A few of my expat friends are planning their visits to Lebanon this summer and have been asking me for tips, so I’ve been helping them prepare for their travels to the motherland with advice from my experience living here. I compiled a list of everything I have found useful to make my daily life more manageable in these difficult times.
Lebanon is currently going through one of the worst economic crises it has ever witnessed, this is its biggest existential threat as a nation. The local currency, the Lebanese Pound, has been de-valued to about 80% of its original value and the US dollar (the main foreign currency) is very hard to come by. Electricity supply has been cut to about 2 hours a day on average, the country is powered by local generators and fossil fuel propelling these generators has just had a price-hike up of about 40% in the last month alone. The country is in distress, living conditions are increasingly challenging and life can become untenable if you’re not well prepared.
So to anyone looking for practical recommendations on how to survive your stay in Lebanon, here are 9 tips to consider.
Disclaimer: I only discuss practical survival suggestions in this article, I don’t tackle any of the hurdles relating to the Coronavirus outbreak. For the latest on managing your health during your travels in the pandemic, please visit the Lebanese Ministry of Health website.
BEFORE YOU ARRIVE
- Bring USD in cash. It goes without saying, bring some USD in cash with you. The US dollar is worth about 8 times more than its value 6 months ago, so be prepared with cash in advance so you can exchange it in Lebanon for LBP to spend while you’re here.
- Bring your electronics with you. Chargers, cables, spare laptop batteries, portable chargers and speakers have become prohibitively expensive, so don’t risk it, bring what you need with you, even if it means placing a last minute Amazon order.
- Bring a rechargeable light source. For late nights with no power, you need a battery operated light to help you get to the bathroom or finish what you’re doing before you get to bed. As a guide, the light in the photo below is bright enough and is USD chargeable (bought in Lebanon).
DURING YOUR VISIT
- Stay Connected: Once in Lebanon, buy a mobile 4G router to stay connected during power cuts. Two providers listed below (MTC Touch and Connect) have the best priced routers and still use the official conversion rate at 1,500 LBP, so you get a sweet deal. The whole package costs around 300,000 LBP for the device with about 40GB of data.
- MTC Touch: They sell a super useful mobile 4G Wi-Fi (MiFi) device that you can use to connect multiple devices to (75 USD, Huawei branded). It’s half the size of your phone, fits in your pocket and is very well connected through the MTC Touch mobile network. You have to also buy a SIM card (21 USD), top it up with credit and activate the High Speed Internet service; you get a few pricing options depending on how much you plan to consume. Have the local customer advisor in the shop show you how to activate it on the MTC Touch app on your phone.
- Warning: Only buy it from MTC Touch official Service Centres (the grey ones on the map), all other retailers are pricing their USD at market rate (8,000+ LBP) so stick to the official source.
- Connect: They sell a Biscuit device that projects Wi-Fi signal using Connect’s own network. Perhaps a little less receptive than MTC, but they offer an unbeatable price package if they serve your area, also converted to 1,500 LBP. Check the coverage on their website before committing but worth looking into for the convenience and price.
- Both providers require a proof of ID to purchase (Passport or official ID).
- Pre-plan your charging time. With frequent power cuts, your battery-operated electronics will be put to work and will need periodic charging. Make sure you know the power schedule for your area / building so you can time your charging. Be methodical about it, because nothing sucks more than having a power cut with a dead phone or laptop.
- Plan your life during power cuts. My office has a daily power cut from 12-1pm. It’s usually lost time and my productivity tanks, so I decided to use the time to either meet with a friend for early lunch/coffee or run an errand outside the office. Make sure you leave just before the power is due to be cut so you can still use the lifts and can open any electronic gates, and come back when it’s back on. And whatever you do, do not open fridge/freezer doors after midnight, if you don’t close them properly in your night daze, it will cost you spoiled food and you’ll be sorry you ever had that ice cream.
- Emotionally prepare yourself for sights of distress on the streets. You will see beggars of all ages, from those desperately looking through rubbish bins for something to eat to those who wave medical bills at you asking for your help. It’s important to mentally prepare yourself for these daily dilemmas, think about what stance you want to take towards them and be firm on it. If you can afford it and choose to do so, put a “compassion budget” aside to spend on helping the less fortunate with money or food if you see them on the streets. Tune into how this emotional toll affects you and manage how you respond to them accordingly. It can be a lot to handle the first few times, and that’s okay, it means you’re human.
- Money and Cash. Do not use your foreign cards to buy goods in Lebanon, instead, use them to take USD cash out at ATM machines and then get them exchanged for LBP at local exchange shops at the market rate. Spend using your cash LBPs. Foreign cards can withdraw cash in Lebanon at some ATM points, check with various banks, they all have different limits and policies but foreigners are able to access some of their foreign money in cash in Lebanon.
- Eating out. Avoid eating out if you can, but if you must, make sure the establishment is reputable and has good power solutions to keep food fresh during power cuts. Avoid raw meat, seafood and sushi, and make sure your fish is fresh and has just been caught before you consume it.
With a few tweaks and a little bit of preparation, you can make your stay much more manageable and enjoyable in Lebanon. Now buckle up and enjoy the ride!
For more Lebanon-related content, see posts related to Lebanon Chronicles.