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Getting Settled in Tashkent: Tips for Expats

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When our family was planning to move from the US to Uzbekistan for a couple of years, we read a lot of information on Internet. Some of it was useful, but none of it was detailed enough to fully prepare us for comfortably settling in. A lot of things turned out very different from what we imagined. I wish we knew better what to expect early on. This would have saved us some time and energy.

I hope this guide will be helpful for you and your family if you are planning a move to Tashkent.

Like with any other country, there is an easy and a hard way to do things. An affordable and an expensive way. Hopefully, I’ll be able to shed some light on the key issues you might be facing and give some good tips.

Bye-bye Washington! We’ll be back in a couple of years

Housing

Moving to another country and settling in is always a challenge. But it becomes easier if you have a nice and comfortable home to move into.

In Tashkent, you will find two main options for housing: apartment of single-family house. In both cases, you can find some good places to live.

Apartment buildings

We had opted for an apartment because we wanted to live in the center, be close to my daughter’s school, metro, markets, shops and restaurants, do minimal cleaning (Tashkent is quite dusty), and have an opportunity to walk around the neighborhood at any time of the day. There are some really nice apartment complexes to choose from (for example, along the Taras Shevchenko street), and some simpler ones which would be lower in price.

Our neighborhood in Tashkent

A word of caution on new developments. If you opt for a brand new complex, you might end up with some units not yet sold/finished. This might result in some dust/noise. If you don’t mind this, then it’s fine. If you want peace and tranquility, then it might be better to look for complexes which were constructed a while back. For example, we were recommended to rent one of the Gabus apartments which have some of the best designs in Tashkent and are considered to be quite safe.

Bear in mind that occasionally, elevators don’t work in apartment buildings (especially in areas far away from the center). If you have some vulnerable family members, you need to factor this in, as they might not be able to climb up 6 or 7 floors of stairs.

Houses

In terms of houses, there are also plenty of great options. Depending on your budget, you could get a bigger or a smaller house with a garden and possibly indoor or outdoor pool. Some houses are really gorgeous and perfect for large families. Houses would generally be a bit further away from the center and oftentimes you wouldn’t find the same infrastructure right outside your door.

Before you make a decision, carefully consider the location of your kids’ school and your office. Also, decide on the manner in which kids will be taken to school (yourself, driver, carpool etc.) Keep in mind that traffic during rush hour is horrible. We moved over the summer and were under the impression that it was very easy and quick to get from point A to Point B. But then school started and we were in for a rude awakening.

Getting around (taxis, cars, metro)

Taxis

A big advantage of Tashkent is that there are a lot of taxis and they are quite cheap, compared to the United States. At any given time, you will generally be able to move around the city for just a couple of dollars. Prices go up and down during the day, depending on how busy the time is, but you will rarely pay more than five dollars. On weekends, taxis are usually cheaper because fewer people go around the city.

Some of the taxi services to use are Yandex and MyTaxi.

Drivers are usually quite quick. Normally, you won’t need to wait more than a couple of minutes.

However, you need to keep in mind that many taxi drivers are not local and you need to be very precise when specifying your location. In some rare cases, the app picked up a wrong location and I ended up waiting for the car in vain. Calling the driver was helpful sometimes, but not always. In a few cases, the drivers never managed to find me, even though I specified the exact street where I was. They simply did not know the city, and their only way to get around was their app. To avoid this type of situation, I was advised to use drivers with license plates starting with 01 (Tashkent) or 10 (Tashkent region). They are more familiar with the city. I use them for more complex trips, when I don’t know for sure the place I’m going to.

Metro

Tashkent metro is gorgeous and very easy to use. I discovered it for myself about a month since I arrived in Tashkent and I am now a regular user. It’s not a very big metro like you’d find in Washington DC or New York City, for example, but it’s very functional and you can get to quite a few places.

Each station has a different theme. The metro is not crowded and mostly used by younger people, which gives it a sort of a hip feel. Trains come every 5 minutes or so. You can just buy the ticket at the station for 1,400 soums (about 10 cents).

If you live in a central location like we do, you will be able to use metro a lot. There are a lot of stations. If you live further out, then opportunities for using metro would be quite limited.

