Ashgabat, Turkmenistan Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan 03/12/19

Background:

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

Ashgabat is my ninth assignment, mostly difficult or places that are not well known.

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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?

There are three airlines that fly in and out of Ashgabat: Lufthansa through Frankfurt, Turkish Airlines through Istanbul, and Fly Dubai. All have direct flights to the U.S. from the connection hub. The trip in total is usually 24 hours. You arrive in the U.S. the same day but it takes two days to return, losing a day. Between the three airlines, there are daily flights. If traveling during peak season, you need to plan ahead because airplane can be full. Layover depends on final destination.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One and half 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?

Large three bedroom apartment with beautiful views of either the city or the mountains. Commute time to the International School is 10 minutes by foot. Commute to the US Embassy is about 15 minutes.

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

Groceries can be a little pricy but if you fully use your consumable allowance, it is fine. Many order dry goods through the pouch. Green markets in neighborhood carry wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. I have had no trouble finding what I need that I can't have shipped. There are a couple large style grocery stores that carry most of what you need.

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

Any specialty things, favorite breakfast cereal, crackers, peanut butter, should be shipped or can be ordered upon arrival. Fully use shipment for liquids; i.e. laundry detergent, etc. since that can't be sent through the pouch. I either shipped or ordered almost everything except perishables: fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk and cheese.

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

Great burger restaurant, chinese food, and lots of steak houses and shashlik restaurants. Many of the restaurants deliver. I haven't done delivery, but many do. Plenty of restaurants to choose from for lunch or dinner.

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

No problems here. Haven't seen any at all.

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Daily Life:

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

I do not use local postal facilities. Diplomatic pouch takes two to three weeks. DHL discontinued service recently.

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

Most of us have household help anything from twice a month, once a week or daily. Once a week is about $30 per day for cleaning. More for food preparation and shopping. Some housekeepers speak English.

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

Most of the larger hotels have gyms and spas with membership. Also a gym near the U.S. Embassy. I've been told they are reasonably priced. If you have children at the Ashgabat International School, they have a gym that is free.

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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 don't use my credit card in country but some do at the major hotels and grocery stores.

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

The Vatican Embassy holds Sunday evening Catholic services.

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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?

Tutors are available. A little is nice to have if you go to the green markets, but can get along without.

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

There are sidewalks most areas, although uneven in places. Apartment buildings have elevators but some have steps to get into the building, some have ramps. With a little creativity,you could get along fine.

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Transportation:

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

Buses and taxis are safe and affordable.

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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?

Any kind is fine. Most parts will have to be ordered in. No problems with burglary or carjacking. If parking in a building underground garage, a smaller vehicle would be preferred.

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Health & Safety:

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

None.

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

No particular health concerns. It is a dry climate so might consider a humidifier for the bedrooms. Air quality is very clean. Local medical care is not used. Nor is local medication recommended.

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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 excellent. No impact on health other than dry.

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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?

Overall climate is moderate. Hot in the summer, cold in the winter, dry most of the time with some rain occasionally.

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Expat Life:

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

Most expats are associated with the school. There are a few businessmen in town.

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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?

Mostly socialize with expats. Make your own entertainment, invite people over, etc. Occasional concert to go to. Travel outside city limits together.

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

The museums. The view of the mountains in the morning when the sun shines. Great trips to ruins outside city limits.

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

You can purchase hand woven rugs here and embroidery pieces.

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

Very few foreigners ever get to visit, let alone live here. Not many can say I've lived in Turkmenistan.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I was expecting more cultural events: opera, symphony, ballet, since it is a former Soviet Union country.

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

Yes.

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3. Do you have any other comments?

Great museums. Wonderful parks to walk. Interesting things to see outside city limits.

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Ashgabat, Turkmenistan 06/04/18

Background:

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

No, i have also lived in China, Japan, Germany, Mexico, England, and Korea

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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?

Oregon, USA. Adding in the layovers, the trip would take two days.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Nine months.

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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?

We live is a very spacious apartment in Arcibil with chandeliers and 20 foot ceilings. The commute time is 20 minutes to work.

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

The cost for western products and meat is very high. The cost for fruits and vegetables in season, eggs, and bread is very reasonable.

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

Shampoo, conditioner, hair dye, nail polish, white rice, and sugar

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

I like a very good Chinese restaurant near my apartment. I also like the restaurants near the embassy and our neighborhoods.

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

There are no bugs in my apartment.

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Daily Life:

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

I mail letters through the embassy.

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

Lots of household help. Most use maids and childcare. You can also hire drivers.

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

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

Credit cards are not widely accepted. when they are accepted, it is safe. ATMs are often out of order.

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

I went to the Catholic mass at the Vatican mission. There are also LDS and protestant groups that meet privately in homes. No churches except Russian orthodox and Muslim mosques.

