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

Personal Experiences from Yekaterinburg, Russia

Yekaterinburg, Russia 02/17/20

Background:

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

Prior to living in Yekaterinburg, we had been posted in Matamoros, Mexico, and Riga, Latvia. We were also both Peace Corps Volunteers in rural Bulgaria.

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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?

Our home base is in Indiana. Door to door, it took my daughter and me 27 hours to get there last summer, on two flights with a connection in Finland. Sadly, the direct Yekaterinburg-Helsinki flight has been discontinued, so now we must use three flights to get home, connecting through Moscow and then somewhere else in Europe. The flight to Moscow is approximately two and a half hours, and there are many daily flights.

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3. How long have you lived here?

A year and a half.

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

Diplomatic mission at the US consulate.

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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 is a large apartment in the city center. We have an open concept living/dining room and kitchen, two large bedrooms, den/office, and 1.5 bathrooms. Our housing is comparable to that of other colleagues. All consulate housing is within a 10-15 minute walk of the consulate.

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

Root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beets), onions, and cabbage are always available and always very inexpensive. In summer months, fresh produce is plentiful and inexpensive. In the winter, we can still get usually the same produce as in summer, but some things are much more expensive, such as berries and peppers, as they are imported from far away. Things like avocados and sweet potatoes are always expensive, no matter the time of year, and can be more difficult to find. As far as dry goods are concerned, things like grains (rice, buckwheat) and legumes (lentils, dry beans) are plentiful and inexpensive. Quinoa is available but expensive. Meat and fish are widely available, as are cheese, eggs, and dairy. We eat as vegan as possible, and it is sometimes difficult, especially when we go out to restaurants, but it's not impossible to maintain this diet in Yekaterinburg. Many grocery stores are within walking distance of housing and the consulate. There is also a large Costco-like store called Metro, approximately 15 minutes' drive from hour home, next to IKEA, another huge grocery store called Ashan, and a large mall. Malls are ubiquitous here!

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

We can order things we cannot find locally through diplomatic pouch, and the things we usually order are foods to supplement our vegan diet that we are not able to find here (nutritional yeast, miso, etc.), and hair care products, as my daughter and I have curly hair. We did sent some items with our HHE, and I wish we had sent more almond butter, brown sugar, and powdered sugar, as these items are expensive or not the same quality locally.

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

Within walking distance, we have a very good Chinese restaurant, Georgian restaurant, and several pizza places. There are also many, many burger places, and of course Russian cuisine is plentiful. Many restaurants have delivery services. About a mile from our home is a large, very nice mall, with many restaurants as well. American fast food restaurants and chains include Burger King, McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks, Papa John's, Baskin Robbins, and Subway. Even though tea is the national drink (and there is plenty of tea to be found), coffee shops are also ubiquitous.

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

No. (It's too cold for much of the year for any insects!) Outside the city, mosquitoes can be a nuisance, and ticks are a problem in wooded areas. It is recommended to have a tick encephalitis vaccine.

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Daily Life:

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

Yekaterinburg is a diplomatic pouch post. We receive mail from the US typically within two to three weeks of it being sent. Outgoing pouch mail goes only once a month and also takes about two to three weeks to arrive. We have no experience with local postal 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?

Housekeepers are certainly available for hire, but we do not have one, so cannot comment on the cost. We do have a nanny who comes three mornings a week for child care, and we pay her 500 rubles per hour (approximately US$8). There is a nanny service that the consulate can recommend (with full time nannies for those who need it), and the rates are much lower than what we pay. (We found our nanny through a local employee and we love her and trust her completely, so are happy to pay a bit more.)

