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Lots of modern housing, though pricey. Many places have a view of the bay.

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

Practically everything you need is here. If you are into Japanese brands, they are available everywhere. Some things are quite costly, though. There are several large supermarkets.

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

Nothing in particular. Almost everything is available.

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

There are a couple of Russian fast food places. They're okay, but there are no American chains. There are plenty of restaurants -- one great Indian one, several Korean ones that I like, and a few good Japanese ones. Also Italian and Georgian among others. They are all kind of pricey, but overall worth it.

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

Ticks are a problem because they carry deadly encephalitis. Vaccinations are available against it, though, and ticks are not a problem in the city.

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic pouch, though the international express services work fine here.

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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, but pricey.

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

Yes, there are quite a few.

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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 use them all the time. Never had a problem, but maybe I'm just lucky.

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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?

AFN for the diplomats. Satellite TV from a Russian provider that has a few English 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?

Not too many store clerks speak English, so 'shopping Russian' would be useful to have, though western-style stores are plentiful and talking is not really necessary.

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

They would have many problems. The sidewalks are a mess. The hills are steep. Buildings are not accessible.

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Transportation:

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

Available and affordable. Currently 11 rubles per trip.

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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?

People will say you need 4WD. I don't agree. I have a mini-van and it works just fine. There are PLENTY of potholes, so cars with low clearance should be avoided. In the winter the roads do ice up, so snow tires or studded tires are a must.

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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?

High-speed internet is available but pricey. Most plans limit the number of megs per month, but they are fast. Unlimited-use plans are available, but they're slower.

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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?

Not particularly. Both subscription and pay-as-you-go plans are available.

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Pets:

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

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

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

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

People are much less casual here than they are in the States.

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Health & Safety:

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

Well, it's not exactly clean, but I've been to plenty of places that are worse.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Don't know, but getting a tick-borne encephalitis vaccine is a must.

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

Well, petty crime is a problem, but I have not had any acquaintances get robbed. The most dangerous thing in this town is the traffic, in my opinion.

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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?

My biggest 'health concern' is surviving as a pedestrian. The sidewalks are very iffy (when there are sidewalks). Many places don't even have them. The town is very pedestrian-unfriendly. I don't know much about medical care here, since we didn't really need to use it much. I know MRIs and bloodwork are available.

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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?

Winters are quite cold, summers are very hot, and spring and autumn are really nice. I would say that it roughly resembles New England weather. There is snow in the winter, and it definitely gets below freezing, but it's a more coastal climate, and it is definitely not as drastic as in Siberia. For really cold weather you need to go to Yakutsk.

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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 not really many good options for older kids. There's one private English-language school, and one public school that teaches half in English, half in Russian. My kids already spoke a bit of Russian, so we sent them to a Russian-language private school, which, we came to notice, wasn't so strong academically. Schooling here for younger kids is okay, but for older kids the options are extremely limited.

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

I don't know, but probably very 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?

I hear there are plenty of nannies available, but they are a bit pricey and likely do not speak English.

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

Not that I know of.

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Expat Life:

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

Very small.

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2. Morale among expats:

Seems pretty good to me. I like it here, and most of the people I talk to seem to, as well.

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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?

Can't say I have much of one, so I can't comment. People here seem eager to meet foreigners, so it seems like it should be easy.

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

Single people seem to get out and about. It's okay for couples with young children. People with older children might need to look into alternative schooling plans (more below).

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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?

I have not heard of too much, though I am sure things do happen occasionally. What I can say, though, is that people out here in the East are much more tolerant than people in Moscow.

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

Winter is fun for skiing at a place just out of town. It's not the Alps, but it's good to keep in practice. There is one year-round skating rink and several outdoor ones in the winter. There's a beach area just outside of town. There are professional basketball and soccer matches.

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

In town you can get all the typical Russian stuff -- matroshkas, laquerware, etc. If you make it to other areas in the region, like Yakutsk, Sakhalin, or Kamchatka, there are plenty of cool traditional things made by indigenous people.

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9. Can you save money?

The place is not especially cheap, so it might be harder to save money here than in some other places. Also, airfare out of here is expensive.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Sure would. I like it.

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

expectations of road trips or frequent travel around the region (more on that below in comments section).

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3. But don't forget your:

snow tires, skis and skates.

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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:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

When you look at a map, Vladivostok appears quite close to China, Koera, and Japan. Geographically they are close, but getting to those places is very expensive. The cheapest international flight is to Harbin in China and it costs about 15,000 rubles for a round trip. Seoul currently costs 22,000. There are ferries to Korea and Japan, but they are not much cheaper, and diplomats are not allowed to travel on them without special permission. Domestic flights are expensive, as well, so trips to places worth traveling to will entail significant cost (21,000 for Kamchatka, for example). Note: USD=31 rubles. Private vehicles are not allowed to cross the border with China, so road trips there, though close, are impossible. There are a few nice places within a few hours' drive from Vlad, but trips further afield would be dangerous and take a while.

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Vladivostok, Russia 04/10/09

Background:

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

No. Moscow, Tunisia, other

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years

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

Government, Foreign Service

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

from west coast, via Seoul, then Los Angeles. From east coast, through Seoul or via Moscow.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Abundant, but expensive and not safe in terms of overall security or xenophobia.

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

Available, but 2-3 times more than U.S.

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

Myself, home: would not come here.

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

Yes, but substandard quality and bad food.

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

Tick borne encephalisis (potentially fatal).

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic pouch

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

Rip off. Not professional.

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

Yes.

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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?

Be careful. Rip offs everywhere.

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

Yes. Various.

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

NO WAY, JOSE.

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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?

A lot

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

Many. Repeat: Many.

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Transportation:

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

Safe, relatively. Affordable? 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?

4 WD ONLY

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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. Expensive. Filtered.

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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?

Yes: Get one.

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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)?

No way, Jack.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

no.

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

Formal. Decent.

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Health & Safety:

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

Unhealthy

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

ticks.

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

Yes

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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?

Active TB, HIV/AIDS rampant.

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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?

Sunny in winter, cold, some sudden storms, extreme weather, pleasant in winter when sunny only, but cold

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Schools & Children:

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

None.

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

None.

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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?

None.

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

Yes.

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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:

SUBSISTENCE.

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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?

If you love strip bars and go go girls, a veritable paradise.

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

Yes, if you don't mind pollution, crime, expensive, remote location

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

yes, if discreet. General intolerance, but liveable.

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

Yes, non standard religions are persecuted or intolerated.

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

10 things, over and over. Nothing more.

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

Nothing that isn't kitsch.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes/No.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

NO, unless you come short term. It wil burn both ends of the fuse, quickly.

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

Peace of mind. Morals. Standards.

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3. But don't forget your:

Stamina, sense of purpose, countdown chain.

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

Siberia key word.

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

Siberia key word.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

People are great. If you are young,more tolerable.

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