A Way Abroad Logo
The ultimate resource for women dreaming of a life abroad

An Expat's Guide to Living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

write for us!

Sandwiched between Russia and China in East Asia, Mongolia often goes unnoticed by more well known Asian neighbors.

The capital, Ulaanbaatar (UB), which lies in a valley in North Central Mongolia, has a population that exceeds a million, which equals more than one third of the population in the entire country. It is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, however, the capital is constantly bustling. 

The climate in Mongolia is marked by extremes, with harsh winters and a brief, warm summer that everyone welcomes with open arms. Geographically, the country showcases a rather diverse terrain, from the iconic Gobi Desert to the majestic Altai Mountains that outdoor lovers will be eager to explore. 

Mongolia's reliance on China and Russia influences its economic landscape. Mongolia trades with both neighbors, exchanging various goods and commodities, including the import and export of minerals and agricultural products.  

Mongolia is also connected to Russia through energy cooperation. Russia supplies Mongolia with electricity and fuel, which is vital for meeting Mongolia's energy needs.

While those facts might not sway your daily life, the following will! If you're thinking about moving to Mongolia, here's what it's like living in Ulaanbaatar and what you should know before you arrive.

Short on time? Here’s the cheat sheet:

💭Living in Mongolia is ideal for those seeking adventure, a rich cultural experience, and who are willing to embrace an unpredictable life. 

📚The easiest way to move here is by getting a job, most likely as an English teacher. You just need to have a native or fluent level and a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate.

🛏️Live within walking distance to work, most likely in the city center. This cozy two bedroom in the heart of UB is centrally located and a good starting off point. 

💰Cost of living will vary based on economies of Russia and China but most jobs pay well enough. Earn travel rewards on all expenses with a Capital One Venture Card.

☂️The long winter and subsequent pollution can be tough but…

⛰️This country is ripe with outdoor adventures and cultural experiences that you won’t find anywhere else.

A Sneak Peek at Living in Mongolia

Mongolia presents itself as an appealing destination for expats seeking an unparalleled experience.

It can be considered a safe country for foreigners, but still, normal precautions should be exercised. Just like any big city, I recommend you practice basic safety tips and, as if you're a solo female expat/traveler, avoid some areas if alone at night.

With just over 1 million inhabitants, it's the biggest city in Mongolia but based on where you lived before moving here, living in Ulaanbaatar might feel small.

For expats seeking more than just a change of scenery, Mongolia stands as an open invitation to a lifestyle rich in tradition, natural wonders, and the unparalleled joy of the unexpected which will guarantee endless moments of unique experiences.

But, is Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for you? Find out now! 

Getting a Long-Term Visa in Mongolia

The only viable way to stay in Mongolia for a long period is by getting a job and therefore, a work visa.

Job Opportunities for Foreigners in Mongolia

So, what are the hottest job offers?, you may ask.

If you work in the mining sector or as a teacher (English as a first language or fluent level required) then you're in luck and can potentially get a job in the land of the Eternal Blue Sky. To teach English in Mongolia, you don't necessarily need anything but a great level of English but, to make your job hunting more successful, I recommend you get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate.

For teaching at renowned international schools, you need a teaching degree from your home country or a specialized degree, like in math, finance, or the subject you want to teach and TEFL/TOEFL certificate.

If you're already living in Mongolia on another visa (ex. as a spouse), you should be able to find a teaching job that doesn't have many requirements, so long as you natively or fluently speak English. These jobs would typically be at smaller private schools that don't actively look for teachers abroad but would be eager to have an English speaker on staff.

Any other international companies with projects or assets in Mongolia, such as NGOs or the International Monetary Fund also offer positions in the country, including the US Peace Corps volunteers

How to Get a Work Visa

Your work visa will be facilitated by your employer and they should help you navigate the unnecessarily intricate bureaucratic system in Mongolia; because doing it by yourself with no help from a local can be, and will be, very frustrating.

Depending on the capabilities of the company, HR may accompany you to different offices to get paperwork sorted or go to the hospital to get your health check. Some others will tell you what to do and where to go and leave you to your own devices.

