Chisinau, Moldova Report of what it's like to live there - 08/13/11

Personal Experiences from Chisinau, Moldova

Chisinau, Moldova 08/13/11

Background:

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

Fourth expat experience.

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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?

Washington, DC. About 15 hours including connecting flight in Frankfurt.

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3. How long have you lived here?

10 months.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most of the embassy community live in the "Beverly Hills" of the city, while others can be spread out as far as a 15 minute drive. Traffic is much worse in the spring and summer since most Moldovans tend to store their cars for the winter. Public transportation is cheap, affordable, plentiful, and usually reliable.

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

Between the Metro stores (similar to Costo/Sams Club) and the new Hyper Number 1, you can find virtually anything you want, at a price.

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

I'd bring some seeds to plant jalapeno peppers, basil, sage, cilantro, etc. (Moldovan basil and sage are strangely flavorless.) During the growing season, anyone can grow anything!

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

McDonald's is the biggest Western chain here for fast food, and I think there might be a Sbarro at the mall. Other than that, there are many low cost Moldovan restaurants. La Placinte is kind of like a Moldovan Boston Market: lots of fresh, tasty, and low cost "homestyle" dishes at a low cost. Fancy restaurants also exist, you can almost fool yourself in thinking you are in a major European capital at some of them: Loft, Grill House, etc. What is missing is any type of decent pizza (surprising, considering the huge number of Moldovans who've spent time in Italy, combined with the availability of Italian flour and really good made-in-Moldova mozzarella), and Mexican food that even remotely resembles the real thing. Moldovans love garlic, but that's about as spicy as it gets.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

The best place to shop for these types of things is Green Hills, although the Number 1 stores also have a fair selection.

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

Blissfully few. However, sugar ants are a problem and will invade if you aren't super careful about what you leave out.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

The embassy uses DPO and pouch services.

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

Cheap, good, reliable domestic help is readily available.

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

Yes. The embassy now has a small gym, and there are other gyms around the city, varying widely in price, but most quite expensive.

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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?

Used widely and no problems to date. ATMS can be found for dollars and even Euros at some locations. The embassy ATM dispenses both dollars and Moldovan Lei.

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

Yes, both Catholic and non-denominational.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

AFN, and some cable companies offer packages with US channels. Frustratingly, though, many of these are dubbed over in Russian, with the English still faintly heard in the background. I don't bother watching TV.

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

Depends. If you want to live a fairly insulated expat life, you can get by with none. But why bother living overseas if you don't stretch your boundaries a little? Even just knowing a few basic phrases in Romanian or Russian will greatly improve your interactions with the locals and lead to a more rewarding experience.

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

You name it. Between the ice in the winter, the uneven sidewalks year-round, and the apparent fondness for steep, non-uniform stairs and thresholds, this city is a disabled person's nightmare.

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Transportation:

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

Yes. Maybe not the most pleasant experience in the summer, but certainly safe and affordable.

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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?

Between the unsafe winter streets, snow, and crazy Moldovan drivers, most people here drive SUVs.

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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! Cheap, exceedingly fast service. Multiple times faster than anything I ever had in the US. (I have fiber optic service from Star Net.)

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Get a very cheap one here, or bring an unlocked smart phone from the US. Electronics are expensive here, but you need to be sure you're buying a phone that will work on this system.

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Pets:

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?

No. But you do need to have a recent rabies certificate, and be sure to notify the airport that you are arriving with a pet so that they can have the local vet on hand. The incoming fee is $5.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Yes! (Better for pets than people, it seems.) Great vet clinic on Vasile Lupu.

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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?

No, not really.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Moldovan women seem to find their inspiration from 14th St, Moldovan men dress either like Russian gangsters or in a "grunge" style. When going out, you'll see very well made-up Moldovan women dressed in tight, provocative clothing wearing 6 inch spike heels, talking either to a gangster type or a guy that looks like he crawled out of garbage dump. No woman would dare leaving her house here without makeup on, or in a sweatsuit, even if on the way to work out or clean someone's house.(Track suits for guys seem to be Ok though.) For expats, you'd do best dressing in conservative Western European style, limiting shorts, etc.

