Living as Expat in Erbil · Kurdistan: A Complete Overview

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Living as an expat in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, is a unique adventure. The city is a safe place with a mix of modern, new, fancy buildings, cars, and very ancient ones.

It’s a mix of extremes; you could see someone with a flock of sheep next to the road while an expensive American muscle car like a Dodge Challenger or even a Rolls Royce is driving by. Adventurous expats in Erbil surely will enjoy this city.

Check out my post about the top 21 things to do in Erbil.

Honestly, when we moved to Erbil, I had never heard of it (shame on me). So, I looked up videos, vlogs, and blogs to get more information about what it would be like to live there. The more we saw, the more enthusiastic we became to live in Erbil, in Kurdistan!

Now that I’m here, I can tell you what it’s like to live in the wonderful city Erbil as an expat. 

Living in Erbil


  • Unique location with beautiful landscapes
  • Restaurants with delicious local and middle eastern food
  • All sorts of international food is available
  • It is very safe outside, very low crime
  • People are helpful and super friendly
  • Cost of living in Erbil is fairly cheap compared to many other countries


  • Further outside the city, the area is not safe near Turkey and Iran
  • Bad air quality certain parts of the day
  • A limited number of places to visit
  • As a foreigner, you might stand out and draw some attention
Table of Contents

Expats in Erbil: Erbil in Short

Erbil is the capital of the autonomous region Kurdistan which is part of Northern Iraq. The population of Erbil is about 1.5 million people, and the population of the entire area of Kurdistan is 6.1 million. People have been living here as far back as the seventh century B.C.!

Erbil has been inhabited since then by its current population, making it one of the world’s oldest inhabited towns.

Read more about the old city center here

Living in Erbil: What's the cost of living in Erbil?

  • Apartment, minimum of 800 dollars. 
  • Gas for cooking, 20 dollars per month.
  • Electricity is about 50 dollars per month.
  • Gas for car, 60 cents per liter.
  • Local food ranging from 5 to 15 dollars per meal. International food might is more expensive.

In Erbil, you can pay with American dollars or Iraqi Dinars which is convenient for expats. Using both currencies at local stores, taxis, and international shops is possible.

Prices for an apartment or a house in Erbil can range from 800 euros to even 4000 euros per month. It depends on what you are looking for, and the location. We chose to live just outside the city center where the price is lower, but the houses are bigger. 

Popular locations where most expats live are called Empire, Dream City, English Village, and Italian Village. There are restaurants, bars, and hotels in the area. The area is expanding quickly; they are working on new buildings daily.

Don’t ask me why they are called English and Italian village. I have no idea! It’s not like the style is Italian or English, I guess they just liked the international name.

One thing that might be different than your home country is that when you rent a place, all the costs for repairs and maintenance are for yourself during the time that you rent it. So, if one of the ACs brakes down, you will have to pay for the repair costs yourself. This is something to keep in mind when you rent a place.

Cooking on gas in Erbil

Now this is one of those things why I love to live abroad and experience new things. When we moved into our new house, we found out that there were no gas pipes! But there was a gas stove in the kitchen… How do we cook? 

This will amaze you: precisely that moment, we heard a classical Disney-style kind of song outside. We both were thinking, what the hell is that? We went out and saw this old little truck driving around with gas tanks.

We quickly realized that we would have to get one of those tanks and attach it to the stove! I ran to the truck and asked him if we could get one of those gas tanks. He attached it at the back of our house with a hose through the wall to our stove. It worked! 

Apparently, there is this system in Erbil where you can replace your empty gas tank and get a new one. The truck is like an ice-cream truck driving around, with music coming from a speaker. Except this ice-cream truck doesn’t sell ice cream but gas tanks.

A straightforward and efficient way to provide every one of gas without having to build a gas pipe infrastructure.

Expats in erbil

In my experience there aren’t many expats in Erbil. Most of them live around the area of Dream City where most of the international facilities are such asinternational supermarkets and restaurants. At several bars such as “The Two Princesses”, which is an Irish Pub (In Iraq!) expats can be found.

Most of the international folks in Erbil either work for a NGO (non-governmental-organization) or a consulate of their country.

But there are also many Kurdish people with Dutch roots, around 7000. 

Traffic in Erbil

Living in Kurdistan means you’ll have to be part of the traffic on the road. The traffic is one of the most fascinating things I’ve experienced in Erbil. The roads are the only means of transport, so everybody uses them to get from one place to another. There are no bicycle lanes, scooter lanes and barely any sidewalks.

So, people are cycling on the road, driving with a scooter, and transporting anything. Lanes aren’t even really existing, which leads to chaotic and fascinating situations.

The map of the city is very efficiently laid out. In the center of the town is the old Citadel. Around the Citadel are two ring roads.

The ring road around those, is called the 60-meter road, where the speed limit is 60 km/hour. Around that is the 80-meter road with an 80 km/hour speed limit, followed by a 120-meter road and even a 150-meter road but the speed limit is still 120 km/hour, of course.

