Beirut, Lebanon Report of what it's like to live there - 02/13/15

Personal Experiences from Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon 02/13/15

Background:

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

It was my second, after London, England.

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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?

14-15 hours to fly to Toronto, a bit longer to go elsewhere in Canada. There are no direct flights to Canada or the USA, so I always connected through a European city, though sometimes connecting through the UAE, Saudi Arabia, or Egypt was cheaper.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I was in Beirut for two years from 2012-2014.

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

Worked at Canadian Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Other than Americans, who live on compound, diplomats and expats tend to live throughout the city, primarily in wealthier neighbourhoods. My commute time was about 20 minutes driving.

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

You can find almost everything and at a reasonable price. There are imported goods that are more expensive if you're concerned about having the same brands as back at home.

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

Nothing. I found everything I needed there.

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

McDonald's, Hardees, Pinkberry, KFC, Starbucks, Second Cup, Caribou Coffee, Burger King: all at prices similar or slightly higher than would be expected in North America.
There are also a number of local chains that have similar food that are just as good and often a bit cheaper.

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

Nothing major.

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Daily Life:

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

I paid someone US$33 for a eight hour shift to clean my apartment once a week. There is lots of domestic help available.

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

Yes, but mothly fees are often in excess of US$100 per month.

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3. 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 never had any problems though I have heard reports of some scams.

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

There is an Anglican church with an English service. There may be others that I am unaware of.

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

Arabic helps, but I was able to get by with French and English. Some of my friends who taught at the American University of Beirut got by with only English. It is easy to pick up some basic Arabic phrases to help with conversation.

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

Getting around in the city would be quite difficult: most buildings and sidewalks are not constructed with wheelchair or limited mobility in mind.

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Transportation:

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

Generally, they are both safe and affordable, but some taxi drivers will try to overcharge foreigners. At the beginning, it is better to use a reputable taxi service that you call and book in advance. As you become more comfortable with the routes you take and the way the local taxi and shared van system works, it may be possible to start to use them.

The shared vans are very cheap, but they are not always very safe as the drivers careen from one side of the highway to the other trying to pick up and drop off passengers quickly - there are occasional accidents and infrequent casualties from this system.

There are no trains that operate.

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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?

Lebanese roads are not always well maintained and driving is quite chaotic. Having parts replaced is not a problem.

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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?

Yes. Speeds is not as fast as in North American or Western Europe, and the cost is about US$50/month.

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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 some, but not many.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes. Certain areas of Beirut are no-go zones due to political concerns and occasional targeted attacks or car bombings. At times, problems occur outside of these areas as well. The general security situation is often tense.
My colleagues at the American Embassy had a much stricter security program and lived on compound with only occasionally opportunities to leave. No other Embassy has such strict restrictions.

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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?

It is good. Once or twice a year there would be lots of sand or dust in the air but after a day or two this would pass.

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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?

There is some snow in the winter at sea level and much more snow at higher altitudes. In the winter you can go skiing or snowboarding at Faraya. For the rest of the year temperatures are quite warm but pleasant. It can get quite hot in the summer, but the beaches are a nice place to cool down.

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Expat Life:

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

The size is quite large. The morale is generally positive, though it depends on the security and political situation and does become negative at times.

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

For families with small children, the lack of green space in the city may be frustrating -- there are only a few parks and they are often far away and without parking nearby.
For singles and couples, this is an excellent city with a vibrant social scene: restaurants, clubs, outdoor activities (hiking groups, scuba diving, boating) are all easy to participate in if you speak French or English.

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

Yes. There is an emerging understanding among Lebanese of gay rights and organizations focused on improving rights for the LGBT population in Lebanon. There is an active gay social scene and some gay bars and clubs. That said, homosexuality is illegal and there have been occasional government actions including jailing queer refugees in clubs in particular. Westerners have not been targeted in these actions but it does demonstrate that things are far from what would be expected in a Western European or North American city.

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

Yes. People of colour are often presumed to be domestic or construction workers from another country, and mixed relationships (particularly black/white) are stigmatized by the Lebanese (particularly the more traditional or elderly Lebanese) -- until they discover you are from the "West" and then they tend to be more friendly.

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

Some of my favourite activities were:
- hiking with the group VAMOS TODOS on organized excursions around the city.
- going to the public beach in Tyr or to cheaper beach clubs in Batroun. (No need to pay US$20-$30 at Edde Sands)
- shopping at the farmers market organized by Souk el Tayeb.
- walking on the Corniche.
- having brunch at Tawlet Ammiq in the West Beka'a Valley

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

My favourite aspects of Beirut are the weather, the food, the diversity of landscapes and outdoor activities in such a small country, and the friendliness of Lebanese colleagues and friends.

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7. Can you save money?

Yes, it is possible to save money, but it is also possible to spend it all if you eat well and go out to clubs.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Definitely. I really enjoyed my time in Beirut.

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