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

There is a wonderful gym, World Class Fitness, a five-minute walk from our apartment. It is very modern, and very clean. It includes all of the typical workout machines (bikes, treadmills, ellipticals, stair master), and weight machines and free weights. There is a variety of fitness classes included with one's membership, including classes for children/child care so that you can drop your child in a class while you have a workout. There is also a swimming pool, children's pool, and Turkish bath (hammam) in the pool area. The men's and women's locker rooms each have a Finnish sauna as well- so nice for warming up before going back out into the cold. The locker rooms are always clean and well attended. Trainers are available for one-to-one instruction/coaching for an extra fee, comparable to trainer's fees in the US. The monthly membership for an adult averages about US$65 per month. The only drawback is that you have to pay for an entire year's membership upfront (about US$850), and children require a membership as well (about US$225 per year). The gym also has a cafe, and massage therapy services. This is only one of many gyms in the area, but is the one most used by consulate employees.

The basement of the consulate building houses a very small gym as well, free to all consulate staff and family members. It includes a treadmill, elliptical machine, free weights, showers and Finnish sauna.

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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?

Yes, credit cards are widely accepted and safe to use. We also use Apple Pay on our phones frequently. ATMs are very common, and as long as they are connected with a bank, they are safe to use. Consulate employees can also write checks and get local currency from the cashier at the consulate.

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

None that we are aware of. The expat community is very, very small here. Most churches are Russian Orthodox, and there is a small Catholic Church just about 100 meters' walk from the consulate.

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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?

English is not widely spoken in Yekaterinburg. It is definitely beneficial to have a basic grasp on shopping vocabulary, for example. There are indeed tutors available through the consulate.

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

Yes. Ramps are not nearly as common as in the US and stairs are everywhere (and in winter months, those stairs are often icy). The consulate occupies the third and fourth floors of the building in which it is housed and there is no elevator. We do not have physical disabilities, but it can be challenging getting around town pushing our daughter's stroller, so I imagine having physical disabilities would be very difficult.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, and yes. We hardly use public transportation because almost everything we need is within walking distance, and taxis are inexpensive. We use the Gett or Yandex (similar to Uber and Lyft) apps on our phones to order taxis. There is usually an option to order a taxi with a carseat, but the carseats vary widely (sometimes they are just a booster).

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

If you bring a car, you will need winter tires (which can be purchased locally). Most consulate employees do not have cars. We brought ours, a Honda Civic, because it was shipped directly from our previous post, but often we wish we hadn't. We hardly use it, maybe once a month. We have to start the engine every week to ensure the battery doesn't die (especially in winter months), and it has died once already. It is handy to have a car, however, if you envision traveling outside the city frequently.

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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, high speed internet is available and inexpensive. Internet was already working in our apartment when we arrived.

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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?

Consulate employees are provided an iPhone through a local provider. I (the EFM) kept my home-country plan through T-Mobile. I did purchase a local phone here, but found myself never using it. Everyone uses WhatsApp, so I only use my US phone now, with WhatsApp to stay in contact with local friends/contacts.

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Pets:

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

We have a large dog, whom we brought with us. There is no quarantine, and people are generally friendly toward dogs here (many locals have dogs). There is a very nice vet who makes house calls, both for regular check-ups and vaccines, and for health concerns. One thing to keep in mind is that while in the US, vets will give dogs (and cats?) a three-year rabies vaccine, Russia does not recognize this three-year vaccine. So, you will want to make sure your pet receives a yearly vaccine while in Russia, even if s/he has received the three-year vaccine in the US, just in case you find yourself in a situation of needing to leave the country suddenly. If the pet does not have a current rabies vaccine as recognized by Russia, s/he will not be able to travel. Pet stores and supplies are widely available and cost is comparable to in the US. Protection from fleas/ticks is highly recommended in summer months.

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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?

For EFMs, there are opportunities to work at the consulate, full-time or part-time. I recommend having a security clearance in advance of coming to post, if possible. Russian labor laws do not allow spouses of diplomats to work locally.

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

At work - suits/dresses are typical when meeting with contacts, but can be less formal for quieter work days. In public places, dress codes are comparable to that in the US. Russians generally tend to dress up to go out, especially women. Formal dress may be required for some receptions or events, and is common but not required for attending things like ballet or opera performances.

