ASTANA – Kazakhstan was recently ranked 59th out of 64 countries for expat destinations this year, one place ahead of Russia and one behind Italy, according to the Expat Insider 2015 rating on InterNations, an online expat community. Ecuador, Mexico and Malta were the top three countries on the list, while Nigeria, Greece and Kuwait were the worst places, the survey found.
“To be honest, I think that is a pretty good assessment of Kazakhstan as an expat destination. The infrastructure in the country is still developing, so it is not simple or reasonable as far as price is concerned to travel around the country or to visit places of interest,” Claire McCarthy, who teaches at Nazarbayev University, told The Astana Times. “Within the main cities, there are often not a great deal of leisure opportunities or selection of shops and places to eat as in other countries. Most people only speak Russian and Kazakh, so this can make life more difficult for foreign workers, and Almaty and Astana are relativity expensive places to live.”
Mick Maguire, an expat from Scotland who spent nine years in Kazakhstan, was upset about the level of the service industry, television concerts, corruption and the mentality of Kazakh people concerning finance and medicine, though he acknowledges the opportunities the country has provided. “Don’t get me wrong; my life changed for the better when I moved here and I do appreciate everything that I have gotten from here,” he noted.
Maguire loves the weather, views of the steppes, watching a lot of Kazakh football, travelling and visiting other cities. “Atyrau has improved with more eating, drinking and entertainment choices. Astana has very modern buildings and infrastructure but there is still a big gap between the poor and the rich,” he said.
Despite the fact the country was listed at the bottom of the rating for expats, the ones who live and work in different parts of Kazakhstan find their experiences to be positive.
“I read an article on Facebook recently that suggested Almaty is considered the fifth worst main city for expats and I strongly disagree, for if you are here for a job or a relationship you can make it work. … It has more to do with personal circumstances than a clear-cut answer. The country is actually improving on a monthly basis … I will always have something to do with the place – but will miss thinking of it as home in the future,” Darren Thompson commented on the Expats in Kazakhstan Facebook page.
“I enjoyed living and working in Almaty. The view from my classroom was beautiful, as we were in the foothills of the mountains. I enjoyed the opportunities of exploring the countryside around Almaty on the weekends and taking advantage of the nightlife, including various concerts and bars and restaurants during the week,” said McCarthy.
She decided to move to Astana due to the threat of earthquakes and pollution that plague Kazakhstan’s largest city. “Astana is a much cleaner city with modern architecture and a positive atmosphere connected to it being a young, developing city,” she said.
While living in Kazakhstan for six years. McCarthy had a chance to travel to other cities like Shymkent, Kostanai and Karaganda. “I have enjoyed seeing the difference in the way of life in the north and the south and how city life differs from village life. Having lived in Russia, it has also been interesting not only to see the similarities of life there, but also the way Kazakh culture and traditions are now re-emerging in society,” she said.
The expat added she enjoys living in Kazakhstan because of the country’s diverse culture and geography.
“I like the fact that it is a peaceful country which is concentrating on finding its position as a young, independent state in the modern world,” she said.
Mandy Reid, another expat, noted she had wanted to travel and work overseas for a number of years and was finally fortunate enough to be able to do so.
“Coming from the U.K., I wanted to experience a culture that was significantly different; Kazakhstan, as part of the former Soviet Union, therefore appealed to me. I was interested to see how the country had developed since its independence and to generally learn more about life in such a sparsely-populated area of the world,” she said.
The expat wanted to live in a colder, more extreme climate and moving to Astana provided her that wish. “I was very excited when the first snow began to fall last winter and really enjoyed walking along the frozen river and seeing the winter lights that were put up around the city. I was, however, equally pleased to see the grass poking through the snow as spring finally arrived,” she noted. “One thing that I have particularly noticed as I walk around Astana is the number of families out and about. This is something that I like about Astana.”
As an expat, Reid found the language difficult. Despite trying to learn Russian, she still finds communication to be hard, “although I have found the people to be friendly and am enjoying living in Astana.”
Being a vegetarian, the expat found the food choices limited and said she misses the selection of cheese available in her home country.
Another expat, who wished to remain anonymous, described his year and a half in Kazakhstan as surprising. Having previously lived in Russia, he stated there are similarities between the two countries in terms of approach to life and accessibility of alcohol and cigarettes.
“There is something more humane and softer about people in Kazakhstan. They are much more interested in knowing who you are and what you do and they do it to make you feel comfortable. So my experience here has been probably the most welcoming experience I’ve had in any overseas country where I’ve worked in my entire life,” he said. “Borovoe is nice, Astana itself actually is a city and the way they lit the lights off gives me a thrill. Every time I pass through a bridge or a building that is lit up it makes me happy.”
He found the level of English lacking in Astana.
“It’s quite an easy country to live in, so there is not a lot I don’t do. I would like to have supermarkets that are filled with vegetables and fruits, but there is not much in here. But I like the people and the city. I have very nice accommodations, the power never goes out, the heating may go for a day or two but I can’t control that,” he said.
The expat stressed it might be challenging for some to live in certain countries listed on the survey.
“It is certainly hard to live in some African countries or Saudi Arabia, for instance, but even there people seem to enjoy themselves so it is difficult to compare. People in Kazakhstan make me feel at home more than any other country in the world,” he added.