I have had two different teaching jobs in Mongolia, and I can account for both experiences.

I was lucky that I already had a network of acquaintances who would help me with some stuff, otherwise, I guess I would have panicked. Don’t be disheartened by my rant, though! Just make sure that your employer will take care of everything beforehand. 

How to Get a Student Visa

Another option to move to Mongolia without getting a job is to come as a student instead.

Some people who meet the love of their lives but are not married opt to enroll in Mongolian language courses offered by the National University of Mongolia. Of course, you can also come to study something else without falling in love with anyone, albeit in Mongolian.

In both cases, you will need to apply for a study visa that will be valid for the duration of your course.

This visa should also be facilitated by the Student Services office.

Serious about
browse all articles

Best Areas of Ulaanbaatar to Live in

Photo courtesy of depositphotos.com

That is such a tricky answer, because of a massive problem in UB that will be a determining factor in your decision: TRAFFIC.

If you can walk to work, that’s a great win. 

Traffic is an issue that is getting worse every year, and I am not exaggerating when I say that people can be stuck in traffic for hours! This problem is aggravated in winter, which is kind of long, so if you have the option to pick an area, be sure that is exactly where you want to be and where you will spend less time commuting.

The City Center

In my opinion and personal experience, the best place to live is close to the center, since plenty of what Ulaanbaatar has to offer is in the city’s heart.

I used to live near Sukhbaatar Square and I could virtually walk wherever I needed to go. I was no more than 30 minutes away from 95% of the places I used to frequent, including my two jobs.  

I had another friend who lived near Seoul Street, a very active street, which alongside Peace Street, I consider to be the heart and fun area of the city. Those two areas are close to the State Department Store, many different shops, restaurants, cafes and bars.

This area is unbeatable for the young at heart and social butterflies. The only downside of this area is that the buildings are much older and may require more maintenance. 

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in the city center is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Five Seasons Guest House: Enjoy a private bedroom with a shared kitchen, living area, and bathroom only a few blocks from Peace Street. 
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Cozy two bedroom in heart of UB: Right off Peace Street, this apartment is best for those that want their privacy and space without breaking the bank. 
  • Luxury Stay: Central 3 BR New Apartment: Moving with your family? This centrally located apartment can comfortably accommodate 6-8 people. 

River Garden

Families with children prefer River Garden because it is close to the International School of Ulaanbaatar and still has a few amenities in the surrounding area. It’s a bit far from the city center but if you don’t have to commute there every day it is not such a big deal. 

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in River Garden is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Cozy One Bedroom vs Bogd Museum: A few blocks west of River Garden, this apartment has everything you’ll need while you house hunt. 
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Luxury Apartment at Zaisan: For an incredibly luxurious feel, this apartment offers large windows, lots of natural light in a new building. 
  • Luxury Stay: Meggy Gou's Apartment: This pet-friendly home is really close to River Garden, has high-end touches, and nice views. 

Winter in Your Apartment

One question people may have about housing knowing how cold Mongolia gets, is if their house will get cold. The answer is no. All buildings have access to central heating so cold will not be a problem.

However, another problem that comes with winter is extreme air pollution. For this reason, you must ask whether the house will come with air purifiers. If they don’t, you will have to purchase them and they are on the expensive side. 

Transportation in Ulaanbaatar

As I mentioned above, if you can walk, do so. You can also use the public bus or taxis. Buses can get very crowded at times but otherwise, they are a safe and affordable option. 

In regards to taxis, UBcab is the most used company and it has an app, UBER style. 

There used to be illegal taxis, also called finger taxis or gipsy taxis, that you would be able to hail from the sidewalk. They are normal people who drive around looking for an extra buck or commuters that will take you in their direction. It used to be a very common practice in Ulaanbaatar but in recent years they have been banned. 

Taxi fares are currently at 1500 Tugrik, which is currently less than 50 US cents. 

