Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan Report of what it's like to live there - 05/13/14

Personal Experiences from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan 05/13/14

Background:

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

We have also lived in the Middle East, Europe, and South America.

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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?

We don't have a home base in the U.S. but any flight to Kyrgyzstan is long no matter what part of the country you're flying from. We have connected through Istanbul and Moscow and both are good options.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We lived there in 2005-2006 and again in 2011-2012.

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

Academic.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We rented an apartment both times we lived in Bishkek. There are a wide range of houses and apartments in different parts of the city. We prefer apartments in the center. The U.S. Embassy is a little out of the city which is inconvenient, in my opinion, if you're working there, but the traffic is never horrible and it's a pleasant drive out to the Embassy.

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

There are a wide range of groceries available and I rarely felt limited there but I wasn't looking for certain brands and got very comfortable with substitutes and making almost everything myself. Everything is cheap if you stick with local products.

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

We weren't able to ship anything either time we lived there but it wasn't a problem. I never did find a source for coconut milk, fish sauce, curry paste, or tamarind. There are a couple of small Chinese stores where you can get date/red sugar to use for brown sugar plus your typical Chinese ingredients. The bazaars have a wide variety of food and I shopped almost exclusively at them rather than the few supermarkets.

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

There are no Western chains there. But there are many, many great restaurants in town with international and local cuisine. There's also a lot of good street food. Eating is cheap in Bishkek except in a few Western-style places that don't have great food anyway.

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

Flies, mosquitoes, and ants are the only annoyances in the summer.

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Daily Life:

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

Yes, quite a few, although most aren't in downtown Bishkek. They can be pricey.

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2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

There are plenty of ATMs around and we never had a problem using them. Hardly anyone takes credit cards here or at least the kinds of stores I frequented didn't.

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

The more Russian you know, the better off you'll be. Few people speak English, although I've known people who didn't learn any Russian and were fine. It was becoming more common to hear Kyrgyz in Bishkek and it's a good idea to learn a little Kyrgyz too. It would be appreciated. But Russian is still more useful in Bishkek.

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

Kyrgyzstan doesn't accommodate physical disabilities very well. While we know physically-disabled people who live there comfortably, it's not always easy.

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Transportation:

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

We rode the marshrutkas all the time if it was too far to walk. They're cheap and safe, although crowded and minor pickpocketing might go on, although it never happened to me. There are plenty of taxis; you can call one, or get one on the street. We always just got one on the street when we needed one.

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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?

We paid about US$50/month for internet access that was able to stream videos.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many. There are plenty of ways to get connected.

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Health & Safety:

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

We never had a problem or concern beyond your usual precautions living in a city.

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2. 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?

I know some people think it's really bad, and it can be in Bishkek on the streets, but overall it's not bad at all especially in comparison to many Asian cities.

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

It's always reminded me a lot of the intermountain western U.S. Hot, dry summers and cold snowy winters with spring and summer lasting a couple of months each.

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Schools & Children:

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

The two major international schools are QSI Bishkek and Hope Academy. We couldn't afford either school and had to homeschool but if I had a choice, I'd choose QSIB over Hope for academics. Both schools are willing to work with homeschoolers who want to do some electives there. The people at both schools are very nice. There are several other international schools here that are good too but I don't think very many Western expats use them yet.

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

Not much, although we knew people who were recently hired to help with this at the international schools. We also had friends whose kids are SN and they choose to homeschool because the international schools couldn't help much.

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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 are lots of options from kindergartens to nannies and everything else. 200 som/hour for many services was fairly typical in 2012.

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

There are a reasonable number of options through the schools and the gyms in the area. Our kids (middle school) were happy with what we were able to work out.

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Expat Life:

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

We didn't know very many expats but we certainly were happy as a family in Bishkek.

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

I suspect it would be better in Bishkek than in many Muslim-majority countries.

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

There is currently a move toward Kyrgyz nationalism, which is unfortunate since about a third of the population isn't ethnically Kyrgyz. Bishkek still has a large Russian population and it's a very diverse city. Expats rarely have any kind of trouble in Bishkek. Certainly there are gender issues here but they aren't as obvious as in many places.

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

Learning about Central Asian culture and religion. Making new friends. Learning new languages. Meeting people from all over the former Soviet Union and hearing about their lives.

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

There are many outdoor options especially if you have a car. We enjoy doing CBT stays. There is lots of hiking, climbing, and horseback riding. We weren't able to go much but regional travel is amazing. Go to Uzbekistan if you can.

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

Shyrdaks, textiles, and chuko bones.

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

I'm not sure there is anything in particular that's amazing about Bishkek although I really liked it there. I especially liked the food and the people. It's a pretty cheap place to live and it's nice to have four seasons. The air is generally clean, the mountains are lovely and very close, and Kyrgyzstan is interesting to explore. You can't beat a field trip for your children that includes a just-butchered sheep for lunch.

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8. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

YES!

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

First world life. You'll be frustrated, of course, if you want everything to run smoothly. But you don't have to expect third world conditions either.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure. Kyrgyzstan is a lovely and fascinating country if you give it a chance.

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4. Do you have any other comments?

Bishkek is very good city to choose if you need a hardship post that is safe and livable.

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