Nicosia, Cyprus Report of what it's like to live there - 08/28/22
Personal Experiences from Nicosia, Cyprus
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, previously: Antananarivo, Brussels, Dhaka, Colombo, and Novosibirsk.
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 / USA. It works out to being a long day in either direction. There are no direct flights. Athens is a 1 hour hop and is well connected. Other frequently used transfer points include Austrian airlines (Vienna), Lufthansa (Munich, Frankfurt), British Airlines (London). Nicosia is served by Larnaca airport (LCA), a 45 minutes from from Nicosia. There is an airport just to the North of Nicosia in the Turkish-occupied area with flights to Turkey, but this airport cannot be used by Americans on official travel. In principle, there is also an international airport in Paphos, which is a 2-plus hour drive from Nicosia, but Nicosia airport is better for the US-Cyprus route. The Paphos airport has useful connections for some destinations such as the Greek Islands.
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?
The embassy housing pool includes apartments and houses. Both may be multi-floor. Houses tend occupy almost all of the land they stand on, with postage-stamp backyards. Driveways tend to be the width of the car (car door opening seems not to have been taken into account). Houses tend to be modern in appearance and are universally constructed of poured concrete around ceramic, brick or cement blocks within a rebar frame. Most are painted light colors, white or pastels, in and out. Almost all have rooftop solar water heaters. Photovoltaic panels are becoming more common, but not on embassy housing as far as I am aware. Many houses have a bit of greenery around them, often a fruit tree or two. Almost all the lawns here are astroturf. As for commute times, the furthest points on the island are only about three hours apart, so how bad could the commute get? The embassy is in the direction of the downtown area, but not in the dense, old, narrow part of the city. From the most outlying housing, the commute is about 15 minutes when school is out, and 30 minutes at worst (construction, accidents, etc.).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Staple foods are on par with costs in Washington DC. Some meat and fish can be a bit higher. Some imported items are a bit higher (like Ben & Jerrys Icecream), on the other hand, items that would be imported in the US, like European beers, dairy products, etc., are less costly.
For whatever reason, in my opinion, beef here isn't very good. Sometimes you can find roast beef imported from France, and that is good. Otherwise, it's not worth eating. We found duck served well as a stand-in for beef. Pork is king; lamb also excellent. Chicken tastes, well, like chicken does everywhere.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
There's zero need to ship anything ahead of time to post. There is almost always some equivalent available here. The supermarket chains have affiliations with larger UK and EU chains, so you can find products under Casino, Carrefour, Marks & Spenser, etc. There is a DPO that can handle liquid shipments, so after seeing what is here, you can order items later. We ordered some clam chowder soup and pumpkin filling for pies, but we could have survived without it. There are some El Paso Mexican food supplies here, but the selection is limited; similar for Asian foods.
I recall reading another real post report before we came here that complained that the supermarkets didn't have the "good maraschino cherries". We laughed our heads off at that one, while wrapping up our assignment in Madagascar, and thinking that if that is the biggest problem in Cyprus, it would be fine. I am happy to report that Cyprus now does have maraschino cherries that we consider to be good.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
During the pandemic, web-based services for food delivery bloomed. The two biggest are Wolt and Foody. Wolt is the better because it provides more accurate time estimates and tracks deliveries to the door. Most restaurants are affiliated with one or the other. Supermarkets as well, although I wouldn't ask for a large delivery since the courier comes on a motor bike. You can get typical fast food, McDonalds and KFC delivered this way. My recommendations are : To Parko (souvla), Manora (Thai), Yummi India (Indian). If there's good Chinese food here, we haven't found it. There is a good, albeit a bit pricey sushi place near Larnaca: Nippon.
There are a few words for coffee shop, but altogether, there is one on about every corner. Pick one and get a customer loyalty card punched. There are three words to remember when it comes to coffee: stekos (black), metrios (semi-sweek) and glykos (really sweet). You can use them with Turkish coffee (called Cypriot coffee) or regular filter coffee. Since it's so hot most of the year, ice coffee is very common.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
For mailing the US, I used the DPO, however, the local post office was fine for mailing things to the rest of the world, rates were reasonable, and delivery was faster than routing through the embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Many people hire someone to come in and clean once a week for a few hours. There is a relatively large Filipino community that seems well plugged into this niche. Rates run around 5 Euro/hour. I can't speak to childcare rates.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
I believe the embassy has a small gym, but have never seen it. Local commercial gyms are not uncommon and vary in quality. There is a tree-lined walking/running/biking path that runs through the city and into the suburbs. Once you get away from the city, there is plenty of opportunity for outdoor recreation along the beaches and mountains.
