Expat Guide To Living In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Are you planning to move to Ulaanbaatar? What is it like to live in Mongolia?
In this Expat Interview, Breanna shares her experience and practical tips for newcomers. You’ll learn useful information to prepare for your new life in Mongolia, such as the cost of living in Ulaanbaatar, how to find apartments and jobs, and other practical tips.
What is it like to live in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia?
As a digital nomad turned expat now living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, I have to admit that life in this part of the world is never dull. Thankfully, Ulaanbaatar is an unintimidating size, the people are friendly, and there are plenty of things to do in and outside of the city. It only took me one visit to Mongolia to realize this was home. Five years later, I still feel that way.
In Ulaanbaatar, the expat community is small but mighty, and locals are always happy to help and eager to learn more about who you are. That’s just Mongolia for you. I truly enjoy getting to know as much about Mongolian culture as I can.
I’m learning how to speak the language (only a small percentage of Mongolians speak English), and the food in Mongolia always keeps me on my toes. (They love their meat and dairy.) I spend my days trying to balance work and exploring as much as I can, whether that’s checking out the new museums in town or heading out to the countryside for a weekend of fresh air.
The best part about living in Ulaanbaatar is the access I have to the rest of the country. Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world, and what it lacks in population, it more than makes up for in beauty and character. Within a day’s drive, I can reach the singing sands in the Gobi Desert to my south or the clear blue waters of Lake Khovsgol to my north. Mongolia is the perfect place for someone like me who enjoys living in a city but also cherishes every moment they get to spend in nature.
Is it safe to live in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia?
I often get asked about how safe Ulaanbaatar is. I’m not sure why people think it’s such an unsafe destination. I’ve found it quite the contrary – I’ve never had any issues walking the streets alone at night or feeling unsafe in general. In fact, we don’t really have taxis here; you usually hitch a ride in someone’s car and pay them about 1,500/kilometer for their gas.
That being said, Mongolia is still like any other country. There are issues with alcohol, and Mongolians are very proud of their culture. Always be respectful, and you’ll avoid most situations that could get you into trouble.
How to prepare for moving to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia?
Moving to Mongolia isn’t just something people just casually do. Most people come here for a specific job or with their spouse. Visas make staying here longer than 90 days hard for most citizens, so being a digital nomad here isn’t really a thing.
For anyone preparing to move to Ulaanbaatar, there are some blog posts around the web, but nothing entirely dedicated to the topic. Most people get this information from the company they’re moving to Ulaanbaatar to work for. There are a few great news sites in English – Montsame and the UB Post – for up-to-date news on what’s happening in the city.
From doing your initial research and figuring out your visa, the next best thing to do is join one of the expats in Ulaanbaatar Facebook groups and check out Mongolia-related travel groups and pages on Facebook, like the one I run for my Mongolia travel website, Meanwhile in Mongolia. Those will help really give you a feel for living in Ulaanbaatar and you can ask questions and get general feedback and information from the expats and locals who live there.
When packing for Ulaanbaatar, pack everything when it comes to clothing. Mongolia isn’t for everyone, especially come wintertime when temperatures in Ulaanbaatar average around -25 C. Technical, warm clothing is the one thing I wish I would have packed more of.
Otherwise, there aren’t a lot of resources available to foreigners planning a move to Mongolia. So, try reaching out to your embassy. They can sometimes provide insight you won’t find elsewhere.
The cost of living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Please provide an overview of the living cost. Also, please fill in the table below. You can add more rows if needed. The currency is based on the current country.
|Rental price (one-bedroom flat)||2,600,000 Mongolian tugrik (or about $765 USD/month)|
|Electricity||23,000 MNT ($7 USD)|
|Internet||52,000 MNT ($15 USD)|
|Prepaid cell phone plan Groceries||15,000 MNT ($4.50 USD) 100,000 MNT ($30 USD) / Week|
|Transportation||Taxi = 5,000 MNT ($1.50 USD) Bus = 500 MNT ($0.15 USD)|
|Average meal/ person||Lunch = 20,000 MNT ($5.90 USD) Dinner = 35,000 MNT ($10.30 USD)|
|1 beer||9,000 MNT ($2.65 USD)|
|Gym membership||450,000 MNT for 1 Month at Shangri-La Fitness Center ($132 USD)|
|Total||$1,058.50 on average, without eating or drinking out|
What salary do you need to live in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia?
On the low end, a monthly salary of $1,100 USD will cover your basic living expenses and costs. On average, a good monthly salary for living in Ulaanbaatar is around $2,500 USD.
