Moving to Addis Ababa

Let's be real folks, moving to Ethiopia with your family can sound a bit unnerving if you aren't familiar with the country.  I'm here to tell you that you're going to be just fine, as are your children.  Here is some information as well as my answers to the most frequent questions I've received via email from expats who are moving to Addis. Feel free to email me with any other questions you may have.

 Last updated 9/27/2013
General information for travelers
Addis Ababa is at 7,000 ft so the altitude can take a while to adjust to upon your arrival.  Drink lots of water and take it easy.  Don't try to pick up your jogging routine right away.  It can take up to 4 months for adults to adjust and up to a month for children to adjust.  My experience has been that the younger the child is, the easier they adjust to the altitude.

Sunny season is October through May
The sun is intense here in Ethiopia so prepare to bring hats, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen.

The temperature is on average 75-80 during the middle of the day during the sunny season.  Morning and evenings can be as cool as 65 or 70 degrees.

Rainy season is June through September
During this time of year the temperatures are cooler and there is a lot of rain.  Be prepared with rain coats and boots.  The city is dusty during sunny season because it's so dry but during rainy season the city turns to mud.  

April can be rainy as well.  It's called Short Rainy season and lasts about a month.  The rain is intermittent.  This short rainy season brings out the bugs.  Flies and mosquitoes tend to be at their most prevalent in Addis during the month of May when it gets warm again.  Bring bug spray or citronella to deal with the bugs. THERE IS NO MALARIA IN ADDIS ABABA.  You will not need to take anti malarial drugs when living or traveling in Addis Ababa or the northern regions of Ethiopia. You will not need nets for sleeping either. South of Addis Ababa in the lower lands is where anit-malarial meds and nets are recommended.  

Health Care
The health care, in general, is very poor here in Ethiopia.  The only options that are recommended to expats are the Swedish Clinic and the Korean Hospital.  Kadisco Hospital for pediatrics and The Cure for broken bones and orthopedic surgery.

Dr. Alan Karibian is a local pediatrician who has been trained in the US and grew up in Ethiopia.  He is fluent in English and Amharic and is a wonderful pediatrician.  I would recommend him to anyone arriving with children.

Things to bring for preschool
All preschools here require that your children bring sippy cups/water bottles with their name written on it as well as sun hats and snacks in some sort of lunch bag.  

The low down on food in Addis
All the basics are available.  The issue tends to be inconsistency of items available.  There can be large shortages of butter, sugar, chicken and cheese.  
 Local dairy (with varying degrees of quality and availability) consists of milk, cream, sour cream, whipping cream, yogurt, butter, provolone, mozzarella, Gouda and ricotta.
Local vegetables (with varying degrees of quality and items are only available seasonally) are tomatoes, onions, garlic, spinach, lettuce, zuchini, cucumber, eggplant, potatoes, carrots, ginger, cabbage, bell peppers, squash, corn, hot peppers, leeks. 
Local fruit (with varying degrees of quality and items are only available seasonally) are bananas, pineapple,watermelon, oranges, strawberries, mangoes, lemons, limes, apples, plums, papayas, cactus fruit, 
Local herbs are basil, rosemary, coriander leaves, parsley.
Local meat is chicken, lamb, beef.  
Other goods: pasta, beans, rice, crackers, honey, jam, yeast, oil, juice, peanuts, dates, sugar, salt, pepper, canned beans, canned anchovies, pickles, mustard, ketchup, canned mushrooms, boxed milk, baby food, couscous, cookies, candy, cereal, oats.

Consumables I recommend bringing
All over the counter meds for children bring plenty of first aid supplies.  
Dental care. Children's fluoride rinse for teeth and toothpaste
Batteries for your thermometer and other battery operated items.  
Lotions and lip balm because the air is very dry here
Diapers and wipes-the quality of items to purchase here is very poor
Contact lens solution
Diaper rash cream
Nasal spray
Disinfectant hand soap
 My recommendation would be to bring with you as much over the counter medications as you can.  Especially ibuprofen, cold medicine, cough, headache, nasal spray, fever reduction, congestion, antihistamine and other basic stuff for stomach indigestion and diarrhea, Dental health like toothpaste etc.  All first aid things, bug spray, burn ointment, antibiotic ointment, fluoride mouthwash, birth control, shampoo, lotions.  There is very little on the market of these types of personal toiletries.  Vitamins too.  