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 have had no problem using Visa. Generally, I preferred to cash checks via the embassy to obtain cash, but ATMs seem okay.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can easily get by with a short list of polite greetings/responses. Supermarkets, retail, and anything tourist-facing will have staff with come English capability. If you're in Limassol and don't know Greek, Russian comes in handy.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. While in principle complying with EU standards, there are some big exceptions. Big chunks of side walk are often just gone because of construction. Some newer buildings have ramps, but most do not. Multistory buildings may not have elevators.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Cyprus has very little public transportation infrastructure. The only time I see buses are at the downtown depot, and the only people riding them seem to be recent immigrants and backpackers. Taxis on the other are common and almost always in good condition. There are fixed airport-to-city rates, so ask what that is at the airport before taking a taxi to make sure you are getting the real rate (as of SEP 2022, 65 Euro). Generally, I have not had problems, though. Most taxis are run by individuals but also subscribe to one or more of the ride-sharing services. Uber is not in Cyprus, but popular companies with phone apps include Bolt and Cabcy.
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?
The country drives on the left side of the road, so the steering wheel should be on the right. The main highways along the coast and through the center are excellent quality, local roads a bit less so. However, there are not a ton of pot holes. For driving in the city and to tourist locations, any car should do. If you want to explore the mountain or countryside more, roads can get quite rough. If you have the option to own two cars, one for city and one for country would be idea. I would not bring a brand new car and there isn't infrastructure yet for fully electric here, although hybrids should be fine. I see all sorts of cars: American, European, Japanese, Korean, etc., so I'm sure you can always find someone to fix whatever you are driving. I would lean a bit towards Japanese for spare part inventory. There are usually some good deals to be had through turnover at diplomatic posts, so I would recommend looking there first before importing.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Cyta Fiber to the house was set up before we arrived and activated almost immediately. Cable TV and phone worked over fiber. Bandwidth was fine for teleconferencing and large file transfers. Quality of service and cost were better than what we had in the US with Verizon and Comcast.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We had an unlimited data plan with Cyta, which provided good connectivity and high bandwidth everywhere but remote mountain locations; speed is good enough that tethering provided a good backup if fiber went down (fiber never went down, but we lost perhaps an hour of time over three years due to power outages related to local issues like a car hitting a telephone pole).
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, there are plenty of good vets. We adopted our dogs from a volunteer-run animal shelter, Argos, near Larnaca. It is not unusual for dogs to be bred, particularly for hunting, here with excess litter mates abandoned, so I would recommend adopting a dog rather than importing one, if you don't already have a dog. I don't know anything about importing a dog, but I can say that exporting our dogs was extremely expensive and nerve-wracking. Only one company flies dogs out at present: Lufthansa, and they suspended operations for most of 2022, only resuming them in September. The only other way to get a dog off the island is by ferry, and that is booked months in advance. We could only find one IATA-certified pet shipper in Cyprus, and they got the job done, but were not very communicative and required a lot of legwork on our part. Total cost of shipping two dogs from Cyprus to France was 3400 Euro, which included a one day stopover for the dogs (not us) in Germany. There are some nice doggie hotels in Cyprus, we used one in the mountains (Dogs Hotel Cyprus, proprietor Louiza). They sent us pictures each day of the dogs having a good time and the dogs were always excited to hop into their van to head to "summer camp".
As for cats, Cyprus is overrun with them. Feral cats in varying states of health are everywhere. Most "pet" cats here have a home base, but roam freely and return for meals. For god sakes, don't bring another cat to Cyprus. If you are looking for a hobby, learning how to spay the ones already there will keep you busy for your entire stay.
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?
I worked full-time remotely-based out of an office in the UK and occasionally traveling for work. One drawback of being based in Cyprus rather than more centrally in Europe was that almost any trip took a full day each way. I was not paid on the local economy.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are a lot of opportunities, although most of the ones I've seen have been organized by expats, e.g, pet shelters, garbage clean up, etc., so volunteer positions may not afford a lot of contact with the local community.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
I packed a tie for business trips, but never wore it. For client teleconferences, I would usually have a dress shirt above and short pants below.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I felt very secure in Cyprus, there is very little violent crime, burglary, etc. I would watch my pockets downtown and not leave anything obvious sitting on the seat of my car. Common sense should suffice.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
(speaking as a US-trained physician...) Medical training in Cyprus is limited, the good news is that most of the providers that embassy staff will encounter have trained outside Cyprus and have come back. Everyone I encountered seemed fine for common issues, although if there were a more complicated diagnosis or more serious treatment, I would get a state-side consult (cancer care, any major surgical intervention, etc.).
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?
