Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina Report of what it's like to live there - 12/25/17
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?
I've lived in Italy, Spain, Thailand, Cuba, and S. Korea (about 18 years overseas).
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, USA--about 13 hours with connection through Munich or Vienna.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We have a large house with a good sized yard about 15-30 minutes from the city (depending on traffic). Apartments in the city, houses in the burbs. There's a neighborhood nicknamed "Little America" that has quite a few embassy families.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
I'm a bad one to answer this because two years in Havana really teaches you how to get by with what you have. We really haven't had any problems finding what we need, and can order stuff through the DPO if we get a bad craving. The fruits and vegetables here are delicious and mostly organic. They do spoil faster, but that's what happens when food hasn't been genetically modified to last forever. Frozen options are available for when they are out of season. Plus, groceries are MUCH cheaper than in the US!
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Donesi.ba delivers from a variety of restaurants, and most places will do take-out if you ask. There are plenty of great, inexpensive restaurants with European cuisine. Not much decent Asian food other than two Japanese places and one mediocre Chinese restaurant. It's all VERY cheap compared to the US though, so who cares?
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
NONE! No ants, cockroaches or other giant nasty critters worth noting. It's the silver lining of those brutally cold winters.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use the DPO.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I know there is plenty of help available (nannies, housekeepers, gardeners), but I don't know the cost since we don't use any.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
I think there's a gym in the embassy but I've never used it.
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?
You can use credit cards at most stores, but cash is best for the markets. ATMs are safe and common.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Most locals speak enough English to help you with whatever you need. Many of the older people don't speak English, but are passable in German or Russian. But if you want to really get out beyond Sarajevo and the expat world, knowing some Bosnian is a huge help (not to mention respectful--we're living here, after all). There is the embassy's language program, and also plentiful local tutors at VERY reasonable rates.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, definitely. Sidewalks are a mess. The city is definitely not handicapped-friendly.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, very affordable and safe. A bit of pickpocketing on the tram, but just use common sense.
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?
I've got a Jeep Liberty which has been great for getting around the hills but a bit of a pain in the butt for parts (we order them from Amazon). I imagine it'd be hard to navigate in a car much larger than that outside of the city. All-wheel drive is good to have if you plan to go up in the mountains, but not necessary. Cost of labor is really cheap.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, ours was hooked up within a few days.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We 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?
There are several good veterinarians (especially Dr. Haris Custovic of City Vet), although they are limited by the resources and technology available here in Bosnia. Extremely complicated cases can go to Zagreb--about a 4 hours' drive. There is no quarantine and very little rabies. There are a fair amount of street dogs, which can make walking your dog a bit of a challenge (tip: win them over by feeding them a few times before you take your dog out and once they know you, they will let you pass).
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?
I think most work at the embassy or at the school.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are PLENTY! I volunteer at a dog shelter, I know of a few people who volunteer at a local orphanage. There are local charities like Pomozi that I'm sure would love extra help, or school kids who'd love someone to practice their English with. This country is still recovering from a brutal civil war--the ways to help are ENDLESS.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is a very safe post. Pickpocketing and minor property crime seems to be about as bad as it gets. A few houses have been broken into during our time here, but as far as I know it was always when no one was home. Someone once tried to break into our house at night, but ran away the minute my husband and dogs came down the stairs.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Air quality is pretty bad with all of the burning in winter. Medical care is pretty rudimentary and most serious conditions are medically evacuated. Hate to say it, but I wouldn't even have a root canal here.
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?
Air quality is bad in winter due to everyone burning wood, coal, etc for heat. Spring can be rough on allergies due to copious pollen. I wouldn't recommend Sarajevo for anyone with lung issues, but as long as you follow the pollution index warnings, it's fine. I work outside all year without a mask, and I haven't coughed up a lung yet.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
There are gluten-free products available, but you have to look for them.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Sarajevo suffers a bit from Whiny Expat Syndrome, but then again so does every other place we've ever been. If you want to live in the US, please don't move here.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Summers get pretty hot, winters can be snowy and VERY cold (last January it got down to -8Â° F). Winters are quite wet, with heavy fog/smog.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Our kids have gone to QSI for middle school and junior high. It's not the best nor the worst they've been to. They're happy overall, but wish there were more kids (it's pretty small). There's also a French school, but I know nothing about it.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Plenty of activities available. Our kids have taken horseback riding, art, fencing, rock climbing, boxing, and skiing lessons--at ridiculously affordable rates!
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's relatively small, compared to many other places we've lived. Seems to me that there are two kinds of expats the world over: those who want everywhere to be just like home, and those who are thrilled that it isn't. The latter love it here; the former don't love it anywhere. This is a make-your-own-fun kind of place, but there is plenty of fun to be had.
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?
I've met most of my friends through dog rescue so I can't really say.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it's a great place for anyone with a good attitude! There are plenty of bars and fun places for singles and couples to hang out. It's also a very kid-friendly city with very inexpensive things to do with children, so families will love it too.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
That is a bit of a prickly one. Bosnia has a long way to go in terms of gay rights. The LGBT community here is not open at all.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There are lingering ethnic/religious hostilities from the war.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Jajce is a lovely day trip from Sarajevo, as is Mostar. But the biggest highlight has been the Bosnian people themselves. They are some of the kindest, funniest people I have ever met. I will carry this country in my heart for the rest of my life.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Rock climbing, skiiing, trekking through the mountains, taking the kids to the wave pool at Termal Rivera or down the bobsled at Sunnyland, walking down the abandoned Olympic bobsled run on Trebevic, strolling around Old Town or by the Goat Bridge, having a coffee and enjoying the view from the Yellow Bastion, renting four-seater bicycles on Wilsonovo, people watching at Mixer...
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There is plenty to buy here: leather goods, sheepskins, woven rugs, copper, etc.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Very low cost of living, great food, incredibly warm people, laid back pace of life, low crime, amazing history, and of course, rakija.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How bloody cold winter was going to be!!!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a heartbeat.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Preconceived ideas about this being living in Western Europe. This is the former Yugoslavia, NOT France or Germany.
4. But don't forget your:
Warm clothes, ski gear, good walking shoes, dark sense of humor.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The 2001 movie No Man's Land. If you can appreciate its absurdity and dark humor, you'll love Bosnia.