Read what it is like to drive a car in Iraq!
Drivingcariraq thumb movingjack • living as expat in erbil

Safety in Erbil

Besides some chaotic situations on the road, it is very safe on the streets. I’ve never seen any suspicious people hanging around that would give you an unsafe feeling.

There aren’t any gangs, and there’s very little crime. Locals told me that if something might happen, people will help you instantly. It’s part of the Kurdish and Iraqi culture to help others.

Living in Kurdistan and especially Erbil, is very safe. Closer to the borders to Iran and Turkey it is much less safer.

Refugee Camps in Erbil

There are several refugee camps in Erbil. Most of the refugees are children coming from Baghdad or other cities in Iraq. They are national refugees that escaped terrifying situations at home or from conflicts in the city.

Sometimes you will see children outside the refugee camps, and it is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen.

What makes it even more tragic is that there is enough money in the country, luxury, expensive cars, and hotels, but these children still live in this bad environment. It’s a reminder of the harsh society in the country.

Is there a night life in Erbil?

There is! There are actually more clubs than I expected plus there are plenty of bars and liquor stores. 

The German Bottle Shop is a famous store with all kinds of drinks, wine and beer from all over the world. There are several locations in Kurdistan.

As a DJ I immediately tried to find all the clubs in Erbil. Later on I noticed that clubs are primarily focused on Arabic music. On the other hand, bars are a bit more focused on western music.

Some great bars in Erbil are Mars and The Spot. Mars is on the top floor of a hotel and has an nice view of the city. In the distance, you can see lights from houses in the mountains. The roof can be slid open to see a night sky with stars while enjoying a beer or a cocktail. 

The Spot is right next to Gulan Mall. It’s a nice place to have some lunch in the afternoon of a few drinks in the evening with D.J.’s and live music.

Some clubs in Erbil are, Inferno and Nuke. 

Discover the 21 best things to do in Erbil
Erbil citadel kurdistan iraq street living in erbil24 copyright moving jack • living as expat in erbil

Power generators and electricity in Erbil

One of the things that surprised me the most in Erbil is the use of power generators. There is an electricity network in the city, but it provides electricity only for a certain amount of time.

When there isn’t any electricity, huge power generators that run on gas or diesel need to be switched on. Entire hotels and house blocks are getting their electricity from these generators.

This causes a lot of air pollution. Sometimes you will see a massive generator outside a store, so they can run the air-conditioning, while the store hasn’t any isolation so the cold air goes out very quickly. It’s not a very environmentally friendly situation…

Hopefully, the use of solar panels will improve in Erbil because there is plenty of sunlight.

How is the air quality in Erbil?

The air quality really depends on the day and the time of day. The air quality is worse in the morning and the evening because traffic is busier so there is a lot more air pollution when everyone goes to work. In the afternoon, the air is pretty good, some days it’s excellent and there is barely any smog, unlike in China.

Final thoughts on living in Erbil

So what’s it like to live in Erbil as a traveler and expat? Many friends and family were a bit shocked when we told them that we would live in Erbil for the next two years, “but that’s in Iraq! Isn’t it dangerous there?” they said.

Well, we were also a bit hesitant about living in Erbil. But, after some research, my wife and I became more and more enthusiastic. In many cases, countries and cities can be very different than what you see on the news. Many friends thought we were crazy that we would go live in China, for example, but I honestly had the time of my life there. 

Living in Erbil, in Kurdistan, Iraq, is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The city surprised me in so many positive ways. The friendly people, culture, food, nature, and many small fascinating things, with many adventures to come in this beautiful region.

Some friendly Kurds even invited me to their wedding!

F.A.Q. Living as Expat in Erbil · Kurdistan: A Complete Overview

Yes, Erbil is generally considered to be a safe city to live in. The local authorities in Erbil take security seriously and crime rates are relatively low.

However, like any other city, it’s always important to take common sense precautions such as avoiding isolated areas at night, securing your belongings, and being aware of your surroundings.

Erbil experiences a semi-arid climate with hot summers and cool winters. In the summer, temperatures can reach over 45°C, while in the winter, temperatures can drop to around 0°C.

Spring and autumn are generally mild and pleasant. 

Yes, Erbil has a few international schools that offer various educational curricula, including British, , French,American, and IB (International Baccalaureate) programs. 

Erbil has a growing healthcare system with both public and private facilities.

Public hospitals may have limited resources and longer wait times, while private hospitals offer higher quality services but can be more expensive.

It is advisable to have health insurance coverage to help manage medical expenses, especially for expatriates.

A man standing on top of a sand dune with his arms outstretched.

About the author

Chris Oberman is the founder and author of Moving Jack and has been traveling the world for over 20 years to 40+ countries.

He lives in a different country every two years which allows him to gain unique in-depth insights and experiences in new places abroad.

Quoted on, NRC Newspaper, Vice,and Feedspot.

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