The foreigners’ guide to moving to Beirut, part 1

I’m amazed that even though I’ve been away for over two months now, I still receive emails from people seeking advice about moving to Beirut. (I especially love the emails from concerned parents and grandparents!) I’m truly flattered that people trust my judgement so much..and while I always try to answer their questions to the best of my knowledge, I know that I’m most probably overlooking a few things. Which is why I decided to write this post and open it up to everyone willing to contribute in the hopes of making foreigners’ lives in Beirut a liiiiitle bit easier. (Come on now, we know they need all help they can get!)

So, let’s get started, shall we?

What to pack

The first time I came to the party capital of the Middle East, I came with one mission, and one mission only: to party. And party I did. The nightlife reminded me so much of South Beach..the gorgeous people, the fashion, the sexiness..admittedly my first trip to Beirut was very one-sided and was a poor measure of what it was like to live there. But that’s obvious right? Vacationing somewhere is always different from living there. This couldn’t be MORE true in the case of Lebanon. Anyway, I digress.

Palais, Beirut

My first night at Palais (It was Crystal back then..)

Palais, Beirut

This is Beiruuuuuuut!

The second time I headed to Beirut, I packed for what was supposed to be a month long trip. Little did I know that one month would turn into a year and a half! But, let’s just say I packed mainly based on what my experience in Beirut was like the first time around..and hey, I’m from Miami,,so can you blame me? My suitcase was stuffed to the brim with wayyy too many going out outfits, high heels, and things that were very impractical (unless you are going to a bar/nightclub) by American standards. Now, as a woman, I must warn you that Lebanese women have a tendency to err on the side of fabulous – every day, all day. And while I like to play dress up, I like to reserve certain items of clothing for night time only. I can’t say the same for some Lebanese ladies out there!

At first, I felt like I could do what the Lebanese do. But when I moved to Hamra (for those of you who don’t know, think University neighborhood, lots of walking, uneven/slippery pavement, and taxis, etc etc) I quickly traded in my high heels for flats (and oftentimes sneakers..GASP! ), ..and my super fitted clothing for something a bit more free-flowing and comfortable. Hey, if you feel like you have what it takes to play Lebanese dress-up, more power to you..but if you’re anything like me..here is what I recommend you pack:

  • Lots of comfortable , breathable clothes for the summer - Comfortable does NOT mean sloppy. The Lebanese are very image conscious people. Fashion, style, and beauty are woven into the very fabric of their society. Also, there are certain parts of the city where wearing “more” clothes is advised. (At least that’s how I felt at times. Bring a bit of everything, and always make sure to have a cardigan close by..as you get to know the neighborhood you’re living in, you will be able to gauge what’s appropriate and what’s not.) You should probably keep the daisy dukes and the micro mini skirts at home. From what I saw, jeans were the order of the day, even in summer. Keep this in mind when you’re packing. Oh and please,, leave the birkenstocks and jansport backpacks at HOME!
  • Coats, jackets, sweaters, leggings, scarves, rainboots, and fashion boots for winter – It actually gets quite cold in Beirut! And really really really wet! Coming from Miami, I didn’t even pack a sweatshirt..so, needless to say, I ended up having to buy everything when I was there. Not fun..especially when you’re working on a Lebanese salary! So, bring winter clothes!! Ladies, Lebanese women LOVE LOVE LOVE their winter boots. If there is one thing I would recommend buying in Lebanon, it would be a pair of boots..they’re really stylish and uber chic. Fashion boutiques are everywhere in the city, you won’t be hardpressed to find one.
Rainboots Lebanon

pack some rainboots!

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  • Going out/partying attire – Ok,this really varies. You have every type of nightlife you could ever imagine in Beirut. Check out Beirut Nightlife for a full listing of all of the places to hit up in the city. If you’re going to a rooftop or club, you should know that bouncers are very discriminating. You have to look hot..South Beach hot..but always with class! Ladies, you know what that means..Fellas, button downs and dress shoes. always. If you’re more into the casual bar scene, you have plenty to choose from as well. If you’re going to Gemmayze, I’d say dress casual chic. In Hamra, anything goes. Hell, I’ve even gone to a bar straight from the gym. Fierce. I know. If you’re invited to a house party (or as some ppl call them, open house), or other semi-formal function I’d say (as a lady) to always wear heels. Some ppl might argue with me on this one,, but this is my experience!
Flats vs. heels

I'd say to choose the heels! It's Beirut after all!