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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 should be able to get around comfortably if you are able to use polite greetings/phrases, shop, take a taxi, and order food. There are several language schools and costs are very inexpensive for classes.

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

Yes. The sidewalks are not flat and you sometimes have to cross the street quickly to avoid cars.

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Transportation:

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

All are cheap and plentiful.

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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?

There are no terrain issues in Ashgabat. All paved roads. There are potholes on the small roads but generally, you should be able to use a small or large car equally well. You will find a lot of Japanese made models here.

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Phone & Internet:

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

The high speed is actually slow speed. It is difficult to stream or download anything. When you do, you need to multitask and be patient.

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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?

We kept our home country plan so we could call the States and use it when we are other places in the world.

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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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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?

Typically, expat spouses do not work on the local economy. The pay rate is low and i don't believe that work permits are easy to obtain.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are opportunities. Teaching English at the American Corner and helping out at the international school are popular opportunities with volunteers.

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

Conservative and modest. Formal dress is only needed for the Marine and Christmas balls.

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Health & Safety:

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

Turkmenistan has a very low crime rate. I feel like you could walk around at night anywhere and be safe. This is due to strict law enforcement and harsh penalties.

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

The quality of medical care is an issue. Standards are not high and even locals go to India, Turkey or Russia to take care of health issues if they can afford to do so. This might be the greatest challenge there is in Ashgabat in my opinion. We all try to stay healthy.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

The air is generally very clean. Occasionally, there are sand storms and they leave salt and minerals in the air till it rains.

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

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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)?

The majority of the time is sunny, even in the 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?

Mostly hot and dry, but the short winter gets cold. I was okay this past winter with one coat and one jacket.

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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 is only one school K-12 and i have only heard positive comments. It has a small teacher/student ratio. They will move to a new building in the fall of 2018.

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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?

Most expats use nannies in their homes for childcare.

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

Only through the international 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?

It is a small, welcoming, and friendly community. Overall morale is good.

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

I go on embassy CLO trips/tours/events and joined the local expat book club. All are great ways to meet others.

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

It depends on what is your agenda and how flexible you are about seeking out fun things to do. I see that there are happy families and singles. If you compare it to the cities that you already know, it will only be frustrating. if you approach it that it is a unique once in a lifetime experience, you will have a positive experience.

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

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

These problems exist internally. Most westerners who visit are all lumped together as outsiders. Therefore, it seems the prejudice directed at us, and is more generic, based on being outsiders rather than gender or ethnicity.

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

I like art so I most enjoyed going to artist studios and buying directly from the artist. I also enjoyed going to the seamstress at the Russian bazaar and a trip to Dashoguz.

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

My adult daughter was recently here and we hired a driver for two days to take us to the mosques, monuments, parkes, museums, and ancient city of Nisa. I also like the cable car ride and resort Gala.

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

It is a shopping post. I have bought oil paintings and rugs. I hope to later buy jewelry and woven goods for gifts.

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

Security and the opportunity to learn about a remote isolated culture that is rarely seen by others.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I do. It is a very comfortable place to live. I am never bored. It can be as quiet as you want it or you can fill your schedule with social activities and explore the country and neighboring countries.

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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:

Most of your winter clothes.

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4. But don't forget your:

Fan, books, and iPad.

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

I read a book by a former Peace Corps volunteer that wss interesting and helped explain the political issues and the daily life.

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Ashgabat, Turkmenistan 02/27/16

Background:

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

Yes

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2. 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?

From the West Coast - it takes 3 flights and approximately 20 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

18 months

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

Military

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Expats either live in homes in the city center or in apartment buildings about 15 minutes away. If you have a choice - go with the homes/apartments in the city! The other apartment buildings do not have reliable water, electricity or A/C. The commute time from the city is only about 5-10 minutes but the apartments out further is still only 15 minutes.

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

Fresh fruits and vegetables are very limited and quality is spotty. Chicken, ground beef and lamb are the only meat options. Pork can be found at certain butchers (but you better find a reputable one). This is a consumables post and you should use most of it on liquids (PB, syrup, tomato sauce) and alcohol. You will not find packaged prepared food out here either. Basic cleaning supplies and paper products are available

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

LOTS more liquids, prepackaged foods, healthy snacks and alcohol.

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

There really aren't fast food options in this country. Food quality at restaurants is incredibly spotty and food borne illness is EXTREMELY common. Hep A & E and typhoid are pretty common too. You can find some street food for about US$1 (risky) and then some restaurants that could be US$50/person (much safer).

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

Ant problems are the most common. There have been a few scorpions and even lizards in the apartments but that is pretty rare.

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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?

Very cheap, but finding help that speaks English is incredibly difficult, but if you speak Russian or Turkmen you are fine

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

Yes, there are a handful of gyms and they usually are empty. The price is about US$40-80/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?

Cash only country and at the moment USD cannot be used to purchase anything.

