Beirut, Lebanon Report of what it's like to live there - 05/12/19
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?
I have many prior USG and other expat experiences before coming here.
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?
Flights back to the U.S. run 14+ hours. Layovers and rest stops are common in Paris, London, and a few other European cities.
3. How long have you lived here?
Less than a year.
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 much smaller than other posts, although generally all of the apartments are completely adequate. About half have a spare bedroom and the other half don't. Storage can be nearly non-existent in some apartments. There are also quite a few where the kitchens and bathrooms might remind you of your first college dorm.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There's a grocery store nearby that is accessible on the shuttle. Produce is cheap, but has to be disinfected and the overall quality is much lower than what you would expect in the US. Many of the fruits and veggies seem to be rotting on the shelf. Spice selection is good, although there are probably a few that you won't be able to find. Beer selection is small. Local beers run about $1/beer, whereas imports can cost $3-4. There's a fairly large wine and liquor selection, all at reasonable prices.
The selection of frozen fruits and veggies is much smaller than what you would find in American grocery stores. Frozen pizzas and other pre-made meals are much more expensive and lower quality than what you would expect to find. Household supplies are ample and prices aren't that different from the States.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Most embassy people eat at the restaurant on compound, which is open from 0700-2030. Prices are quite cheap and the quality is decent. Motorpool will do food pickup from nearby restaurants.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are snakes, spiders, and scorpions on compound, but there aren't many stories of them actually becoming a nuisance.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch only post.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Running rate for cleaning every week is US$50/week. There is one cleaner who has started recently who charges US$20/week, but she is pretty much fully booked up.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Almost everyone uses the on compound gym. It has all of the basics that you would need, but isn't too fancy. There's a gym nearby on the shuttle that a small group use.
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?
Credit cards are widely accepted and everywhere will also take USD at the fixed exchange rate.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are churches nearby that a few people go to.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Arabic is really not needed for day-to-day life. Nearly everyone speaks English at a good level. Post offers language classes for free.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Beirut is full of hills and steps, especially on the compound. It would not be suitable for someone with physical disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
All of these transit options are off limits for USG personnel.
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?
No cars allowed.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is very low quality and expensive. A 100 GB plan with spotty service, capped at a max DL speed of 5 mbps is US$70/month. Those who need higher speed or more reliable connections can get a LTE hotspot that costs US$110/month for 60 GB of data.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Nearly everyone just uses their issued phone.
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?
A few people have pets and it sounds like there are a few veterinarians here.
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?
Spouses are restricted to working on compound. The time difference and spotty internet would make it hard to telecommute.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Due to movement restrictions, it would be hard to regularly volunteer except for one off special events.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Standard embassy dress. Some sections where suits, most are business casual.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Beirut is a critical threat location and has restrictions that correspond to that. Most people find life here to be very hard and frustrating due to the restrictions.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I've been told medical care is completely adequate here. Anything requiring more than an overnight stay in the hospital would result in a medevac.
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?
Air quality has some bad days. Officially I believe it's around twice as bad as New York as a reference point. Most of the time it is fine and clear, but there are days where you can barely see the city due to all of the pollution.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Relatively, Beirut isn't too bad for these considerations.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
The isolation and restrictions can be very pressing on mental health. Curtailments are not that rare.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Cool and rainy winters, hot summers. Overall it's colder than most people expect.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Children cannot come to post.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There's a decent expat community, but it's much smaller than I expected. There are neighborhoods in Beirut and in nearby cities where there are tons of bars that naturally attract lots of expats. The embassy's location outside of the city and the movement restrictions make it hard to make friendships outside of the compound.
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?
Due to our location and movement restrictions, most people do not have many, if any, friends off-compound.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
The movement restrictions make it very hard to date, but a few determined people have managed to make it happen with some degree of success. There seem to be enough job opportunities for spouses, although an unemployed spouse here would probably be extremely unhappy.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I've heard there are a couple of gay bars and clubs, but the overall attitude towards LGBT people is not that welcoming.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
It would probably be very easy if not for the restrictions.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
The sectarian divide weighs heavily on Lebanon, but it shouldn't impact expats on a day-to-day basis.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The movement restrictions make it hard to enjoy most of the great things Lebanon has to offer.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Prices here are generally moderately to much higher compared to in the U.S., so it is not very appealing as a shopping post.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Until it disappears, the hardship and danger pay.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Save up some leave beforehand so you can escape while you're here.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Most people at the mission in Beirut did not voluntarily move here.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Sense of enjoyment for life.