We brought a large supply of the following consumables
Laundry soap
Dish soap
toilet paper
paper towels
plastic wrap
aluminum foil
plastic bags for freezer and snacks
vegetable oil
all baking supplies (you can find some items locally but the quality is lower and price is higher)
dried fruit/nuts/canned specialty items like chilies, artichokes, olives
Tomato sauce
canned black beans
juice boxes for the children
granola bars/snacks
canned chicken broth

If you are a baker, bring soda, baking powder, cream of tartar, corn starch, brown sugar, flavorings, spices, non stick spray, shortening, etc.  The local flour is fairly decent and there is granulated sugar (it's not as fine)but it's about $18 USD per 5 kilos

In consumables bring lots of Lysol for moping,kitchen sprays, liquid detergents, toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, soap, lotion, sun screen, mouth wash, toothpaste, meds, juices, powdered milk.  Oh and lots of ziplocs of all sizes, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, wax paper, and trash bags for indoor kitchen trash cans

I wish I would have brought more of:
canned artichokes, mushrooms, chicken broth (although I make my own now), cereals, crackers, canned pumpkin and sweet potatoes, diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes.  More specialty things like sauces marinades, soups, etc.  Wine!  I wish I would have packed some favorite wines and beers.  Salami and tortillas.  Both the kinds that have long shelf lives.  Salami and cured meets that don't have to be refrigerated are great to have here where that kind of thing is expensive.  

Less of: canned veggies, we don't like them and I had no idea there was such great produce here.  Toddler formula.  The milk here is great so we didn't need this.

Do you bleach your fruits and vegetables?
Yes.  All produce (fruit, vegetables, eggs, onions, bananas) are all rinsed in a bleach wash.  At the local grocery stores a mild bleach solution is sold for cleaning vegetables.  Large bowls or tubs are filled with distilled water and then one to two cap-fuls of the solution are added to the water.  Produce soaks for 30 minutes and is then soaked for another 30 minutes in clean distilled water.  We are rigorous about this routine and have never had an illness.  

Should you have your household help medically tested?
Yes it makes sense to have your household help tested and x-rays done for TB.  I would recommend you do it for your driver, guard, nanny, and housekeeper.  Especially the nanny and housekeeper. The two people likely to be in contact with your children.  It's very cheap.  

How do you manage drinking water?
Each home has a large water tank that is used for the tap in the home, both kitchen and toilets and showers. There is a line to the city water which fills the tank when it gets low.  You shower and bathe with this water.  It's not smelly and it's clear.  It's not for cooking or drinking though.  The tank water is the city water.  There is no difference.  There is a large water distiller in the kitchen that filters our water for drinking and cooking.  We do not rinse our mouths with tap water after brushing  

Have your children ever been sick from the water or food?
Our middle daughter was diagnosed with an ameoba and E. coli last year.  She took medicine and was fine in a week.  This was not from the water in the home but more likely from the fact that she's four and plays in the dirt outside and puts her hands in her mouth before I can usher her into the bathroom to wash with soap.  Some kids are just germ factories.  Arabella happens to be ours.  The girls play in the bath and drink the water often during play and as much as we instruct them not to, they still manage to swallow it.  We've never had a problem from this.  The children every once in awhile will have a short bout of diarrhea but it's likely attributed to normal childhood viruses that pass at school.  They have never had food poisoning.  

Are there playgrounds in Addis Ababa?
At the schools, yes?  Sadly, there are not very many public playgrounds in this city.  The Hilton has a pay to play playground that is the best.  The issue is that it's next to two very large roads that are always busy with buses and cars and the air is not clean.  I think you will find that families become friends and host play dates and one another's homes to entertain small children.  You will make friends and keep the children busy this way.  It might be wise to bring with you a small ride-on toy and or plastic play structure or slide for your daughter.  You will likely have a small patio or garden to place these things.  Most families have things like this for their children.  

What kind of domestic help is available?
Many expatriates have drivers, cooks, nannies, housekeepers and day guards.  Or any combination of those.  Prices vary quite a bit for household help.  

Should I be concerned about the high altitude?
I would not be concerned about living at this high altitude.  It didn't take long for the children to adjust.  Maybe just a week or two.  I think the younger they are the easier it was for them to adjust.  My husband and I took longer.  Even a month or two after our arrival we still felt winded when we climbed our stairs in our home.  As time went on though it became easier.  Maybe after 3-4 months I no longer noticed that I felt tired or winded.  Upon our arrival it was necessary to drink copious amounts of water and get more rest because the altitude can be draining at first.  But slowly it passes.  We still drink a lot of water here but I haven't had any issues with altitude since the first few months of our arrival.  Our daughters are just fine as well.  Our youngest was just 8 weeks when we arrived and she's big and strong and growing just fine now as an 22 month old.  

