Dili, East Timor Report of what it's like to live there - 04/25/13

Personal Experiences from Dili, East Timor

Dili, East Timor 04/25/13

Background:

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

Barcelona, Mexico City, Khartoum, Caracas.

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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?

Washington DC. About 24 hours flying time. Connections are through Bali, Singapore or Darwin, Australia. There are not daily flights into/out of Dili.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Going on 9 months of a two year tour.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Embassy Employee.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

All embassy housing that I am aware of is single-family homes. Most are near the embassy and beach with the longest commute approximately 10 min/15 with heavy traffic.

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

Fairly good and improving. Almost all food (except coffee and a few local fruits and veggies) here is imported from Australia, Portugal, China or Singapore. A few US imports are available. Food is expensive. Availability is generally good, but there are sporadic shortages of fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy products. An extra freezer is helpful for buying in bulk when items are available. Most fruits and veggies are available on a seasonable basis. There is a very limited amount of frozen and/or prepared foods. Health and beauty products, cleaning products, paper products and other household items are generally easily available.

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

Full use of any consumables shipment is recommended. More bug spray, bathing suits, toys and children's books. All are hard to come by, of poor quality and expensive here.

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

There are no fast food restaurants in East Timor. Local restaurants are plentiful and not too expensive. The most expensive place in town offers main course meals for approx $18-25. Expensive by local standards but not too bad, especially if you are coming from a major US city. Typically, restaurants offer Western, Indian, Indonesian, Balinese, and other Asian-style cuisines.

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

It's tropical, so the normal tropical bugs are here: mosquitoes, roaches and ants. Lots of geckos too, but since they eat the mosquitoes we leave them alone.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Pouch and DPO. Local mail service is mostly non-existent. DHL and FEDEX have an office here but prices are exorbitant.

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

Plentiful and inexpensive. All help is live-out. A full-time English-speaking Filipino nanny (5 days week) is about $400/month. A full-time Timorese housekeeper is approximately $200/month. A part-time Timorese gardener: $100/month. Most folks drive themselves, but a few also employ drivers.

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

The embassy has a pretty good gym. A new public gym is set to open this fall. Rates unknown.

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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?

You can safely access a few ATMs here in Dili, but it's a strictly cash-only society here. They use the US dollar. Credit cards are only used for online shopping and travel.

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

There is one English-language Catholic church service.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Cable is available here with many English-l,anguage news and entertainment channels. The top cable package runs about $100/month.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

English is widely spoken among the educated Timorese and expat community. Some knowledge of Portugese would be helpful for shopping, as many products are imported from Portugal. Some knowledge of Bahasa is also helpful, as many of the locals speak this and Tetun.

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

It would be quite difficult to get around here for someone with physical disabilities. There are no special accommodations for handicapped individuals anywhere.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are affordable and generally safe. Most fares are $1-2 each way. All other public transport is not safe and not recommended for use.

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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?

You definitely need a 4-wheel-drive with good clearance as there are not too many paved roads, and even those are usually in questionable shape. Driving anywhere outside of Dili requires patience and a sturdy vehicle with good clearance. Bring extra tires-you will need them. There is usually a good supply of used vehicles for sale here from departing expats.

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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?

Not really by US standards,' but its getting better with each passing month. Most internet service is still dial-up, but there are some free WiFi spot,s and 3G is now available but quite expensive. With the recent arrival of some new telecommunications companies the hope is that service will expand and prices will come down.

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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?

Bring one with you or get one when you arrive. They are plentiful and cheap here. They have recently added an additional cell phone provider, so rates should start to be a bit more competitive than in the past.

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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?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Pet food is available at grocery stores. I am unaware of vet services.

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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?

There are plenty of job opportunities here for those who are interested. There are EFM jobs at the embassy, teaching positions at the school, and lots of NGOs and other private companies here looking for help. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities as well.

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

Very casual to business casual. Leave your ball gowns and tuxedos at home.

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Health & Safety:

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

Not really. Generally it is very safe during the day and night.

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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?

Health care here is below US standards. The US Embassy has a US-trained doctor and a good clinic. There is a good private clinic for small/minor injuries that is expanding. Anything beyond a sprain requires a medevac. Malaria pills are recommended, and Dengue is always a concern. Good mosquito control is necessary. There is a fairly good dentist now available who can provide basic care (cleanings/fillings) at reasonable costs.

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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?

Very good.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

The rainy season is approx Nov-April and dry season May-Oct. During the rainy season we get a good downpour once a day for a short bit then sunny again.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are 2 schools here.
QSI Dili follows the American calendar and curriculum and offers grades K-8. As of fall 2013 they will only offer grades 9-12 via a virtual high school program. Our 2 children attend QSI and we are very happy with its small class sizes and very dedicated staff. It's a small school with approx 75 students this year (2012-2013). They offer limited after-school activities and no formal sports activities.
The second school is DIS and follows the Australian calendar and curriculum. They offer K-8 with a virtual high school program as well. I have only limited knowledge of this school. It has a larger student body and larger class sizes but is able to offer more diverse after school activities.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Very few accommodations can be made here due to the limited resources available. This is not a good location for students with mobility challenges.

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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?

There is a private English-speaking preschool for 2-year-olds called Dili Sprouts. It is run out of the QSI Dili campus. QSI offers half-day preschool for 3- and 4-year olds. DIS also offers preschool.

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

No organized team sports, however lessons for all kinds of activities are offered, such as ballet, scuba, karate, swimming, piano, yoga, theater, etc.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Larger than you would expect for a country/city of this size. Now that the UN has pulled out, the expat community is much smaller, but there is still quite a large presence of Australians and other expats.

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2. Morale among expats:

Quite good!

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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?

There is lots to do here. Most entertaining is done in peoples' homes. Due to the large size of the expat community, there is always something going on somewhere. There are a lot of charity events here, and the various NGOs and embassies host events as well.

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

This is a great post for families with young children! Singles and couples that we know here do quite well, too. The place has a pretty active social calendar.

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

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

Not really. There have been a few instances of expat females being harassed while jogging or cycling, but nothing major.

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

Vacations to nearby Bali, Indonesia! It's close, cheap and super family-(kid)-friendly. Singapore is great, too, but a bit more expensive to travel and stay.

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

Going to the beach/pool is the major pass-time. There is world-class snorkeling and scuba here as well.

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

Coffee and some local craft items.

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

The weather is wonderful. Sunny and warm year 'round. You can definitely save money here, as there isnt much to spend it on in country.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes! There is only one small mall in Dili, and the first-ever movie theater recently opened. Movies are currently $3. A gym is set to open in the fall. Eating out is a common pass-time and not overly expensive. Travel to/from Dili is expensive, however, as there are limited flights.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes. We have two small children and we love it here. The school is good and it's safe and friendly. The pace of life is slower here and takes some getting used to after being in DC, but the beach and small town atmosphere of Dili are great.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Cold-weather clothing and big-city fast paced lifestyle. Here it is slow and easy, tropical style.

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3. But don't forget your:

Swimsuit, scuba gear, sunscreen, and bug spray.

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