Budapest, Hungary Report of what it's like to live there - 01/23/12

Personal Experiences from Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, Hungary 01/23/12

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?

Washington, D.C.

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3. How long have you lived here?

18 months so far (3 year tour).

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

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?

Singles and childless couples tend to be in apartments in Pest (the "City" side of Budapest). Families tend to be in townhouses, stand-alone houses, and very spacious apartments in Buda (the tree-filled, hilly suburb side).

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

Groceries seem to be about equal to mid-priced groceries in the US (cheaper than in rural areas, like Wyoming, pricier than in the midwest). The Commissary has many non-perishables, ranging from okay-priced to really expensive.

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

Peanut butter, American baby food (other baby items are fine, though), cream of chicken/mushroom soups (their's here are a different texture), fragrance-free laundry soap (they have a British one, though), batteries (very pricy, but available here).

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

McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, KFC. Cost like in the U.S. The only other American restaurant: TGI Fridays. Lots of Hungarian cafeteria style fast food, Greek fast food, pizza stands, Chinese food fast food.

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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?

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

None.

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Daily Life:

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

Use the Embassy mail system. Non-government friends send and receive packages through the local mail and I haven't heard of any problems.

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

Part-time babysitters range from US$5-8 an hour. House cleaners about the same.

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

Yes. One near Embassy. Others everywhere.

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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?

No troubles.

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

There are three major Christian English-speaking churches (Danube, Calgary Chapel, and a Baptist one). I know there is at least one Mormon church, a Catholic church, and I think an Episcopal church.

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

Yes. Not sure cost.

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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?

Some people swear you don't need any. We've found that a few months of language lessons (once a week) has been very helpful in enriching our experience. You can definitely get around without it though. It's a really, really hard language.

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

The Metro stations are not always handicap (or stroller) accessible. That said, the Hungarian people are VERY quick to help, especially with carrying strollers up and down stairs.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, yes.

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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?

Bring your automobile. We tried to buy a used one here and ended up buying one back in the US and shipping it over.

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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. Not sure cost.

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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?

Most people in the Embassy community use T Mobile.

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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)?

Much. They love dogs here. Almost as much as they love kids.

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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?

Some.

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

Work: professional dress. Public: anything you'd wear in the US will be fine.

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Health & Safety:

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

There has been an increase in property theft while we've been here. No one leaves anything in their cars when you leave your car. But no violent crimes that I've heard of.

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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?

Pretty good medical care. Medevacs for serious issues (a severe broken leg requiring surgery got medevaced to Vienna), but most stuff is handled here. Our Embassy encourages people to fly home to have their babies, though: NICU care isn't up to par here. The private businesses, Exxon, etc., do not medevac their people home for births, though, so it must be okay. Friends have had good experiences delivering here.

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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?

Good, especially in the Buda Hills where we live.

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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?

Four seasons like anywhere in the middle of the U.S. Winters can be snowy (more than D.C., less than Michigan) and summer can be hot (like Missouri or Oklahoma). Less humid than DC or Midwest.

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Schools & Children:

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

I hear good things. Our kids are younger. People like the American School, Greater Grace International School, the British School, Britannnica, the French School, and ICSB.

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

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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 plenty of picks for preschools, but they are pricy (comparative to the DC area). I found a "good deal" for $300/month for 3 mornings a month.

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

Yes.

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Expat Life:

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

Big. Lots of people through Embassies, Exxon, a large missionary population, and random other businesses.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good. People tend like it here (of course, unless they are unhappy in their personal lives). Many spouses and kids are opting to stay here and live, rather than return to the US, while their working spouse goes to a war zone for a next tour.

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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?

It's a pretty social city.

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

Yes, yes, yes! Everyone seems to like it. Good nightlife and restaurants for the singles. Plenty of parks, Moms' groups, and family activities in the City.

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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?

There is prejudice against the Roma (gypsy) population. I have some American friends with darker skin (ranging from South Asian to African American) who have had merchants watch them closely in stores.

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

Easily touring the rest of Europe (much within driving distance and everything else within a few hour flight or less).

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

Drive to South Germany (5 hours), Croatia (4 hours), Slovenia (4 hours), Vienna (2.5 hours), Lake Balaton (1-2 hours). Within Budapest: go to Margaret Island, the great zoo, the circus, the fantastic baths (Szechenyi Baths especially), go to the wonderful chandelier-filled coffee shops, go to the Christmas market.

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

Textiles, wooden toys, ceramics.

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

Ease of travel throughout Europe, fun city, nice family activities, fun nightlife.

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11. Can you save money?

Not really. Depends how much you travel.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

YES!

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

Tendency to buy everything at the Commissary. You can really get most of anything you need on the local market. I go to the Commissary for comfort items, but really am fine without it.

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3. But don't forget your:

Passport -- travel while here a TON!

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

Bridge at Andau: The Compelling True Story of a Brave, Embattled People
The Invisible Bridge (Vintage Contemporaries)

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Rick Steves' Eastern Europe

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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