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Health & Safety:

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

No personal security concerns here; Yekaterinburg is a safe city and safe post. It is important to note, however, that one should have no expectation of privacy here, including at home when talking amongst family members.

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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?

No particular health concerns to note. The quality of medical care is adequate for most things. I had arthroscopic knee surgery here, and had a very pleasant experience, and am very pleased with the results of the surgery. For those needing or wanting comprehensive or state-of-the-art medical services, there are excellent services in Moscow. Pharmacies are ubiquitous and carry every medication we have ever needed. Prescriptions can also be filled through Express Scripts if needed. The RMO from Moscow makes quarterly trips to post. Otherwise, we have two local Russian doctors, one of whom is a pediatrician), who come to the consulate once a week.

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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?

Air quality is moderate. In the city center, it can be bad at times due to traffic, but I have been able to run outside with no big breathing issues. Seasonal allergies can be a problem for some. Generally, air quality does not have a negative impact on health, as far as I know.

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

Medications like Claritin and Zyrtec are readily available; epi-pens are not. It is prohibited for anyone other an a doctor to administer use of an epi-pen in Russia, so if you require one, you must bring it with you to post (and back-ups). There are a couple of epi-pens in the health unit at the consulate.

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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)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder can definitely be an issue here, as the winters are very long and dark. It is also easy to feel isolated here, because the post is so small. Currently, I am the only EFM at post, and that has been a bit difficult. Of course, people are always changing, so hard to say whether I will still be the only EFM six months from now.

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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?

Winter typically begins with a first snowfall in late September or early October, and lasts until late April, when the snow finally melts. Typical daytime high winter temperatures tend to range from single digits to low 20s, Fahrenheit, with some days being well below 0. Many locals have told us that the past two winters (the only two we have experienced so far) have been unusually mild. Snow generally remains on the ground from late October until late April. There is brief spring for a what seems like a couple of weeks, and then summers (June-August) are very pleasant, with daytime high temperatures usually in the 70s with low humidity. Autumn seems to last only a few weeks and is cool.

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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 no international schools at post. It is not recommended for school-aged children to come to Yekaterinburg (unless you'd like for them to attend a local Russian school).

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

There are preschools, which are called kindergartens here. Children can attend them typically beginning at age two. Our daughter is currently two, but she does not yet attend a kindergarten. She does go to a small English-language preschool for one hour a week, with me. This preschool is the only one of its kind (English-language) in the area. There is also a Montessori school that my friend sometimes attends with her son, but I don't know much about it.

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

Yes, these are plentiful. Our two year-old daughter currently takes ballet classes at a local ballet school for young children, and she is very happy there.

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Expat Life:

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

Let's be real: How many expats do you think live in the Urals? :) The expat community is very small here. The U.S. consulate has fewer than 10 American staff members. The British consulate as one employee. Other consulates include German, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Czech, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Uzbek. If you attend the diplomatic receptions and national days hosted by these consulates, you will get to know the small expat community members, which is nice and a bit unique. The overall morale is positive - the American staff is a close-knit team that works well together and is supported by a WONDERFUL local staff.

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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?

We get together regularly for dinners, birthday parties, and other holidays, usually at a restaurant or at someone's house. I am not aware of any groups or clubs.

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

It is a good city for everyone except families with school-aged children, because there is no international school.

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

No. Despite the fact that younger Russians are more open, the LGBT community is frequently targeted and subject to harassment by the Orthodox church and the government. I've heard that some LGBT activists have been assaulted and even killed, and even LGBT student allies have been scrutinized by university leaders. It is illegal to discuss or support LGBT issues among minors in Russia.