You can easily exchange USD for Mongolian tugrik in Ulaanbaatar at any bank or a cash exchange in the State Department Store. Paying by credit card is common in Ulaanbaatar only – expect to pay by cash for everything outside of the city, including gas at gas stations.
Mastercard credit cards are also known to have issues. Try to travel and pay with Visa or American Express, if possible.
Where to live in Ulaanbaatar? – The best areas to stay
The most central areas for living in Ulaanbaatar are Chingeltei and Suukhbaatar. These are the areas near the State Department Store and Sukhbaatar Square.
In both areas, you’ll find plenty of cafes, restaurants, bars, and grocery stores, and there are convenience stores on practically every corner in Ulaanbaatar.
Since these areas are central, you can walk to just about everything, which is good because traffic in the city is getting increasingly bad. If you do plan on having a car in Ulaanbaatar, make sure your apartment comes with a parking space. Preferably one underground and heated. Otherwise, you’re in for a headache in winter.
How to find apartments in Ulaanbaatar?
The Expats & Foreigners in Mongolia Facebook group is a great place to start. Mongolians love to use Facebook, so you can find just about anything you need there. You can also contact one of the local rental property companies, but that should be a last resort. Also, just ask locals. They usually know someone who knows someone (that’s still how things work here).
For short-term rentals and finding a place to stay in a pinch, Airbnb is also a great place to find rentals.
Transportation in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
As I mentioned, there isn’t really a traditional taxi system in Ulaanbaatar. When you’re standing on the side of the street, stick out your hand, and someone will pull over. They’ll ask you where you’re going (try to know the name in Mongolian or have it ready to show them on your phone), and you’re ready to go. You’ll pay about 1,500 Mongolian tugriks per kilometer to the driver at the end of the trip.
You can also use the taxi app UB Cab to call a cab to your destination. Don’t expect any taxis to be available during rush hour or if it’s raining. Plan accordingly.
To use the bus system, download the UB Smart Bus App. (You can download it on the Google Play store, Apple store, or on your computer.)
There’s no underground metro or other public transportation besides the bus available in Ulaanbaatar. Oftentimes, walking is your best bet.
Weather in Ulaanbaatar
The weather in Ulaanbaatar is mild in summer and brutally cold in winter. Despite sometimes less than ideal temperatures, Mongolia is known as the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky because they average 250 days of sunshine a year. So, at least there’s that.
In Ulaanbaatar, July’s average temperature is 76° – 52°F and January’s average temperature ranges from 4° / -20° F. January is the driest month of the year. There’s still an average of 8.8 hours of daylight.
Pros and cons of living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Like any other city, Ulaanbaatar has its good and its bad.
Good things about Ulaanbaatar
Ulaanbaatar is easy to acclimate to. There are so many hidden gems in the city, and the food and drink scene is getting better and better. Mongolians love to have a good time, and they know how to make the most of summer – so there’s always a party, and the festival scene is small but great.
Bad things about Ulaanbaatar
The traffic. The worst part about living in Ulaanbaatar in recent years is experiencing how bad the traffic has become. Luckily, the city is easily walkable. But, if you find yourself returning from a trip at the wrong time or trying to get out/in from the airport at rush hour, you basically need to add 1 – 2 extra hours to your driving time. It starts to get to you.
What are the best things to do in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia?
For museum lovers and history buffs, I always point people to the Chinggis Khan Museum, the Dinosaur Museum, and the National Museum of Mongolia. One is brand spanking new; one is fun and quirky, and one holds many of Mongolia’s best national treasures.
When it comes to eating and drinking in Ulaanbaatar, Rosewood Kitchen & Enoteca has a great bottomless mimosa brunch on weekends, Sakura Japanese Bakery has the best karaage in town, Brussels Beer Garden is the place to catch a happy hour in summertime, and Num Sum Speakeasy is a great hideaway if you’re up for an adventure – and solid cocktail – in a different part of town.
During the daytime, places like the Black Market, the State Department Store, and the Galleria next to Sukhbaatar Square have the best shopping, especially if you’re looking for souvenirs and things made in Mongolia.
Practical information for living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
In touristy areas like the Black Market, be aware of pickpockets.
If you find yourself in an emergency, you can dial 103 for medical and 102 for non-medical emergencies.
Hospital in Ulaanbaatar
The best hospitals for expats in Ulaanbaatar with English-speaking doctors are Intermed, Songdo, and SOS Clinic. I had surgery in Songdo when I broke my collarbone, and I can confirm – their doctors and facilities are great and cheap. My entire five-day hospital stay, surgery, x-rays, and bloodwork came in at around $3,000.
