Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/24/20
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?
No. I've served in many diplomatic posts overseas.
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?
The US west coast. There are regular flights via Korea or Japan. Travel here is easy, and travel within the region is also easy.
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
The housing is great. Generally two options, a very modern high risk apartment building with a mall, restaurants, and a gym at hand, and, for families, a town house complex with beautiful greenery, open space, a playground, and community center. Both are in the heart of the city and close to the embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
They have several imported grocery stores. You can get most everything, though supplies can be limited, and costs are at a premium.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a good delivery service for restaurants, though it can take a while. Many good restaurants are a short walk away.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Some ants in summer, but the cold takes care of them in the winter.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Yes, all good in normal, pre-pandemic times.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Reasonable prices and good quality. English may be simple but functional. Having help with shopping is wonderful.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Both housing complexes have gyms build it, very good quality.
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?
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are several English options.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
One could get by in the city but it would be highly recommended to have a guide or language skills in the countryside.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, sidewalks and access to public buildings could be challenging.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are inexpensive, trusted taxi services. Informal taxis are cheap but not recommended due to safety, likewise for public buses.
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?
An SUV. Even city driving can be an adventure.
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?
Local Japanese-provided cell service is fine.
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?
One good English-speaking, American-trained vet service. It gets very cold in winter.
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?
Either a job at the embassy or teaching, few other opportunities.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Yes, many options.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business formal. The Mongolian community dress to impress.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There is crime late at night when people have been drinking. Mainly fistfights and petty theft.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Air quality in the winter is bad but improving, by 40% in 2019/2020. Very cold in winters, but majestic summers make up for it.
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?
Very bad but improving in winter, due to burning coal for heat. Can be mitigated with air filters and face masks.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Not really, even in winter the sun is out and skies are blue. Quite pretty and pleasant actually.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Dry, cold, continental.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
ISU is a good IB option, good diversity of families.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, many options.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty big and active. Large Australian mining expat community. Life in the city is good, lots of restaurant and nightlife options.
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?
Yes, lots of game nights, social clubs, dancing, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it is good for all. Incredible opportunities to explore the outdoors, endless open steppe, mountains, rivers, taiga, forests, with a modern vibrant city to be based in.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. There is a supportive, welcoming urban community, and, in my opinion, discrimination is real but improving.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes, Mongolians are friendly and welcoming.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
No. Mongolians are tolerant and curious. Mongolian women, like in too many countries, have issues with breaking through the glass ceiling, and there is a concern with domestic violence. This normally doesn't affect the expat community.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
So many. Exploring the Gobi, the massive Khovsgol lake, endless open spaces with no towns or fences. Actually it is probably the people. Some of the nicest around, and a fascinating history and rich culture.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There is a beautiful national park a short drive from the city, Terelj, where you can picnic, hike, and stay in a traditional Mongolian ger.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Beautiful arts and crafts. Traditional nomadic horse equipment, like saddles.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Access to the outdoors, high quality music (jazz, Russian trained classical performance).
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Warm socks. What you are planning on bringing is not enough...
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely. Morale is great. A fun and rewarding place to work and live. We extended by a year.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Warm socks and gloves.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Books by Jack Weatherford. Music by The Hu Band.