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  • Multiple pairs of walking shoes, they will wear out with in 1-2 months - Unless you’re PAID and can afford to be chauffeured everywhere, you will be doing a whole hell of a lot of walking in Beirut. Stylish flats, fashion sneakers, workout sneakers are the way to go for everyday wear..In my opinion the shoe selection in Lebanon is pretty poor unless you can afford to buy from some of the local designers. The same goes for clothes  actually! Yes you have H&M, Vero Moda, Zara, and the like..but the price vs. quality ratio just doesn’t compute. I found that the clothes I bought in Lebanon washed, faded, or were completely destroyed after only a few washes. This probably has more to do with the quality of the water, and the fact that my washing machine was like 100 years old..but STILL! And at $30 or so dollars a shirt, you can see how this habit gets expensive. If money is not an object and you shop D&G, Versace, and Prada, disregard this last statement! You will find everything you could ever desire at Beirut Souks and/or Aishti)
Hamra Main Street

Hamra main street. I must've walked up and down this street at least a million times.

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  • Bathing suits, beachwear, sunglasses, sandals (Obviously! You’re on the Mediterranean bizznitches!) ladies, some wedge heels and nice summer dresses and rompers (altho i personally hate them) always work wonders too.. :) If you’re the poolside party type..it’s best to pack as if you were moving to Miami Beach..fabulous swimwear, coverups, and shades.) Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a free public beach in Beirut. If you want to get some sun, be prepared to spend around $25 just for entry for some version of the below (see pic). If you are really craving the beach, you will have to drive about 25-30 minutes outside of Beirut where you will find more “casual” (I guess that’s the right word) beaches..which you will stay have to pay to enter. (suxxx I know..having to pay for something that should be free.)
Riviera-Beach-Lounge-

Riviera Beach Lounge in Beirut

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  • Active wear – There is much more to Lebanon than drinking and partying..so make sure to pack some active wear as well!! There is a plethora of historical, cultural, and natural sights that you will have to visit during your time in Lebanon! Don’t go back home until you’ve seen the ancient ruins of Baalbeck, Anjaar, and Tyre as well as the Beiteddine palace, and Byblos – rumored to be the oldest inhabited city in the world (and my favorite!). You should also take a visit to Tripoli and go see the Cedars! And lastly, there are also a lot of groups that go hiking, like Vamos Todos. soo..pack accordingly!
  • Medication  – this is a tricky one. I’ve heard some horror stories about pharmacies and pharmacists giving out wrong prescriptions in Beirut, and I’ve had some pretty uncomfortable experiences myself.  For those of you used to CVS, Walgreens and the like..you’re in for a rude awakening. You will need to get accustomed to asking the pharmacist for everything. A lot of the things that you can pick up off the shelf in the States, are actually behind the counter in Leb. And while I don’t want to be responsible for turning you off pharmacies altogether, I would suggest you try and get as many refills as possible prior to your move. orrrrrr at least until you find a doctor and pharmacy you can trust. Ladies/Gents..you should know that birth control is available without a prescription for around $15. Be safe my friends!
  • Electronics – Apart from big ticket items (like laptops/ipods/ipads/digital cameras which I assume will be brought with you from home), I recommend buying everything electronic in Beirut. When charging your electronics, make sure to keep in mind that Lebanon runs on 220 voltage. I learned that the hard way when my blowdryer nearly burst into flames and my laptop screen began flickering!! For more information on voltage and plugs in Lebanon check out this site. Make sure to travel with a universal adapter just to be on the safe side. Also, keep in mind that unless you live in a building with a generator, power comes and goes every day, and sometimes, multiple times a day. As a measure of safety, I always unplugged all of my electronics before I left home. Also, if you lose your ipod or Mac charger, they are very easy to find in Beirut.
Dryer catching on fire..

you don't want to be drying your hair with this..trust me!

