Baku - a City of Extremes for the Expat

Azerbaijan is a relatively unknown entity for the wealth-seeking expat because let's get real, we only ever go abroad to make money, pure and simple. For us British expats we're talking tax-free money. So whilst working in Oman back in 2010 I was offered a job in Baku for a global energy corporation. I did some research and my company sent me an overview of life here. Well, what I read and what I saw on the Internet did not prepare me for what was an extremely sharp shock to the system - I mean in terms of Pounds Sterling. Read on . . .

I will cut to the chase. Baku, which is where most onshore expats work and live, is a city of haves, have-nots and rip-off merchants. Sorry if this seems a bit harsh but it's an undeniable fact of life here. On arriving in Azerbaijan, you will most likely be put up in a posh hotel for two weeks. I landed up in the Hyatt. For this blog I shall use the US dollar to illustrate prices. I only ever ate in the Hyatt once. Why? It was just soooooo expensive. A pint of lager in the bar was $10 and the one and only time I ate there was a very basic burger - cost - $19. And it was bloody awful!

Right you will need to find an apartment. And before moving on, I am talking those expats who come here on residential status. I needed a two-bedroom flat because my wife and daughter joined me. Now in Baku its location, location, location. A decent flat in the Fountain Square area of Baku will set you back between $1500 and $2500 a month and even more. Now I am not talking luxury here just a normal abode with lounge, kitchen and bathroom. Yes, there are cheaper apartments but to be honest these would set you back $750 a month but are drab residences situated in the more dreary areas of the city. When you have your apartment we're talking electric, gas and water bills. These are reasonable and about a third of what I pay back in the UK, so one very positive aspect of life here.

Next is transport - you need to get to your office and back in the morning. This will either mean hiring a car or taking taxis. Now, a word of warning, the traffic in Baku is as bad as it gets. Apart from the pollution, many areas of Baku city are like the Wacky Races; reckless, dangerous driving. I was only in the place a week and decided I could never drive in the most congested, lawless and downright dangerous city to drive a motor vehicle anywhere in the world. I hear countless stories of expats almost being run over, and that is putting it mildly. So it's taxis and because you are an expat, you will be ripped off big-time, and I am not joking. But a piece of good news; the authorities have introduced 'London' styled taxis which are metered and very reasonable. Just avoid all the others – they will literally take you for a ride!

Shopping - well, again, we're talking expensive. Be prepared to fork out at least $1000 a month for groceries, etc.  Again, it depends where you shop. There are ‘supermarkets’ scattered around the city but these are nothing more than large convenience stores. I mean, you won’t find an ASDA or Sainsburys in Baku! Expect to pay in general twice what you’d pay in the UK. Two simple examples: a tin of Heinz baked beans – double the price. A jar of peanut butter – treble the price.

Eating out – well, the good news here is Baku has an abundance of stylish and not-so-stylish restaurants, cafes and bars. You have the luxury ones such as the Sky Grill in the recently opened Hilton and then you can eat in Finnegans, the Irish bar, where fish and chips come in at $15. But then a colleague of mines decided to go to the Sky Grill for a meal – his fillet steak was a whopping $42.00!

Language – well, you’ve got your apartment, done some shopping, paid your utility bills and explored the city in taxis. But with all these aspects of life here, you will need to communicate with the local Azeris. Here, Russian and Azeri are spoken 50 / 50. English? At a guess, based on my 18 months of living here, about 95% of Azeris do not speak the language. This sometimes leads to frustration and confusion. Don’t get me wrong, most Azeris I have met are very respectful and deferential of expats. But there are others, unfortunately, who look at you with a certain disdain. The fact is most Azeris where I work have a good idea of our salaries, which are some of the highest for expats anywhere in the world. But I know for a fact I am earning about ten times their salaries and there is a guarded jealousy prevailing. Maybe it is a throwback to Soviet times – I don’t know.

So, Baku, what are my personal impressions? Firstly, the good bits. Summer weather is beautiful, day in and day out, so that means going to work in a short-sleeved shirt. Utility prices are cheap and also pharmacy prices. If you do decide to rent a car, you will enjoy filling up your petrol tank for as little as $10!! Yes, a great variety of bars, restaurants and cafe bars, fantastic fashion shops and the Boulevard down by the seaside is an utter joy to stroll along on a warm, summer’s Saturday afternoon.

The bad bits? Horrendous costs for almost everything. Traffic hell is the only way I can put it. Lack of English language is a huge disadvantage for the expat trying to make a living in Baku. There are many slums in the city, even off the famous Fountain Square, and it will leave you wondering how the local Azeris manage to get by. Power cuts, gas outages and water cuts are an everyday problem in Baku. Yes we have Internet but how many times have I lost the connection?

When it comes to finding work here all I can suggest is to Google it and see what is on offer. Mind you there are NOT many jobs for expats which accounts for the relatively small expat community here.

So, that’s it – if you do come here, make your own mind up but do your finance calculations before boarding the plane.

Mister l understand that you love Baki:))))))))

--I enjoyed reading this.:) Thank you.

