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Moving to Algeria

Expats moving to Algeria will find themselves in a fascinating and untouched North African gem. While not a high-profile expat destination, it does attract those with experience in the oil and gas sectors. Others are drawn to job opportunities in the finance, education and foreign aid sectors. 

Although Algeria is an African and Arabic country, there is also a distinct French influence, thanks to its colonial past. This can especially be seen in the language and architecture. But while major cities like Algiers and Oran are quite liberal on the surface, social and religious conservatism are deeply entrenched and expats should always show respect for the local customs and traditions.

Expats will have access to public healthcare in Algeria. However, the public system is largely underfunded. It's essential that expats have comprehensive private health insurance to cover the costs of private medical care, including cover for evacuation to a nearby country with better health provision. With an education system based on the French system and classes taught in Arabic and French, expats mostly send their children to international schools, of which there are a handful to choose from in Algiers and Oran.

Security is a significant issue in some parts of Algeria, mostly in the oil-producing regions and the southern Saharan areas. Certain parts of the country are not considered safe to visit, notably, the border areas in the south and with Tunisia, and numerous governments advise their nationals against travel to these areas.


Fast facts

Population: Over 41 miillion

Capital: Algiers (also largest city)

Neighbouring countries: Algeria is bordered by Tunisia to the northeast, Libya to the east, Morocco to the west, the Western Sahara, Mauritania and Mali to the southwest, and Niger to the southeast. The north of Algeria is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea. 

Geography: Algeria is the largest country in Africa by land mass and is covered mostly by the Sahara Desert. The Atlas Mountains sit to the north, with the highest point being Mount Tahat. The country enjoys a vast coastline along the Mediterranean Sea.

Political system: Unitary semi-presidential people’s republic

Major languages: Arabic is the official language. Berber and French are also widely spoken.

Major religion: Sunni Islam

Money: The Dinar (DZD) is the official currency.

Time zone: GMT+1

Electricity: 230v 50hz. Algeria uses the European plug, type C.

International dialing code: +213

Internet domain: .dz

Emergency number: 112 from a mobile.

Transport and driving: Cars in Algeria drive on the right. Taxis are plentiful in main cities, but expats will likely need their own vehicle for getting around, especially if travelling to more remote areas.

Weather in Algeria

With such a large territory, there is a vast variation in Algeria’s climate. The northern coastal regions enjoy a Mediterranean climate, with mild and wet winters balanced out by hot summers. Winter temperatures averaging around 54°F (12°C) and average summer temperatures are around 79°F (26°C).

The central parts of the country have a continental climate, being both warmer and drier than the north. Winters temperatures in this region average around 43°F (6°C), with frost and occasional snowfall. Summers average around a pleasant 82°F (28°C).

The huge Saharan area has a desert climate with extremely high summer temperatures that turn incredibly cold during winter nights. Temperatures range from 14°F to 93°F  (–10°C to 34°C). Extreme highs of 120°F (49°C) aren't uncommon. The area also suffers from frequent and violent winds.

Algeria is frequently hit with heatwaves during the summer months. Expats should stay out of the sun and make sure they are hydrated during the day.

Working in Algeria

Rich in natural resources, Algeria is home to the fourth-largest economy in Africa. The country has enjoyed steady economic growth in recent years, bolstered mainly by its recovering oil and gas sector. The largest industries in Algeria include natural gas and oil production, mining and agriculture. 


Job market in Algeria

The oil and gas industry is one of the largest employers of expats in the country. Other opportunities can be found in the finance, education and foreign aid sectors. Tourism is also a growing industry where expats may find work.


Finding a job in Algeria

The majority of expats will secure employment before arriving in the country. Expats could make use of online search engines when looking for a job. Spontaneously sending out resumes to international companies could also help with the job search.

Expats wanting to work in Algeria will require a work visa, and this should be applied for at the Algerian Embassy in their country of residence. The employer usually takes responsibility for arranging the work permit and will need to prove that there are no Algerians capable of doing the job before they hire a foreigner.


Work culture in Algeria

Algerian business structures are hierarchical and formal. Business revolves around personal relationships. Expats need to develop and nurture relationships and trust with their new Algerian colleagues.

Being able to speak French or Arabic will be beneficial for those seeking work in Algeria. The communication style is generally indirect. The need to save face and not offend can make clear answers difficult to attain. The fluidity of time in Algeria can also sometimes lead to a sense of frustration. 

Appearances are important in the Algerian corporate world, so expats should dress formally, with business attire more Western in nature. Women should cover their shoulders and legs, but they’re not expected to wear traditional attire such as a hijab or 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. It’s best to wait for a woman to extend her hand first when greeting.

The workweek in Algeria is from Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday being the weekend. The standard working week is 40 hours in Algeria, with a generous leave allowance of around 30 days per year.

