Damascus, Syria Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Damascus, Syria

Damascus, Syria 10/19/10

Background:

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

Lived in Zimbabwe and Kampala, Uganda/

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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?

Netherlands. It takes 4 hours. Malev, Turkish Airways, Syrian Air.

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3. How long have you lived here?

3 months.

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

Educator.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Apartments. The average commute depends on traffic. It can be busy at peak times.

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

Western food stuffs are all available western prices.

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

I would bring my camping gear. Books are not cheap here, and some titles are not for sale here.

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

KFC, Chinese, lots of great middle-eastern food options: falafal, shoarma, hummus, kebab, all very affordable.

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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?

You can find most in supermarkets.

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

None.

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Daily Life:

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

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

Easily available both part time and full time; ranges USD300- USD600 per month for 5 days per week. Some live in, most live out.

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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?

ATMs can give you local money and USD.

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

International church every Friday 10.00 AM; Also an Anglican.

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

TV- paid-for satellite, BVN for the Dutch/Belgian community for free; Fox-series free. Most in Arabic and for free

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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?

Knowing Arabic would help you lots.

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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?

Safe and affordable but it takes some time to figure out where to go, as everything in Arabic.

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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 are good, any car will do. KIA and HYUNDAI are very popular.

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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?

Expensive, but doable.

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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?

Syriatel or MTN are the two main providers.

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Pets:

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

No.

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

There is a vet.

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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?

Cover your shoulders, but they are tolerant towards foreigners.

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Health & Safety:

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

It is much safer then the African city I lived in.

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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?

Good quality and easily available.

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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?

Moderate to unhealthy. Dusty, especially after a drizzling rain, lots of dust comes down with it. Hot this summer, July-August.

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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?

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Schools & Children:

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

DCS has reopened and has close to 400 students in PreK-12. US teaching staff, a good option for expat children.

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

Do not expect a lot.

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

Preschool is available, at USD3500/year from age 2-5, mornings only. My son loves it. Nanny day carers/cleaners are very easily available at USD400- USD600 per month. They are mostly from the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia; some are refugees from Sudan or Somalia.

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

Not so easily; they take place at school.

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Expat Life:

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

Large.

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2. Morale among expats:

High.

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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?

Great, there is always something happening on the weekends that are on Friday and Saturday.

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

Yes, especially if you like classical music/opera. The national theatre is great. Singles meet up in local social venues and organise their parties.

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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?

No.

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

Walking around the city and taking in the ancient buildings, citadel, souks, etc.

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

Souk, eating great food, monuments, amphitheatre, Bosra, Aleppo old city, castles, ruins, beach.

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

Carpets, Middle Eastern art, gold, jewelry, pottery.

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

Beautiful old city, visits to souk, architecture, friendly people.

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11. Can you save money?

You will spend it all on carpets, travel and food.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

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

Raincoat.

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3. But don't forget your:

Camera and sunglasses.

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

Bradt guide: Syria

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

My two adopted African sons get a lot of attention, mostly positive, as they love children here, and as there are very few black children here it always sparks interesting talk with the locals.

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Damascus, Syria 08/10/08

Background:

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

No, I was in Prague, Czech Republic, in Islamabad, Pakistan, and in Lagos, Nigeria before.

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2. How long have you lived here?

1.5 years.

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

Direct flight to Vienna/Austria 4 hours. There are also other flights, e.g. via Prague and Istanbul.

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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?

In Damascus mainly apartments, some in the basement with gardens. In the suburbs of Sabboura, Yafour and Qura-al-Assad there are houses, or - lets's say villas, most of them huge and with swimming pools.

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

Nearly everything (except pork) is available - this you have to get from Lebanon - you just have to know where. Local food is cheap, imported one costs up to three times more.

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

Good toilet paper, kitchen towels, washing powder, more diapers, ingredients for Asian food.

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

KFC and local fast food. There a plenty of great Arab restaurants and also some foreign ones, a good Indian restaurant, some Chinese restaurants, decent Italian.

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Daily Life:

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

This is a big problem... There is DHL, but it's expensive. The Syrian Mail is not very reliable and often very slow.