Tashkent metro station

Cars

Cars in Tashkent

Tashkent is a city of Chevy cars. Most of the cars you’ll find here are Chevy, since they are manufactured locally. Many people buy white cars. It is firmly believed that the white color is better for hot summers (supposedly, it does not attract the heat as much as black or brown). The vast majority of residents own smaller cars like Lacetti or Cobalt. Some own Malibu which is much more expensive. Getting a foreign car in Tashkent is not easy and the supply is very limited.

Traffic in Tashkent is horrendous and getting through the city during rush hour is always very challenging. Rush hour starts at about 7:30 am because this is when most of the people are dropping off their children at schools and then going to the office. Around 5 pm heavy traffic starts again. If you can avoid driving during the rush hour, you should definitely do that. I personally try to take metro whenever possible.

Schools

Tashkent has an excellent choice of schools for foreign children. These include Tashkent International School (TIS), British School of Tashkent, Oxbridge, Cambridge, Canadian International School, and others. There are also numerous Russian schools in the city and of course a lot of Uzbek schools (the young population of the city is very large, so there seem to be schools everywhere).

Elizabeth enjoying a warm autumn day at the Tashkent International School (TIS)

My daughter got enrolled in TIS and we are very happy with the school. It’s a very large school with a beautiful green campus where kids can play before and after school. Students come from many different countries and language of instruction is English. The facilities are top-notch. Teachers are very experienced and caring. Lunch provided to the kids is delicious and nutritious. In terms of learning, TIS seems to provide a very similar experience to Elizabeth’s school at home. Transition was very easy and seamless. Elizabeth finished the 1st grade at an elementary school in Washington DC and went to 2nd grade at TIS, as if nothing happened. The school organizes a lot of events for the kids-for example, the United Nations Day, Halloween, etc.

Shopping

Shopping choices in Tashkent are not as diverse as in many other cities, so you have to be ready for that. You might want to bring some things from the US (e.g., makeup of your favorite brand), if you can. You might not be able to find them here. Substitutes are available but I was personally used to some brands for many years, and I felt a bit at a loss not having them here.

Grocery shopping

Your typical Korzinka store in Tashkent

For buying groceries, a common choice is the network of Korzinka stores. They have an okay selection of groceries (it’s not Giant or Safeway, of course, but you’ll find most of the things you need). Prices are reasonable and quality is generally good. You can also shop at numerous smaller stores which offer the same products but at a slightly higher price.

On the shelves, there are a lot of products made locally in Uzbekistan and also a lot of things come from Russia. If you want to buy items made in the US and similar countries, be careful and check prices. A few times I noticed that their price was outrageous compared to what you’d pay in the US (for example a box of honey nut cheerios was $20 or something ridiculous like that). Generally, imports from places other than the neighboring countries are expensive here as Uzbekistan is double-land-locked and transporting goods is not easy.

Supermarkets sell local fruit which are quite good. Once a week I also go the market to get a better variety of fruits and vegetables. Prices are quite similar but you get more choices. Of course, you have to be careful in the market as, being a foreigner, you are guaranteed to be charged higher prices. Make sure to bargain. Generally speaking, everything tastes much better here than in the US. The produce is very fresh.

Mirabad Market

Malls and online shopping

There are various stores around the city (including in the market) and some malls, like Riviera Mall. There are also opportunities for online shopping. For example, Uzum market offers pickup or delivery of various products. Both selection and prices seem reasonable.

Also, there are some opportunities for ordering goods from Europe and the US to be delivered to Uzbekistan. You can do this through services like Globbing. It takes a few weeks to get your package but this is one of the few ways to get your favorite brands from the US or Europe here. You pay $8 for 1 kg of shipment, so it makes sense to buy clothes, vitamins, makeup, and other light items. There is only one center in Tashkent where you can pick up your items but it’s very efficient. You can also order home delivery if you’d like.

Water

In Tashkent, you will have to buy drinking water. No way around it. Coming from the US, this was a bit of a shocker, but hey, you need to get used to a new reality.

There is a possibility to install a water filter at home, if you want to save some money, but I am still not sure the filtered water becomes that good to make it actually drinkable.

