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How to Adjust to Life in Tajikistan as an Expat

The Express Pay stations are found throughout the capital and are usually located near ATMs. Annie Elle


A guide to overcoming the initial administrative and cultural hurdles.

When I chat with my friends from home about my life overseas, I tend to get asked the same questions over and over: "Is it hard to make friends?" "What do you eat?" "How do you get around without speaking [insert language here]?"

I generally have stock responses ready to go in my arsenal. (“I don’t have a favourite country; each one is a unique experience.”)

One aspect of international life, though, that never comes up is the bureaucratic side of settling in. With each unique country’s laws and requirements, this stage never seems to get easier, no matter how many times I’ve done it.

In my first two months in Tajikistan, I thanked my lucky stars for some extremely helpful contacts that helped me make sense of the nitty-gritty business. Here are some notable areas to be on the lookout for:

Apartment hunting

In order to comply with the full registration process, all expats here need to have an address connected to your passport and visa. Luckily, there are plenty of formal and, more importantly, informal realtors who are ready and eager to connect homeowners with the newest foreigners in town. Usually by word of mouth, these realtors send photos via WhatsApp (or Telegram, the most popular messenging app in any Russian-influenced country) and bring interested tenants to visit them in-person.

At one point, I had at least seven realtors messaging me regularly and taking me around from high-rise to high-rise. The best part is that they take commission from the landlord so there isn’t too much investment in a visit nor headache for a dissatisfied tenant to move again.

The Facebook and Telegram groups for expats also see a fair amount of postings from owners and realtors alike. The Tajik version of Craigslist (Somon.tj) is the one-stop shop for buying and selling cars, electronics, and most relevantly, renting out apartments. Payment is always done in cash, and thankfully, prices are always negotiable, and almost expected. While most places accept monthly payments, occasionally owners will try to get two or three months prepayment at a time (which yours truly fell for once and regretted instantly).

Another fun tidbit to keep in mind is that the building’s security, elevator maintenance and trash disposal are additional costs (though usually not over 100 somoni a month, or less than $10 extra). Unlike utility bills, which are white square receipts unceremoniously shoved in your door frame, this charge is more often than not a verbal reminder from the building’s maintenance manager, making his rounds and going door-to-door, stopping for a quick tea when invited.

Passport registration

The process of obtaining the long-term visa before arriving in-country was more arduous than it needed to be, but after landing, there were additional steps. Within the first few weeks, I needed to be registered with OVIR (the Ministry of Internal Affairs), a 250 tjs process (about USD$23), which required extra passport pictures and copies of my housing contract. A few days later, my colleague took me to “pick up” the passport, and when we pulled up to a random intersection, a man I’d never seen before thrust the passport through our open window onto my lap. “Don’t worry, it’s all done now!” My colleague chuckled at my confused expression.

When my initial visa needed to be extended a little while later, I had to repeat a few steps from the first visa application process with the consulate in Washington, DC. The paperwork was fairly easy to re-submit online, then a coworker took me to Diamed Laboratory to get an HIV test, a requirement for all foreigners due to a recent uptick in cases. The results were surprisingly quick, and with English translations, via email and then we submitted them to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A week later, when the pick-up window opened at 1:30pm, I retrieved my passport and new visa sticker without any issues. Other colleagues noted several mistakes with their name spelling, birthdays and visa dates, so I consider myself an exception. For longer-term stays, MFA takes an extra step and calls landlords to verify the residency of the foreigner living at that address before issuing residency cards.

Phone registration

Like many countries in Central Asia, it isn’t uncommon to need to register your phone after a certain period of time. In Tajikistan, for people staying longer than 60 days, they need to go through a free and fairly straightforward process to register the IMEI of the phones via one of the offices for the main telecommunications companies (T-Cell, Megafon, and to a lesser degree, Babilon). At the airport, upon arrival, it’s even faster and more efficient, a process that I, unfortunately, didn’t know about beforehand.

Just my luck, in the late fall of 2023, the government added a new step, which requires payment for phones being brought in. The import tax depends on the phone; for instance, I registered an iPhone 11, so once I input my information into the site (imei.tj), the system spit out a calculation of 550 somoni (about USD$50) that I had to pay.

The payment itself was another hurdle to figure out. Once your phone receives the SMS code, it needs to be paid via Dushanbe City. While the country is still heavily a cash society, the city has used a company called Express Pay to link together several payment methods. Dushanbe City cards can be debit cards, receiving money from other bank accounts connected through an app on your phone and withdrawn from select machines, or used as bus cards swiped upon entering the bus. The app can also cover apartment electricity and water bills. Since there are a few steps to setting up a Dushanbe City account, a colleague offered to help pay the bill for me, and I gave him back the money in cash.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Annie Elle

Annie Elle is originally from Los Angeles, USA. She has been working in various aspects of education internationally since 2011 and is currently working in Dushanbe, Tajikistan as a teacher trainer for different educational institutions. Follow her on Instagram at @Chennanigans01

Website: https://www.instagram.com/Chennanigans01

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