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  • Cellphones – Obviously, if you’re phone isn’t unlocked, you won’t be able to use it in Lebanon. Now, there are people who can unlock it for you, but I can’t guarantee that they know what they’re doing or that you’re phone will ever be the same. I came to Lebanon with an iPhone, but ended up buying a Blackberry since everyone and their mother is on bb. You can buy an unlocked Blackberry in Lebanon for around $100 if my memory serves me correctly..to me that’s the best bet. Also, for those of you who are used to fixed/postpaid lines, you will have to get accustom to buying prepaid phone cards in increments of $9 $12 or $21 from one of the two telecommunication providers in Lebanon, MTC or Alfa. (Getting a fixed line in Leb as a foreigner is very difficult, near to impossible from what I was told.) Cell phone stores are everywhere in Beirut..like every 5 steps everywhere. You can also buy phone cards from most supermarkets and corner stores..just ask the check out clerk for them. Telecommunication rates in Lebanon are among some of the highest in the world. You will be doing a lot more texting (or bbming) than talking while you’re in Beirut. #fact Ohhh, and how could I forget? You can also buy your phone number if you feel so inclined, like if you’re one of those guys who thinks having 69 in your phone number makes you sexy.. The numbers for sale will look something like this:
Cellphones Beirut

numbers for sale..

  • Toiletries/Makeup/Hair products/Household items - you can get everything you need in Beirut.

I think that just about sums it up! I know that many of these things may seem a bit obvious, but judging from some of the emails I’ve received..you’d be surprised! If I’ve overlooked something or described something inaccurately, help a sista out! Leave it in the comments below..and look out for part 2 of the foreigners’ guide to moving to Beirut!

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25 Comments

Filed under life in Lebanon

25 responses to “The foreigners’ guide to moving to Beirut, part 1

  1. Dare I say.. welcome back ? :D
    Missed you !

    • I’m glad to be back! Thanks! Missed you too!

      • Debbie

        hello..my email is freerdebra@gmail.com. please email me and let me know whats your opinion on meeting a guy from beurit? is it wise? he lives in the usa now but goes home once a year. been here for 12 yrs. never seen him yet but i talk with him and suppose to meet him. not sure..i am not prejudice but i need to know would he be like a muslim ..pakistan person? or just a french person. his moms french and his dad was beirut but hes passes away. i need help in anything u can tell me. do they believe in God? thank you and by the way my names Debbie

  2. I missed your articles! I enjoyed reading this post so so much! I just wish you got the chance to visit other areas besides Beirut like Jounieh. In terms of clothing and prices it’s a lot different and less expensive than Hamra!

    Also don’t forget to remind people that all electric sockets in the wall here are 2 prongs not 3.

    If buildings don’t have a generator then you could get electricity by subscribing with a provider in your local area (applies to all cities and towns outside Beirut). You can also subscribe for alternative TV channels from a local area provider.

    I’d suggest you add these points to Part 2. It would be cool to explain how bills are paid, how taxis/service/buses are taken etc.

    Take care!

    • Thanks for these great suggestions Sareen! Will definitely mention the taxis, and paying bills in part 2 of this post. About the clothes in Jounieh, I know that was always an option for me..but I guess I could never justify taking a drive all the way to Jounieh to shop.. you know? But it’s always an option! :D

  3. Great post Dani!!
    1 thing to add is the concept of a missed call :P since we don’t pay when receiving a phone call …

    The whole driving experience along with “if the sign says WALK, look both ways before crossing a street”.

    and my number ends with 666, does that make me the devil? :P

  4. Thanks Dani :)
    Make sure to let us all know when you come back for a visit!

    p.s. I got a postpaid line on my 2nd day here; I went directly to the main MTC Touch building; they just needed my address and a $100 deposit (in addition to the cost of buying the line). I can set up domiciliation later. So maybe things have changed? I also have a pre-paid line–with the new MoT rates, you can get a START plan from MTC for $16 which includes $9 worth of credit, so you basically get a SIM card for $7–not too bad compared to other places I’ve been!

    Also, you may be happy to know that in addition to the new internet prices and improved speeds (which Sodetel confirmed to me that they are testing right now), your “beloved” (wink-wink) Mobi will also be rolling out new price schedules by mid-October.

    Lebanon’s internet situation is about to jump from 1995 to 2005! :)

    • Todd that’s awesome! Thanks for correcting me! Really appreciate it..big things are happening it seems and I’m glad you’re there to experience a better (faster) Lebanon! Hope all is well! Keep in touch, and keep making music!

  5. Lee

    Party destination for a good reason… can dance on the tune of hornes 24/7/365… DJ Taxi in da house lol !!

  6. To be honest, i was kinda disappointed by your post!! I felt a pinch of shallowness in your words… but hey, that is just me.