Hi, shall we become friend?

very good imfo as i am travelling first time to Baku this friday

Have sorted out apartment(hopefully)before i arrive

Traffic and drivers cannot be as bad as Cairo Egypt-these guys have to be the worst drivers on the planet next then polish in good old Warsaw!!!

I now have to find the expats bars

regards

Neil

Hi Neil,

Yes I hear what you say about Cairo. But downtown Baku is a nightmare . . . as for bars, there's plenty of them. I personally don't go out very often but I am sure when you're settled in you'll be shown around a few.

Good luck,
Ian

many thanks for the reply
Neil

thanks man..really good informations..u make me think again ang again before go there..i think is better to stay in morocco

Thanks, Nadi, hope it helped. I shall be leaving Azerbaijan at the end of this month and won't be back!

Thank you, very useful! All the best in a better places!

Really good info.
As I'm coming to Baku in 2 weeks, I've been searching to get to know more about the culture and life.
I had some knowledge about cost of living but your blog give us a better ref.
Thank you!
Carlos

[Moderated: Don't be rude]

one bad thing about baku or you can say about azerbijan which is this i am trying since 6 months to have admission there but there is not any website which you would updated and nearly it is impossible for a foreigner to have admission there even in this blog i have asked to many people to help me for getting admission there but all are silent

Hi Waleed,

It can be a difficult place to get into the country but, obviously, if you have a job offer, then the employing company will get you your business visa, etc. But one thing is for sure, you cannot just turn up in Baku and look for work. Azerbaijan has a huge unemployment problem and it is difficult for the authorities to find work for their own citizens!!

Hope this helps.

but bro i just want to study here not to work here i mean i did Agriculture Engineering From my country now i want to do first Language course and then Master from some reputed university of Azerbaijan i am not seeking for job
and meanwhile there are lot of opportunities of business

Very good observation of life in Baku
It's been 15 years that I have moved to the broad.
Each year i decide to move back, to Baku, but when I go there the prices of everything is puts me back.
I just wonder how poor people manages there.
How can be flight to Baku with Azal from London is 385 English pounds, but London to Dubai via Baku with Azal costs you 333 pounds.
And to travel to Azerbaijan if even you are Azeri with foreign passport you have to pay 100 pounds and wait for 2 weeks.
Last time when I was in Baku the item really shocked when I so the price was white  plain cheese
Shocking 12 manat which is 15 dollars per kg.
If you ask pot of tea in a café if you ask or not, they would bring bar of mars and some mixed nuts and you have to pay 15 dollars.
Baku is the only place in the world,that McDonald's  are posh.
I don't know where these prices comes from. Gas, electric,petrol considerably cheap, wages are small.
The margin of earning for a companies are to hi.

Dear freind
i am zahid from pakistan and waana know about azerbyjaan ... i am doing my garments business in pakistan.

michael87 :

Hi, shall we become friend?

yes we can become friend......i want to know thw lifwstyle/business  of azerbyjan people.

Hi zee_pk > please start a new topic with your questions on life in Azerbaijan on the Azerbaijan forum.

Thank you

I see that you are French and you would like to live in Azerbaijan. Well, when we talk about living/working in Azerbaijan we are talking Baku, the capital city. From my own experience I can confirm that the general air/atmosphere in winter is okay but in the hot summer months it is terrible. The problem with Baku is that there is a proliferation of old bangers - cars/lorries/buses - that spew out clouds of acrid carbon monoxide because there doesn't seem to be any kind of Governmental testing of vehicles. Believe me, my eyes used to nip in the summer months when walking in Baku streets.

Au revoir!

Hello Eva,

When weighing it all up I would declare that Baku is what you make of it. There are not many expats working there as you would see in places like Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, etc, for the simple reason that Azeris have good education with the result that the country does not rely on expats. You can walk around Baku 'city centre' - the area of Fountain Square - and not come across one single expat.

English is not widely spoken and this can be a bit off-putting. As it happens my wife is Estonian and she speaks Russian so that wasn't a problem. But in general before my wife arrived I found it a major disadvantage. There are medical facilities and they are excellent. Your husband and you will require a brief medical on arrival in Azerbaijan. Yes, women are safe on the streets but I must warn you that there is much leering by Azeris at Western women. My wife felt uncomfortable much of the time if she was out shopping in Baku on her own. My daughter, who was 14 at the time, was leered at constantly.

As I said Baku is what you make of it. We decided to leave as my wife got very fed up with the place. My blog pretty well gives an accurate picture of life there. I would finally add that there is an undercurrent of displeasure with the Aliyev regime due to corruption and various issues of human rights. You can Google it.

Best wishes,
Ian

Hi Eva USA > Could you please lower Caps Lock when writing on the forum.

Thanks for your understanding,

Francesca

No comments

No comments

Dear Sir,

I am sure that you earn enough amount of salary to live in Baku if you are still here. Be sure that Baku is very safe city and you can drive anywhere you want even with a bicycle.

