Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Report of what it's like to live there - 01/02/08
Personal Experiences from Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Previous stays include Yerevan, Armenia and Manila, Philippines.
2. How long have you lived here?
The author has been living in Brunei for 5 months.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Lengthy regardless of where you're coming from in the United States. Connections are usually through Hong Kong, Bangkok, or Singapore.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is typically apartments and single family homes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are cheap! Local produce is CHEAP and good. Some western items (pasta sauce, etc) is a little more than US prices, but hey it's available (mostly Australian brands). Cleaning supplies are plentiful and cheap. BND $2.90 for a mop or broom.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing really. Maybe a Home Theater system because the vast majority of your time will be spent at home.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The food here is great. Pork only in non-Halal Chinese places. There are even a few 'western' restaurants, one MacDonald's, KFC, etc. Dairy Queen! Lots of yummy restaurants available - Thai, sushi, Malay, Chinese, etc, etc.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Access to both pouch AND APO twice a week from Singapore.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Sore point here. We were again lied to through omission. There's a quota on house help here. It's a lengthy and painful process to hire someone to work in your home. If you're not choosy (we are) I'm sure you can get a cleaner, part time in relatively short order. Otherwise be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. The local government needs to keep lots of (local) people employed, they don't want to be overrun by foreign workers,so they make the process long and difficult. Our staff has been little help.
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?
We use credit cards and our ATM cards here with little trouble. Sometimes our banks balk when they see charges here and online (US-based) on the same day - but that's a feature, not a bug right?
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Unknown. A church or two exist here - we don't attend.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Astro Satellite. Censored for Brunei market. HBO, Discovery channel, MTV.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. A little. Everyone educated here speaks excellent English. Market Malay would be helpful.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
None really. Infrastructure is good to great.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
On the left (opposite of the US, same as the UK).
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses seem affordable and prevalent, safe too. Taxis are more expensive, but then again where is there to go that is not within walking distance of downtown?
3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
We were lied to by omission. You CAN bring a US-model newer than 5 years into this country. It takes a little longer to clear but it's possible as a diplomat. We bought a newer Toyota sedan (Thailand built, right-hand drive) for much more than a comparable US model would have cost. The roads here are great, people obey traffic laws - though they do tailgate all the time.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Better than other places we've been. Nowhere near US quality and it is expensive for what you get. Roughly US$50 per month for DSL.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
It's Asia! Buy a cool new model in Singapore or Hong Kong on your way through! Consumer electronics (especially) in Brunei are marked way up. More than 100 percent in some cases for hot newer models.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Any way. Direct dial isn't much. We use Skype with lots of success.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Unknown but we have seen a number of veterinarians that look very nice.
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?
There are lots of jobs it seems. Our situation isn't such that we want to work outside. The pay is decent but not great.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Conservative. Normal western dress for tropical climate. I see men wearing shorts here and there. Western women need dress only a little more conservatively than normal. The Chinese girls here sometimes wear skimpy outfits. They look out-of-place by doing so. We wear jeans and t-shirts all the time. Buy several pairs of flip flops!
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
The air here is just fine. Clean even.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
None really - It's really quite safe and boring here.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care seems pretty good. Most doctors are UK, AU, or GB trained.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Warm and wet. Always.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
We have our toddler enrolled in a preschool. Very inexpensive in comparison with US prices.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small. Large if you live in Kuala Belait. We see tourists in Bandar sometimes. Where do they come from?
2. Morale among expats:
Hit and miss. This place is SUPER easy to live in (nice roads, little traffic, safe, good food), but it's been difficult to keep up your morale. Our community is small and it seems difficult to meet other expats. I'm personally going to start to Hash soon to meet some people.
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?
Ha. Hah ha. Movies and pizza at home. Mocktails at the mall if you're in to that sort of thing.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
There's no real dating scene unless of course you're Muslim. Families? Sure...although our experiences with support from work and various local government bureaucratic issues has been poor.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
None that we've seen. Bruneians seem to treat non-Bruneians as inferiors. With subtlety but that reflects much of Asia too.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There is nothing to do here. Nothing. Canopy walks and flying to nearby holiday destinations for beaches/resorts/etc.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Hrm. Nothing really. Hand-woven rice baskets for a few bucks? No art to speak of (like in Vietnam), no carvings (like in Philippines), and no trinkets (like in Thailand). We've not been to Malaysia yet - I'm willing to bet it's more fun.
9. Can you save money?
Sure. Especially if your housing is paid for.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. Work possibility for spouses is limited to two positions and we've had such a hard time obtaining house help that I would not return to this post. Admittedly we thought that we were going back to a Philippines-like situation. Many of our support staff here are incompetent or under-managed or have never had proper direction (maybe all of the above).It's an out-of-the way post with out-of-the-way problems. Comparatively, our Mission in the former Soviet Union was top notch.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Skis - unless you plan on R&R in New Zealand.
3. But don't forget your:
Flip flops and sunscreen.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
7. Do you have any other comments?
It's very isolated here. Not like Iraq or Afghanistan isolated, but it's lonely here unless you have a family. But then your family will be so bored that they will drive you nuts when you come home from work. It's mind-numbingly boring here. But hey it's safe!