Additionally, there are several foreign embassies in Ulaanbaatar, including a great American embassy. There are also embassies for citizens of Russia (Mongolia’s neighbor to the north), Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Japan, Korea, Italy, the UAE, and more.
For everyday expenses like cell phone service, plans with Unitel, my service provider of choice, are 15,000 Mongolian tugrik ($4.50 USD)/month for unlimited texting and calling and 8 GB of data. Unlimited data packages don’t exist in Mongolia for some reason, and I’m still not 100% sure why.
Stores and supermarkets
Grocery stores like Nomin, Good Price, and E-mart are popular with expats because they have a larger selection for just about everything. The Nomin on the ground floor of the State Department Store is the most central grocery store for picking up stuff quickly, while Good Price in the basement of the Shangri-La Mall Complex is the best if you’re looking for something very specific, and E-mart is the Costco of Mongolia. All three are easy to find on Google Maps.
A trip to the Black Market should be your first stop for general goods, like kitchen stuff and furniture. This is where all the stores in Ulaanbaatar stock up on their goods, so you’ll find them here for the lowest price. If you don’t find what you need at the Black Market, try looking in E-mart, or there are a few stores that sell Ikea products around town, just search ‘Ikea’ on Google Maps.
Did you experience any difficulties when you first moved here? How did you deal with that?
Living in Ulaanbaatar can get daunting at times when you need the simplest thing. It took me six months to find a down-filled comforter that I liked, and I didn’t even buy it in Ulaanbaatar. I’m still on the hunt for down pillows.
Ordering stuff to Mongolia from the US is getting easier, but it still takes at least three weeks time. You learn to adapt and make due with what is available, which is a great lesson in patience and humility.
Is it easy to make new friends in Ulaanbaatar? Where to meet new people in Ulaanbaatar?
Ulaanbaatar is an extremely easy city to make friends in. Once you meet one person, it’s like a snowball effect. The city is small, and expats tend to hang out in the same places.
Grabbing a bar stool at La Rosa is one sure fire way to meet people, for example. Everyone has an interesting story, whether they’re just visiting or they live there. No matter where you go, everyone is friendly and welcoming.
Where are your favorite cafes in Ulaanbaatar?
My go-to cafes are Coffee Fellows, ROC, and Nitro B/Jack’s Coffee.
Coffee culture is really starting to pick up in Ulaanbaatar, but don’t expect most coffee shops to open before 10 am. For early morning risers, 6:30 Café Bar and the ROC location in Beatles Square are the only cafes consistently open. The Coffee Fellows in the Shangri-La Mall Complex, as well.
Where are your favorite restaurants and bars in Ulaanbaatar?
My favorite restaurants in the city include Namaste (Indian), Veranda (Italian), La Rosa (Mexican), Sakura and Zanpa (Japanese), MadFox, and Route 22 (American). For Mongolian food, Khaan Buuz is the best and most affordable. I like their Tsuivan.
My favorite bars in Ulaanbaatar and the places with the best drinks and vibe are Bitsy & Co., Revolution, Brussels Beer Garden, Grazie, La Fontana, Cielo, Green Zone, and the Negroni Room.
Do you have any tips for finding a job in Ulaanbaatar?
Finding a job in Ulaanbaatar isn’t straightforward. There aren’t really job boards, so again, you have to go to places like Facebook to see what’s out there.
Teaching jobs are the best way to secure a job in the city as a foreigner. Otherwise, jobs in the non-profit or government sector are your next best choice.
What have you learned from living abroad?
Mongolia has taught me that life is meant to be enjoyed. It doesn’t matter how many things you have. Experiences make you happy, not things.
The kindness of Mongolians also continues to blow me away. Mongolians might not seem like the friendliest bunch at first. Remember, these are the ancestors of the world’s greatest warriors, but deep down, they truly are some of the warmest and gentlest people you’ll ever meet. Their Buddhist beliefs have taught them how to show this amazing amount of respect for the land and their animals.
About Breanna Wilson
Breanna Wilson is a travel writer, content creator, and tour designer running adventure and overlanding tours in Mongolia. You can follow Breanna’s daily adventures in Mongolia on Instagram at @breannajwilson. You can also ask her questions anytime on Instagram, where she posts almost daily about life and traveling in Mongolia.
The opinions expressed here by Expatolife columnists are their own, not those of Expatolife.