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

There is a Catholic mass on Sundays in English

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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 must speak Russian or Turkmen for all activities of daily living. There are very few people here who speak English (or are willing to admit they speak English).

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

Yes, sidewalks are uneven and have cracks. There are no ramps off the curbs onto the streets and the "ramps" they do have that lead to the underground crosswalks are INCREDIBLY steep and in no way safe to use. Handicap ramps are not at all buildings and elevators are very tiny.

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Transportation:

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

Trains only run between large cities and are very rustic. Buses are frequent and cheap (4 cents/ride) but not always the most reliable and they can be super crowded. There are regular yellow cabs that can be pricey and then there are gypsy cabs which are super cheap. They drive erratically, may pick up additional fares and make you tag along and don't always have seat belts.

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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?

There are country restrictions to bring your car into country that change frequently so check before you make plans to bring yours. Reliable spare parts are hard to come by and reputable mechanics are even harder to come by. No issues with theft or carjackings.

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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?

There is internet available but I would not call it high-speed and it is rather cheap

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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?

Just make sure that it is unlocked so you can use a local SIM card.

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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, despite a local employment agreement you wouldn't be able to work on the local economy. Most EFM work at the Embassy or the international school.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

The only place I have seen people volunteer is at the international school.

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

Business/business casual at work. In public, the locals wear traditional garb (long dresses for women and jackets and dress shoes for men), but Western dress is acceptable and seen more and more.

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Health & Safety:

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

This is literally going to be the safest place you will ever live in your life. There is police or military presence on every other corner and crime is not tolerated. Crime against expats is 99.9% unheard of. Guns (except shotguns for hunting) are not allowed in country.

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

The water is not potable here and food borne illness is rampant. Good infection control practices are not present here. Medical care is very limited and NOT encouraged to use. Expats are evacuated for any advanced care.

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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?

Fair to moderate. Lots of traffic and construction in the city center and many small villages still burn all their garbage.

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

Despite Ashgabat being a modern(ish) city, it is still in the desert. There is TONS of sand in the air during the spring and summer. If you have food allergies - just know the translation in Russian and Turkmen and hope that the restaurant cares.

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

Very dry, little precipitation and no humidity. Snow in the winter (only about 4 weeks long) and summers easily reach 120F.

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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 is only 1 small international school. Our experience with them has been good (our child was only in pre-K though). I also worked for them and the employment experience was also good.

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

Some of the teachers have special-needs training but there are supplemental instructors or classes for support. The country has NO special-needs support.

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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?

The international school offers a half day pre-K and afternoon daycare. Hiring a local nanny is incredibly affordable (very difficult to find a nanny that speaks English though).

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

Only the ones provided by the 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?

EXTREMELY small American community but the morale is pretty high

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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?

Extremely limited. There are some shopping centers with children's arcades, ice skating rinks, small bowling alleys, billiards hall etc. There are many parks in the city but the playgrounds are pretty small and not always the safest. There are a bunch of restaurants and bars but they are all virtually the same and with a local curfew of 10-11pm, they aren't wildly exciting.

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

It is the same for everyone - extremely limited entertainment and local tourism.

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

No, homosexuality is very frowned upon.

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

There is a general lack of knowledge about any race or religion outside of this country which leads to fear and lack of integration or acceptance.

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

Getting to experience the most reclusive country in the world (less than 1000 visas are issued yearly) and learning about its culture. Also, making incredible friends living under similar situations.

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

There is nothing outwardly fun or interesting to do here. There is a gondola that travels up the Kopet Dag mountains that provides great views of Ashgabat (pollution limits the view), the largest indoor ferriswheel in the world is here (but rarely is working) and 3 UNESCO sights (but they are poorly preserved). The biggest gem is the Fire Crater which is about 3 hours outside of Ashgabat and shouldn't be missed if you are located here.

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

Carpets and traditional clothing.

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

Saving money, a decent location to travel to Europe, Asia, Africa - although travel in/out of the country is difficult, it's extremely safe.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes - and then you spend it on traveling.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Bringing more comfort food and alcohol. Also it does get cold and rains quite a bit in the winter (only about 4-6 weeks).

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

Well we don't have any choice in our posts, but if we did - no. However, living here is quite the unique and memorable experience

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

Comfort level of modern (or basic) luxuries and any expectation of normalcy

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4. But don't forget your:

Well stocked medicine cabinet for various aliments and ways to keep yourself entertained.

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

There are very few books or movies about Turkmenistan and many of them are probably outdated. Turkmenistan - Far Flung Places Guide was a good read though or Chronicles of Turkmenistan online (although it is not a verified news source).

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Your experience in this city depends on what you want to make of it. Some people are miserable here while others thrive and don't want to leave. You will DEFINITELY have to leave your comfort zone behind and embrace the culture. I promise that there is no other experience in any other city abroad quite like this one. If you can roll with the punches and enjoy adventure and the unknown - this place is for you.