Should I be concerned about respiratory infections due to the city pollution?
I'm not a doctor and I am only speaking from the perspective of a mother living here in Addis. My opinion (as a non medical professional) is this
If anyone in your family has a history with asthma or respiratory infections it would be important to see your doctor about bringing inhalers and maybe even a nebulizer with you to Ethiopia.  Chest infections can be worse in high altitude and the pollution here makes it worse.  We know some children who have inhalers just in case a chest infection arises.  Our middle daughter had a respiratory infection here and had to be on a nebulizer for a while to ensure it didn't turn into pneumonia.  RSV is more common here in infants.  It is very important to catch chest infections early so connecting with Dr. Kariban is necessary.   

Can I find clothing and other goods in Addis? Yes, these things are available here but you will not find quality clothing, toys, appliances or furniture here.  You can get certain furniture pieces made here but not of the standards you might be used to.  There is very little shopping that you might be accustomed to.  We shop online (through US companies) for all our clothing, personal items (shampoo etc.), toys, and other household goods.  

Which neighborhoods to you recommend for living with children?
If you have very young children, living in Bole is a nice option.  If you have school aged children who will be attending the International Community School Addis Ababa, Old Airport neighborhood is recommended.  The US embassy has a bus service for shuttling children to and from school for both neighborhoods.  

What is the internet situation in Addis?
Many people use a pay as you go EVDO usb stick that is linked with the cell lines.  ADSL is also available in certain neighborhoods and is generally faster than the EVDO.  There are internet cafes as well.  Internet is slow here and can be spotty.  

Are there power outages in the city?
Yes, all the time.  Our electricity goes out multiple times a week.  Sometimes daily. We have a large generator that powers the home when the power goes out.  If you are in the grocery store or a restaurant and the power goes out, chances are you're going to wait until the electricity comes back.  It's not common to have large generators to run buildings and businesses.

Are there good restaurants and cafes in Addis?
Yes, there are lots of options for eating out in this city.  There are all types of cuisine.  Indian, Turkish, Korean, Yemeni, Italian, Chinese, American, Thai, Greek, and of course amazing Ethiopian food.  The best way to find good clean restaurants with quality food is to get recommendations from friends who have already scoped them out.  Prices vary quite a bit but for the most part it is very cheap.  Our family of 5 routinely eats out for $30 USD or less.  The Sheraton has overpriced restaurants with decent food.  I would not recommend eating at the Hilton.  too many folks have become ill from eating there.  Ethiopia is a cafe culture and on every road you will find cafes with people drinking buna (coffee) or chai (tea).  

Is the coffee in Ethiopia really that much better?  
Absolutely!  You're entering the birthplace of coffee my dear friend.  Coffee is a million times better here.  Ethiopians drink their coffee espresso style and it's made in the traditional coffee ceremony way in clay pots over fire.  They tend to serve it with a bit of grit and lots of sugar.  Beans are often roasted right over the fire and then ground in front of you.  There are also plenty of well known coffee roasting houses and cafes.  To.Mo.CA Coffee, Cafe Choche, and Eliana are the three I recommend for amazing beans.  Kaldis and Bilos are also popular cafes.  

What type of household things should I bring with me?
If you are not traveling here through an embassy, I recommend you bring your mattress and rugs for your home.  Floors tend to be cold marble, tile or wood and large soft rugs are not as easily found.  For locally made rugs I recommend Trio Craft Plc.  You will not find good quality mattresses here.  Everything else like chairs, shelving, bed frames can be made locally.  They may not be the type of things you re accustomed to but they can be found.  

What voltage does Addis run on?
Electricity is 220 V here with a two round prong plug.  The frequency is off and even when things are converted from 110 or 120 V to 220 V using a transformer, the hertz will be a bit off.  I found this especially true with my electric breast pump.  It just didn't work properly.  That being said I convert all my 110 V kitchen appliances and they work just fine.  I have never had an issue.  

