Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Report of what it's like to live there - 07/16/19
Personal Experiences from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
This was our 3rd, after Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
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?
It is difficult and very time consuming to travel back to the U.S. Plan on an entire day of travel through limited connections.
3. How long have you lived here?
One and a half years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Department of State.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There are two main neighborhoods, one for singles, one for families, both of which are near parks. The houses are well-maintained and the neighborhood has more greenery than the city. There's a soccer field in the summer and an ice rink in the winter time. Star also has a gym and a greenhouse for tenants. The apartments have a gym, pool, and is connected to the mall with restaurants, movie theater, and a food court.
Commute times are about 10 minutes in the morning, if you leave at 8am before traffic picks up. If you leave later, it takes 20-30 minutes. Coming home usually takes 30 minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can find most foods here, but organic or gluten-free foods are harder to find and more expensive than in the U.S. Fruit is more expensive in the winter because it is all imported. In general, you can get most things here. There's the pouch too, so you can order some things to supplement what you can't find here.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I'm glad for the spaghetti sauce because the local type is like the European sauce not the American sauce. Peanut butter and juices were nice to have on hand.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Pizza Hut, California, Rosewood and the Butchery, Xaan Deli, Millie's, and lots of coffee shops are popular places to eat. Lots of places deliver, even produce or meat shops.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Use the Embassy pouch. It goes out once a week. Incoming mail comes twice a week and is generally reliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Help is available for about $3 an hour. It is difficult to find English speaking helpers, and they go quickly.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Both neighborhoods have gyms. They are both nice. It's free if you live here.
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 used without a problem. We don't use ATMs, but others do with success at a select few.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are a handful of churches with English services: LDS, Christian, etc.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Thank you, goodbye, yes, no, basic numbers will suffice. The Embassy has Mongolian teachers. Most people speak English at coffee shops, restaurants, and popular places.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, because of the bumpy sidewalks and traffic.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Help Taxi is very reliable and reasonably priced.
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?
Toyota SUV, there are plenty of Toyotas here. A dealer is behind Star Apartments for oil changes, tire changes, etc. There are a lot of Toyota Prius' here, but I would NOT advise bringing a small or low riding car. When going to the country side, you'll be glad for your SUV.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. It is installed upon arrival.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local provider is very cheap and reliable.
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 only a few EFM jobs at the Embassy. They are both full and part-time.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Formal dress for the Marine Ball, nice dresses for embassy functions, and normal dress for every day in the city.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Pick pocketing is the biggest crime in the city.
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?
The air pollution is terrible in the winter, so you'll need to wear a mask. Because of that, if you have asthma or breathing conditions then it will affect you. People try to leave the city on weekends to get clean air. The summer still has moderate pollution.
3. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Winter blues visits us here in Ulaanbaatar because the winter is so long.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is really dry here, your skin will soak up lotion all year long.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are several international schools here: ISU, British, French, and more. American kids go to either ISU or the French school.
2. 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?
The French school is affordable for preschool age. It also offers after school care.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
It is difficult to find activities for kids such as music lessons or gymnastics.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Morale is fine in the summer, but towards the end of winter it gets low.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Mongolians are very nationalistic and seem to look down on foreign men dating Mongolian women.
3. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Everyone buys cashmere or paintings.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. But don't forget your:
Skis, hiking boots, and adventure.