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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 from South East Asia and Sri Lanka. I have a nanny from Sri Lanka who also does the house keeping full time, and a gardener from Sri Lanka twice a week.

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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?

There are ATMs, but often they are out of order, sometimes all of them at the same time. Better don't rely on them. Better don't use your credit card.

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

Yes, in Bab Touma. Times vary.

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

Yes, but I cannot recommend them. Better get a good Satellite dish.

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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?

The more you know, the better it is. Outside the City and the touristic centers you might find it difficult to find someone who speaks a Western language.

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

Many. Houses, streets and pavements can even be a challenge for people without physical disabilities, for example with a baby buggy, though you always find someone to help. But I think for disabled people it's impossible.

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Transportation:

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

On the right side.

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

Buses are safe and cheap. Taxis are cheap. Drivers often don't speak English and don't know the way.

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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?

Nearly any, but no Diesel. If you like to travel a lot and like to go to the desert and to the mountains, better bring a SUV or a Jeep. If you want to go to the Old City by car, better choose a small one. Fuel is still cheap but of bad quality. Streets are often not very good, traffic can be difficult. So better choose a robust car. And one with which it doesen't matter if you get some scratches and dents. I have an old Opel Caravan and I am fine.

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Phone & Internet:

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

DSL hardly available. There is now one wireless internet that was fast in the first three months, but now it's getting slower and slower. You pay around 20.000 SYP (US$400) for the Modem, it's still free of charge and no one knows how much the monthly fee will be - not so cheap, I guess.

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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?

One is as good at the other. Mainly there are Syria Tel and MTN. You should get one, as the landline is sometimes not working for months.

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

Skype. Though the internet connection is horribly slow.

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Pets:

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

Yes, quality differs.

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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 so many. Maybe at NGOs or International Organisations.

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

No short skirts and sleeveless T-Shirts.

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Health & Safety:

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

Unhealthy. The dust and the smog sometimes make it hard to breathe.

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

Terrorism. And Syria officialy is in war. But hardly any petty theft, car theft, robbery or burglary.

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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?

Coughing and blocked nose due to the smog and dust. Also sometimes Diarrhea. In Damascus there are some good hospitals and doctors, many studied abroad. Outside Damascus it's worse.

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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?

5-25 C in Winter (November to March), sometimes it's raining. Summer is hot, dry and dusty without any rain.

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Schools & Children:

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

Damascus International School and Pakistani International School in Yafour. Most of the diplomats send their children to Damascus International School. I have no children in this age, but my colleague who has a 11 year old son, is very satisfied.

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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?

Private Kindergardens in English and French are available, cost is more expensive than in Europe, or let's say, for half-day Kindergarden you pay here what you would pay for a full-day Kindergarden in Europe. Nannies, mostly from South-East Asia and Sri Lanka are available, quality varies, but many of them are really great.

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Expat Life:

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

Moderate.

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2. Morale among expats:

Depends. Among my guys mostly good ;-)))) It helps to be initiative.

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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?

Coffee houses, Restaurants, meeting friends, concerts, museums,... the choice is surprisingly big.

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

Families yes, at least for people with babies and children under 6. Couples, yes. For Singles it depends how sociable you are.

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

I don't know but I don't think so.

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

Yes, but for my feeling less than in other Muslim countries. But women are still not accepted as legal partners.

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

Stroll around the old city. Go shopping at the Souq. Enjoy an Argileh (Sheesha) at Nofara Café watching the story-teller. Go to the mountains hiking, climbing and to Lebanon for skiing. Explore the country. Go to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

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

Handcarved wooden furniture, brass items, carpets and kilims.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, If you don't spend to much on travelling and souvenirs.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Definitely yes!

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

Bicycle, as the traffic is too dangerous for biking. Your heavy winter coat. Your preconceptions that Syrians are all terrorists.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunglasses, sun screen, swimming suit, hiking boots, road maps (the local ones are not so good), sense of humour, patience.

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

Lonely Planet.

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

Lonely Planet.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Syrians are very kind and hospitable. How you will like it depends what you make of it. A little bit self-reflection, tolerance, patience and a sense of humour never harms.

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