Cost of Living in Algeria

Expats can look forward to a relatively low cost of living in Algeria. In Mercer's Cost of Living Survey for 2019, Algiers ranked 184th out of 209 cities. This places Algeria as more expensive than other African cities like Johannesburg and Gabarone, but much less expensive than Western and Asian cities like New York City or Hong Kong.

The low cost of living, coupled with high expat salaries, makes living comfortably a reality for those settling in Algeria.


Cost of food and groceries in Algeria

Imported food is expensive, especially Western luxuries. Alcohol, where available, is also pricey. However, expats will find groceries to be cheaper if shopping at local markets and grocery stores, compared to international establishments.


Cost of accommodation in Algeria

The biggest expense for expats in Algeria will be housing. A factor that can add to the costs is the need to be in a safe area and have suitable security in and around one's accommodation. 


Cost of education in Algeria

International school fees are a significant cost for expats moving to Algeria with children. Those relocating as part of an international or inter-company transfer should factor education costs into their contract negotiation.


Cost of living chart for Algeria

Prices vary across the country and the list below shows average prices in Algiers, Algeria for November 2019.

Accommodation (monthly)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

DZD 32,000

One-bedroom apartment outside city centre

DZD 21,000

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

DZD 56,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside city centre

DZD 33,000

Shopping

Eggs (dozen)

DZD 144

Milk (1 litre)

DZD 93

Rice (1kg)

DZD 130

Loaf of white bread

DZD 18

Chicken breasts (1kg)

DZD 455

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

DZD 270

Eating out

Big Mac meal

DZD 475

Coca-Cola (330ml)

DZD 70

Cappuccino

DZD 105

Bottle of local beer

DZD 200

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

DZD 2,500

Utilities

Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute)

DZD 9

Internet (average per month)

DZD 3,000

Basic utilities (per month for small apartment)

DZD 3,900

Transportation

Taxi rate (per kilometre)

DZD 32

Bus/train fare in the city centre

DZD 30

Petrol/gasoline (1 litre)

DZD 37

Culture Shock in Algeria

Algerian culture is a fascinating mix of African and Arab characteristics with a strong French influence. Islam is a dominant force in this conservative nation, so expats coming from more liberal societies may take some time to adjust. Some initial culture shock in Algeria can be expected.


Language barrier in Algeria

The main languages of Algeria are Arabic and Berber. French is also widely spoken and it heavily influences the local dialect of Arabic spoken in Algeria. English is becoming more popular, but expats wanting to fully integrate into Algerian society should make an effort to learn Arabic or French.


Religion in Algeria

Islam is Algeria’s main religion and dominates virtually all aspects of life in the country. Other religions are tolerated in Algeria. However, it’s still an Islamic nation, and expats should always show respect for the local customs and laws. Discussing religious issues should be avoided. 

Algerian dress is conservative. Women, in particular, should cover their shoulders and legs at all times when out in public. Public displays of affection are considered improper in Algeria. Unmarried cohabitation is also frowned upon.


Food and drink in Algeria

Algerian food is typically Arabic, with French and African influences. It generally revolves around rice, fresh fruit and vegetables. Lamb and fish are popular proteins, with typical dishes including mechoui, a spicy lamb roasted over a fire, and makroudh, a stuffed date or almond dipped in honey. Couscous is also popular and is often served with meat, vegetables and spices. 

Expats will find some international cuisine available in Algiers, with a few Italian, French and Indian restaurants available. As an Islamic nation, pork is not eaten in Algeria and won’t be available in restaurants or shops. Likewise, alcohol is not always easily available. There are a few shops that sell alcohol in the main cities or towns but they tend to be discrete and hard to find. Most upscale establishments do serve alcohol but may not have it displayed on the menu.

Accommodation in Algeria

There is a variety of accommodation in Algeria for expats to choose from. Where an expat lives will depend on their circumstances and the type of work they do. Those living in the main cities are likely to live in apartments or villas, while expats working in the more remote oilfields will likely live within secure compounds managed by their company.


Types of accommodation in Algeria

Algerian cities offer several different types of accommodation, including studios, apartments and villas. Both furnished and unfurnished accommodation is available, with the former being more popular.

Security is always an important consideration when searching for accommodation in Algeria. Those that work in the oilfields, in particular, will likely be housed in compound accommodation that is heavily secured. 


Finding accommodation in Algeria

There are some real estate websites. However, without knowledge of French and some understanding of the local housing market and residential neighbourhoods, the best option is to engage the services of a local real estate agent. Most expats moving to Algeria can also rely on the assistance of their employer in the housing search.


Renting property in Algeria

Leases are typically signed 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. It is required to pay a deposit equal to a month's rent when signing the lease. This deposit is refunded once the lease has come to an end and the tenant hasn't damaged the premises during their occupation period.

Rental contracts are usually drawn up in Arabic. To ensure expats know exactly what’s expected from them, it’s important to have the lease translated into English.

Healthcare in Algeria

Healthcare in Algeria is not up to the standards that many expats may be used to. This is due to public healthcare provision being badly underfunded and hindered by bureaucratic obstacles. While services are adequate in the major cities, such as Algiers or Oran, healthcare provision in remote areas is poor to non-existent. 