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Yes and no. Our feeling is the people in Yekaterinburg generally tend to be friendlier than in Moscow, but Russian culture can generally be a bit shy. This not true of everyone, of course, and we have made a few local friends, mostly through playgroups and ballet classes that our daughter attends. Yekaterinburg is a mix of Russians and Central Asians. There is a very small community of African university students. Otherwise, there is not much diversity in the city at all. Our daughter is Black, and people stare at us when we are out in public, and often ask to take photos of our daughter, which is unpleasant for us. Generally, people are very complimentary toward her, and seem only to be curious, but sometimes, the staring is bothersome. Yekaterinburg was a closed city for many years, and there is not a lot of diversity; therefore, anything that is out of the ordinary tends to attract staring.

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

See above.

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

We took a trip last summer to Lake Baikal. It was unforgettable and something we'd highly recommend for anyone serving in Russia.

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

There are many museums for those who like art and history, and there are many, many theaters as well. Yekaterinburg has a wonderful philharmonic, and its beautiful opera house is home to the Ural ballet company, which is excellent. There are several parks within the city, and several walking paths along the river that are nice, especially in the summer months. By Russian standards, Yekaterinburg is becoming a cultural hotspot, with many music venues (such as a jazz club) and hip bars.

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

Yes, if you like malls and brand names such as Gucci. No, if you like handmade crafts.

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

Yekaterinburg is very safe, with creature comforts widely available, and most of what you need within walking distance. Two things that I like that I had never seen before: 1) you can buy fresh produce from one of the many produce kiosks in the city center... these are walk-up windows that make it easy to buy fruits and vegetables for someone like me who is often out walking with a stroller and a dog, and therefore not able to easily enter a shop. 2) Many restaurants offer a children's play area, staffed by a paid attendant who will watch your child while you enjoy some kid-free time at your table during the meal.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Nothing has been especially unexpected for us.

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

Yes.

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

Summer clothes, and possibly your car.

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4. But don't forget your:

Winter gear, board games, books, and patience.

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

"The Russians" by Hedrick Smith
"Travels in Siberia" by Ian Frazier
"Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia" by Anne Garrels

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6. Do you have any other comments?

We have found it especially beneficial to our physical and mental well being to take a trip outside of Russia about every three months, especially during the cold months. From Yekaterinburg, there are direct flights to Dubai (five hours) and several cities in Turkey. There are also seasonal direct flights to a handful of European cities, as well as to places east, such as Beijing and Bangkok. Otherwise, there are several flights a day to Moscow, from which one can easily get just about anywhere.

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Yekaterinburg, Russia 08/24/18

Background:

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

No. We lived in Ciudad Juarez and London prior to moving to Yekaterinburg

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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?

Clarksville, TN. It took 18-24 hrs depending on connections.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

Department of State.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most were city apartments located 10-20 minutes walking distance from the consulate. Some housing had to be relinquished due to the 2017 draw down.

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

All the necessary and more groceries were available and accessible. Some people would bring butter and some other products from Moscow commissary, but we never found any need to do that.

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

None. All were available on local economy or could be purchased through Amazon.

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

There was food delivery for anything possible, but it took a very long time. On average 45-50 minutes for a pizza delivery. Sadly, by the time it arrived, it would have to be reheated. We went out rarely as we had smaller children.

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

When the snow melts, for about two - three weeks monster mosquitos come out. They are big and they are not shy about biting you either. However, it only lasts two-three weeks and then they are gone for the entire year. We've never had any other issues and had our apartment windows open frequently.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch.

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

There was a pool of current employees that were working for past families. I'd say because we were American the prices were a bit overhyped but still affordable. I speak Russian so I hired a babysitter through a local hiring site vs. going for someone from the embassy pool.

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

World class is a big one but expensive. It might be US$70-$100/ month depending on the service once chooses. The consulate has a small functional gym that I used often especially in the winter. During spring and summer you can run outside as there are several parks near the consulate.

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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?

Yes, especially the contactless payment method. I used ATMs as well though some people were cash only from the consulate cashier's office. We did have people hack our bankcards twice and we had to replace them, but nothing USAA and Chase could not fix right away.