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Ashgabat, Turkmenistan 07/27/14

Background:

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

No. I've served in several former Soviet countries and in Central Asia prior to Turkmenistan.

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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. The only USG code share flight to Turkmenistan is through Frankfurt. The flight on Lufthansa (United code share) takes 5-6 hours, as the flight first lands in Baku to take on passengers and to refuel. The plane sits on the ground for 50-60 minutes in Azerbaijan before flying to Ashgabat. Passengers do not deplane in Baku. Total travel time is about 18 hours or so.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Three years (Summer 2011- Summer 2014).

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

U.S. Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

There is no private land ownership in Turkmenistan, and the government continues to relocate occupants of single family homes around Ashgabat into apartment complexes on the outskirts of the city in order to raze the structures and build its showpiece capital city of white marble buildings. Locals and expats alike therefore tend to live in multi-story (9-10 floor) apartment buildings. Expats tend to live in the so called 'elite' apartments on the south side of town. These structures are the most newly built, and are large 3-bedroom flats. Occupants reported few problems, though the underground parking structures sometimes had flooding and icing issues now and again due to a lack of drainage.

The U.S. Embassy has its own residential compound, which consisted of several USG-owned town houses. The compound will be a construction zone for the next several years, however, as it will become home to the new embassy compound. Currently, commute times from the residential compound or apartments to the embassy is about 20 minutes, mostly because Ashgabat's roads have a tightly enforced 60 kph (36-37 mph) speed limit. Once the new embassy compound is completed, all commutes for official Americans will be by foot and under 2 minutes.

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

The Turkish chain 'Yimpash' is the one stop shop for all that you need ala Walmart. Arid Turkmenistan needs to import nearly all of its foodstufs from Turkey, Iran and Russia. There are several farmers markets around town that provide additional produce options. Costs are generally cheaper than in the U.S. as many of the staples are subsidized by the government. Dairy products are much more expensive, with a one liter tetrapak of milk costing US$2/liter. You can generally find a Russian equivalent to your preferred household products. The diplomatic pouch was used heavily by all to bring in preferred dry goods. There are no contact lens-related products available.

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

Baking supplies, American-sized clothes, kids playthings, car parts, sunscreen, contact lens solution, any favorite American branded item.

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

There really aren't any fast food restaurants in town. One or two local attempts (burgers and chicken) have popped up but are of somewhat dubious food safety standards. Again, the Turkmen aren't a big "let's go out and paint the town red" sort of folk, so the restaurant scene is pretty one note, with the several serving Turkish food the most heavily trafficked by expats. There is a single Chinese restaurant in town, a pork chop place, and a Mongolian/Korean grill restaurant that entered the scene in the last year. You can get French-inspired food at the French-run Oguzkent/Sofitel hotel. The Turkmen cuisine is basically meat on a stick over fire, plov (rice) and lentil soup with baklava and tea for dessert. Soup costs US$2, entrees US$7-15. Tea to end the meal is usually free.

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

Almost none, as the lack of standing water beyond a few fountains in Ashgabat keeps the mosquito population to a minimum. Ants in residences will likely be the biggest annoyance.

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Daily Life:

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

There is a national postal service which isn't terribly efficient. Expect everything to be opened, inspected and to perhaps go missing. We used the pouch for everything, which took 2-3 weeks to the States.

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

Full time nanny/housekeeper support runs about US$400/month. Some, who required English language ability or after hours support paid a bit more. A part-time driver ran about US$100 (as gas/petrol is free to locals and costs only US$.83/gallon for expats). The embassy has a roster of hopefuls.

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

Very few around town, though the Oguzkent/Sofitel hotel has workout and pool facilities.

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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?

When I arrived, I believe there were fewer than 5 ATMs in the country. There aren't many more than that today. Turkmenistan is a cash-based society, so bring in new, crisp bills in a variety of denominations. Credit card use is generally limited to Visa and AmEx at the Oguzkent/Sofitel hotel. MasterCard is supposed to be accepted soon in Turkmenistan. The exchange rate between the Turmen manat and major foreign currencies has been fixed for years, so you get the same rate everywhere and there is no black market. The rate to the USD is $1=2.84 manat.

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

Not many. Folks often worshipped at home. The Vatican's local mission held Catholic services, I believe, in English.

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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?

Almost no one speaks English in Turkmenistan. Though interactions with locals wasn't common, many found their happiness at post tied to their ability to speak and/or at least read a menu in Russian. Those who couldn't too often self-isolated themselves at home and soured quickly on the experience.

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

I saw few people with physical disabilities. Most local staff explained that there is a social stigma attached to those with disabilities, so many Turkmen families decide to have their loved ones who face such challenges stay at home. Ashgabat is rapidly being turned into a modern capital through a massive investment in infrastructure and constructing dozens of buildings. The heart of the city is immaculately clean, with wide sidewalks and accessible entrances.

