Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina Report of what it's like to live there - 08/17/11

Personal Experiences from Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina

Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina 08/17/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

first expat experience

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Washington, DC - about 12 hours through either Munich or Vienna, but Sarajevo Airport can be closed often during winter

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years from 2009-11

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Affiliated with the U.S. Embassy

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Nice apartments, townhome-style and single-family homes. Most are in the city, but often on a hill, narrow street, etc. -- but that's all of Sarajevo. Very good housing all around, but there are some weird spaces, and some people have big kitchens, some the tiny "Euro kitchen."

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

There are a couple of large groceries stores. Western goods are not prevalent, but the embassy has a commissary now where many American items can be purchased. Pork is not easily purchased (and is not served at restaurants), unless you travel into the Republika Srpska entity for a meal (which we did a few times).

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Snow tires (tires are expensive in Europe), motor oil (also expensive).

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

We had no American fast food while we were there, although I believe a McDonald's just opened. There are good local dishes (cevapi, burek, sopska salad). Also a few decent Italian restaurants. Noovi (wine bar and pizza) got to be an American hangout for some. The local brewery had decent food. There are many different restaurants at different price levels. Interesting thing though: the service never seemed to depend on how much business you brought their way. Bosnians would be sitting there nursing an espresso for 2 hours while your party could have a full meal with wine, and the server would not really care (tipping is a "round up" philosophy).

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Great produce is available year 'round.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Nothing extreme. We experienced mosquitoes in the late spring and fall that would get into our house, because it was just too nice out to not have the windows open. We had to buy several "plug-in" type mosquito repellent devices that seemed to do the trick.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Pouch, the and post apparently has DPO now.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Abundant, and about 6-7 USD/hr gets a very competent, hard-working person.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There are a couple around town that offer memberships, including a very nice one downtown. The new U.S. Embassy has a nice gym.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Stick with the major regional banks.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There is a non-denominational service at the military base.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

AFN. No English-language papers.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Not much, but locals appreciate the attempt. I picked up a little and it helped.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

This is not a handicapped-accessible city in the least. A couple of newer malls are accessible, but that's it. You never see any handicapped people out and about in Bosnia. I only saw a large number during a period when a Moroccan "healer" was in town at the Olympic stadium -- then many came out for that.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are abundant and cheap and safe to use.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

A small SUV is perfect (Toyota RAV-4, etc). Snow tires are mandatory during winter months. Local roads are pretty poor and are not always plowed.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, but I wouldn't call it high speed. It's ADSL (speeds we had in the US over a decade ago). Everything is metered, and the biggest plan (20GB) is about $30/month. Going over 20GB -- which is possible if you stream video or download a lot of stuff (iTunes, etc) -- gets expensive.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

BHT Telecom is the biggest provider.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Local vets and kennels are available.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

None to speak of really. If so, the pay would be terrible.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business attire at work and casual at other times.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

It is a fairly safe city -- with caveats. Petty crime increased while we were there, and the gypsies are very active. There were several pickpocketing incidents while we were there. But, generally, Bosnians are very non-confrontational and more passive/aggressive. Nobody gets mugged or carjacked on the street. It's more common to see/hear about car break-ins and residential break-in attempts (when no one is home). A couple of U.S. Embassy residences were burglarized before we left, but they were the only ones in our time there. There is an element of organized crime within the city and many young OC "wannabees" who often mix it up with each other. But most expats don't frequent the places that they do. Taxis were very safe, and my family often used them with no problems.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The local standard of medical care is atrocious. Anything serious got medevac'd. The MED unit at the embassy is very good. Local dentists are good, and cheap by US standards.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Great in warm weather. Terrible in the winter. Bosnians will burn everything but the kitchen sink to stay warm when it gets cold. Your house will smell like a campfire during the coldest parts of the winter.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

All four seasons but very temperate. Never too hot in summer and very rarely below freezing in winter (during the day), except up in the mountains.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

QSI was great for us. Elementary-school parents often raved about it, while HS parents had issues. The school tried hard, but the upper grades are not big enough to offer what many people expected. QSI did offer scholarships for local Bosnian kids to increase the size of the HS grades, which helped, I think, but it is difficult to be all things to all people. And, even in the elementary grades, some parents were not happy. But some people are never pleased. I think any child going to school there got more individual attention than any public school in the U.S. could provide.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

None specifically. Although, QSI apparently had some early-elementary school age children that need attention, and I believe they hired one individual with a special-education background as a teacher (who just happened to be living in Sarajevo). While they could not make specific accomodations, I believe they made many attempts.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

QSI has a preschool, but there are a couple Montessori schools and other options. Nannies are also available for hire.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

QSI has limited ability, but does have some sports programs as well as ski camp in the winter for all ages. There are some other opportunities available outside QSI (soccer and horseback riding).

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Medium size; lots of NGOs around.

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty decent.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There are expat functions now and again, and several people at the embassy entertained frequently. Also, there were school events.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

I think it is very good for families. For singles, I think it is what you make of it. Some enjoyed it and some did not. While Sarajevo is "Muslim-lite", there is still a conservative air, even though you would not think it the way women dress. Plus, society is very clique-ish, so singles found it hard to break through.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Bosnian culture is not very accepting, but as long as there are no outward public displays, there would be no problems at all, I believe.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Longstanding ethnic prejudices. Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox Christians all co-exist here.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

My family and I traveled to over a dozen other European countries while here, vacationed on the Dalmation coast, and met a lot of great people. If you can get past the constant ethnic problems/tensions, graffiti and leftover Communist architecture, as someone else said, there are some very unique and interesting spots and events to experience in Sarajevo (Old Town, Copper Alley, Sarajevo Film Festival) along with the European cafe culture. Bosnians are an interesting culture to experience. They fancy themselves very European, although you see much of the leftover Communist elements from "Tito times" which still permeate their society and way of thinking. At times, I found it maddening, fascinating and entertaining, but never boring.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Skiing, biking, rafting, shopping in Old Town and enjoying the cafe culture.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Copper, local arts and crafts.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The rest of Europe is an easy plane ride or manageable drive. Bosnia has only about 40 kilometers of multi-lane highway, so getting out of the country in any direction takes about 4 hours. From there you can hit the European highway system. Close proximity to the Adriatic, Austria, Italy, Hungary, etc.

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11. Can you save money?

We did, and we traveled quite a bit.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes. While we were ready to go, we often miss it sometimes.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

sense of fairness (Bosnia is a very "me-first" society) and your outrage over seeing locals drive like boneheads, park absolutely anywhere, and stop their cars in the middle of the street for no reason.

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3. But don't forget your:

skis, winter clothes, boots for slushy sidewalks, and your sense of humour -- so you can just shake your head and laugh at some things you see.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Balkan Ghosts.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Welcome to Sarajevo; Sarajevo my Love

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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