Dili, East Timor Report of what it's like to live there - 05/30/17
Personal Experiences from Dili, East Timor
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, we have been posted to Zambia, Egypt, Estonia, Cameroon, Bulgaria, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
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?
St. Louis, Missouri. This presents a challenges. It typically takes around 35 hours plus but with just one delay that can go up substantially, expect an overnight somewhere. Last summer our trip to St. Louis took 48 hours and 72 hours coming back with two overnight layovers. You really have to be patient and with the changes on government travel it can really try your patience. For those government travelers definitely get your Government Travel Card.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. 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 typically either townhouses or single-family houses. Size is usually very good but some houses have strange layouts. With a little time and creativity you should be quite happy. We live right next to the Quality Schools International school which is awesome and have a compound with lots of kids, a nice restaurant, pool, gaming area and such. I have to say it is one of our favorite compounds as kids just get out and play within the safety of the compound. It isn't uncommon to have 20 kids out playing games outside. There are a majority of Australians on the compound who have been the best neighbors we have had of any post. When we moved in, the Australian ladies took my wife out shopping and showed her the hair salons and such. We love this part of living here. Commutes are almost all within about 10-15 minutes and offer the chance to bike or walk as well.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
It has improved greatly over the past year in terms of selection but prices are high. Pork and fish are good here but beef is definitely tough most of the time. Most produce is pretty seasonal and things like watermelon and bananas are average at best. Things like carrots, green beans, pumpkin, lettuce, avocados, onions, apples, grapes, cucumbers are generally available and very good. Other grocery items are becoming more available and we can usually find what we are looking for. We mainly buy things like flour, contact lens solution, cereal, some nuts and other baking items online. Long life milk is readily available now where it was not when I first arrived. There is a decent selection of cleaning products at most stores. There are some decent office stores but quality isn't what you would normally want. We tend to bring an extra suitcase on our trips and fill it up with bagels, cheese and other items we like. Cheese is available here but a little pricey.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We used our consumables allowance well. Things like hand sanitizer, a good vacuum, good broom and mop.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a decent and growing restaurant selection in Dili. Choices range from good Mexican, Italian, local fare, Burger King, Indian are available. Some of the restaurants do deliver which is nice for Wednesday night pizza nights. The prices can be a bit high. The cost of living allowance for Timor really doesn't match what the actual cost is.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Watch out for the mosquitoes. We have not had any problems with rodents but do see a rat from time to time outside. There are some snakes in the city but not too many.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch/DPO through the Embassy. Delivery times range from a week to two months and expect the package to be beaten up some. Very thankful though for the service. There are no good local postal facilities. DHL is available.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
About 6 dollars per hour for help. There is a good selection of help available.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are some gyms in town. We use the Embassy gym and the one at our housing compound. Our pool/playground/tennis courts/gym at the Embassy are a blessing. The facilities at our housing compound are great too.
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 wouldn't recommend using the ATMs unless you are in a bind. There are a few that look safe in Timor Plaza. We use the cashier at the Embassy. USD is the currency in Timor-Leste.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
We have a great international church that is our home away from home. We love it. There are Catholic services but I am not sure if they are in English.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can get by with just English but best to learn some of the local language. There are schools in the area.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Stay away from the yellow taxis and buses. The blue taxis are good though and are metered.
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?
It depends on how adventurous you are. If you want to seriously go into the mountains then get or buy locally a good SUV. If you are just going to do light traveling then a light SUV, car or van will be fine. This is a right-hand drive country. There are usually a good selection of vehicles available. I bought my Nissan X-Trail from a Japanese website called Cardeal and have been very pleased. You may want to bring an extra set of tires and parts. There are some decent mechanics but parts can be hard to come by.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
There is no high speed internet in Dili. Service doesn't take long to procure but it is at 3G speeds and expensive. Expect to pay about 150 USD monthly for 25GB of data which goes very quickly if you stream movies/TV or have an XBOX. Hopefully service will continue to improve though.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Definitely bring an unlocked phone. You can buy a phone here but it will cost a bit more. The cell plan isn't bad. We pay about 3 dollars a month for the phone and 10 dollars every 15 days for 2.5GB of data.
