Algiers, Algeria Report of what it's like to live there - 08/26/21
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?
Previous tour in Kingston, Jamaica and studied in Istanbul.
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?
DC -> Algiers is usually done through Paris or Frankfurt. With Covid travel is a mess, so plan well in advance and make sure you add a rest stop in the itinerary due to travel disruptions. Pre-Covid travel to and from Europe was incredibly easy.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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?
Housing is generally great. It can really depend on the age of the apartment/house you get in terms of maintenance issues. I am in a middle-aged apartment and I feel like every other week something needs to get fixed (appliances or leaks or other things). I do love that generally the housing is large (I am single and was given three bedrooms) and often has outdoor space (I have a medium-sized garden area). Most houses are within 10-15 minute commute to the Embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
It's a closed economy, so not many imports can be found and if they are they tend to be very expensive. Locally made pantry items are cheap and of decent quality. I've been told I should bring olive oil but the country produces tons of great olive oil (just ask your local staff for recommendations on brand). Yogurt/cheese is a little more difficult because of the lack of variety.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
If you want Asian/Mexican/Indian food items best to bring in consumables as the items here are rare to find and expensive. Same for grains like quinoa (possible to find sometimes but tends to be expensive). Coconut/almond milk; whole wheat or gluten free items. My consumables took a year to arrive, though, so I wish I would have just pouched some of these non-liquid items. Definitely bring as much alcohol as possible. Nothing is really available on the local market unless you're at duty-free and even the commissary struggles to restock with decent priced bottles.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a decent number of good restaurants here serving French-style cuisine and even serve wine. Most of us love eating the Indian/Chinese food options here. A new Mexican place just opened up, which is ok. Really good Syrian food too. I've been ok with the food landscape here otherwise.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
In the summertime it seems like the ants are everywhere in the kitchen. Also, moths. Pack your food extremely well in your pantry and you should be fine.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We only have pouch and sending anything out is almost impossible. If its for personal mail you have to ship through DHL which literally can cost an arm and a leg, it's super expensive. Pouch takes two weeks to arrive from the U.S. and with travel disruptions during covid can take longer.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Great household help available. The average rate seems to be around $20-30 per day for cleaning and cooking. It has been a blessing to have my helper and they are also great with cats/dogs at times!
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy gym is in poor condition in my opinion. The equipment is older than I am and the gym doesn't have any windows. I would hope a renovation would be prioritized, especially during Covid when all the other gyms are closed. Pre-covid there was a hangar gym that many of us go to for CrossFit. It's not very well-managed but it's affordable.
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 at all. Leave your credit card at home. Very few ATMs here will accept your US card either. The country is just not built for tourists or expats to live so your only option is cashing checks at the Embassy. Make sure you bring enough checks to do that.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I speak the local language along with French and it has been wonderful to be able to integrate in the local culture. People appreciate if you speak even a few phrases of Arabic with them. Younger Algerians tend to speak a bit more English but most people don't know more than a few words. I highly recommend studying Algerian dialect in addition to French, but you will likely get around fine with French. If you want to have local friends and travel outside Algiers, invest in Algerian Arabic. Post has classes available and they are good to start with.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Probably. The sidewalks here are often non existent and the city is very hilly. That being said, there are a few places here that are accessible because the former president has been confined to a wheelchair for most of his reign!
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We aren't allowed to. Yassir is the Algerian version of Uber but it is extremely difficult to work with. You have to explain every time where you live on the phone to the driver; and our housing is never easy to find. I highly recommend just bringing your own car. There is Motorpool available but should not be relied on for everything...
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?
Don't bring a nice, expensive car as most of our cars get dinged with the narrow streets here. Most personnel have smaller cars, hatchbacks etc that you'd find in European cities because the parking and streets here are so narrow. Leave your large Jeep, you won't get very far (though it is possible!). Out of town trips are probably fine to do with a hatchback car, just avoid bringing something with a super low clearance.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet here is miserable. The speed is quite slow and the entire country is blacked out for about a week during the daytime for exams. The government also often slows down the speed of certain social media websites. You will probably be fine streaming Netflix, but don't expect to multitask and use internet on two devices at the same time.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I use Google Fi and it works great, even better than the local provider.
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?
Dr. Abdennebi is great and many of us use him. My helper keeps my dog when I travel and she is wonderful with that. It wasn't very hard to bring my dog here but recommend flying through Lufthansa and not Air France (Paris is tough during the layover as there is no green space). Algerians don't generally like dogs and many are scared of them. Dogs here are seen as functional animals and not like we would in the US. That being said my dog has made a lot of animal friends here and most interactions I have with people are positive. Always walk your dog on a leash because there are stray cats (and sometimes dogs) everywhere and they are aggressive. Also, you sometimes hear fireworks or gunshots and that has driven my dog crazy.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
The local dog shelter is great, or teaching English to almost anyone who wants to learn. There are several food banks and other places to volunteer but I'd just clear your participation before you join. The govt here sometimes does not like us interacting with Algerian based-orgs.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
For guys it's really whatever you want to wear. Sometimes they won't let you into fancy restaurants with shorts.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is a police state. There are police every few blocks and checkpoints everywhere. I have never felt threatened or in danger here. Even outside Algiers, you are escorted by police and gendarmes. That being said there are incidents of petty theft but I've never had any issues as long as you follow common sense.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The medical care here is deplorable and nonexistent in my opinion. For even something small that is more than a flu you'll likely be medevaced. If you break a small bone, medevac. The problem here is that doctors often don't have the technology or expertise to diagnose like we do in the US. I once went to a physical therapist to figure out what was wrong with my knee; he massaged my knees and prescribed me bogus meds and told me to take them for two weeks and the problem would go away. And lo and behold, nothing happened.
