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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.
About a year and a half ago we posted about the slow internet in Lebanon. Since then the average download speed has gone up from 2.66 mbps to 3.9 mbps. That’s some progress! You can learn more about the speed of the Internet in Lebanon here and test out your connection to see if it is slower or faster than the country’s average. You’ll notice that the average is up because there are now better options for mobile connectivity – the average download speed on mobile is much more than the country’s average at 7.3 mbps.
These results confirm our own experiences in Lebanese after spending hours upon hours trying just about every option for good Internet in Lebanon. Here are the result of our ta3b….
What are your Internet options for in your apartment?
This depends on how long you will be in Lebanon and how much you want to pay….
ishtirak-Each neighborhood has someone who will install shared internet in your apartment. Just ask a neighbor or a local store owner for the person in your area, contact him and he will run a wire from the rooftops to your apartment. This is a small, local operation that is cost effective, but slower since one connection (and one IP) is shared among neighbors. This is a good option if you have a limited budget, don’t need to Skype or stream content, and you won’t be in the country long. It’s also good if you need to download a lot, but you don’t care if it takes all night. You can get it started and be done in a day.
3G/4G– Forget about getting a connection for your apartment and just use 3G/4G on your phone while you are here. With this option you can download or stream videos and Skype with no real problems, however using video and downloading can get costly. You can get 5 GB for $29 a month on your phone and share your connection with your laptop if you need. It’s nice to know you will have a reliable connection wherever you are even in coffee shops that can have slow connections. But, beware if you go over your allotted GBs for the month you will have to pay $.07 a MB and it can easily get costly.
If your phone and the type of SIM card you purchase can use 4G, then you will have access to 4G speeds at the same price. Check out Alfa’s 4G prices. If you want, you can go to the Alfa Headquarters you can purchase a router that will allow you to create a WiFi network in your house using a 4G data SIM card. Make sure you ask for the router – not the dongle. Or you can just make a Personal Hotspot from your phone. This option is quick and easy to get started, but is the most expensive. Beware if you use up all of your GBs for the month you can’t add any more and you will have to pay about $.05 per MB until the month renews.
DSL – If you are planning on being in Lebanon for a year or more you could get DSL in your home. This is the cheapest option, but involves the most paperwork. It will take 3-6 months to set up and a significant amount of bureaucracy hassle, especially if there isn’t already a phone line in your home. You can easily stream videos with DSL. However, you should know that in certain areas outside of Beirut the wires are bad and the connection can be slower and randomly drop. This can cut downloads and make Skype calls drop. Sodetel is one DSL provider in Lebanon.
No matter what option you choose make sure to bring your passport with you to get started.
ALPS Beirut is pleased to announce our pilot YouTube episode – Rania & Rima Teach Lebanese Arabic. We hope this will be a fun and easy way for former students to keep learning Arabic wherever they are and for those interested in studying Lebanese Arabic to get started.
This is just the pilot and we have so many ideas for new, helpful episodes, but first we need your opinion. Watch the pilot and if you want to see more, please take a moment to like or share it.
Navigation – getting around Beirut in Arabic
3mol ma3ruuf // Excuse me
kiif fiiny ruu7 3a down town // How can I get to Downtown?
binzal hown law sama7it // I’ll get out (of the service/taxi) here please
w tfaDDal, howl alfeyn 1ira // and here you go, this is 2,000 lira
When you meet someone
mar7aba // Hello!
shu ismak? // What’s your name? (to a man)
shu ismik? // What’s your name? (to a woman)
inta min weyn? // Where are you from? (to a man)
inti min weyn? // Where are you from? (to a woman)
How to order at a restaurant
baddy oTlob Sandwish djeij // I would like to order a chicken sandwich
w baddy anniinet may zghiireh w kbiireh // and I want a small bottle of water and a large one
w baddy le-7seib law sama7it // and I want the check please
How to say “Good bye” in Lebanese Arabic
yalla bye // I got to go. Bye.
fiiky t2uuly allah ma3ik // You would also say “God with you.”
allah ma3ik // Bye/God with you (to a woman)
Thanks to everyone who joined us last month for our free conversation time! We enjoyed meeting you and sharing coffee and Arabic together. We are excited to announce that we will continue this in May.