  7. Get Real

    The absolute best advice you can give to someone who is thinking of moving to Lebanon, especially if you care about that person, is “DON’T DO IT” and I’m not kidding. Lebanon is only good for some sightseeing and partying but as for living forget about it, especially if you are coming from a civilized country and society…why downgrade?

    @Sareen: Even though some can afford to ‘subscribe’ or pay 2 bills for electricity, it still goes out. This new electricity bill may one day materialize once politicians realize that the people suffering are more important than their bickering….when do you think that will happen?
    Alternative TV channels are great…when they work.
    Also, clothes in Jouneih are cheaper than Hamra but only cuz the styles match the price.

  8. Frenchy

    Ok Few years ago, I was like going partying 3 times during the week and resting the weekend. But lebanon is not only about parties. You should discover lebanon. Beach party? Hmmm how about discovering the wild real life of such natural places like in sour? Just the sound of the waves. High heels? How about the simplicity of the every day life in some villages kn north lebanon. Trust me, you would completely change of mind and love duscovering these life far away – not of the sophistication oc beirut- but far away of the excess that Beirut lead many of us

    • You know what, you’re absolutely right! I completely ignored the other parts of the country..I think I was focused too much on Beirut! I think that was mainly because I didn’t go out of the city all that much while I was there, unfortunately! I did go to Sour to see the ruins, and went hiking in Tripoli, which was amazing. I also did Baalbeck and Anjaar..I will amend the post to include active wear for these trips! Thanks for the suggestion Frenchy!

  9. Youssef Chaker

    Having upped and moved my entire life about 8 times in the past 7 years, I thought I’d have an expert view of ‘What to Pack’ but trust me, there is not a silver bullet or a set checklist that guarantees you’ll pack every thing you need. The last time I moved I packed 7 pairs of underwear, 7 t-shirts, a couple of button up shirts, a pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, regular shoes, running shoes and a bathing suite. Over thinking it is unnecessary, the rule is: you will always forget something, don’t sweat it.

    Dani, thanks for taking the time and effort to post this… but you forgot one important thing: most flights, even cross atlantic ones, limit each person to ONE bag. Yes, O.N.E. bag!! Now if you’re my size, that’s 1 pair of jeans and 1 pair of Timbs worth of space, If you’re Dani’s size you might be able to fit a few more items. Soooooo, yes it’s worth thinking about all the things mentioned in this post, but prioritize for a few items and then pack a WHOLE LOT OF CASH $$$$$$$

    (Dani, we need to encourage people to spend money in Lebanon and boost the economy, and btw you westerners got money, right? ssshhhh… don’t tell anyone i said that!)

    ohhhh…. and Abir, so2al: what about ‘what to pack’ gives the impression of a deep subject to then be disappointed by the post and the shallowness of the words? (sorry Dani, let’s be honest, this is not deep sh*t right here)

  10. No wonder I didn’t feel comfortable in this world class city! So next time in Beirut I’ll bring some hells promise!

  11. annie

    Welcome backkk,I loved ur post about what foreigners should expect in Beirut,wooow u should be a column writer ,your posts are well researched and well prepared, and about the shopping ,Borj Hamoud has evolved a lot since the touristic boom and tourists will definitely find cool things there ,it has everything from cheap and cool if you know the right places .well Jounieh Sareen is not that different because all those chains Zara,Bershka,Stradivarius are present elsewhere like Verdun, Habtoor, Beirut Souks ,looking forward for the next episode of What foreigners should expect in Beirut

  12. I MISS YOU SO MUCH!
    Seriously! Reading this post reminded me of so much! Especially your neo-socialist-influenced take on so many things and our arguments about it! haha
    You left a big fat empty space in here but I’m glad you’re happy!

  13. Girl this is an awesome post and should be featured in like Tourist guidebooks!! I’m also an expat living and experiencing Lebanon for the first time, so i really enjoy reading your blog!! Sad to know your off to trinidad now! But hey i’d love me some soca music and carnivals! so enjoy the new adventure and will be following you for sure!!!!!!!!!!

    • haha thank you for that! Part two should be coming out within a couple days! I may be in Trini, but my heart is still in Beirut. That is for shit sure! Hope you’re enjoying Beirut like i did..will be checking out your blog soon! XXX

  14. Pingback: The foreigners’ guide to moving to Beirut, part 2 | This is Beirut

  15. Pingback: The foreigners’ guide to moving to Beirut, part 3 | This is Beirut

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