Algeria is a fascinating country, remaining an authentic and untouched North African gem. While not a high-profile expat destination, it nonetheless enjoys close proximity to popular European tourist spots like Spain, Portugal and France.
Employment options are far ranging, with many contracted in the oil and gas industry while there are also opportunities in the finance, education and foreign aid sectors. Those with competency in the French language will have a big advantage.
Because of its colonial past, there’s also a large French influence on its primarily Arabic culture, particularly in language and architecture. But while major cities like Algiers and Oran are quite liberal on the surface, social and religious conservatism still runs deep and one should be careful not to cause offence.
Security is a significant issue in some parts of Algeria, notably in the oil-producing regions and the southern Saharan areas. Employers should issue security briefings and expat insurance should include anti-terrorism cover. Certain parts of the country are not considered safe to visit, notably the border areas in the south and with Tunisia.
This guide will provide some useful insight into life in Algeria, covering everything from education, healthcare, employment and social etiquette, to business norms, banking, tax, communication and cost of living.
The majority of foreign nationals require a visa to enter Algeria and there are essentially three main types of visa: tourist, business and work. While there are Algerian embassies in most major capitals around the world, there aren’t many consulates. So be aware that a visa application may require a trip to one’s capital or a postal/courier application.
The work visa is more complex and needs documents from the Algerian Ministry of Labour, including the work contract and a work permit. Unfortunately, the work visa application can be a lengthy process.
Most expats in Algeria choose to rent. Accommodation comes in all shapes and sizes and is furnished more often than not, with security always being an important consideration. Studios, apartments and villas are all available and generally rented on a one-year basis. Paying a year’s rent in advance is not unusual and agency fees will be charged on top of that. There are some real estate websites but without a knowledge of French and some understanding of the districts of Algiers, they would be difficult to use.
Those that work in the oilfields will be in fully secure company accommodation, generally with all utilities paid for. Those that wish to live in Algiers are more likely to have to rent on the open market, although foreigners will almost always need the support of their company or a good real estate agent.
The Algerian state school and university systems are based on the French model. It’s unlikely any expat children would join the system unless they were of Algerian heritage or at least were very proficient in French. English is only taught from middle school onwards.
There are two international schools in Algiers, the fairly new English-medium American International School (K-G6) and the French-medium Lycée International Alexandre Dumas. The latter also has a branch in Oran. Both schools are fee-paying and expensive. Expats working in the oilfields or beyond Algiers or Oran would be very unlikely to have their families with them at post for security and practical reasons.
There’s significant weather variation across the vast territories of Algeria. High temperatures bake its hot plains while flash floods and sandstorms can be dangerous and disruptive. The coastal northern regions enjoy a Mediterranean climate, with mild and wet winters balanced out by hot summers. The central part of the country has a continental feel, being both warmer and drier than the north. The huge Saharan area has a desert climate with extremely high summer temperatures that turn incredibly cold during winter nights.
Algerian culture is a fascinating mix of African and Arab characteristics with a strong French influence due to its colonial past. Algiers and Oran can be seen as broadly liberal places to live. But much of this apparent liberalism is on the surface and it’s important to remember that social and religious conservatism is the norm. Even in the urban areas the struggle between liberalism and conservative values can be quite visible.
Away from these two major cities, the way of life is indeed more conservative and expats from more liberal societies need to ensure they don’t unintentionally give offence through what they say or do. The challenge is perhaps that because of the French architecture, language and ways of doing things, Algeria can simply appear more liberal than it really is.
The main languages of Algeria are Algerian Arabic, which is a dialect of Arabic, and Berber, with many people also speaking French. English is also rapidly growing in influence, but expats wanting to fully integrate into Algerian society should make an effort to learn Arabic or French.
Algerian food can be delicious and revolves around rice, fresh fruit and vegetables, lamb and fish. Typical dishes include mechoui, a spicy lamb roasted over a fire and makroudh, a stuffed date or almond dipped in honey. Couscous also features prominently, and is often served with meat, vegetables and various spices.
Expats wanting a taste of home will find it at restaurants and steakhouses, including Italian, French and Indian cuisine, but they can be pricey and really only found in Algiers, and are still limited in number. Pork is not eaten in Algeria at all and shouldn’t be requested in restaurants or shops. Outside Algiers, restaurants tend to be local and of the fast food type, except possibly in Oran.
Drinking can be a controversial topic in Algeria as there are increasingly many anti-alcohol sentiments in the country, even though there is a small wine industry around Oran. Within Algiers and Oran, as a general rule, there’s no alcohol in cheaper establishments. Most upscale establishments do serve it but may not have it on the menu.
Outside Algiers, the situation varies from region to region and some areas are dry, so ask locally if travelling to smaller towns. There are a few shops that sell alcohol in Algiers and other towns but they tend to be discrete and hard to find. Many expats rely on duty-free shopping for their alcohol supplies.