Azerbaijan has a very beautiful nature and there are a lot of places in regions where you can enjoy your free time and weekends. And I am sure you do.

Baku is a bit expensive city, but let us compare it with other Oil countries like Norway and even for Mc Donald's prices. You would easily find the considerable differences. Baku is not so expensive country than France, UK, Spain or other European country. We have high prices as a normal European countries. You can find a place where to shop if you want to by the vegetable and meet for lower prices. It is up to you.

And most important, Sir, please note for yourself that we are not obliged to speak English! We have our own language and we have the respect who are respecting our culture and moral values.

You stated about the apartment rental prices in fountain square. But don't you know it is the most expensive part of the city? In a center of the city you can easily find a 3 room with all the convenience for 400 dollars. If you can not please connect with me. I am living near the metro station 28 May. You cannot even compare the apartment rental prices in Paris. It is 4 times higher than in Baku.

If you are still living and working here, I am sure you enjoy your salary and life. If you want to earn high, then you have to spent more. You are still welcome to leave or continue to work in Baku per your wish. And learn Azeri language if you have a desire   
for communication. UP TO YOU!

IMPORTANT NOTICE TO EXPATS IN BAKU.
I would like to warn Expats living in Baku that the Unlicensed Taxi drivers that sit close to OTTO bar are stopping Expats taking London Cabs.
I have seen this 3 times now where 4 or 5 of them crowd round the person and physically pull Expats out of the London Taxi.
On Tuesday Night a college of mine was subject to this I tried to intervene and take him in my car the drivers would not let me or my college get into my car pushing us dragging us away.
We both entered the London cab again where they tried to drag us out again I was then pulled to the floor of the taxi and beaten by 3 of the Taxi drivers.
My college tried stopping them until the police came and got the 3 drivers off me.
Myself and 1 Taxi driver were taken to the police station.
I am now being charged as the Taxi Drivers have told utter Lies and said I just walked up to him and head butted him.
IMPORTANT NOTICE
Update to TAXI beating....
I have now been charged with hooliganism.Taxi drivers have paid the Police off and the Police want 7000 manat from me or I will have to go to court with no chance of winning.

400 USD dollars gets you a dump like Baku.

What does that mean ? :D

Hello,  I am also interested in learning about Baku. What kind of business opportunities do you think are there? Do you like living there and anything else you like to tell me about the city.  Thanks

Hi Karachi,

Welcome to Expat.com :)

This is an old topic (2012), i think that it would be a very good idea if you can create a new thread on the Baku forum and to ask your questions there please.

Thank you,

Priscilla ;)

I am not sure how much you have traveled but the traffic in Baku is rather sophisticated compared to let say, India, Bangladesh, Jakarta to name a few. My husband is from Sicily and iv seen worse driving there, Baku is one of the few countries I have lived out side of the UK and actually considered driving myself.

Hi,

My wife is also Estonian and speaks perfect Russian.........reading some comments on here Im a bit nervous lol.

Astansbie,

Funnily enough, my wife is also Estonian and speaks perfect Russian. She moved to my home country of Scotland in 2002, when we married, and was with me during my two years in Azerbaijan (Baku). In my original blog I tried to show Baku and its people in a realistic way. I have to admit, my wife (and also my daughter) did eventually get annoyed by the constant leering by local men but that is just the way Azeri men are. If your wife can handle that, then there won't be a problem.

But Baku is one of those cities that you eventually love or hate - there doesn't seem to be a middle ground. I left in 2012 but might be going back this year on business. But I shall be going alone this time. Tell your wife to just be cool, don't show off (let the local Azeri women do that) and she will be fine.

Kuanyin

Cheers Kuanyin,

Totally agree it will be what we make of it.
My wife will be fine with all the staring.....me however will find it hard lol.

I shall keep you updated and thanks for all the advice.

Kind regards
Andrew

Hi, interesting  comments. I'm coming to Baku in October 2014 - I'm a single woman traveling on my own and will be working there teaching English. I don't know what to expect in any way, shape or form and don't have even a smattering of the language - are there any expat community groups for me to link up with at least for the short-term, how easy is it to get out of the city and how safe is it to travel? So many questions! can I ask what your wife thought of the town/country? Hils

Hi Neil, are you still in Baku? I'm coming for work in October 2014 and am rather confused about all the conflicting information. I will make up my own mind when I get there but some pointers would be good as I am not sure even what clothes to bring! Hils

Hi there,

We are currently considering a move to Baku and like to know more about the city.  We are a family with 2 young kids and I'm wondering how the current war is affecting daily life there pls?

Thanks in advance!

When I was there, you did feel an undercurrent of nervousness with some sections of Baku society but I believe it's worse now. Putin visited Armenia last month and made a big thing out of it. Of course he is a supporter of Armenia but an enemy of both Azerbaijan and Georgia and the way this man is playing games with Ukraine, anything could happen. However, don't let that stop you going to Az - Baku has all the bright lights but there are darker sides to the city.

Thank you so much for your advise :)

Any Portuguese in Baku,i would like to meet up.

New topic