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You don’t need to bring too much cash with you when you come to Lebanon. If you have an ATM card that works internationally you can get cash here when you arrive. Bigger stores accept credit and debit cards, but for many transactions it’s easier to use cash – including paying your rent.
There are ATMs in every neighborhood and you are able to withdraw either US Dollars or Lebanese Lira at most ATMs. You can shop or eat at a restaurant with either currency and you will get your change back in US Dollars, Lira, or both.
Note: One US Dollar is fixed at 1,500 Lira.
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 $20. Eating out can be unnecessarily expensive, too. Sure, you can do it on a moderate budget, but you have to be careful.
Electricity in Beirut
Lebanon uses 220 and most plugs are like the European plug. Adapters and converters are available in local shops. Lebanon is dealing with a shortage in electricity and every part of the country is out without power for at least 3 hours a day. However life and business carry on as usual through local power generators. For the hours there is no electricity from the government you can get electricity from a generator either in your building or in your neighborhood through ishtirak. With 5 Amps on a generator you can use most things in your house except for your AC unit and a blow dryer etc. If you stay within central Beirut you will be on generator power 3 hours a day, if you are outside of central Beirut it is usually 4 hours of government power and then 4 hours of generator power throughout the day and into the night.
Check out this app to keep track of the schedule in your neighborhood.
Getting around Beirut, or Lebanon, by bus is pretty easy and cheap. Busses in Beirut usually cost 1,000 LL ($ 0.66 US). There are just a few things you need to know. Busses have a fixed route – check out the map for details. However, there are no bus stops. You can get on and off whenever and wherever you want.
Here are the three steps to a successful bus trip
1. Stop the bus
Raise your hand just a bit and it will pull over
2. Confirm this is the right bus
by saying “Does this bus go to ___________? in Arabic, for example,
Does this go to Hamra?
btuSal 3a l7amra?
بتوصل عَ الحمرا؟
Does this go to Achrafieh
btuSal 3a lashrafiyyeh?
بتوصل عَ الأشرفية؟
3. Stop the bus when you arrive
Say “Please stop, I’ll get out here”
3mol ma3ruuf baddy inzal hown or just 3mol ma3ruuf will get the bus stopped.
عمول معروف بدي إنزل هون أو بس عمول معروف
Check out the bus map to see what areas are covered. Busses are usually a bit ta3ban and crowded, but are a very easy transportation option with no negotiating needed.
Bus 2 takes you from near Bar Bar in Hamra (5 min walk from ALPS) through Mar Elias, Sodeco, Sassine and Dora
Img Cred: http://www.bus-planet.com/bus/bus-asia/Lebanon/files/midibuses/Frame-01.html
Bus 4 goes right by the ALPS building in Hamra and will go within walking distance of downtown and Gemmayzeh, Sodeco, Tayoune, Beirut Mall and Dahiyyeh.
Img Cred: http://www.bus-planet.com/bus/bus-asia/Lebanon/files/midibuses/Frame-01.html
Note: this post is by Andrew and is based off of his experience with airbnb. ALPS Beirut cannot endorse or guarantee airbnb listings.
Have you tried airbnb yet? This can be a great option if you are looking for short term lodging and are staying in Beirut for a month or less. There are also some renters who will give you a discount if you are staying longer. It can be a little intimidating to use airbnb the first time, but here are a few tips I have learned when using airbnb in different countries.
1. Decide if you want to share an apartment or have your own place
If you are looking to practice your Arabic by staying with someone Lebanese, sharing an apartment can be a good option. Make sure to look closely to see if you will be staying with other foreigners or with someone Lebanese.
Here I am looking for a private room in Beirut:
If you want more time and space to yourself you can easily search and rent an entire apartment in Beirut.
If you have any questions about neighborhoods or how long it would take to get to ALPS Beirut please email us. ALPS Beirut is a private Arabic Language Center located in Hamra near the American University of Beirut.
2. Look at the number of reviews
I personally never stay at a place with less than 5 reviews. If an option has only a few reviews it means they are either just getting started or for some reason no one is staying there. Either way, I don’t want to take the risk and that’s why I only book with people who have proven experience.
Which place would you rather stay at?
3. Read the comments carefully
Because airbnb is a personal experience most people are hesitant to give anyone lower than a 4 star review. In fact, about 95% of places listed on the site have 4.5 or 5 star raitings. It is true that airbnb does provide a consistently good experience, but I don’t think the star rating is the best signal that this is a good apartment for you. Instead, take a look at the comments.
Comments should be specific, long, and give details about a great experience. This means the host and the place are remarkable and you will have a better chance of getting what you expect. A lot of short and general comments can mean that the experience was less than expected and the reviewer is just being polite.
Safety: Lastly, it’s easy to use the airbnb app to chat with someone before you book a place to make sure you get a good vibe from them. No matter where you are staying, it’s aways smart to bring your mobile phone and get a data plan in Lebanon as soon as possible in case there are any emergencies.
If you want to book a place with airbnb make sure to go to the site from this link to get $25 off.
Want to become a host?
airbnb is still pretty new to the Middle East and hopefully each month there will be more listings. If you are Lebanese, and are interested in hosting with airbnb, use these tips, make sure to provide an accurate listing, and then do a little extra something to increase your chances of getting good feedback so that your listing can stand out.
How slow is the Internet in Lebanon?
Despite the recent improvements, be advised that the Internet speed is still slower than most of the world. All over the city there are coffee shops and restaurants where you can enjoy free internet when you purchase a coffee. This is usually good enough for checking your e-mail but too slow for most other tasks.
What are your internet options for in your apartment?
- 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. This is a small, local operation that is cost effective, but slower since one connection (and IP) is shared among your neighbors. You can get it started easily and be done in a day.
- 3G/4G – Just use 3G or 4G on your phone while you are here and as long as you don’t download or watch videos this can be a reasonably priced option. 3.9 G is Lebanese for “Sounds faster than 3G, but is actually slower than 3G.” Check out MTC Touch’s 3.9G pricing. 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 also get a dongle to connect to your laptop or just make a Personal Hotspot. This option is quick and easy to get started, but is the most expensive.
- DSL-If you are planning on being in Lebanon for years, you could get DSL in your home. This will take 3-6 months to set up, especially if there isn’t already a phone line in your home. This is the fastest and cheapest option, but involves the most paperwork and you need to keep a local phone line as well. You can easily stream videos with DSL, but neighborhoods outside of Beirut can drop downloads due to poor wiring. Sodetel is one DSL provider in Lebanon.
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:
Even if you are just visiting Lebanon for a week, make sure you go on the Walk Beirut tour. Our students love this experience and always come back with rave reviews and excited about the new things they learned. Take an afternoon and walk through Beirut and discover the unique history of this city. If you haven’t studied the history of Lebanon, or if you are a Middle East history buff, you will learn something new from this tour.
The tour guide, Rony, does a great job of narrating the story of Beirut and uses local landmarks to answer questions like…why is a US dollar worth 1500 Lebanese Lira? Why doesn’t someone do something with those old abandoned buildings? Is that a synagogue? Why are Lebanese politics so complicated? and more.