If you have joined us before or are new, ahlan wa sahlan!
Are you looking for an opportunity to speak Lebanese? Stop by ALPS Beirut for a cup of coffee and conversation with our Arabic teachers and other students. Make sure to bring any questions you have about the language, culture and what to do and see in Lebanon.
Every Tuesday from 9:30 AM to 11:30 (starting March 18)
Frequently Asked Questions:
Do you have to be a student at ALPS Beirut?
What if I don’t know how to Speak Lebanese?
This time is for people who are already conversational in Arabic. If you are just beginning, check out our classes for beginners and then join us later on.
Is it really free?
Yes completely free!
How do I get to ALPS Beirut?
ALPS Beirut is in Hamra near the American University Hospital. Here are the directions: https://alpsbeirut.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/how-do-i-get-to-alps/
Come and see the latest play by George Khabbaz at the Chateau Trianon Theater in Jal El Dib.
- Every Thursday to Sunday from 8:30 pm until 11:30 pm, Feb 14 2014 to May 04 2014
- Every Sunday from 04:30 pm until 06:30 pm, Feb 14 2014 to May 04 2014
For ticket pricing and reservations click here.
Here’s Nivine’s review of the play:
Ri7t shifit “Natrino” bi masra7 chateau – trianon, la Georges Khabbaz. L masra7iyyeh bit3a22id, bitda77ik w bitbakky bi nafs el wa2t. W fiya 2aghaany isti3raadiyyeh bitjannin.
The answer is…it depends.
Yes if you are a lady
There is a consensus among our female students that it is more comfortable to live in Beirut and study Arabic compared to countries like Egypt or Jordan. In general, the men will take less notice of you here and there is such a variety of styles in Beirut that you won’t have to change your wardrobe to fit in. Since Beirutis are used to interacting with the West, foreigners are less of an attraction here.
Yes if you like variety
Lebanon is the most colorful country in the Middle East with a spectrum of religious confessions, styles and opinions and this means getting to know people here will usually have a few surprises. In Lebanon, when you meet someone new you have no idea about his or her religious beliefs, opinions, family life or values. In addition to the diversity of the Lebanese, Beirut also has Palestinians, Syrians, Kurds living and working in the city and welcomes Gulf visitors for the summer.
Yes if you are coming to the Middle East for the first time
When you are in a new country, especially a country that is much different from your own, there are a lot of things to get used to. It takes more energy learning a new language and living in a new culture and because of that your brain can never be in auto pilot. The stress that comes from this varies significantly from student to student. Since Beirut has always been a middle ground between the East and the West when you need to take a break and find people and places that feel a little closer to home you can.
No if you only want to hear Arabic 24/7
Like we mentioned, Beirutis are comfortable with foreigners and they are even more comfortable with foreign languages. In general, Lebanese speak English and French more frequently and better than other parts of the Middle East. This means that if you are in certain neighborhoods or restaurants, people will most likely begin talking to you in English first. There are a lot of people here who would like to speak Arabic with you and it just takes a little motivation and intentionality to find them.
In this audio post we asked two of our teachers, Nadia and Nevine, where they like to eat near ALPS in Hamra.
Nadia recommends the fatayer sbeinigh and fajita at Barbar
Check out the menu here: http://www.3albeit.com/Menus/Barbar.htm
Nevine likes the man2uusheh at Zaatar w Zeit
Here’s the menu: http://www.zaatarwzeit.net/#menu
Barbar and Zaatar w Zeit are some of the most well know chain restaurants in Lebanon each with multiple branches.Check out this google map for walking directions from ALPS to Bar Bar and how to get to Zaatar w Zeit in Hamra. They are a great option for a quick bite before or after class and offer take away, delivery and sit down dining.
What about you?
Do you have a favorite cheap place to eat in Beirut? Please share it with us below: