Young, vibrant and bursting with investment potential, Ulaanbaatar is one of the fastest modernising cities on the planet. Mongolia’s recent mining boom has triggered high-octane economic growth in the country, transforming the capital city from a dusty communist outpost to a modern hub of industry. Since its transition to a free market economy in 1990, the city’s population has more than doubled to 1.3 million inhabitants - roughly 50% of Mongolia’s entire population. Luxurious shopping malls, modern art galleries, restaurants and cafes now stand where, mere decades ago, sand storms and goats reigned supreme.
The transition from basic Nomadism to overnight prosperity has yielded inevitable growing pains. Wealth disparity, an outdated legal system and environmental degradation have emerged as key challenges. Many of the city’s unpaved roads have yet to be assigned street addresses, and postcodes are only just being introduced.
On the upside, expats who find themselves in Ulaanbaatar will rarely find themselves at a loss for what to do. It is Asia’s cheapest city in terms of living costs; here, you will find that retail therapy, outdoor ice-skating rinks, bowling alleys, cinema complexes and theatres are easily accessible and highly affordable. Out of office hours, the city’s tightknit, fast-growing and highly diverse expat network ensures you’ll always find yourself in interesting company.
For moments of reflection, the city’s enthralling history is documented in several museums, ancient temples and monasteries that hark back to the days when Ulaanbaatar was a nomadic Buddhist temple site. Mongolia’s inimitable steppes, breath-taking mountains and beautiful lakes just beyond the city’s borders, coupled with the city’s irrepressible energy, make Ulaanbaatar an unforgettable experience.
What is special or unique about your city?
Surrounded by mountains, Ulaanbaatar is called "Asian White Angel City" by Mongolians. It is very unique in a way that cannot be compared to any other city in the world. Because of its Soviet history, Ulaanbaatar is also a city where Asian and European cultures coexist. Expats often refer to Ulaanbaatar as “UB” for short.
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
Ulaanbaatar is a small city with wide open spaces and many Russian influences in its architecture, especially the apartment buildings.
For someone coming from a major city like New York or London, settling into UB can be challenging at first. Although apartments in the city have central heating, there can be water or electricity shortages without prior notice. Traffic can be overwhelming, too, as the roads are too narrow for all the cars. However, UB is one of the best places in the world for adventures. Within a one-hour drive, you can ride horses, play polo or golf and enjoy the beautiful natural scenery of Mongolia.
Are these impressions likely to change?
Impressions are unlikely to be changed. However, you are likely to be charmed by the friendliness of the Mongolians you meet.
What is the local language?
Mongolian is the local language.
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
English is widely spoken in UB.
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
When you hand something to someone, please do not throw it. Also, Mongolians tend to be very laid back when communicating with others. This may give you the impression that some are not good listeners. Therefore, to avoid misunderstanding, it is a good idea to be patient when explaining or asking something.
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
Springtime can be very windy, making everything dusty. Also, make sure to bring an umbrella or a hat when you go out.
Winter temperatures often drop to -29 degrees Celsius which means that most of the country's budget goes toward making sure power plants work properly during winter. Donors from Japan and other places have also been putting a lot of money into maintaining and improving this system.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
Mongolians are very friendly and hospitable people.