I'm Russian and have worked in Kz for the last 10 years on and off for business. It is corrupt, the weather is extreme, and it is surprisingly expensive. Accommodation is almost universally abysmal even in the new developments like Appletown etc, the electrics, water, pipes, roofing etc can all be unreliable and in some cases just don't work at all. Because of the remote location it has poor coverage of western brands particularly for home wares. Unless you are going to go the expense of shipping all your stuff out there (why would you?) the apartment will be furnished and decorated in a style that a Brit would consider tasteless and lacking in function.
All throughout the ex Soviet countries English is not well spoken (I'm an exception ;)) and this region is known as being one of the worst I'm afraid, which makes it hard to make local friends. There are circles of trailing spouses who spend their days drinking coffee and waiting to go home- the shopping (favoured activity of trailing spouses the world over!) is crap in both Astana and Almaty - the lower end of the Western high street at twice the price and lots of imported cheap shit from China in the markets that wouldn't be allowed through customs in the EU because of the obviously noxious chemicals used in the manufacturing process. The cultural life is dead, all those lovely cultural buildings in Astana sit empty- no orchestras or bands play- they're glory pieces for the president and for his private use, occassionally there will be a dombrya player or two- that's it! The nightlife is conservative and the retaurants expensive and average- although you can get great Korean food.
Kazakhs can be delightful people, warm and kind but it is a dictatorship and no matter what, the Kazakh way is always right- even if it is unprofitable, unworkable, hopeless etc. It can be a very stressful place to work. It made rapid improvements in the 2000s but these are sliding and Almaty was recently voted the 4th worst expat posting in the world (as I recall Lagos was first!) and generally it still is a hardship posting. You are very far from anywhere, so you can't just have a city break to get away from it all either. Sorry to be so negative but really all the people I know there are there for one thing- the cash and they are counting the days to leave. Make sure the package is an exceptional one.
Hi, I visited Almaty for a couple weeks a few years ago. I have to say, I was not enamoured, but I have no idea what it would be like to live there. The cons for me were: very expensive, totally corrupt, increasingly repressive regime, people often trying to fleece you, weather extremes (boiling in summer, freezing in winter). On the plus side, the countryside in Kazakhstan is amaaaaaazing. Also Almaty is not far from Kyrgyzstan, which I liked quite a bit better.
I've travelled in many different parts of the world and I'm sad to say that Kazakhstan is probably just about my least favourite visit (except for the few days we spent in the mountains). It's nothing against the people -- many of whom were great -- but it's your typical post-Soviet society and system that can be quite depressing.
Wow! Thanks everyone for your feedback. I love Mumsnet! I'm not exactly sure where we would be living but, having done a bit of my own research, it does sound quite exciting. I'm not sure how I would deal with the cold but I guess you just have to get used to wearing the right gear. Bit of a dramatic change from Lagos temperatures, at least in the winter anyway! We are hoping to go over to take a look some time in February. I'm really grateful to have heard from so many of you.
I lived in Azerbaijan in 1999-2000 so ages ago but would imagine it was fairly similar (ex ussr, extremely corrupt, polluted etc) but had a good time. It was pre kids, we both worked and had a good social life. We had a fixer (local guy, spoke English, excellent no contacts within the government) employed by dhs company who would help with any difficult situations (ie being stopped by the police 8 times a day when they just wanted money). Personally I loved the quirkiness of it all but the oppression of those without was difficult to stomach. Sounds similar to Lagos (dh lived there for a while) but at least in the less well known postings, the expat community seems to be pretty welcoming and friendly....
A friend of DH is married to a Kazakh lady but they live elsewhere in Asia. She is a lovely well educated woman. I've had lots of colleagues from Kirgizstan, kazakhstan etc and they are generally classically educated in Russian, and often speak at least another language on top of theirs. They have a rich history with an oriental soul anchored in modern european history. Am sure it will be a very enriching experience for you all.
Almaty is the commercial capital. All the embassies were moved to Astana, Almaty is a big beautiful city surrounded by snow-capped mountains and full of cafes, restaurants, parks, etc.
when we were there, they were two big modern malls with designer shops skating rinks etc. they were quite a few well-stocked supermarkets as well, including Turkish and German ones containing everything you might need.
Accommodation was surprisingly expensive at the time as there was a lot of demand from the expat community. Some with nice gyms etc but no compounds. Big houses were popular with expats with big budgets, some with pools and jacuzzis.
It was very safe from my experience but rich locals liked to flaunt their wealth with big cars expensive clothes and bodyguards!
There was one international school when we got there, an American one called Almaty International School. By the time we left 2 years later, there was a new British one. They were both popular with rich local kids so the ratio of English-speakers to non-speakers was not favorable in my opinion.
Although the temperature plummeted to below -35 -40 c in winter, the roads were always cleared promptly and schools never closed. They are used to and prepared for this weather. It's +40 in summer though!
We didn't see much poverty as unemployment rates were very low. It wasn't hard to find a house-keeper and nanny but it didn't come cheap. We had a driver as it is not advised to drive due to road conditions, easily-bribed policemen, and lack of GPS and good maps!!
Language was a huge barrier for me since I don't speak Russian but more and more young people are speaking English. I didn't find local people very friendly which doesn't help.
My biggest problem there was healthcare. Local hospitals were still run in the soviet-style, with modern equipment and western medicine, but again language! We used the only international clinic where a single western doctor changed every few months. We would have had to evacuate to Europe for something as simple as a broken leg!
Thanks everyone! It does sound pretty much like Lagos but with horrid weather. Hmmmmm.... Laptop, it would be great it you could speak to your friend who lived there with her kids. I knew someone on Mumsnet would be able to help me again! You are all stars!
Is that the affair with the president's daughter? Remember that! was like something straight out of a west wing episode! She's one of the most powerful oligarchs.
It is a very corrupt place for sure. I used to sell reinsurance to Kazakhstan a lifetime ago. Basically whoever had enough vested interest to Insure an industrial plant, had the power to cover up insurance fraud. But I think its pretty much the same ethos in Nigeria no? so much of the same no?
What cocktail queen said. Have a friend who was there too onl a couple of years ago. I think that it would generally be the same sort of feel as living in Lagos apart that you'd be in the other extreme weather wise.
One thing the kids gained though is a very useful new language. My friend had a local older helper who spoke Russian to the kids. Russian being the educated language for the older generation, it came to her naturally as a way of communicating as she did not speak english. And so the kids learned!
Um. My friend lived there as an ex pat years ago. In a gated community in Almaty. The ex pat social life was good, there was skiing in the hills, there's a great fresh fruit and veg market, there is a shop where you can get Typhoo and Marmite and British brands. BUT there is a lot of poverty and a lot of crime. I didn't like her house or the gated estate with armed guard, or the feeling of the city. hth?
I posted a message a couple of years ago about moving to Nigeria with my family. I was panicking as that came out of the blue and didn't know where to turn for advice. Well brilliant Mumnetters came to my rescue and offered their opinions on it. We decided to go for it & have been in Lagos for 18 months. My DH just dropped a bit of a bombshell and said we might be moving to Kazakhstan next! Not quite what I had in mind.... I have 2 boys aged 6 & 8. Can anyone tell me their experiences of what it's like to live there? My 8 year old will be devasted if we decide to do it. He is really missing the UK and was banking on moving back there in the next couple of years Any advice gratefully received!!