Technically, Beirut is an expensive city. Ranking 44th on the Mercer’s list for most expensive cities in the world, Beirut comes in at number four in the Middle East. And yet, as with most things having to do with Lebanon, there’s more than meets the eye.
So what does it cost to live here and to study Arabic?
Housing cost varies a lot based on the type of housing and where it is located. To get a feel for what you can expect to pay and what neighborhood is best for you check out these posts:
Food and Toiletries
Per diem expenses will of course vary widely depending on taste and budget. You can eat very cheaply in Beirut. Look for the mana’iish stands that pop up on every corner, and try to find the less-common but no-less-tasty falafel and hummus shops ($1 to $3 per meal). Instead of buying fruits and vegetable at Spinney’s or TSC, look for produce in شعبي neighborhoods. (In other words, buy your apples from the men with carts not from the stores with parking lots.) Stay away from anything that looks trendier than your home country, and you should be okay. Here’s a rough estimate: you could make it in Lebanon on as little as $10 to $15/day for your food if you make wise, very disciplined choices. For a mid-term budget, plan on $15 to $20/day for food. And for a high-end budget, plan about $50/day. It’s important to note: I separated out “Going Out” money from your weekly “Food and Toiletries” budget.
Depending on where you live, your transportation costs will vary tremendously. If you live in Hamra and study in Hamra, you can potentially pay a few dollars a week for transportation. If you live in Beirut, but outside of Hamra, you’ll have to pay anywhere from 1,000 lira for a seat on a bus, 2,000 lira for a service and about 10,000 lira for a taxi to get into Hamra and the same amount to get back home. We highly recommend the bus and van system, as the price is fixed (1,000 lira) and it provides generally kind people with whom to practice your spoken Arabic. So remember: don’t look at transportation as an annoyance; view it as an opportunity to do what you came to Lebanon to do—learn the Arabic language.
Cell Phone and Internet
Telecom in Lebanon is famously slow and notoriously expensive. We recommend staying completely away from internet cafes if you can manage. Go instead to Cafe Younnes (in Hamra) or Starbucks (in Hamra, Sassine, and Downtown), buy yourself a $4 drink, and enjoy a faster (but not very fast) internet connection than most Internet cafe’s offer. Or you can get a larger data plan on your mobile phone and make a personal hotspot.
To get a cell phone line, you’ll need to buy a SIM card with MTC Touch or Alpha. It costs about $25 to get a Lebanese phone number and you can use your unlocked GSM cell phone from home. Currently you can pay $14 a month for 440 MB of data, 60 minutes to talk time and 440 text messages.
Going out is where you’re going to burn a hole in your wallet. A beer can cost $10; a cocktail $15 or $20. Eating out can be unnecessarily expensive, too. Sure, you can do it on a moderate budget, but you have to be careful.
Electricity in Beirut
Lebanon uses 220 and most plugs are like the European plug. Adapters and converters are available in local shops. Lebanon is dealing with a shortage in electricity and every part of the country is out without power for at least 3 hours a day. However life and business carry on as usual through local power generators. For the hours there is no electricity from the government you can get electricity from a generator either in your building or in your neighborhood through ishtirak. With 5 Amps on a generator you can use most things in your house except for your AC unit and a blow dryer etc. If you stay within central Beirut you will be on generator power 3 hours a day, if you are outside of central Beirut it is usually 4 hours of government power and then 4 hours of generator power throughout the day and into the night.
Check out this app to keep track of the schedule in your neighborhood.