Generally pretty good. Dust seems to be the main issue - I recall some periods during the summer where we found it helpful to supplement our house air conditioners with freestanding HEPA filter units.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
If you're allergic to cats, ask before heading over to someone's house if you're going to be indoors.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
You may find yourself driving more aggressively as you absorb local culture.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
From the end of May to end of June, the temperatures run just under 40C. Nicosia is a big concrete block and too inland for sea breeze, so it is sweltering there. Anywhere along the coast is preferable, and this is a particularly good time of year to head for the mountains, where it is cooler due to elevation. In the winter, the temperature gets down to around 5C - I think we saw ice on puddles once. However, houses are generally not well insulated and are engineered towards cooling, not heating, so don't forget to bring sweaters despite Cyprus's reputation as an oven. During the winter, it can rain almost every day, so bring the umbrella and some boots.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No direct experience. I am aware that there is an international and that there are other schools (British, French, etc.)
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, definitely, I often see kids practicing football. I don't know how open those programs are to expats, though.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Compared to other US embassies, this one is small to medium. On the other hand, compared to embassies from some other countries, it's pretty big (the French, Austrian, and Netherlands embassies have a couple rooms each in an office building). This is not a nanny-belt country; staffing is probably less than most of the EU, but still significant, so there are fewer families with children than some countries.
Morale is difficult to judge because our tour overlapped the pandemic, so life was not business as usual. Civil life in Cyprus less affected by the pandemic than in the US, but the embassy really struggled with it. As an external observer, it seemed to me odd to see the embassy working frantically during a period when there was so little to do, and I think that burned out a lot of staff. In my opinion, there seemed to be little in the way of mentoring or career building during this period, and it seemed staff generally had difficulty obtaining onward assignments from this post. Presumably, this will eventually rectify with staff turnover, as this embassy should be a gem of an assignment.
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?
Sure, I had identified a few local groups through mutual contacts and web searches before I got here, and I was able to integrate into them without a problem. The groups around Nicosia were mostly Cypriots, so this was my closest contact with local culture (particularly, the many ways to cook pork). I had some contact with groups based in Paphos, but these skewed largely towards UK expats, so less local flavor. Most groups here have a facebook page with contact info.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Seemed fine for both.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Cypriots walk a fine line between a tradition of hospitality, particularly towards visitors, and raging prejudice, mostly towards foreigners. I would say that there is an underlying distrust of Americans, but equally of Russians, Chinese, British, etc., all of whom are presumed to be meddling in Cypriot affairs. Most often, prejudice is directed towards immigrants, so anyone who might appear to be from Syria, Northern Africa, i.e., along the eastern mediterranean route, could encounter some initial difficulty.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I would think that it would be, less so in urban areas with a younger population, more so in the countryside with an older population.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Traditional culture in Cyprus discounts women. It's not unusual to be handed a menu, make a selection and be told no, what you should get are these items. The orthodox church in particular has some medieval views.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We rented an airBNB in Pissouri for a couple weeks in the early autumn - very nice setting, good restaurants in the area, easy access to the beach and diving.
There are an endless number of trails in the Troodos mountains and along the coast. Sometimes the terrain can be a gravely or steep; I found hiking poles helpful (and sunglasses, sunscreen, lots of water, etc.)
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Some of our best trips were to the North, where the cost of everything is divided by a factor of at least five, particularly for food. We were able to charter a large motorboat for a day and take it up and down the coast. We chartered a sailboat from Latchi in the South as well, and that was an extraordinary day, but much more expensive.
I would recommend signing up for a wine-tasting tour. Cypriot wine isn't anything to write home about, but it's a fun day, you get to see a few different wineries and see their processes and someone else does the driving.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are places known for various items, like silk and silver handicrafts, but nothing I came here wanting.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The only advantage to living in Nicosia would be location, i.e, if you had work, relatives, etc in Nicosia. Otherwise, it would be crazy to live there when the rest of the island is divided into beautiful mountains and beachfront.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How many UK adapters I would need to buy. If I did it again, I would just get one adapter for each outlet and then plug EU-standard strips into them.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Sure, I worked from home, so anywhere with good internet and less than a day's flight to continental Europe would have worked for me. I found Cyprus and easy place to live with lots of good destinations for weekend recreation.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Skis - there is in fact one slope in the country; it even has lifts. They do make some of their own snow, but due to elevation, the slope can remain open until March.
Also, it does get cold in Nicosia and more so in the mountains, so do bring some winter attire, both for living in Cyrpus and traveling regionally.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop is a good beach read about how the Famagusta resort area fared during the Turkish invasion (with popcorn-munching story of forbidden Greek-speaking/Turkish-speaking romance). It didn't win any literary prizes, but at least it kept moving.
The Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell, which is usually the recommended book, did win awards, but isn't very helpful. It's pretty dated now and only helpful if you are a feeling-sorry-for-your-self-not-really-all-that-disadvantaged old boy British writer, who travels the Mediterranean and arrives in Cyprus in the 1950s.
For a preview of coming events and culture, you might start listening to the Cyprus News Digest, which is available as a podcast.