Dentists here are ok and cheap but most doctors here are just not up to par. I've just had to deal with my health issues here for my entire tour because of covid travel disruptions and lack of good doctors here.
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?
There are good and bad days. In late spring there are dust storms and you won't see the blue sky for as long as a week. Everything gets sand and dust inside and outside your house, it can be very difficult. Allergies can really act up here as well since we are close to the Med and the desert.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Covid has been difficult. Whenever there is a spike, the govt tends to just shut everything down. Restaurants, beaches, and even parks have been closed for the most of covid so it's hard to get any mental relief. Travel is also very difficult to arrange as a result so mission personnel can rarely get out of Algiers. If you are looking for a post where you can just get in your car and go on a road trip and camp or hike freely every weekend, this is not the place for you. We have to have escorts everywhere and that can be a giant pain to deal with. You have to plan every trip with the minute details and ask for permission from the MFA to travel days in advance of leaving, so if you like to plan last minute travel this is probably not for you either. Remember that this is a hardship post!
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is wonderful. It is the Mediterranean, so it's mild. The winters tend to be between 50-70 degrees F and summer 70-90 F. Often there are heatwaves for a few weeks but it tends to be a shorter length of time.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
I think most people who come to Algeria know what they're getting into and find positive things to do to help morale. The mission community is great and supportive. It has been hard to meet other people due to Covid.
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?
There are book clubs/Marine workouts and other happy hour type events at the Embassy. Otherwise, Algerians are very friendly. If you look like a foreigner you will get approached and asked questions and people will want to talk to you. The people are wonderful here and I've had no difficulty making good friends!
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's a large enough city to offer something for everyone. Families tend to love the post, and singles often do just great (I did). Dating happens here. There are spots you can go and enjoy a nice date. But recognize and accept that culturally things will be very different.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Considering Algeria is a conservative Muslim country and not Western Europe, I'd say it's still great for LGBT expats as long as you keep your expectations realistic. No, there is no gay pride parade or gay bars, but there is a huge LGBT underground scene compared to many other countries. It seems Algerian society and the government often turns a blind eye to this minority population. Most get togethers are at home or a few cafes. The vast majority of LGBT Algerians tend to be very, very discreet so please respect their privacy when reaching out or involving them in outside activities.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Very easy to make friends with Algerians. They are genuinely interested in becoming friends with foreigners, especially Americans and want to practice their English with you. Walk around with a dog and you'll find even more friends and people to chat with. In short, put yourself out there and make the initiative to meet and talk with other Algerians. It will be super easy to make friends if you have a proactive mindset.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
1. Language - Algerians have a collective trauma from the 130 years of brutal French colonialism. The rhetoric in public is that Algerians hate France and anything French as a result. It is much more nuanced. You will meet people that love French and many that hate French. If you only speak French, try to learn some phrases in Arabic. And you may encounter a lot of opposition because you only speak French. Try to preface encounters with how unfortunate it is that you didn't learn Arabic. That will get you a long way. And sometimes it is just best to speak English.
2. Ethnicity - Many people in Algiers are originally from the Kabylie region and identify as Tamazight Berber and not Arab. They have their own distinct language and culture. Recognize that not every Algerian is an Arab and may not speak Arabic. This ethnic division can be difficult to grasp at first but you will start to see the distinction after a few months.
3. Religion - Measure your conversations around religion. The French stoked a lot of division between Muslims and Christians and Muslims and Jews and that has carried over today. If you are Christian, Jew, or Shia Muslim it is best to practice discreetly and be careful if you make comments about Sunni Islam.
4. Gender - I am male and honestly couldn't speak for my female colleagues, but it seems that many of them get stared at and catcalled on the streets in Algiers.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Despite Covid and political upheaval in this country, I've enjoyed my time 100%. The best thing about this country are the people here. I've loved meeting and working with Algerians and my local staff are gems to work with. I'll never forget the sunsets in Taghit, the distinct culture and landscape of Tamanrasset, the history of Ghardaia, the hiking and beaches of Bejaia and Skikda, and the beautiful architecture in Algiers and Oran.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Travelling anywhere here will expose you to the beautiful nature and warm culture and hospitality of Algerians. It has been wonderful to witness it firsthand.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Besides rugs from Ghardaia, this is nothing like Morocco/Tunisia in terms of souvenirs. They are expensive and knock offs of the Moroccan/Tunisian versions. There are a few good places to buy souvenirs but prepare to spend a good amount of money. The art scene here is really great, and I've bought awesome paintings.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The people, the climate and the laid back nature. People are just nice. It has been nice to get to know them.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Life is not always easy. Trying to fix something easy in your car and find a car part will take you an entire week to find a good mechanic who has the part and is willing to help you. The police/military presence here can be very uncomfortable and you will get harassed if you look Algerian. Working with the government here can be challenging. The bureaucracy here is just terrible in my opinion and everything is just inefficient.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I think I would, but covid has exacerbated many of the problems above. I'd make sure regular flights to and from Europe are established again, or the MFA gives us more freedom and ease of domestic travel.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Camping gear and credit card.
4. But don't forget your:
Resilience (as much as I hate the word).
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Battle of Algiers is a must see to understand the country.
6. Do you have any other comments?
This post is not easy but I'd do it all again if I could spend more time with the people I've gotten to know and love here.