Public healthcare in Algeria

Public healthcare is provided free to all Algerians. Due to budgeting and bureaucratic issues, the standards of public healthcare in Algeria remain poor. The majority of medical staff will speak French, with English not widely spoken.

Expats working in Algeria have access to free public healthcare via the social security system. The employer is responsible for registering their foreign staff and monthly contributions will be paid by the company as well as deducted from the employee’s salary.


Private healthcare in Algeria

Private healthcare provision is steadily growing in Algeria and standards are generally higher than within the public domain. Due to local staff shortages, private clinics are often staffed by foreign medical professionals. Expats are more likely to encounter doctors who can speak English here.


Private health insurance in Algeria

There is no existing private health insurance scheme within Algeria. Expats should arrange comprehensive health insurance before their arrival in the country, especially if working in remote areas. This should include local emergency care and possible repatriation to a country with better health facilities.


Pharmacies in Algeria

Pharmacies are widely available in Algerian towns and cities. They're a well-trusted source of medical advice. They're open daily during the week. On weekends and evenings, they open in shifts.

It may be difficult to get prescription drugs of good quality in Algeria, especially beyond Algiers. So new arrivals should try to bring medication for chronic medical conditions in large quantities. Expats should bring copies of prescriptions in case of immigration or customs queries over the importation of medication, and should also consider bringing French translations of medical documents.


Health risks in Algeria

Heatstroke and dehydration are major health risks for expats due to the extreme heat in parts of the country. It’s important to stay well-hydrated at all times. Bottled water is recommended as the tap water in Algeria isn't drinkable. Sand and dust storms are also a health risk for those with preexisting respiratory conditions.


Emergency services in Algeria

In case of an emergency, expats can dial 112 from a mobile phone. However, operators may only speak French. Emergency response times may be slow, especially in remote regions. Expats should also have their embassy’s emergency number saved.

Education and Schools in Algeria

Expats will have to think carefully about their children's education options in Algeria. It is unlikely expats will send their children to a local Algerian school unless they're of Algerian or Arabic heritage or at least proficient in Arabic or French. English is only taught from middle school onwards.

Expats living in Algeria’s main cities have a handful of international schools to choose from. For security and practical reasons, expats working in the oilfields or beyond Algiers or Oran are unlikely to have their families with them.


Public schools in Algeria

The Algerian government has been committed to improving the public education system. The Algerian education system is based on the French model. There are nine years of primary and three years of secondary education. Schooling is compulsory for children between the ages of six and 15 in Algeria. However, enrollment can be low after primary school.

The language of instruction in public schools is Arabic with French as the first additional language. Schools also may not function on the level that most expats would expect. For these reasons, it’s rare for expat children to attend public school in Algeria.


International schools in Algeria

There are a few international schools in Algeria. The majority of these schools can be found in the capital, Algiers. There are schools following the American or British curricula with English speaking programs. Others follow the French or Arabic education systems. If possible, expats will probably want to choose a school that follows their home country's curriculum to ease their children’s transition into life in Algeria. There are also a number of private schools in Algeria that offer the International Baccalaureate programme.

As is the case globally, international schools in Algeria are expensive and places may be limited. However, the standard of education tends to be good. Expats should plan well ahead, and if moving as part of an international relocation, should negotiate school fees as part of their contract.

Banking, Money and Taxes in Algeria

Algeria has a stable banking system that is largely based on the French model. Although they may have some initial bureaucracy to contend with, expats should find it relatively easy to manage their finances in Algeria.


Money in Algeria

The official currency is the Algerian dinar (DZD).  

Money is available in the following denominations:

  • Notes: 100 DZD, 200 DZD, 500 DZD, 1,000 and 2,000 DZD

  • Coins: 5 DZD, 10 DZD, 20 DZD, 50 DZD, 100 DZD and 200 DZD

Note that there are currency restrictions in Algeria on both arrival and departure. Algerian dinars can't be taken out of the country.


Banking in Algeria

Expats will find banking in Algeria to be quite easy. Banks offer comprehensive services, including online banking. Expats have a range of both local and international banks to choose from, including BNP Paribas, Societe Generale, HSBC and CitiBank.

Credit and debit card use is growing. However, Algeria is still largely a cash-based society.

Opening a bank account

It’s relatively straightforward for expats to open a bank account in Algeria. They will need to show proof of address and proof of residence status to open an account. In some cases, an expat’s employer may have a relationship with a specific bank which can help to expedite the process of opening an account.


Income tax in Algeria

Algeria has a progressive income tax rate up to 35 percent. This is payable by all tax-resident foreigners and locals on money earned in Algeria and worldwide. A tax resident is someone who lives in Algeria and whose main source of income is there. There may be tax liabilities in an expat’s home country as well, so expats should consult a qualified tax consultant to assist them with all tax matters.