Algiers, Algeria Report of what it's like to live there - 09/19/16
Personal Experiences from Algiers, Algeria
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, lived in several European and Latin American countries.
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?
East coast of the US; minimum travel time is about 15 hours but often turns into 18 or 19. The typical connections are through Paris or Frankfurt.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The apartments are not huge but post's housing folks really go all out to secure what little stand-out options Algiers' strained housing market offers. They try to have either nice views, or nice layouts, or easy access to groceries, or other little pleasant features to perk up the place. The furthest are a half hour or so walk from the Embassy. Car commute times are typically 1/2 or a third of the walking time but can sometimes be really jammed up.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
We can walk to fresh meat, fruit and veggies and a basic corner store for staples; this is not the case for everyone. Most fresh produce is at a good price, meat is expensive even compared to American prices. There are plenty of things you can't find here, so don't get set on having a specific brand of cheese etc!
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Bring peanut butter, even the most basic ethnic spices, and baking mixes. Bring beer if you drink it. In your suitcase bring cheese, meats on ice; don't bring bacon because there's always enough floating around the American community!
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a couple of good Indian restaurants, a really overpriced Italian restaurant, some new burger places that are pretty good (Bad Buns! Chemin Sidi Yahia, look them up!), several acceptable French/modern cuisine restaurants... And a ton of truly mediocre-to-awful restaurants. The take-out guys are earnest but it's often very hard to navigate them to your place unless you have a great head for language and geography. The best thing to do is get 'known' at a place that actually has its act together, because then (if they're good) they'll bend over backward for you as a regular. Skip the fancy expensive places in Didouche Mourad or Riad el-Feth.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants, drain flies, cockroaches; higher floors are better in that regard.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use DPO. Via international post we once got mail from America that had been sent eight months prior so...
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
This is a touchy area; because of the socialist/petro economy, and social conservatism, there is discrimination against housekeepers etc. For example nannies typically must be home by dark, which is tough on tandem-employed spouses Typical wages for a one-day a week housekeeper who do laundry and/or groceries/cooking on top of cleaning is about $35-40 per visit.
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?
Haha, no, this is a nearly totally cash-based economy. I've heard of people having problems with the few hotel ATMs.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
English language: only the Anglican Church regularly does them. Catholic and Methodist services in the capital are generally French although occasionally a Catholic English Mass was specially organized.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need French or Arabic, but French will get you farther. INTuition, Berlitz and other language schools have good employees if you work with them to meet your interests.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Forget lack of handicap accessibility, the lack of pedestrian infrastructure makes it tough for non-handicapped people to get around and few-to-none apartments are handicap-accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Affordable, yes. Safe: the metro is (it just goes in a line along downtown tourist points of interest.) the rest look dodgy (off limits to us) and in taxis, it's not 'full/occupied' unless it's actually got no more room, so a person taking it could suddenly get company.
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?
Something small that you don't mind getting beaten up. This is not the place for the SUVs that so many other posts recommend, they will not fit on some streets/parking garages.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
There are supposedly 'higher-speed' packages available in some areas but ultimately we're talking about a country where the Internet often slows to a crawl because it's raining outside. In Embassy housing with rare exceptions your internet will already be in place. This is a country that only got 3G the year before I moved here.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Yes! Some great vets and the American Embassy uses a good kennel service. Quarantine is not required for entry but a saintly patience is because the customs paperwork/procedures can be unreal. Just remember that pets have short memories and soon will be like 'what airport?'
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?
Spouses can only work in the Embassy or telework. The Internet unreliability makes teleworking occasionally frustrating. Spouses employed at the Embassy sometimes chafe at their second-class citizen status treatment. Spouses who stay in the home often feel isolated because it's hard to get around and the community is so small.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
None that don't walk a risky line; foreign involvement in NGOs is dicey. (For the volunteer and the NGO.)
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Most Algerians hover somewhere around business casual most of the time in business settings. Women should usually cover to the elbow and knee but can get away with less if otherwise dressed nicely/not immodestly.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The presence of police is, well, omnipresent. There is a real reason for that. Nothing happened in the capital during my tour but I won't be surprised if I hear of an attack someday; Algeria has a tough regional neighborhood.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Don't get sick here. If you feel sick get on a plane to France. That said x-rays are cheap and relatively easy.
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?
Algiers has bad air quality when the rains don't wash the air out for more than a day or two. Too many cars, and neighbors burning trash. The damp also promotes mold like you wouldn't believe.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
They try to help people with gluten intolerances but expect that the well-meaning restaurant owner/product labeler will get it wrong 1 in 3 or 4 times.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Because of the size of the post and limitations on in-country travel, people started to go stir-crazy after 3+ consecutive months in Algiers if their management didn't let them leave for at least a long weekend. No exaggeration.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Temperate; a beautiful sunny day in Algiers really does wonders for your mood and reminds you why the French wanted to stay.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
American International School is trying to take off; good luck to them. Previously it was French schools mostly.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
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?
If you are eligible/can get on the list, the Marine Bar and British Club run two of the main games in town for diplomats. There is a running club, also elusive to track down/join, and a few diplomat mailing lists for activities.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's a good city for adaptable people able to make their own fun. If you like going out you're going to have to work hard and speak a language.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It's a pretty intolerant culture. Being a diplomat and gay beats being Algerian and gay, though.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, prejudice against African immigrants, occasional repression of minority religions (anything other than their version of Sunni Islam), and women are often harassed on the street and have legal challenges, though fewer than other countries in the Arab world.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Go to the desert. Do not leave Algeria without going to the Sahara. It is unbelievable.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Barcelona and Paris are Algeria's hidden gems ;)
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Berber art, if genuinely handmade, can be beautiful. Good luck wading through the Chinese mass-produced stuff. There's one good artisanal shop in Paradou-Hydra.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Proximity to Europe; good weather nearly year round.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The Embassy's dual reputation as a place for burnouts/newbies, but also a place for ambitious Near East managers to make their bones and get promoted.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Not if I had any better choices.
3. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Of Gods and Men, a movie about the civil war in the 90s. You have to understand that decade to understand Algerians.