Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina Report of what it's like to live there - 11/26/12
Personal Experiences from Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
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?
DC - around 13.5 hours,connecting through either Munich or Vienna. Primary flights in and out of Sarajevo are through Munich, Vienna, Istanbul and Zagreb. There are serious difficulties getting in and out in the winter due to very heavy fog over the airport.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
(The contributor was affiliated with the US Embassy and lived in Sarajevo for two years, an eighth expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Either nice apartments downtown, or more spacious houses on the edge of the city. No commutes are too long. Parking is very tight in most places. Even if you have a garage, it will probably be too narrow for the average American car.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Inexpensive. I would say you spend 10-20% less than you would in DC if you are a diplomat not paying VAT.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None really. You can get mostly anything, though I would bring your favorite liquid brands that you can't ship. Most items in the store come from Croatia or Slovenia.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's recently arrived. There are numerous local fast food places featuring grilled meats and pizza.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Very few insect problems here. None major at all.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Moderate. Most people have help, but not daily. I paid 10 KM/hour for mine, slightly above the going rate.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, at the Embassy. There are a handful of other places in town with decent gyms, mainly at the malls.
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?
Generally safe. Raifeisen Bank ATMs take US debit cards.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None in Sarajevo. Know the pleasantries,and you will break the ice better. Everyone under the age of 45 speaks some English. The main exception, being women who work at the check-outs at all the markets. They generally speak none. Also, English is less prevalent in the hinterland than it is in the cities.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Tons. Lots of hills and crumbling side walks that mostly serve as parking places.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The train system is terrible. Taxis are the way to go in town. Incredibly inexpensive. There is no excuse for drunk driving in Sarajevo. You can get from downtown to any of the normal housing areas for $3-5.
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?
You don't need an SUV, though they are helpful given the steep hills, snow, and generally long time it takes to drive out of Bosnia. However, I would recommend a smaller car, as parking in Sarajevo is horrendous. Snow tires are manadatory by law. 19"+ snow tires are unavailable in country, regardless of the make of your car. US dips - ship them in your HHE.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is available through BH Telecom, which is awful. They have horrific customer service, and the speed is mediocre (good enough to stream, mostly). The qualification for being hired as a technician is to be someone's cousin. Don't expect assistance if you are using Apple products.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There are some decent vets. For those at the Embassy, CLO can recommend a couple of good kennels. There are lots of stray dogs roaming around the city. Locals acknowledge that this is a growing problem. I see it getting worse unless an NGO steps in to do humane euthanizations.
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
General high quality, but not necessarily formal for the local.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Nope. This is an incredibly safe city. There is some minor property crime, but criminals tend not to be aggressive or confrontational(break-ins of parked cars and empty houses). The worst case is getting caught between young wannabe gangster-types. There really are no bad neighborhoods in Sarajevo.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The quality of medical care is low. The hospital can basically handle trauma. The need to bribe your way into a job turns many qualified health care professionals away from the main hospitals.
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?
Terrible. It gets worse in the winter. Expect respiratory issues if you are prone to them.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very similar to Boston. A hot, but not excessively so, summer. Pleasant spring and fall. Winter is cold, but not miserable, and good for winter sports in the years with heavy snowfall.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
QSI is said to be very good for younger grades.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Fairly sizable given the EU, EUFOR, and NGO presence. Lots of expat teachers also. You'll hear English or German being spoken in every restaurant worth going to.
2. Morale among expats:
Generally very high. It dips a little in the winter, but is generally good.
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 is plenty to do downtown.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for all. There is plenty to do here. While the local scene can be tough to crack into, it's possible. Large, but shrinking, European and American expat community. There is still a EUFOR presence at Camp Butmir, which includes a handful of Americans.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
People seem to do well within the expat community. There is some Bosnian cultural prejudice compared to the rest of Europe, but nothing hostile.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Religion. It dominates everything, though Sarajevo is an overwhelmingly Muslim majority city , unlike pre-war days. That being said, Islam won't impact an expat's daily life except in a very minor way during Ramadam. Hands down the most liberal Muslim society in the world. The physical and emotional scars of the war are still very present in the 35 and over crowd.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Great people. A very safe and easy-to-navigate city which is better to live in than it is a tourist destination. A great, although limited, selection of restaurants. A very pro-American community.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Good restaurants. Shopping in the old town area of Bascarcisja. There are some decent bars though the club scene is sort of Eastern European strange.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are some cool items made from spent brass from the war still sold in the bazaar. Some decent rugs.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's Europe on the cheap. A very inexpensive, beautiful city with intersting people. The Bosnian countryside is beautiful - great for outdoor activities and visiting cultural sites, even if the tourism industry is a bit under-developed. It is also only a short 4-5 hour drive from the Croatian coast. The road network in Bosnia is terrible, but once you get across the border, the European highway system makes travel by car a breeze.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, unless you travel extensively to "real" Europe.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a heartbeat. Sarajevo is a wonderful city with a ton of character. It has its stresses, but in the end, you'll miss it as soon as you leave.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Nothing but your need for a smoke-free restaurant (smoking is the national pastime).
3. But don't forget your:
Snow tires and patience.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
A Short History of Bosnia by Noel Malcolm is a good, if flawed, start.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
The Land of Milk and Honey is a recent and highly depressing look at the war.