Beirut, Lebanon Report of what it's like to live there - 06/18/08
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?
Second expat experience. First was 2 years in Kyiv, Ukraine.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
17 hours to Dulles through Frankfurt. Routes through Milan, London and Paris are also available.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I am an USG employee.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
For USG employees, all housing is on the USG Embassy compound. No commute.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries and household supplies are going up in cost daily due to the devaluation of the dollar and the increased value of the euro. Prices of American good have gone up substantially as well. Unless you shop in the local farmers markets, you're going to pay a lot for groceries.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing really comes to mind. I wouldn't buy clothes here because they're expensive and of low quality -- I just refresh my wardrobe when I'm in the States for vacations.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Pretty much anything you can think of except Taco Bell and Arby's. Food quality here ranges from street food that will put you in the hospital to expensive imported filets with fois gras. Wine is exceptional. I haven't found a good Chinese restaurant yet.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use pouch. Others probably use DHL.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Readily available here on compound. I pay US$25 for a day's worth of work.
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?
Safe and readily available.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
All available except Jewish services.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
I'm sure you can get English language newspapers pretty easily, but I don't read them. You can see English language TV using Saudi-based Orbit satellite. Cost is less than US$50 for a number of decent channels.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not much. Everyone speaks some English and French.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be extremely hard to get around. There are many buildings with non-functional elevators. And when they do work, they're too narrow for wheelchairs. There are no wheel-chair accessible ramps from sidewalk to street. There are many steep hills in this country, making it difficult for someone using crutches, as well.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Unknown. We can't take public transportation. But I hear buses and taxis are pretty readily available. I don't know how safe they are, though.
3. 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?
USG employees are not allowed to bring vehicles. I don't know about carjackings, but I hear of people's travel to certain areas being questioned by militia. Give them the right answers and you can move along. If not, you'll be sent back the way you came.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You can get Alfa or MTC Touch. Both charge around US$35/month whether you use the phone or not. Per minute charges are reasonable. Compared to cell phone service charges in Syria, this place is a ripoff.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Skype and Vonage are supposedly forbidden here in Lebanon but I know people who use them. Quality is not great, so most people make their calls through the Embassy tie lines, then use calling cards from there.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Excellent vet care. I've never boarded my pets so I can't say anything about that, but I've been happy with the vet care. But look out when you leave Lebanon. You'll have to pay US$300 per pet to have blood tests sent to Paris so they can get cleared for the EU. Going back to the States may not be as hard.
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?
I believe it's a challenge to get a work permit, especially with so many over-educated Lebanese who are currently unemployed.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The Lebanese like to dress up. The men dress pretty conservatively (grey, blue, black suits) for business. The women dress pretty scantily (if Christian) and cover up pretty well (if Muslim).
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Negativity against Americans seems to be growing. Opposition continues to paint the USG as the perpetrators of the latest unrest. Car bombings targeting high-profile politicians seems to occur at least once a quarter, and fighting between different government factions has been ongoing since May.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Quality of health care is superior and less expensive to that in the U.S.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and humid in the summer and monsoon-like in the winter. Up in the mountains it snows quite a bit.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
USG employees are not allowed to bring children under the age of 21 to post. So, no experience with schools.
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Night clubs, restaurants, concerts, casinos, Super Nightclubs, evening shopping. Plenty to do.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's a good city for single men. Lots of American men find Lebanese wives here. Couples can find lots to do, as long as it can be done in the budgeted move request time frame.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It seems to be.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Where to begin? Asians and Africans are discriminated against because they are typically nannies, housekeepers or manual laborers. There are 17 different religious groups here and they all seem to dislike one another for some reason or another. Christians and Muslims fight within their own sects.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Dine out, go to the beach, go skiing, go shopping, go to nightclubs (Christian and Muslim), check out the ancient ruins.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. Can you save money?
Sure, especially if you only get off compound once or twice a week. But look out for those Amazon purchases!
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
If the security situation were the way it is now, not a chance. If it ever improves, I'd consider it.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
Sunblock and rain suit.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
7. Do you have any other comments?
Lebanon is a very frustrating place because it has so much potential. It could be the number one tourist destination for the Middle East. Europeans would have a great time here as well. It has everything a tourist could want to do, any season of the year. But some portion of the population wants Lebanon to be a bit more like Iran. And rumor has it that Syria causes trouble in Lebanon so that people will go to Damascus for their vacation instead (did you know that Damascus has nice hotels, restaurants, casinos as well?)