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Transportation:

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

There are official yellow cabs that will charge you US$3 to come to an address and then US$2 to take you to a destination in Ashgabat. Most everyone, including embassy staff, utilizes gypsy cabs around town. Just stick out your hand, flag down someone driving by and it is US$2 to your destination. Buses in Ashgabat are new, cost US$.10 (ten cents) and run regular routes. Intercity buses are available though likely older. Trains are slow but an option.

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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 is fine for Ashgabat, as the roads are new and immaculate. The government keeps reducing the age a car must be in order for it to be imported into Turkmenistan. Imported cars, I believe, now cannot be older than 5 years old. Bring parts, including oil, as an oil and filter change will run you more than US$50. There is an American who owns his own body and service shop that the embassy uses for its fleet. No real theft or car jacking concerns.

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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?

Access to the internet is tightly controlled by the government. It is thus neither widespread or fast. Locals can connect to it through their mobile phones, though several of the more popular social sites are routinely blocked. The embassy provided an at home service for a fee. It was not always available and never fast.

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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 embassy issued phones to officers and spouses. The local Turkmen company has a monopoly on services (though a Russian company is trying to regin a foothold). If you are going to live there, you need to get a cellphone. Costs are reasonable.

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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. The USDA certificate, if even asked for, suffices. Veterinary care isn't great or widespread, but the Embassy knows a couple of vets who can come to your home for exams and to do procedures on your kitchen table, if need be.

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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?

Really none beyond the international school and a few for American spouses at the U.S. Embassy. Even if other opportunities were available, a decent salary on the local economy is only US$300/month.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Opportunities are generally limited to the international school and working through the international women's group.

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

Business at the embassy and generally well dressed in public. There was a period where there were reports the government had banned the wearing of shorts by men. Turkmen women tended to wear their long sleeved, full length dresses everywhere.

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Health & Safety:

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

Turkmenistan shares a 1,000-mile (porous) border with Afghanistan and Iran. It is, however, a police state, with unarmed police officers standing on nearly every street corner and traffic police everywhere tracking vehicles. Cameras are everywhere around Ashgabat. The government tracks the activities of foreigners closely.

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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 significant health concerns, although medical care was poor. Turkmenistan can afford to buy the latest equipment for its hospitals, but is not investing in its people, so few have opportunities to go to university in the country. As the Soviet-trained specialists in all fields leave the scene, the dearth of human capital will increasingly become acute. Corruption is a problem in all sectors, as is the country's unwillingness to address HIV- and TB-related issues. Dentists don't always wear gloves, for example. There is a Turkish health clinic with slightly better care than that found in local facilities, but for anything serious, the FSHP will send you to London for care.

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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?

Turkmenistan is a desert, so with little precipitation, particularly in the summer months, sand particles tend to stay in the air for long periods of time.

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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?

Temperatures are above 90 F for most of the year. There are four distinct seasons, however, with some snow and freezing temperatures in the winter. Spring is particularly pleasant, with the area around Ashgabat green for several weeks. Summer, which runs from April to September, routinely sees temperatures in the 110 F range.

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Schools & Children:

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

The Ashgabat International School (AIS) is really the only game in town unless you work for a specific French construction firm (Bouygues) which has its own school or speak Russian and can gain entrance into the Pushkin school, which has ties to the Russian government through an inter governmental agreement with the Turkmen. AIS, which is located immediately adjacent to the U.S. residential compound, has roughly 200 students (pre-K through 12th grade) from 20 nations. A QSI school offering an IB education, it is run and staffed by Americans and Brits. Turkmen make up roughly one-third of the student body, with American and Malaysian students the largest expat cohort. Our experience was that the school did well by its students, with excellent primary-level instruction, smaller classroom sizes and in several instances more personalized attention which allowed students the flexibility to move up into older classes as determined by their abilities. Many Americans and at least one European family chose to send their high school aged children to boarding schools in Europe to better prepare them educationally for entrance into U.S. colleges and universities. The school is expanding its extra curricular and AP offerings to meet the demands of its student body. The 2014 graduating class totaled 3 students. AIS will soon break ground on a new campus, a project that should take a couple of years. Once completed, the school will be able to double its size, though it is doubtful in the short term that there will be enough expat students to fill the chairs.

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

AIS did its best to accommodate students with both physical and mental special-needs. It would be best to check with the school if accommodations could be worked out, as it doesn't employ a full-time doctor or dedicated special needs staff.

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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?

The Ashgabat International School offers half-day instruction for pre-K students for about US$5,500 per academic year. I didn't hear of any expat seeking placement for their preschooler in a Turkmen daycare, though I would suspect it would be a difficult, bureaucratic process for an experience below western standards.