So, we use the filtered water to wash fruits and vegetables and dishes and we also order drinking water from a service for actual drinking and cooking. We prefer Hydrolife natural mountain water. To start the delivery of water, you need to buy a cooler (which can be done separately or through the company) and then order 2-3 capsules of water every couple of weeks. The price per capsule is about $3.5 which is not expensive. The water tastes very fresh and you will definitely not regret ordering it.

Money

Generally speaking, you’ll be able to pay with your US credit card in many places in Tashkent. When using taxi services, you’ll be able to add your credit card in the app the same way you do in the US. At many supermarkets, restaurants, malls, and even government offices, they also accept major credit cards.

Occasionally, terminals won’t work or the payment will need to be carried out several times until successful. Just be ready for that. Ask the cashier to repeat the transaction if it got declined for no reason.

It’s always good to carry some local currency with you as a backup. You can exchange dollars or euros at a local bank (if you brought cash with you). You can also withdraw foreign currency from your foreign card at a local bank (bearing in mind that there is a commission for that).

Opening a local bank account

As you get settled in Tashkent and try to use more services (e.g., take your kids to some classes, book a birthday party for your kid, get some services at a local hospital, do more shopping and eat at more restaurants), you will discover that sometimes their terminal only accepts local cards or the vendor wants you to wire money to their local card.

So, it’s a good idea to work on opening an account at a local bank as soon as you can (it will take you some time). This will greatly expand the probability that your card will be accepted by a local vendor. Plus, you will have an opportunity to transfer money from local card to local card via a app on your smartphone. A lot of vendors here accept money exactly in this manner.

In order to open the bank account, you will definitely need a PINFL (identification number in Uzbekistan) and a local sim card. Make sure you get those once you get to Tashkent.

Air Quality

The air quality is a global concern. Last summer we got very familiar with this concept in Washington DC when we had to endure terrible air quality for weeks due to Canada’s wildfires. We wore masks and stayed inside till it was safe to walk around.

In Tashkent, air quality varies from day to day. On some days, it will be within the norm, on others, it will not be good, and sometimes it will be terrible. A few months ago, we had a dust storm here in Tashkent when everything outside looked white and foggy. I thought it was fog, but turned out, it was dust. Another time, there was a large explosion at a warehouse, and the air was also not good because of that. On those types of days, it’s better to stay inside, or you risk getting a stuffy nose or worse.

For those who are sensitive to air quality issues, it’s good to check Tashkent Real-Time Air Quality Index (AQI) which is readily available on the website. I check it from time to time, especially when it looks foggy, and then decide how long I want to be outside on a given day.

That said, outside of Tashkent, air is very clear, especially in the mountains. So, if you want to go away for the weekend, you won’t have to worry about air quality.

Time

Uzbekistan time zone is GMT + 5 hours. They do not observe daylight saving time. As such, time in the country is the same throughout the year. I personally found this approach less disruptive compared to the US where we change clocks twice a year without any visible benefits.

Mail

When I first arrived in Tashkent and rented an apartment, I was surprised not to see the usual mailboxes in the building. That seemed weird.

“How does one get regular mail here?” I asked my landlord.

Well, turns out that you’d have to actually go to the post office to get your letters or packages (if you order something through Uzum market or Globbing, the process is different, see Malls and online shopping section above). Each building is mapped to a particular post-office in the neighborhood. My post office turns out actually quite far from where I live (15 min walk), but that’s the way life goes, I guess.

The good part is that the mail lady in the post office recorded my phone number together with my address. Every time a package or a letter arrives for me, she calls me and tells me to come and get it.

Sports

Our family enjoys different sports. As soon as we moved, we did a lot of investigation. We discovered that there are a lot of places where you can play sports throughout Tashkent, but they vary in quality/ease of use. Some of them didn’t work well for us, but some others turned out perfect.

For our family, the NBU stadium (“Yoshlik sport complex”) seemed a great choice. It is located centrally and has indoor and outdoor tennis courts, a large soccer field and an indoor and outdoor swimming pool. They also offer many different sports activities for kids. For many activities you can pay by card.

Outdoor pool at the NBU stadium

If you like golf, there are two great places: ST Golf Academy (driving range) and Tashkent Lakeside Golf Club which features an 18-hole golf course with a driving range. They accept major credit card and quality of service is high.

Another good option is Ecopark Tashkent where you can play ping pong, badminton, volleyball, run and ride your bike.

Ecopark Tashkent
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