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

None. We went to a local Catholic church near the consulate and it was a frustrating experience. Though I spoke Russian, I could not understand the Old Testament part as they were using old Russian.

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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?

You can get by with limited language skills. Most young kids speak some English.

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

Some sidewalks outside the city center might be hard to access due to uneven pavements. Generally, area around the consulate was very accessible and pavements seemed in better conditions.

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Transportation:

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

Yes. You have a choice of trams, walking, buses, and maxim taxi which is like an Uber. There is a metro also but it's only one line and I've never ridden it. We mostly walked, used cabs, trams, and buses.

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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?

Anything will do here as long as you can buy snow tires for them. Snow tires are a must if you have a car. We had people at post without a car and that's also totally doable.

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Phone & Internet:

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

Yes. It'd cut off some time for repairs but still did the job.

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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?

MTS, Megafone, Beeline are all companies that offer contractless SIMs and services. You get the great service and speed for US$10-$20/month depending on what package you choose.

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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. We had two cats and one of them was on a prescription food. That food was available here and we did not have to have a prescription for it which made ordering it so much easier. Also, most pet shops and pet good sites delivery to your home. The delivery option comes in handy in the winter when you don't want to run around town in the frigid cold.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

There is no local-based employment as we are not allowed to work on the local economy. You can apply for some jobs at the consulate but most need high-level clearances and options are few. I was doing online studying during our tour so employment was not my concern.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are several opportunities with local charities. The CLO has a list as well as working with the women's international club.

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

Russians, espeically women, dress up when going out. Americans tend to dress down compared to them. I'd suggest dressing up like they do if you don't mind standing out. If that's not an issue, then you can dress like you would in the state minus workout gear. Women here really do not wear work out gear outside unless actually working out.

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Health & Safety:

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

No bgt security concerns just like anywhere be aware. We had no incidents the two years that we've lived here.

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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?

Spring can be hard on allergy suffers due to meling snow and some snow removal chemicals that pulverize in the Spring. Air is very and I mean very dry in the winter, so lots of lotion and air humidifiers are a must.

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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?

Generally, it's ok but again if you are an allergy sufferer or have issues with asthma, spring might be tough for a couple of weeks.

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

Bring your meds with you. They sell Claritin and Allergra on the local market, but sometimes the quality is hit and miss. It'd be best if they are ordered from the States.

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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)?

Winter blues are a problem due to short day light during the winter months. Usually, from October through end of February. The post issues the mood lamps but they had very little effect on us. However, having said that there are winter blues here there is plenty of sun in Yekaterinburg. We lived in St. Petersburg in the winter as well, and they have much grayer winter than here.

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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?

Summers, if not rainy, are very pleasant. The average temperature is around 70-80F. The winters are harsh, dry and cold if you grew up somewhere with a mild winter. We were from North Carolina so this cold was severe for us. The good news is that it is all dry meaning it does not feel too bad. We spent more time outdoors during the winter than in the spring and fall. Those seasons can also be wet and muddy. Just layer up and don't be afraid to go outside.

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Schools & Children:

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

This was a bit negative. There is no international school here, but I do understand that our former English teacher (who is an American living in Yekaterinburg) opened up his own language school. I am not sure of all the details of his school's program. Our kids went to Russian nursery and kindergarten. In the kindergarten, they had 2nd half of their day in English and the 1st half in Russian. If you want your kids to be immersed in Russian, this is a great post as few people speak English here.

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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?

Yes, but again they are all in Russian. There are some good Russian day care facilities. There is also a Montessori school not far from the consulate but it's all in Russian.

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

Yes, again all in Russian. It might be hard to find things in English. If the current lack of international school continues at this post, this is a great post for families with kids age five and under, but anything above five without the language would be difficult.

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Expat Life:

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

It's a small community. We had some Brits and few Americans, but none government related that live in the city.

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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?