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

Very few of the organized nature. The international school had sports during school hours but really nothing of note outside the school day. You can find really knowledgable individuals to serve as personal instructors and trainers. With admission to government sports facilities essentially free, you can learn a new sport on the cheap. Several folks took up horseback riding, for example. My kids, after paying an admission fee of less than 30 American cents into a new rink, learned to ice skate under the tutelage of an English speaking expert for US$10/hour. They also took personalized martial arts lessons for US$7/hour from a second degree black belt.

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Expat Life:

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

The expat community is quite small, as there are few western embassies (UK, France, Romania, Germany, Italy, Japan, S. Korea, Turkey, Malaysia) in Ashgabat and most are staffed only by two-three individuals. Teachers at AIS and a couple of expat business reps round out the community. All face the same constant frustrations of working in Turkmenistan, so morale varies.

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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 American residential compound was probably the closet thing to the center of social life for the expat community. BBQs and events at the pool would spring up frequently. Going out to dinner, tasting the latest batch of home brew and camping out at the fire crater were other popular choices.

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

Ashgabat is a make your own fun sort of place, so families and couples with ready-made social activities and partners tended to enjoy their time more. Single men seemed to do well, as several married locals. Turkmen culture in many ways revolves around the house and family, so there is little night life or restaurant scene to speak of. There is also a widely followed unofficial curfew of 23:00 which sees the few watering holes close before that hour to allow patrons to get home. Turkmenistan is a Muslim country where very few people speak English. Russian language fluency is also quickly disappearing among its youth. Most socializing was done within the same broad circle of expats that included colleagues, counterparts from western embassies, AIS teachers, and expat business reps. There is no Hash House Harriers, but there is an international women's group.

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

Homosexuality is effectively against the law in Turkmenistan.

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

Turkmenistan is a traditional, homogenous society dominated by men. The country is near the bottom of all major indices pertaining to rights and freedoms.

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

Learning more about the Silk Road, buying handmade carpets, regional travel.

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

Visit the many Guinness Book of World Record sites, including the world's largest carpet and indoor Ferris wheel, in Ashgabat. Take a short drive to the huge Kipchak mosque and to Nisa, capital to an ancient empire. Drink tea and haggle over the price of a carpet. Take a 6-7 hour (round trip) drive to the fire crater. Take a cheap domestic flight to the Caspian Sea 'resort' of Awaza.

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

Carpets, dolls of figures in traditional Turkmen dress as well as of camels. Soviet-era trinkets. Hats.

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

Turkmenistan is one of the most closed societies on the planet. With visas generally difficult to come by for tourists, you have the unique opportunity to see this young, incredibly resource-rich country make halting steps toward its own unique vision of development and prosperity, Life is generally comfortable, with the heavily subsidized staples very cheap, meaning most pocket a bundle from their salary during their tenure. International air travel to Istanbul, Dubai, Bangkok and London is affordable and direct.

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10. Can you save money?

Absolutely. Beyond the beautiful Turkmen carpets and regional travel, there isn't much to spend your money on.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How comfortable it would be to live there and how frustrating it would be to work there.

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

I've thought about this for some time, and cannot really say one way or the other. Turkmenistan is a fascinating place with the hydrocarbon wealth and small population to allow the country to really propel itself quickly forward from its tribal cum Soviet backwater history. Living in Ashgabat is comfortable, though the imminent destruction of the American residential compound for the new Embassy removes the main focal point of Post's social life for the next several years. So too will AIS' construction disrupt life. Professionally, banging one's head against a bureaucratic wall artificially created to slow interaction and impede partnerships grows tiresome fast. Progress is measured in the most minute of ways, so if you are seeking grandiose accomplishments, Ashgabat will disappoint. The issues are meaty, however, and the country will always have the potential to do more. So, In the short term, I'd say "no" given the disruptions to living conditions. In the medium term, perhaps, as this hermetic country is increasingly (unwillingly) exposed to world views that differ from its own. I wouldn't go there without full diplomatic rights and priveleges as they spared us much of the additional bureaucracy and unwanted government scrutiny imposed upon resident expats.

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

Belief that all Central Asian countries are the same; preconceptions that concepts such as efficiency and profit are universally held; carpets.

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4. But don't forget your:

Good cheer, favorite travel books, for-home activities.

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

There isn't a great deal out there about Turkmenistan. Depending on your field of activity, I'd read some of the State Department's many annual reports about issues pertaining to business and civil society.

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Ashgabat, Turkmenistan 10/02/12

Background:

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

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

Florida. Approximately 31 hours including the layovers with multiple stops.

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3. How long have you lived here?

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

(The contributor was affiliated with the U.S. Embassy and lived in Ashgabat for two years, from 2011 to 2013, a second expat experience.)

