Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina Report of what it's like to live there - 08/19/14

Personal Experiences from Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina

Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina 08/19/14

Background:

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

Yes.

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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?

D.C. Two legs, DC to Vienna or Munich, then onto Sarajevo, 16 hours or so with layovers.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2012-2014.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Lots to choose from. Apartments and townhouses within the city. Single family homes with yards on the outskirts. Sometimes layouts are odd.

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

Cost of food is amazingly low if you do most of your shopping at the fresh markets. Fruits and vegetables are seasonable, so you have to plan ahead and freeze if you want strawberries in December. Meat = lots of chicken, beef is a bit weird--funny taste and lack of butchering skills, and pork (aside from ham for sandwiches) has to be purchased at special stores. Household supplies can be Bosnia expensive, but not too bad compared to Stateside prices.

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

Unscented detergent, canned green beans and soups, applesauce/baby food squeeze pouches, make-up, ingredients for ethnic cooking.

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

Ha. There are 2 McDonald's. A couple of good restaurants--decent steak at the country club, fine dining at Four Rooms of Ms. Sofiya, good sushi at Sushi San.

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

No biting insects so outdoor time is great! Ants indoors can be a problem.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch.

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

Lots and cheap! 10 KM per hour is the normal rate for housecleaning or babysitting.

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

Yes. The Embassy gym is not bad, and a few folks have various kinds of classes there. There's a regular gym in Importanne, right across from the Embassy, and there is a new Cross Fit gym in town as well. Not sure of costs.

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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?

Most big stores do take credit cards but it is still mainly a cash economy. The fresh markets and smaller restaurants will only take cash.

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

This is a bit tough. here is an English service at noon at the Catholic cathedral downtown. No music, just mass. There is a non-denominational expat group that meets out at Butmir. And there is an active Mormon group.

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

It's helpful to know a few things to get around. The phonetic alphabet makes reading/writing Bosnian easy! But English is widely spoken, even by some grocery store check-out workers!

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

Yes. LOTS of steep hills and pathways with stairs. Narrow to no sidewalks.

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Transportation:

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

Never took a train or bus, but taxis are a plenty and cheap! Many drivers smoke, however.

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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?

You'll need something small due to the narrow roads, but good tires are a must for the steep hills and wintry weather. We ordered parts online and had no problem with repairs or oil changes with our Japanese model.

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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 spotty. Weather affected service, and sometimes seemingly nothing at all messed with service.

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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?

Easy and cheap plans through the Embassy. Bring your own unlocked smartphone.

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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?

No quarantine necessary. Several English speaking vets who make house visits. A couple of kennels. Be aware, there are lots of stray dogs in Sarajevo.

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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?

No. Perhaps teaching English as a 2nd language.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There is an orphanage that takes volunteers but you have to complete an odd health screening and there is smoking allowed inside.

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

Suit and tie at the Embassy M-Th, business casual on F.

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Health & Safety:

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

A high unemployment rate makes petty crime a concern. However, I never felt unsafe.

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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?

Smog is a problem in winter months. Serious asthma sufferers should not consider it. There is an RMO and a part-time pediatrician at post, and some English speaking specialists in town. Still not ideal for major issues. Smoking is allowed in the cafe in the hospital, for example. In fact, smoking indoors is allowed just about everywhere.

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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 the summer, poor in the winter. Smog can be pretty tough. Not China rough, but air purifier needed in bedrooms rough.

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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?

Cold-weather, mountainous climate. Summers are typically bright and clear and warm. Winters are cold and dreary with either rain or snow.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are two used by the Embassy community. The French School, and QSI of Sarajevo. I did not have children old enough to attend either but had friends who used each. Both have their pros and cons. QSI is a bit outside of town but there is a bus.

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

They are getting better. Still could use some work. I suggest lots of advocacy.

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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?

There are a couple of preschools that take children starting at one year of age. The costs are very low compared to U.S. prices, and homemade breakfasts and lunches are included. Teachers are bilingual and friendly, but management can be gruff. There are also lots of options for experienced nannies. Many get passed from family to family as people come and go.

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

Soccer, ice skating, gymnastics, swimming.

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Expat Life:

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

Large and great! WONDERFUL support from the Embassy community. And very cool folks to know outside of the Embassy community who have made Sarajevo their home for some time.

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

Lots of cafes and restaurants, a movie theatre downtown, a symphony is in residence, a COOL film festival each summer

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

Great for families. Bosnia is a very family oriented country. Kids are worshipped and welcomed everywhere.

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

I don't know. The U.S. Embassy is very supportive but I don't really know about the city.

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

Yes. The war was just 20 years ago and many people do still have problems with each other. For non-Bosnians, people of African descent get lots of second looks (out of curiosity, not hate), and some people of Asian descent have reported rude behavior towards them.

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

Snowy mountain fun, lots of beach trips to Croatia, amazing people who adore kids.

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

Lots of history--WWI and siege tours; cool old Olympic ruins; lots of natural beauty--mountains, waterfalls, springs; direct flights from SJJ to great travel destinations--Istanbul, Vienna, Munich, etc.

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

Carved wood items from Konjic, hammered copper in the old city of Sarajevo, honey from Herzegovina.

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

Low cost of living, gorgeous mountains, close proximity to great travel destinations, family-friendly culture.

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10. Can you save money?

YES!

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

No DPO, and small and winding mountainous roads can cause massive car sickness even for someone never having exhibited symptoms beforehand.

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

Absolutely.

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

Respect for rules of the road. Aggressive driving and parking anywhere you wish are norms.

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4. But don't forget your:

Cold weather gear and rain gear

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

The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Return,

Bosnia and Herzegovina, 3rd (Bradt Travel Guide Bosnia & Herzegovina),

Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Wartime Sarajevo, Revised Edition,

Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

In the Land of Blood and Honey,

Welcome to Sarajevo,

No Man's Land,

The Whistleblower.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Pro's outweigh the con's. Loved Sarajevo.

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