Any gatherings are advertised well through social media, so that's one way to meet people. Consulate parties and events are an opportunity to meet other expatriates. There are several American basketball players that play for a local women's team. We met them at a consulate function and later went to see them play.

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

I would imagine it would be lonely here being single. I had a family with two kids but alone it'd be tough especially during the winter.

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

I cannot comment as I have not come across that issue. I would assume no as Russians here are very strict to adhering to traditions and rules. We don't seem to see as much diversity here as we did in St Petersburg.

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

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

You can save a lot of money. Produce is cheap espeically during the summer when most fruits are in season. They come from central Asia and are very delicious. Generally, produce is not the best outside its season.

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

Skiing, skating and hockey playing. If you love winter sports, this is heaven with a nice ski lift fewer than 2 hrs away from Yekateirnburg.

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

There are plenty of gems when it comes to jewelry shopping since the Ural Mountains are rich with all types of minerals. Word of advice on buying oil paintings here, one might have problem taking them back when leaving post. I understand that oil paintings are protected by some cultural law and have to undergo a specific verification process before leaving the post (even if the painting was brought into Russia from another country).

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

It is a friendly place and if you are looking for cultural experience this is it. There are some direct flights to Asia which might come in handy during the cold months.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Not to bring our vehicle. It just sat most of the time.

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

Yes.

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

You can leave behind everything and be able to buy it here or order online. German products are very prevelant here.

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4. But don't forget your:

Liquid vanilla. Russians only use powder vanilla.

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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. Do you have any other comments?

Don't let the cold scare you away from this great post.

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Yekaterinburg, Russia 08/18/10

Background:

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

I lived in Sydney, Australia (as a tourist) and Tashkent, Uzbekistan (as Peace Corps volunteer).

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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?

Cleveland, Ohio. Connections from DC through Frankfurt and Moscow. 16-20 hours depending on layovers.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Almost exactly one year.

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

US Consulate employee.

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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 staff live in medium-sized apartments in the center of town within a 10-minute walk of the consulate.

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

There are several supermarkets around the city. Western-brand products are difficult to come by, and the availability of fruits and vegetables can vary from week to week. Costs are comparable to those in DC.

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

Alcohol. Vodka is cheap. Everything else is 2-3X the cost in the US. Bring some 220v converter plugs. You can never have enough.

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

There are several Subways and two McDonald's located outside the city center. Restaurants generally offer Russian cuisine. Ethnic restaurants offer "Russified" versions of dishes. Learn to embrace mayonnaise and dill.

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

None in the city. Some mosquitoes if you venture out of the city during the summer, but nothing unusual. Ticks can also be a problem in the summer in the woods.

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Daily Life:

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

The diplomatic pouch comes once a week. There is no reliable service for outbound mail.

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

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

The consulate has a small gym. There are several fitness centers around the city, though I can't vouch for their quality or value.

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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 are several international banks located around the city, including Citibank. The same rules apply here as anywhere: don't use an ATM card not attached to a large bank.

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

None.

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

AFN.

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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?

Russian is highly recommended. Most restaurants, taxi drivers, and service people speak little to no English.

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

Icy sidewalks during the winter. The sidewalks are not cleared. The ice tends to build up after several weeks. (The consulate is currently located up several flights of stairs. No elevator.)

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Transportation:

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

Public transportation is cheap and widely available. Taxis don't use meters. Negotiate up front and try not to use gypsy cabs.

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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?

Roads in the city are not great, and they can be worse outside the city. The highways connecting the major cities are relatively well maintained. Studded snow tires are recommended for winter driving. Something with a high clearance is also recommended. Bring your own filters or be prepared to pay through the nose for parts. Russian drivers tend to ignore lane lines. Once you are used to being cut off, the driving is not so bad.

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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?

Internet is about $20 month. Pretty good speed.

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

The consulate will supply phones to direct-hire employees. Otherwise, bring a phone for use with a SIM card. Service is inexpensive.

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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. But you need a current vet certificate and a "pet passport."

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

Several good vets are available.