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

If you work at the U.S. Embassy, you are located either on the housing compound, in a 1970’s style townhouse, or you are in town in a white marble apartment building. I can’t speak for the townhouses, but the apartment buildings are horrible. The central air conditioning is only turned on after June 1st (and by this time it’s over 100 degrees outside), and the heat is turned on starting November 1st. You cannot control the heat or air conditioning. The apartments are literally leaning, as they were not build to support the heavy marble that the president ordered to be placed on every apartment building. Traffic is terrible unless you want to leave your apartment before 6:30 a.m. God forbid that the president is driving anywhere in the city at the same time you are, because the police will literally close every road and leave you sitting in traffic for an hour or more. If not for the traffic, it would only take you approximately 10 minutes to get to the embassy.

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

Just open-market shopping. The rest has to be shipped in via amazon.com. Oh, and the COLA doesn’t even come close to covering your expenses. Forget buying pork, and expect to get served camel meat when they tell you it is beef. No words can express the anger you will feel when you try to find decent meat without maggots and that hasn’t been mixed with some other type of meat. Keep your eyes on the vendor, too. They will put rotten vegetables in your bag (when you aren’t looking) mixed with fresh vegetables. You won’t find out that half of your vegetables are rotten until you get home.

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

I would have shipped everything the CLO told me not to bring and left everything she told me to bring. Sometimes I wonder what planet she was from. My 2500-pound consumable shipment only lasted about 8 months. Yes, it’s that bad over there.

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

Fast food? There isn't one fast food restaurant in the entire country! There are a couple of Turkish-style restaurants (if you can call them that) and lots of small cafes that serve shashlik.

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

Ants infested the housing compound. There was a rat problem on the housing compound. And dont forget about the cobras that are everywhere.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch only! No UPS, DHL, FEDEX, APO.

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

If you dont use the Embassy's domestic help pool, you can get full time domestic help for $200 USD a month.

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

There are several gyms, but be prepared to work out in a place that is left over from the Soviet cold war.

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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 no ATMs in the whole bloody country. It's a cash-only society.

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

Not that I'm aware of.

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

AFN only for TV.

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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?

If you dont speak Russian or Turkmen, forget about it.

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

The city is not equipped to accommodate people with physical disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

There is no public transportation unless you want to get robbed or pick pocketed.

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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?

Bring something you don’t care about if it gets scratched, damaged, dinged, or wrecked. The Turkmen are probably the worst drivers in the world. They are aggressive and have no regard for the rules of the road (not that there are any rules of the road in Turkmenistan). A 4x4 is preferred since the roads are terrible.

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Phone & Internet:

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

70 USD a month for the slowest internet you will ever find. you can't even watch a YouTube video!

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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?

They are horrible. There are only two companies in Turkmenistan, and they both dont work half the time. There is no voicemail, and expect the towers to be overloaded 23 hours out of the day.

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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)?

None!

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

No!

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

formal usually.

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Health & Safety:

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

Absolutely. Turkmenistan is located between Iran and Afghanistan. Read between the lines! Also, crime statistics are a state secret, but there is plenty of crime, ranging from murders to pickpockets. There were also rumors about kidnappings of kids for their internal organs, since the black market pays a very good price and most citizens are poor and without work. The government wouldn’t confirm this story, but embassy personnel claimed it was true. AIDS is also rampant in Turkmenistan due to prostitution, high drug usage, and the sharing of needles.

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

None! If you get hurt and a band aid won’t fix it, prepare to be medical evacuated.

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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?

Pollution, Pollution, Pollution. One sinus problem after another.

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

Hot in the summer (130 degrees) cold in the winter (-10 to -20).

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Schools & Children:

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

We did not have any children in school at the time.

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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?

Nannies are available, but don't use the Embassy pool as they are overpriced and will demand more money every few months and more days off. Find your own and you will pay a lot less and get more work for your dollar.

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

the school has very limited programs.

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Expat Life:

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

Too small.

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2. Morale among expats:

Low, almost non-existent. If anyone tells you different, they are lying to you or trying to get you to bid on that god-forsaken place so they can laugh at you later.

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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?

This is a closed society and they don't care for Westerners.

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

No/Maybe/No. Single men will have a good time, as there are plenty of young beautiful women who are looking to marry a westerner and get a better life in the U.S. Families will find it very hard there, and couples will be bored to tears!

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

Absolutely not. Homosexuality is forbidden in Turkmenistan.

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

Yes! Unless you are Muslim.

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

None! There is nothing to do after you have spent the first week looking at monuments, carpets, ruins, etc. Yes, you can travel out of country, but Thailand is 7.5 hours away and dealing with the KGB --- who trash your luggage and go through all your stuff everytime you fly in and out --- makes it not worthwhile.

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

Once again, there is nothing to do after you have spent the first week looking at monuments, carpets, and ruins. There are no movie theaters, malls, shopping centers, ski slopes, golf courses, etc. in Turkmenistan. You can exercise and drink. That about covers it.

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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, carpets, and carpets.

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

There no special advantages to living in Turkmenistan other than you can buy cheap Turkmen rugs.

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11. Can you save money?

Maybe, if you don’t spend it all on carpets, Amazon orders, or alcohol!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Not on your life! I'd rather slam my head in a sliding glass door than to go back there.

