Should I move to Kabul? Appreciate your hands-on experience.

Hi all,

After reading through all relevant posts here, I understand this is probably one of the most asked questions among expats living in Afghanistan.  I just want to make sure that I know what I am getting into before moving to Kabul.  I am a Korean female in my late 20's, currently working in the development field. I am applying for a job in Kabul with one of the UN agencies that I used to work for before.  The main reason I am apply for the job is because it matches my interests and skills quite perfectly and I have a faith in the organization that I am apply for. 

Because I have never worked in a conflict area like Afghanistan, I can't imagine what it is like to live there -- even after reading many articles written by (ex-)Kabul expats.  I have spoken to a few development professionals whom I trust or who used to work there; about two out of ten recommended I go and find out while the rest gave me straight No's due to the current security situation there.  One of my colleagues who used to work for different agencies there for over four years from 2003-2007 and in 2010 told me that things in Kabul now are a lot different from they were while she was there and she wouldn't recommend I even apply for a job there. 

I thought some of you who are currently there might share insights.  I really would appreciate if any of you could share:

1) what it is like to work there these days, especially for female aid workers working for the UN;
2) how tight the security is nowadays;
3) whether you expect the situation to get better or worse, esp. for expats; and
4) after living there for a while, whether you think it is worth giving a shot for a career satisfaction/advancement (esp. for junior levels).

Thank you for sharing your time and two cents in advance.

Hello, Yes you definitely should go there and it will be a wonderful career boost.  It is true, as expats we used to have a great time over there - parties, social life, restaurants and even bars, and I even used to go for weekends away. This is no more.  Which is sad, it is a beautiful country and you will see almost nothing of it.  Afghan people are nice to work with, and very eager to learn, They are accustomed to expats in Kabul so its not a problem to be  a women. Some odler men are v conservative and wont shake hands, you will learn to tell them apart .....There will always be a barrier between male and female there, but in the end of the day, everyone works long and hard hours, and just need to get job done .....With security now, . .... I am sure you wont be allowed to visit any afghan home, which is a huge pity as they are wonderful with hospitality.  You will live in a UN approved compound, probably a guest house which can be an older building will have all what you need there, but sometimes things like bathrooms and food variety is very limited- it all depends upon your project budgets.  You will have your own security company and they will organise all your travel to and from work and meetings, and social travel if you are allowed any. you will travel probably in a hard skin car ( armored vehicle) with a guard and maybe an escort too.  Generally the UN is less invasive with its security then say USAID projects, you might get a soft skin car ..Im not sure ...And you might be allowed social moves to other guest houses for parties in the evenings.  The few public restaurants are mostly off limits now, but maybe one or 2 are still ok to go to. you can buy alcohol in black market, a local will have to organize this for you, it is very expensive though. There are three very secure expensive compounds called Baron, Green village, and Chamelot ..Im sure you will be allowed to visit them on a Thursday night - There are restaurants and bars here and sometimes live music and everyone goes.  So you can meet people outside of your work in this way.  But mostly you will just work and rest on Friday, the day off.  Bring a  kindle!  Be prepared for lack of some kinds of food  - no Asian food, and vegtables are not great.  there are 2 main expat supermarkets, Spinneys and FInest, you can get a lot of stuff there but you will pay huge amounts!   Personally I think the entire security thing there is a money making overkill plan ...but that is how it is.  I have lived in and out of Kabul since 2009, and when Im there for free time I live in a house, take taxis, walk, live normally and I never have any problem, But donor funded jobs have insurance issues, so overkill security is a result< which means you wont see much of the country. You have more chance being in a bad car wreck in say Dubai, then ever having any IED or bomb incident in Kabul!!!  But there are a few good local tourist operators there, I suggest after your work contract finishes, take an organized country  tour, if you can afford it. travel in afg is very expensive!  But a visit to Herat, Bamiyan, and Mazar e sharif are a must if you really want to see the country . ..Most of all for your career, a job in Afg is seen as a good thing, will open you to new type of experience  .....and you will get lots of R and R time ...Hope this is helpful, Mare

Hi Mare, 

Thank you so much for sharing your experience and insights!  I will definitely consider them before making the decision :)
If anyone else is open to share their thoughts, please do so!

Thanks again.

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