Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina Report of what it's like to live there - 06/19/09

Personal Experiences from Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina

Sarajevo, Bosnia And Herzegovina 06/19/09

Background:

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

No. This was my fourth. Australia - Germany; Guatemala City; Guatemala - Sarajevo; Bosnia and Herzegovina

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2. How long have you lived here?

Three years - August 2006-August 2009.

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

Spouse of U.S. Embassy employee.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

From Sarajevo to Washington, D.C., through Munich on Lufthansa, it will take about 12 hours. Similar time with Austrian through Vienna. Return takes a few hours longer, as you have a longer layover in either city.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

I think the furthest-out houses might be a 20-minute drive at "rush" hour. This city is incredibly walkable, and many people walk to work. Homes are not located close to the school, and getting to them can take 15 - 25 minutes, depending on traffic and how close you live to that side of town. There are apartments downtown, as well as houses with varying sizes of yards further out.

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

You can get most things. Sometimes you need help figuring out which item matches what you're trying to buy (with regard to baking ingredients, in particular). An asian food store has just opened, and they appear to have anything you might want. Things you can't get include: chocolate chips, cheddar cheese, hotdogs, bacon, American-style bread.

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

Nothing in particular. I tended to bring back the few things we needed in my suitcases on trips, or order them through Netgrocer.

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

No American fast food. There are local specialties that are fast and inexpensive (such as burek and cevapi). There are many restaurants at all different price levels.

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

None that I know of.

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic pouch. The mail center at the embassy will help you with a Fed-ex shipment if you need to do that. Mail is slow.

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

Easily available for part or full-time. I think the cost is pretty reasonable. I paid our household help the equivalent of $6.60 an hour.

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

There are a few gyms in town that offer memberships, including a brand new one in the Old Town area. The embassy has a gym as well with workout equipment.

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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?

We don't use credit cards or ATM cards here, so I can't comment on that. But I have not heard of any problems.

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

One Catholic Mass at noon. No others that I know of.

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

We use AFN. No idea about newspapers.

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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?

Very little. Point and nod works well. If you want to converse, you will need to learn the language, as some people speak English, but many do not or are not comfortable trying to.

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

A lot. Bumpy sidewalks, few wheelchair-accessible sidewalks, many buildings do not have elevators, or the elevators often break down.

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Transportation:

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

We were advised not to use the buses or trams due to pickpockets. But my daughter and son rode them all the time without problems. Taxis are very safe and I think very affordable. Buses and trams are very cheap.

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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?

Small. The parking tends to be in tight quarters and small spaces. In some of the streets you are really squeezing by the often illegally parked cars. High ground clearance would be a plus, as at times you will need to park on the sidewalk. We have had no problem getting our car serviced here.

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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. We got the highest speed and pay $30 per month.

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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?

The embassy provides its employees with a cell phone. Everyone else tends to have pre-paid phone cards for theirs.

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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.

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

There is one vet in town. He is great at some things, not so great at others. Surgery is his specialty. There are a few different options for boarding dogs.

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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?

Not that I have heard of. The embassy works hard to employ spouses that would like to work.

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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. Casual in public. Don't see a lot of shorts, but they're starting to crop up.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Unhealthy in the winter. Coal is burned. Asthmatics may have trouble.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

The standard ones.

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

I've only heard about home robberies, and even those I have heard less about lately. None at U.S. Embassy homes, as they have bars and alarms. Streets are very safe, and we are often out as late as midnight -- as is our teen daughter, with no problems. Many people are walking at all hours, so it's seldom deserted.

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

Just the pollution for people with lung or breathing problems. The health office at the embassy is very good. The few local doctors we dealt with were good, including home visits. The hospitals are a nightmare, and people are medevac'd for anything serious to Vienna or elsewhere.

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

Four seasons. Winter is long but not particularly hard.

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Schools & Children:

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

QSIS (Quality Schools International of Sarajevo) is the school that everyone sends their kids to. They expect to have about 150 kids total registered next year. There are kids from approximately 30 different countries, which makes for a good experience. I did not have any experience with the lower school. The complaints I did hear from there tended to be about the QSI system more than the quality of the actual instruction. The director is easily approached and very responsive, in my opinion. The Upper School has grown from 12 students in all four grades during our first year to about 22 this year. Next year there will be a few more. They cannot offer everything that a large highschool can, obviously, but they do have very personal attention. AP courses are available, along with good prep for SAT exams, and the students develop wonderful relationships across the grades and with their instructors. I wouldn't trade it for a large highschool. I had two children graduate from QSIS, and both went on to university. There is a lot of assistance provided with college applications, choosing a college, and so forth. National Honor Society and Model United Nations are available as well.

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

I do not know. I imagine it is fairly limited, although there are small class sizes. I would recommend contacting the director of the school before making the decision to relocate here.

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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?

No experience. It is offered at QSIS as well, and people seem happy with it. There are also preschools located closer in town, including a Montessori preschool, but I assume the language used there is Bosnian.

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

The school has limited ability to offer sports. Skiing and snowboarding lessons are a part of the curriculum in the winter. Basketball is the sport we're most familiar with, and the local teams are very active. Our kids also joined the local Judo team, a sport they had done for many years. Horseback riding lessons are available at much less cost than you would pay in the states.

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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 in proportion to the town.

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2. Morale among expats:

Seems pretty high to me.

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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?

Mostly at each others' homes. Lots of dining at restaurants.

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

I have heard that singles have a hard time finding companionship with the local people, but as a married woman, I have not had any problems developing Bosnian friendships. I would not say there is "lots" to do - but there is hiking, skiing, walking in the old town, museums, day trips out of town, parks out of town, and so forth.

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

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

Not that I've noticed. This is primarily a Muslim city, but there is also a Catholic Cathedral and some Orthodox Christian churches.

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

There are 3 Olympic ski slopes located within a 45-minute drive. The Croatian coast is easy to go to for a long weekend. In the winter, there is an outdoor skating rink by the olympic stadium (Zetra). There are many companies that offer guided hikes as well as rafting trips. There are musical performances at the National Theater that are fairly inexpensive, including opera, symphony, and so forth. We primarily love walking and looking at the Austrian, Ottoman and Communist-era architecture, all mixed together.

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

Copper items. Rugs. Carved wood furniture.

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9. Can you save money?

Easily. Unless you fly in and out a lot, which is expensive.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. We came for two years and extended for a third.

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

taste for McDonald's and your outrage over the crazy parking.

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3. But don't forget your:

skis, winter clothes, Bosnian guidebook and sense of humor.

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

The Cellist of Sarajevo, People of the Book, Sarajevo Marlboro

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Welcome to Sarajevo, The Hunting Party

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

The Cellist of Sarajevo, People of the Book, Sarajevo Marlboro

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7. Do you have any other comments?

The thing we liked the most about living here is how walkable the city is. We seldom used our car. The thing we liked the least is that it can be hard to get flights in and out during the winter due to fog. Cancelled flights are not unusual.

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