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

expectations of this country being anything short of a maximum security prison . If you look at it like you are serving a prison term with hard labor, than you won’t be disappointed. All anyone did after the first day they arrived was count the days until their release. You had better have your head screwed on right before going to this place. If you don’t keep your mind right, this place will get the better of you.

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3. But don't forget your:

wine, x-box, dvd player and dvd's, a calender to mark track the days until you depart, and your mental mind set.

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

Dont know of any.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzRvqKSqUtI&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIKFXo8VHPw&feature=relmfu

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6. Do you have any other comments?

If you like pain, do yourself a favor and get a root canal. It will hurt a lot less than 2 years in Turkmenistan. I don't know what post the last person who filled out this survey was, but it surely wasn't in Turkmenistan!

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Ashgabat, Turkmenistan 03/14/12

Background:

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

This is my 5th expat experience - Jeddah, Saint Petersburg, Baghdad, Lusaka.

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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?

My home base is Florida. The trip is really long with multiple stopovers.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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

State Department.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

There are only two choices for housing. Really nice apartments with high ceilings or townhouses located on the residential compound. Both have pluses and minuses, but either way you can't go wrong. Commute time is negligible, except when there are road closures for Presidential travel.

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

Availability is decent. The relative cost is a little high, but the COLA covers that fairly easily.

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

Most things are available. Make sure that your sponsor does a good job of alerting you to what is recommended for your consumables shipment.

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

The best pork chops in the world are available in Ashgabat (one particular cafe). Plenty of good Turkish style restaurants, one pretty good Chinese restaurant and shashlik cafes, but western style restaurants tend to be expensive and the quality often disappoints.

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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?

Tough for vegetarians.

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

I saw some ants a couple of times. People say that there are mosquitoes, but I haven't seen one.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch. There are basically no good options for express 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?

Cheap and available.

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

Yes -- many.

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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?

Not very useful unless you're ordering something on Amazon. No ATMs. This is a cash society.

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

The Embassy of the Holy See offers religous services.

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

AFN only.

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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?

Working knowledge of Russian is best, but most folks get around just fine with English.

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

The city is not equipped to accommodate people with physical disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

Safe is a relative term. Compared to medium sized cities in the US they would be considered safe.

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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?

Ashgabat has great roads. If you're a city dweller, any car will do. If you think you're going to go camping every weekend, then a beefier vehicle.

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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?

The embassy is upgrading the current set-up to provide more bandwidth to the users. Right now it's $70 per month.

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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 embassy will provide 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?

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

There is a decent vet. No 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?

No.

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

Fairly formal.

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Health & Safety:

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

Things are pretty orderly in Turkmenistan.

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

The embassy has a well-stocked health unit, but beyond that London is your destination.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

The embassy provides distillers for cooking and drinking. Post recently confirmed that a local bottled water supplier has drinkable water.

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

Hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Did I mention that it is hot in the summer?

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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 is the school with a can do attitude. I specifically chose Ashgabat because of the small classroom sizes for high schoolers. My son has flourished with the individualized attention. I would say that his circle of friends is smaller than other posts, but they are great kids and in some ways the relationships are more meaningful.

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

Check before coming to Turkmenistan.

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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?

Nannies are available for a reasonable price.

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

Only through the school -- this is limited to the basics.

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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 -- very small.

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2. Morale among expats:

Excellent.

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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?

There are many people that have really made a great life for themselves and in return made positive impacts on the people they met along the way. This is a closed society, but if handled correctly, hobbies and activities can be a major source of enjoyment.

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

Yes, yes, and yes. Some would say that this place is a little boring, but really most people seem to enjoy themselves albeit not as stimulating as other cities.

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

Not really.

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

Probably, since human nature, unfortunately, is human nature, but as I stated earlier Ashgabat is pretty orderly.

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

This is a fascinating country with a long and varied history. The working environment is in many ways unique, mind-boggling and interesting all at the same time. The highlights are many, and Post morale has maintained a high-level for the entire two years that I've been here.

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

The is a fire crater, an underground lake, ancient Merv, dinosaur tracks, and of course all the white marble monuments.

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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. The carpets are really great.

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

Turkmenistan has many benefits all of which out weigh the negatives. At the top of the list is touring countries outside Turkmenistan are easily assessable and affordable -- Thailand, Ukraine, Dubai, China, Russia, Europe and Turkey -- all via Turkmenistan Airline and Fly Dubai. Regional travel is a little more problematic, but still very reasonable.

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11. 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 minute.

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

Expectations of what it is like to live in the Stans. This is not the easiest place to live but there are many more that are. Don't expect to live a pampered lifestyle as this is definitely a place that is only as good as YOU make it. The Embassy does a pretty good job of looking after folks, but in the end it is up the individual to adapt.

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3. But don't forget your:

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?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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