Should I bring my own voltage transformers?
We purchased a 1000 watt, 2000 watt, and two 500 watt transformers to supplement what the embassy provides.  Our coffee maker needs the 2000 watt transformer to run.  You might want to look at your appliances with heating elements to see what transformers you should buy.  Some people buy 200 volt appliances over seas and that's great only Addis Ababa is not the place to do any shopping like that.  If you were going to Europe sure, but not Africa.  I would bring your appliances and buy transformers.  

What do you think of the international school?
We love ICS.  It's a wonderful community to be apart of.  The principal is very good and the elementary program is excellent.   I know several of the teachers from many grades and they are all lovely people.  There is Ethiopian studies for the children.  A bit of language training and such.  The school is very diverse and a beautiful campus.  I think you will be very happy with it.  It's also a very safe campus. Guarded, gated, barbed wire.  No one gets in and no one gets out.  

Should we bring our car or buy one locally?
I recommend buying one when you arrive.  Shipping your car to Addis takes a very long time.  The licensing of the car takes at least 6 weeks.  We know folks who have waited up to 5 months to get their car.  The good news is that cars don't loose their value in Ethiopia.  You can purchase a car and sell it two years later for the same price.  

Top 5 reasons I love Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
1. The weather is sunny and glorious much of the year.  There is very little humidity.
2. Travel within the country is extremely rewarding and interesting.  The history of Ethiopia is fascinating to explore.
3. Ethiopian food is delicious and healthy
4. The tight knit community felt here among expatriates
5. Life takes on a slower pace in Ethiopia which is a nice change compared to much of the world.

Top 5 reasons Addis Ababa, Ethiopia can be challenging
1. Traffic, roads, drivers, construction.  Driving here can be very stressful.
2. The lack children's entertainment and activities.  We miss libraries! 
3. Certain food items can become scarce and hard to find and there is a lack of selection when it comes to food.
4. Poverty
5.Lack of infrastructure.  Internet is spotty. Roads are poorly planned.


Anonymous said...

Wow, moving into a new place with this type of environment sure does need a lot of getting used to. How did you manage to transport all the items you brought with you? It would be advisable that you get professional assistance during such tasks. Maybe if you move again in the future, eh?

Robert Myers

Haroon Patel said...

Hi Sara, its so good to read your experiance in Addis. I am considering moving there for a year with my wife and family, two daughters - 1 4years and the other 5 months.

I sent you an email to your gmail account.

Mebaa said...

Very great read, I am a first generation American living in Baltimore and often contemplate moving to Ethiopia for a year or so as my little sister had. Glad youre having a great experience and best of luck to you!

Salman Saeed said...

Thanks a lot for detailed analysis, I am thinking of moving here and start agricultural business

Rajesh Isaac said...

Hey there! Thank you for all the info. I and my wife are planning to relocate to Ethiopia as there is a recruiting team here in India. We are both Physicians and were really wondering what Ethiopia is like. I have lived in Zambia for about 10 years prior to this. Anyway, your write-up was invaluable.

Rajesh Isaac

melody chipfakacha said...

This is so informative thank you. I am a young zimbo who is possibly moving there .I am very nervous amd I am hoping to find people similar to me .young professionals who are worldy

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simale s said...

My name is Muhammed from Ethipia orginally. I lives in Australia now.

As an Ethiopian citizen most of the things wich is written above is true and I would like to apperciate for sharing those information for some one who likes to vist or stay in my cointry. Having said this i want put some of my opinion according to the fillowing points. My first adivice is , dont get overstressed as you moved to any new place any where in the world there might me some challanges wich is true to Ethiopia too. Even me myself has faced some challanges when i moved to Australia 4 years ago.Dont forget also Ethiopian society is one of respectfull and peceafull society in the world. Except for some of pety crime , probaly you cant find any organized crime like gang robbery ... because of the peacifull nature of the societal culture and strong law enforcing body. The other thing wich i wants to comment is about the availablity of vegatbles and friut. We have got plenty of farmers and farming corporation like " Awash Agro processing industry, Maqi Batu Farmers Union ,ELFORA agro processing industry" etc producing variety of friut and vegetables throughout the year using irregation.These and other companies are producing lots of vegatables and even exporting to Europe and Middle East.So you need to explore different options get linked to this farmers. May be you can talk to the managers or owners of big hotels , Super market and restorant to organized the delivery of these and other products. For household appliance like fruniture, Bed, Mattres..... you can talk to some of the companies who are importing this product from Europe and other parts of the world.Thanks

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