Yerevan, Armenia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/21/22

Personal Experiences from Yerevan, Armenia

Yerevan, Armenia 01/21/22

Background:

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

I previously lived in Iraq and Mexico.

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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 in California. Trips to anywhere in the U.S. will take about 24+ hours. Even pre-Covid, there were limited flights in and out of Armenia requiring connections through Paris, Kyiv or a handful of other places.

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3. What years did you live here?

2018-2020.

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4. How long have you lived here?

I was there almost two years.

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5. 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?

The houses are generally large but there are some small townhomes and apartments. The furthest neighborhood is really the only embassy neighborhood where kids can ride bikes in the street and they have good-sized lawns for playing outside but no fences. For a dog but no kids, I’d probably choose one of two neighborhoods closer to the embassy. They have walled courtyards and good sized outdoor spaces but not much, if any, grass. The street dog problem here is generally pretty bad and you have to be cautious when running outside or walking your dog. One is closest to the embassy and the other is not much farther. People in the closer neighborhood report having a hard time getting a taxi or food delivery because the drivers can’t find the addresses. It’s kind of a maze with no street signs. So pros and cons for every neighborhood. The apartments are downtown but I probably would not pick that if you have a dog due to traffic and crowded sidewalks.

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

You can get inexpensive high quality produce in season. Groceries are generally less expensive than the US if you buy local or Russian brands but the quality varies. Carrefour, the French grocery store, is the only place I found convenience type foods like frozen chicken nuggets for kids etc. but it is generally more expensive than local chains.

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

I highly recommend shipping consumables if your employer offers that allowance. American brand peanut butter and any kind of real maple syrup are expensive here. Imported liquor and wine can be expensive. Beer selection is limited. There is one good brewery and the stores carry Corona, Heineken, Stella plus other local beers that are meh.

They only had diplomatic pouch at the embassy (though I’ve heard rumors that they’re getting DPO) and you can only ship 16 oz of liquid per pouch shipment per person. Bring shampoo, conditioner, etc. Even brands like Loreal here are made in Russia and seem to be of poor quality. Bring a LOT of lotion and chapstick. It’s extremely dry like I’ve never experienced before. You’ll go through a lot of both of those things. Really any personal hygiene items that you are picky about are good to bring. You don’t want to use the feminine hygiene products that they sell here. If you like to bake, bring vanilla.

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

You can get food, and really anything else like items from the pharmacy, pet food, etc, delivered for very cheap. Local food is tasty but monotonous. Lots of grilled meat, lavash (flat long bread), salad and yogurt. There was one decent but not great Thai place and a good Indian place. A nice steak and seafood restaurant. You can have a good meal with wine for significantly less than it would cost in the U.S. Decent wine is plentiful and inexpensive. There are some good Russian vodkas that are inexpensive here like Beluga.

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

Sand flies so make sure your pets and children have repellant when outside. Ticks.

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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. I don't know anyone who attempted to use the local postal service.

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

One of the best things about Armenia is the quality household help. Nannies make about 2000 dram per hour which is a good salary for the economy there. We had an amazing nanny and very thorough housekeeper, a gardener, and a driver that took the nanny and my daughter to activities.

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

The embassy has a small, but well-equipped gym.

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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 tried to only use the ATM at the embassy or the one inside Carrefour grocery store.

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

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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?

Your time in Armenia will be much more enjoyable & easier if you speak some Russian or Armenian. You can hire a local tutor for a reasonable price. It's challenging to shop at the local grocery chains if you can't read the labels and taxi drivers tend to not speak English at all.

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

Yes. Sidewalks are in ill repair. One employee stepped on a sidewalk grate and fell through it. Safety and accommodating physical handicaps are not a priority in Armenia.

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Transportation:

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

Affordable, yes. I never took a bus. I used the metro train once and it seemed fine but doesn't go many places. The taxis are cheap but most have the seatbelts cut out to make room for more passengers. And the driving is generally lawless in my opinion. You're better off paying a private driver a little bit more than you would a taxi and having a seatbelt.

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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?

Don't bring anything too flashy because I've heard that fake traffic accidents to try and get money or shifting the blame in real accidents has happened to several people. There are a lot of potholes and roads get poor with ice and snow so something rugged is your best bet. Four-wheel drive is handy if you want to go outside of town especially in the winter. I highly recommend getting an inexpensive dash cam on Amazon to protect you in case of an accident.

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Phone & Internet:

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

Yes it's available and the embassy set it up for us. We did have frequent outages.

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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?

You can get a local sim card cheaply.

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Pets:

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

We used an English-speaking veterinarian who was very kind and knowledgeable. However, expect vet care to be far below the quality in the US. They do not have the equipment for more advanced testing and treatments. Prices for vet care and medications are lower than U.S. prices. You can get okay dog food there but I would order through the pouch if you have that option. I never used a kennel but other employees or the household staff were always willing to care for pets as needed.

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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?

Low salaries on the local economy. There are family member jobs at the embassy and the international schools hire teachers.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Plenty. There are some volunteer run animal shelters than can always use help. Some people volunteered at the orphanage.

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

Business to business casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

I wouldn't leave my phone out at a cafe. Taxi drivers will try to rip you off. Other than that, I didn't see much crime.

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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?

Medical care is poor. I cannot stress this enough. The hospitals are outdated. Some ambulance staff do not know CPR. Emergency services outside the city are mostly non-existent. Pollution is bad in the winter as people burn anything to stay warm. Car pollution is terrible with the old Ladas and buses spewing emissions. I would try to medevac for anything serious. Routine dental care is decent.

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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?

See above.

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

I would be very cautious in restaurants especially if there is a language barrier. Cigarette smoke is everywhere.

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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)?

Winters are long and very gray.

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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?

Four seasons. Fall and spring are beautiful. Winter is long, cold and a bit depressing. Summers are hot and dry.

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Schools & Children:

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

QSI is the only one I had experience with and found it mediocre. I heard it's not good academically for older kids.

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

Yes, you can use a local preschool. They are affordable and some teachers speak English. A nanny is your best bet for before and after school care.

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

Yes, lots and very affordable. Soccer, swimming, gymnastics, chess, ballet, tennis...

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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 US has a medium sized mission. From what I could tell, the Canadians, British, Spanish have a small presence. Morale at the embassy was decent pre-covid.

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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?

There was a hiking club at the US embassy. Lots of home-based entertaining. I made local friends but it takes effort.

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

I do not recommend it for singles especially women. It's still a largely patriarchal society. My impression from male coworkers was that dating locals was difficult for them as well. It's a great post for families. Couples without kids might get bored.

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

I found it easy to make friends with locals but others did not. I do speak basic Armenian which helped. There is an obvious prejudice against darker-skinned people.

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

No. Discrimination exists.

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

It is still a patriarchal society and darker skinned friends experienced blatant discrimination.

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

Tsaghkadzor in the winter. Dillijan in the fall or spring. Hiking Mt. Aragats.

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

There are lots of ancient churches to visit.

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

There is an open-air market downtown where you can purchase carpets and paintings, woodworking. Bring your haggling skills.

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

You can save money. Lots of activities for children. Some restaurants even have play places staffed with nannies.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How polluted it would get in the winter. The embassy eventually provided air purifiers.

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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:

Timid driving.

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4. But don't forget your:

Lotion and chapstick. Lots of it!

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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's a Booze Traveler episode set in Armenia that gives you a good sense of the place.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

In spite of the challenges, I would live here again. I found the locals to be largely warm & friendly (not when they're driving though!) If you like hiking and exploring, don't mind making your own fun, you will enjoy your time here.

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