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?
There are a few good vets I believe but do not have any experience. Bringing a pet in does require quarantine in Australia and will be quite costly.
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?
Most either teach at the QSI school, an NGO, work at the Embassy or USAID. The Embassy is very support of EFMs.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There is a good selection of opportunities to volunteer at school, teaching English or other areas.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Fairly laid back This is an island. Very rarely will you need formal dress. I really enjoy the tropical shirt Fridays.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Females should use good security practices by not walking alone at night and following good common sense security practices. It is a good idea to keep doors locked at home as well. You should be fine just doing the things you should do anywhere.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Dengue is a problem still in Dili but not a horrible one and Malaria can be found in areas outside Dili. You will probably be hit with tummy and other bugs more here than most places. I would recommend bringing a good supply of Dayquil, Nyquil, Motrin, Tylenol and vitamin C. A few people have had persistent coughs here as well.
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?
Not bad but definitely worse in the dry season.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
It is hard to find gluten-free products here.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
It can be tough living on an island and taking regular breaks is a necessity.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is about 88-95 Fahrenheit every day. Temps don't change much but there is a definite rainy season.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is a good Quality Schools International that runs on the Masteries program. It is a very small school but the staff has been really great. It can be challenging for older kids as the amount of kids their age is quite small. The student to teacher ratio is great. Our 9th grader has done well but has struggled some with the amount of kids and things to do. He really misses having organized sports which is one reason we won't extend. Overall we are happy with the school though.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
The school can accommodate mild needs but you should consult with the school first. They will make every effort they can to help though.
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?
I don't have any experience but there are some available and the parents seem satisfied.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
This is the tough part. There aren't many organized sporting opportunities but the school does its best. You can find someone to teach swimming though. For the older kids they can also get dive certified.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty good size for the island. I love the expats here who are mainly Australian, New Zealanders (Kiwis), Asian and some Europeans. They all seem to make the best of being here and are a joy to be around.
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?
Going to a restaurant like Cazbar on the beach, Friday Happy Hours at Timor Plaza, going to Black Rock for the night, or just going to the nice movie theater at Timor Plaza. Sometimes just hanging out by the pool at the Embassy or housing compound. We have some pretty nice happy hours at the Embassy.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Timor is what you make of it. It is an island post with poor internet, isolated and not a lot of indoor activities but it does have a very laid back lifestyle, quiet evenings enjoying the breeze, weekends diving, snorkeling or boating, easy excursions to Bali, Australia, Singapore or New Zealand and a pretty easy outdoor life. It can be hard for singles who don't get out much and can be really hard for teenagers with the lack of things to do. Families with small kids tend to do very well.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I know of although it is still a pretty male-dominated society. This is mainly a Catholic country and I have not heard of many religious prejudices.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Snorkeling, biking and running in the mountains, getting away to Australia, and just sitting in the hammock or hot tub at night on the roof with a gentle breeze and a nice book to read.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Definitely biking, running, diving and snorkeling. We really enjoy sitting at a restaurant on the beach and eating while watching the water. You can also hike up the mountain here, visit some coffee plantations or other things in the area.
Visiting Atauro island is a must as well. You are likely to see dolphins and maybe whales.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not really. There are some pretty nice local items.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Just enjoying the quiet and laid back lifestyle.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How tough it would be for our teenager.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes I believe so. Taking advantage of what each post offers is key in enjoying your time there and I have enjoyed the quiet and laid back life.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Dream of fast internet, easy trips to and from post, fear of enjoying the great outdoors.
4. But don't forget your:
Snorkel/dive gear, nice bike, other water gear such as a paddle board, great attitude, mosquito repellent and sun screen.
5. Do you have any other comments?
I also love the locals here as well. They are very friendly and a joy to be with. I have always wanted to live on an tropical island.