Beirut, Lebanon Report of what it's like to live there - 04/08/14
Personal Experiences from Beirut, Lebanon
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
This is not my first expat experience. I have lived in four other cities as a Foreign Service Officer.
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?
My home base is California. From Beirut it takes me between 20-24 hours with connection through either Frankfurt, Paris, or London.
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?
On the Embassy compound, housing in comparison to other embassies is abysmal. You can expect high density, modular or apartment living with lots of mold and sewage smells. The water is bad (non-potable, smelly, ugly). The environment is damp. Maintenance tries its best but the buildings are either temporary (modular) or old and poorly constructed villas that have been cut up/remodeled into apartment units. The housing is mostly on a steep hillside so the commute to work is up several outdoor steep concrete stair cases which are fine in dry weather but can become treacherous in rainy weather.
One of the most wearing things about the compound is the constant noise - either from construction projects going on, from landscape machininery, from security forces drills. It has a very idyllic , peaceful appearance, but is in fact very loud, wearing and draining. Like living on top of a construction site 24/7. Power outages are commonplace and hard on all of your electronics, even with UPSs in place (some outages will outlast your UPSs)
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Expensive. Everything is available here at D.C. prices plus about 15% or more.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
One of the services provided in recognition of our inability to leave the compound is that the motorpool will go and pick up food from local restaurants. While it is a nice gesture, be prepared to gain weight. You will have access to McDonald's, Burger King, Dominoes, KFC, Lots of great Lebanese food, Chinese, Japanese, a restaurant and snack bar on compound, and not lots of opportunity for activities to burn it off.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos, some small insects (cockroaches, ants), spiders, small lizards. Nothing spectacular.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use diplomatic pouch to receive packages but cannot receive any liquids over 16 oz. and cannot send packages through the pouch. In order to send packages, we have to use a private service which is prohibitively expensive.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a full on (free) gym which is used by lots of very big and burly men. At all hours. There are also activities on compound that the CLO sets up in case you want to do some activities with the same people that you are already working and living with. At this point, most of the activities are geared toward first/second tour officers who make up most of the population.
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?
Every place takes both Lebanese Lira and U.S. dollars. There is an ATM on compound and bank cards will sometimes work out in town and sometimes not.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Several throughout town, Catholic and Orthodox.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Arabic or French would be helpful but not necessary.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Typical developing country infrastructure. Watch where you walk.
1. 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?
Most of us are not allowed to self drive.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
On compound, the Internet service is a constant thorn if you get the regular Internet service at about US$40/month. The only way to get dependable service is to upgrade to the 3G or 4G service and pay US$150 or more per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We are provided cell phones by the Embassy.
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?
Pets are taken care of. Veterinary care is readily available and a vet can be easily accessed. Be sure that your pet has all of its shots.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Actually, there are some! Public Diplomacy occasionally recruits volunteers for events out in the community, although the 'move' is sure to count against you...
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Most people are fairly casual, depending on the section.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
We are limited to a compound. So security is akin to a minimum security prison.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Although the water is treated, you are warned not to drink it or brush your teeth with it. We are in a closed compound, so illnesses tend to spread throughout the community rather easily. Food-borne illnesses are also rampant, especially during the summer.
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?
Mostly good, but a few days a year, the smog hangs over the city and the air quality is poor.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Cool and rainy in the winter and uncomfortably hot and humid in the summer.
Schools & Children:
1. 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?
This is a semi-unaccompanied post for U.S. Foreign Service officers. Only adult family members (spouses) are allowed
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
On compound, morale is horrible. People get close to the end of their tour and are counting down the days Because it is 100 or so people living and working in a small environment with several different layers, it has all of the worst aspects of high school. The gossip flourishes, the lack of leadership abounds, the backbiting is neverending, the cattiness, the backstabbing, on and on It's 18 acres of Peyton Place and as the demographic age gets younger, the similarity to high school gets stronger.
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?
There is not enough of an opportunity to explore the country. It is the only post I've been where it actually feels not at all like being in a foreign country so much as it feels like being in a prison. Most of the entertaining/social life is either getting together with people you live and work with or going out to eat with people you live and work with.
3. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The beautiful scenery and the people.
4. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Who knows. Embassy personnel are limited to one trip (maximum 6 hours) off-compound per week. This is in an armored vehicle with a driver and, depending on the locale, with body guard. Each trip, or "move" can include up to five people, so theoretically, you can include others on your move and others can include you, thereby increasing the number of times that you can get off compound. In addition, the Community Liaison Officer, or CLO, arranges moves to the grocery store (several per week) and various moves throughout the week/month for entertainment purposes as well as a weekly church move.
However, the use of excessive moves in any given time period WILL count against you and the warden can threaten to suspend your privileges if he feels that they are being abused. (A very subjective call which has no recourse) If you venture beyond the run of the mill venues (the malls, the grocery stores) you will have a body guard shadowing you, so you can forget about spontaneity and discovering any secret or hidden gems. Your trip itinerary will need to be submitted days in advance so no secrets there.
5. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Syrian furniture is very nice and unique. It comes in all shapes and sizes from small jewelry boxes to large chests and benches, tables and chairs.
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The scenery is beautiful and the Lebanese people are very open and warm.
7. Can you save money?
It's difficult. Sometimes the only thing to look forward to is going out to dinner. Or buying a nice bottle of wine. When you are out for only a few hours a week, a weird thing happens and you want to cram a lot of living into a few hours. You end up over-eating and over-spending - wanting to splurge before you go back to your compound for another week. R&Rs out of here, even to neighboring countries are necessary for sanity. All flights out of Beirut are international flights. We are not allowed domestic travel in excess of 6 hours.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I had known that I was going to be kept a prisoner in such a beautiful country, taunted everyday by such a beautiful seascape.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely not. It is not at all like going to a foreign country. It is like being under the thumb of the U.S. State Department policy of the moment and whoever is gunning the hardest for the best EER. Run, run as fast as you can, as far as you can from U.S. Embassy Beirut. It is not worth any amount of danger pay.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Tourist spirit - you will be a prisoner, not a tourist if you are posted at the U.S. Embassy here.
4. But don't forget your:
Reading material and indoor hobbies. You will be spending a lot of unproductive down time.