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Health & Safety:

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

This is probably the safest city I have ever lived in or visited.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Thankfully I have not had to experience it firsthand, but Moldovan medical care is notoriously horrid. People get evacuated for anything other than a cold or minor injury.

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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?

Spring can bring some amazing pollen storms from the poplar trees: it looks like it's snowing with giant white cotton puffs in the air. There is also the more traditional yellowish pollen, which lightly coats every possible surface for at least a solid month. Most people I know experience allergies in the spring...I've even had a light touch of them, and I never have before. But the bigger problem is the large percentage of Moldovans who smoke like chimneys, despite the large bold warning lables on every pack of cigarettes ("Smoking kills," etc.). Bring your supply of Febreeze, because even in the spring when you are eating at an outdoor restaurant, you'll go home smelling like other people's cigarettes. In the winter, it's a real treat to find restaurants where you're not walking into excessively smoky quarters.

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

The winters are loooong (6 months)and cold, although embassy houses are well-made and you will be comfortable if you live in one. The other three seasons are kind of smushed into the remaining six months. Spring and summer, though quite short after a long winter, are very pleasant. I keep hearing that it can get quite hot here, but I've actually had the small heater on in my office on and off for both seasons. Not sure yet about fall. One word of caution: bring your Yaktrax
or ice cleats...the sidewalks and streets here in Chisinau tend to get as smooth and slick as an ice rink...even with my ice cleats on, I've managed to come close to falling. I know many people who've fallen and broken bones, and this is NOT the place you want to break a bone. (The medical care here is indeed post-Soviet in nature.)

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

Small.

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2. Morale among expats:

Very high.

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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?

Small/fishbowl community, but options abound. Nightclubs and restaurants are plentiful, cookouts, picnics, a Hash Harriers group, home bible studies, lots of events at the Marine House, a monthly English language movie night at a local movie theatre (otherwise movies are dubbed over in Russian), bowling alleys, a Western-style mall called Malldova, various swimming pools in the summer, etc.

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

I've seen other posters write that "this is a great city for single men." What they are trying to tell you is that the women here, many of them quite attractive, are aggressively available. I doubt that it's a coincidence that in Europe's poorest country, any man who comes here single leaves married. I've become friends with quite a few Moldovan women, and I can tell you that they have no qualms about going for a better life, no matter who that life is attached to.

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

I haven't met any openly gay Moldovans, although there are a few openly gay expats who don't seem to have trouble in the community.

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

In addition to other posters' comments about the Roma, I would add that those of African descent do tend to stand out here, and they do get stared at (although not openly harassed, to my knowledge). There was also recently quite vociferous opposition to the building of a mosque.

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

Eating in the ubiquitous outdoor cafes in the spring and summer, the endless wine tastings, outdoor concerts, affordable opera, theatre, and symphony tickets, touring the giant underground wine cellars, experiencing the bounty of fresh fruits and veggies at the outdoor markets.

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

Touring the underground wine cellars, day trips, and camping by the Nistru river, day trips to the painted monasteries and Orhei Veche, easy trips to Romania and Odessa.

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

Wine.

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

Moldova is a charming country, one which will likely take you by surprise if you are expecting the harsh, "Eastern European" or "Former Soviet Union" experience. Honestly, in many ways, Moldova reminds me more of certain more rural parts of Spain and Italy 20-30 years ago.

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11. 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?

In a heartbeat!

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

If you're a male: worry that you'll be lonely.

If you're a female: sense of trust in other women.

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3. But don't forget your:

Ice Cleats or Yaktrax
.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

I'll say it again, Moldova will surprise you. Given the availability of most Western items, the low cost of domestic help and services, the beautiful spring and summer, the warmth of the people, the relative safety of the city, and just the generally pleasant "vibe," Chisinau is probably the easiest "hardship" tour you'll ever have. Those who cry upon arriving will also cry upon leaving.

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