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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.

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

Russians tend to dress more nicely than Americans. Business casual is acceptable. Men rarely wear shorts in public.

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Health & Safety:

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

In general, it is a safe city. Given the very small expat community here, speaking English loudly will attract unwanted attention, but that can be said of almost anywhere.

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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?

Common low-level health conditions can be addressed by local clinics. Anything more serious would require a medevac.

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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?

Generally good. Traffic exhaust is becoming a problem. The fires in the countryside this summer caused several weeks of smog.

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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?

Cold and colder. Winter begins in November and goes through April. It has been known to snow here in June. Having said that, summer is quite pleasant. Spring and fall vary from cold and rainy to cool and sunny.

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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 no international schools.

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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?

Very, very small. Some Europeans, a couple of English teachers and missionaries.

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2. Morale among expats:

Varied. Size of the expat community makes it hard to judge as a whole. Some people like it here, some hate 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?

Good nightlife. A wide variety of cultural institutions: opera, ballet, orchestra, theater, etc.

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

Fantastic for single males. Families with school-aged children are not recommended, due to the lack of schools. Couples and families with small children do fine.

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

Russian society generally frowns upon homosexuality, but there is a small GLB community.

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

Anyone here with Asian features or dark skin will attract attention, both the good and bad kind. Aside from that, there is little racial or ethnic tension here. Gender equality is one of the few good things that seem to have been kept over from the Soviet days.

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

Summer cafes on the "pond", drinking beer, eating shashlik, and watching the pretty Russian girls stroll by.

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

Nightlife is pretty good. The city sites can all be seen over a weekend. Trips to a dacha if you are lucky enough to befriend a Russian who owns one.

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

Russian folk crafts, mineral sculptures, ceramic ware.

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

The chance to see the "real" Russia. Life in Moscow and St. Petersburg is far removed from the rest of Russia. You are a big fish in a little pond. The expat community is so small here that being an American (diplomat or not), will open doors for you. A truly bizarre ratio of beautiful women to men.

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11. Can you save money?

If you don't eat at the expensive restaurants and don't escape on a charter flight every month, you can save.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely.

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

dislike of cold weather and expectations of Western levels of customer service.

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3. But don't forget your:

extra-warm winter jacket and an open mind. There are many similarities between Russian and American cultures, but there are also some glaring differences.

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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?

Russian society is still in an ongoing process of transitioning from their communist past to something different. This makes for some interesting contradictions. (See the Lenin statue with arm outstretched appearing to present the new mall behind him.) Yekaterinburg will offer many more opportunities to interact with locals than St. Petersburg or Moscow.

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Yekaterinburg, Russia 01/02/08

Background:

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

Previous expat experiences include Islamabad, Quito, Berlin, Baku, and Frankfurt.

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2. How long have you lived here?

The author has been living in Yekaterinburg for 2 years.

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

The author is affiliated with the Government.

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

It's about 14-15 hours via Frankfurt or London.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Yekaterinburg has been experiencing a housing boom with a large number of attractive apartment buildings being constructed downtown in recent years.

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

New supermarkets that rival (and often exceed) the quality of the best supermarkets in Germany have gone up in recent years, one only a 15-minute walk from the consulate.

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

Your favorite American cereal. Stores carry some basics but not necessarily your favorite.

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

The restaurant scene was quite good and constantly improving during my time in Yekat. There are several Subway outlets across the city and a couple of luxury restaurants that offered great service at a fairly affordable price.

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Daily Life:

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

We received our mail via APO in Moscow but could not send packages unless somebody was traveling via Moscow.

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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 for US$300-$500 per month.

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

No problem using credit cards in hotels or higher-end restaurants.

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

Yes, there is a small American missionary community in Yekaterinburg.

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

No.

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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?

A fair bit. English is the most popular foreign language in schools but outside of major hotels you can't count on people being able to understand you.

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

Icy sidewalks in the winter are a real challenge for everybody.