As a Muslim nation, public holidays in Algeria are largely based on the Islamic calendar and coincide with important Muslim celebrations. The exact date of some public holidays varies each year as they are based on the sighting of the moon.
New Year’s Day – 1 January
May Day – 1 May
Eid al-Fitr – June
Eid al-Fitr – June/July
Independence Day – 5 July
Eid al-Adha – July/August
Eid al-Adha – July/August
Muharram – August/September
Day of Ashura – September/October
Anniversary of the Revolution – 1 November
The Prophet's Birthday – November/December
In the urban areas, connectivity is of reasonable quality both through mobile and landline and the internet. All three of these services are of lower quality in rural and regional areas. In remote areas, notably the Sahara region, satellite phones may be needed.
There are currently three national mobile phone operators in Algeria: Djezzy, Mobilis and Ooredoo. SIM cards are available for foreigners on a pay-as-you-go basis but the process can be lengthy. A corporate phone is more desirable.
The internet service provider is Algérie Télécom but the arrangement of a connection is complex and support is likely to be needed from one’s company in order to subscribe. A pre-existing connection in rented accommodation may be a way to speed up this process.
There’s a wide range of areas where an expat can ply their trade in Algeria. The oil and gas-producing regions provide lucrative careers in the energy sector, while there are also opportunities for primary and high school teachers, English language teachers and university lecturers.
A proficiency in French would benefit those looking to enter the country’s upscale hospitality industry, as well as for expats applying for positions at Algiers’s foreign banks and financial institutions. Lastly, diplomats and foreign aid workers can seek employment at the different UN stations and missions scattered throughout Algeria.
Algeria has a progressive income tax rate up to 35%, payable by all tax-resident foreigners and locals on money earned in Algeria and worldwide. There are double taxation agreements in place. Non-resident foreigners are taxed on Algerian income only. A resident is someone who lives in Algeria and whose main source of income is there. There may be tax liabilities in the home country as well, so expats should consult a qualified tax consultant to assist them in this matter.
Algerian business structures are hierarchical and formal and all decisions can sometimes take a long time to be made and eventually implemented.
Business revolves around personal relationships with people mattering more than numbers, so be prepared to develop and cultivate relationships.
Business is usually done in French, but above and beyond the language it’s important to understand that much communication is indirect and opaque. The need to save face and not offend can make clear answers difficult to get. The fluidity of time in Algeria can also sometimes lead to a sense of frustration. Expats should not rush, show they’re open and can be trusted and listen to people if they want to succeed in Algeria.
Appearances are important, so expats should dress formally, with business attire more Western in nature than Arabic. Women should ensure that their shoulders and legs are covered, but they’re not expected to wear traditional attire, such as the abaya.
A handshake is the usual greeting in business circles. Men tend not to shake hands with women, but some women will offer a hand. In terms of gender, women do occupy some senior roles and it is generally not difficult for foreign professional women to operate in Algeria at all.
Within Algiers, there are two ways of traveling around the city. Taxis are plentiful and fairly cheap while the metro is modern and clean but with rather limited coverage of the city. Outside of Algiers, transport within towns is by taxi only and the safest option is to use taxis arranged by one’s hotel or office as there may be some security risks.
The Société Nationale des Transports Ferroviaires, referred to as the SNTF, runs modern and efficient trains from Algiers to Oran and several other cities. Foreigners often use the trains as they’re safer and faster than car travel, in particular for journeys to the south of Algeria. If planning to drive, it’s best to arrange a local driver who is familiar with the local conditions. It’s important to note that many embassies suggest that certain parts of Algeria are off limits to their citizens for security reasons, notably the border regions.
Due to the country’s vast size and the many safety concerns, air travel is the safest method of traveling long distances. Air Algerie is the state airline and has a wide domestic network but the schedules are often subject to delays and cancellations. The other local airline is Tassili Airlines which operates some domestic routes and offers energy sector charters.
The official currency is the Algerian dinar (DZD).
Money comes in the following denominations:
Note that there are currency restrictions in Algeria on both arrival and departure and that Algerian dinars cannot be taken out of the country.
The finance structure in Algeria is based on the French system. Although there are levels of bureaucracy to contend with, at least in the major cities, it’s not difficult to manage one’s finances, with much of it now being done online. Credit and debit card use is growing but the default is still to use cash.
There are a number of banks in Algeria, including BNP and Societe Generale. The process of identification and opening of an account is fairly straightforward once expats have their residence confirmed in Algeria. But it can still take some time. Employers may have a relationship with a specific bank which can help to expedite opening an account.
Algeria is a relatively cheap place to live, especially if eating local food and avoiding upscale hotels and restaurants. Imported food is expensive, especially Western luxuries. Alcohol, where available, is also pricey. For context, Algiers is the 185th most expensive city in the world, according to the Mercer Index of 2016.
The biggest expense will of course be housing and the factor that can increase the costs is the need to be in a secure area and have suitable security around the accommodation. School fees are also a significant cost, with most expats tending to send their children to private institutions.
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