Cost of Living in Ulaanbaatar

Ulaanbaatar can be expensive depending on your earnings, whether you have to pay for your accommodation, and what kind of lifestyle you have. Imported goods from the US, UK, Japan, or Korea will usually be more expensive and seafood is probably the most expensive type of food. 

Consider that Mongolia heavily relies on China and Russia's economies, so if one of those struggles, Mongolia will likely struggle, too.

I have personally seen a vast increase in the price of commodities in Ulaanbaatar since C*vid but as a foreigner working in an international company, you can easily make ends meet. 

Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Mongolia

Photo courtesy of depositphotos.com

The Pollution is Bad

The most concerning problem that I see is pollution, especially if you have young kids. The biggest cause of pollution is the burning of coal that occurs in the ger district that occupies the north of the city.

Therefore, pollution is at its peak point in winter.

This is a serious issue that is responsible for many deaths and chronic pulmonary diseases. 

What most foreigners do is use antipollution masks when they go outside, but to me, it is mindblowing that locals do not think about using them, even if they can afford them. 

If you decide that you can spend a couple of years with the tedious task of wearing a mask during the winter months, then the next thing you need to consider is how comfortable you are with things never going the way you expect. 

Life in Mongolia is Unpredictable

If I were to describe my experience in Mongolia in just one word it would be UNPREDICTABLE.

Yep. I think that’s the accurate word.

If you're a control freak, and even if you aren’t, be prepared to have a fit at some point. Things never happen when they are supposed to happen and you have to learn to go with the flow. 

The Language Barrier is Big

Lastly, another thing to consider is the language barrier.

I personally didn’t think of it as much of a challenge because I had to use English at work and I had friends with whom I could speak in English but the reality is that most people don’t speak English.

Also, Mongolian uses the Cyrillic alphabet and if you want to at least be able to read where the bank, the restaurant, or the printing place is, you need, to at least, be able to make out the words. 

The Best Things About Living in Ulaanbaatar & Mongolia

They Have a Really Rich Culture

As soon as I moved to Mongolia I felt mesmerized by their culture and when I look back, I think that this cultural experience, even with its less exciting aspects, was the highlight of my time here. 

I had never lived in an Asian country before so the cultural shock was rather impactful albeit in a positive way for the most part.

I was mesmerized by every part of their culture and history, of which I knew next to nothing. I enjoyed learning about nomadic culture, shamanism, Buddhism, the historical relation with Russia and China, and the revered Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Empire. 

Making Friends Is Easy

It is very easy to make friends as Mongolians have an easygoing way about themselves. I think they feel curious about foreigners in the same way I felt curious about their intriguing ways. 

Mongolians love to have a good time, either by conversing while sharing vodka, or singing karaoke (by the way, 90% of Mongolians will sing better than you). However, they are also very family driven and spend time with their rather large families. 

It's a Haven for Adventurers

For the outdoor enthusiast, Mongolia is an unbeatable destination where you can easily go off road and camp anywhere you like without worrying.

My best memories of my time there are the road trips I embarked on to explore different parts of the country. 

So, Is Living in Ulaanbaatar For You?

Ulaanbaatar offers a mix of extreme weather, a fascinating and distinctive culture, and warm-hearted locals. Despite its challenges, approaching the capital city with the right mindset ensures not just an enjoyable stay, but a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Bring on the (extreme) winter gear, and your adventurous spirit; you'll find this place to be a hidden gem.

There will be the occasional challenge, like dealing with winter pollution or attempting to decipher the Cyrillic alphabet, but trust me, the cultural rollercoaster, the connections with the ever-curious locals, and the vast playground for outdoor lovers make it all worthwhile.

Just a heads up, though – if you've got little ones, the pollution scene may be a deal breaker.

If you're all about embracing the unexpected, Mongolia is ready to welcome you with a quirky blend of traditions, friendly faces, and a whole lot of adventure.

keep a way abroad fueled!
Consider making a donation

A lot of effort went into making this amazing piece of journalistic genius. If it helped you out, send us a quick thanks by buying us a coffee. All the money donated through Ko-Fi goes towards keeping A Way Abroad awesome. Big thanks!

Pick an image to pin it!
Go back up arrow