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Transportation:

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

Right-hand side.

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

Yes to both. Yekaterinburg is one of the stops on the Trans-Siberian Express, the final leg of the trip from Yekat to Moscow takes about 24 hours and is well worth doing.

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

Two expats I worked with drove Jeeps and seemed to do well with them. Another had a Toyota RAV. Russians with money love to flaunt it and you can see just about any kind of luxury vehicle at a pricey mall a block from the consulate.

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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.

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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?

Easily obtainable in Yekaterinburg and very affordable.

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

We called from the consulate using a phone card once we had a U.S. connection.

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Pets:

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

Yes, but not necessarily easy to find.

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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 while we were there.

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

Suits and ties for men, skirts and blouses for women. One can certainly try something more casual but Russians like to dress up.

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Health & Safety:

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

Moderate.

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

No.

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

Tick-borne encephalitis -- be sure to get your immunizations! Health facilities are not up to Western standards (yet), although with the influx of money into the region, I suspect health clinics for the wealthy will eventually be built. That is already the case for dentistry --there are a number of good dentists who use Western equipment as good as or even better than you might find in the office of your dentist back home.

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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?

First snow usually arrives at the end of September or early October. The end of ski season is usually in April or sometimes May 1! Although it is cold in the winter, Yekaterinburg gets much more sun than Moscow or Petersburg or much of Central Europe.

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Schools & Children:

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

QSI (Quality Schools International) made a half-hearted attempt to open an international school in 2003-04 (our daughter was the school's only student), but threw in the towel at the end of the year. We found local authorities very helpful in their attempts to assist us in finding other educational opportunities for our daughter. For example, she attended a special school for basketball players and played with the girls team at that school.

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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?

Yes, but to my knowledge only one FSO in the 13-year history of the consulate has ventured to Yekaterinburg with pre-school aged children.

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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. 6-7 FSOs at the consulate, some American missionaries, and a small number of businessmen. The British and Czechs also have consulates in Yekat and the three communities do a lot together.

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2. Morale among expats:

Relatively good but it depends greatly on how self-sufficient you are.

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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?

Lots of receptions and parties to observe everything from important political anniversaries to birthdays. Be prepared to deliver a toast when you attend especially if you're the only foreigner present -- the hosts will invariably expect you to say something.

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

For families or couples, yes, in the sense that there aren't huge demands on one's time after normal work hours and there are great cultural offerings like the symphony orchestra, ballet, and opera. Yekat also boasts a decent night life for those looking to meet people after work.

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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?

Authorities in central Russia have made a point of reaching out to Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim leaders at public events. That tolerance starts to fade for any groups other than these.

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

Apart from Petersburg and Moscow, you would be hard-pressed to find a better place to take in ballet. And Yekat trumps both Moscow and St. Petersburg in terms of price -- good tickets can be had for less than US$10.The symphony orchestra is superb, and season tickets go for a little over US$100. Yekaterinburg also has a professional women's basketball team, owned by metallurgical giant UMMC. The team has featured several pro U.S. players in recent seasons (the U.S. season runs in the summer and the European season runs in the winter, so ambitious athletes can play in both leagues).

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

Local artwork is very affordable. Shopping for old icons, samovars, and other antiques can be a lot of fun.

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9. Can you save money?

Definitely.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

In a heartbeat.

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

Golf clubs. No courses or driving ranges yet in the Urals.

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3. But don't forget your:

Winter sports gear. And if you don't have them, order some!

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

Dr. Zhivago (the family flees to the Urals after the revolution).

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

Dr. Zhivago (the family flees to the Urals after the revolution).

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Nicholas & Alexandra. Dr. Zhivago.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

The Urals was closed to foreigners for over 50 years during the Cold War, so there is still great interest here in getting to know Americans. While residents of Moscow or Petersburg may be a bit indifferent to foreigners, you won't find that in Yekaterinburg! Russians are very hospitable, even more so outside of the biggest cities.

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