Budapest, Hungary Report of what it's like to live there - 12/12/17

Personal Experiences from Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, Hungary 12/12/17

Background:

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

No. I have lived in Paris, Dakar, Mexico City, and Islamabad.

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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. Transit through Frankfurt or Paris for pet friendly airlines (avoid Munich due to recent change in policy).

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3. How long have you lived here?

3 years.

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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?

Buda is not the suburbs (as I read it often); the community lives in Districts I (near the Var/Castle area), II, and XII out of 23 districts (23rd is near the airport in Pest). Being on the Buda side does not necessarily mean living in a house with a garden. It could be an apartment without garden. Being in Pest does not necessarily mean being 5-minute walking distance from the center, you could have a 20-minute commute by bus (Stefania). Some Embassy apartments don't have elevators from the ground floor to the apartment. And it could be three floors high (think strollers, arthritis, etc.).

Singles and childless couples tend to be in apartments in Pest while families tend to be in townhouses, stand-alone houses, and very spacious apartments in Buda (the tree-filled, hilly suburb side). There was a trend in 2016 for families with many kids wanting to live in Pest; it meant a huge commute for kids who did not have their friends around them.

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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 50-100% of the price of groceries in the U.S., depending on what you buy and the season. The Commissary has many non-perishables, ranging from okay-priced to really expensive. Some people ate 99% from the Commissary (which we found unhealthy since the Commissary does not sell produce). We barely visited it since local markets are so enjoyable here.

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

Nothing, we like local food and products (many from Germany). And what we really cannot find comes easily from Amazon.

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

We adopt local customs so we don’t care about McDonalds or KFC, but have noticed that the Mexican restaurant in front of the Embassy is a favorite among expats. Lots of Hungarian cafeteria style fast food, pizza, Greek, Turkish, Chinese fast food. The best for Embassy personnel or anyone in the area is the small market Belvarosi Piac behind the Embassy since its first floor offers a dozen good restaurants from fast food to less fast but overall great food (vegetarian to heavy sausages to fish).

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5. 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?

We use the Embassy mail system for the U.S. and the Post Office next to the Basilica for the other countries. No 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?

House cleaners range about $7-10/hour, nannies sometimes a bit more.

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

The Embassy has a brand new gym. Others everywhere. Many people run along the Danube.

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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 problems. Many ATMs.

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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). There are also LDS, Catholic, Episcopal, Jewish, etc. CLO has an updated list and it is also on the Paprika community website for Embassy folks.

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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?

Some people swear you don't need any which defeats the purpose of being in the FS. At the embassy, the weekly "survivor Hungarian" is great (hopefully they will continue this program). Otherwise you can also get 2 hours a week. Some people paid their own language school to become more proficient. Learning how to read is a minimum, as you will be able to decipher better restaurant menus. In Budapest with young people, English is widely spoken, but outside central districts (let alone the country side) and with older people, forget English! Some actually speak German if this can help you.

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

The Metro stations are not always handicap (or stroller) accessible. Hungarians are usually 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. Alas Uber got ousted though.

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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?

We brought a 4WD to visit surrounding countries. Never used it in Budapest; we did everything with tram, bus, metro (Uber at the time) or taxi. Better to live in Buda with a garage if you bring a big car since parking may not be near your apartment if you live in Pest and streets are narrow.

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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. GSO does it pre-arrival. At worse you wait 2-3 days. Neighbors can lend you their wi-fi in the meantime.

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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?

Embassy community keeps changing policy between T Mobile and Vodafone.

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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?

They love dogs here, they are even welcome in restaurants. Many vets and kennels available.

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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?

Language is so hard it is not really realistic to want a local job, except as a teacher – some taught at the University or in international schools. Salaries are not very high since Hungary is not an expensive country. In 2016, there were a dozen jobs at the embassy. Some part-time.

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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 and Friday wear. Depends on sections and being seen in public or not. Public as a private citizen: anything you would wear in the U.S.

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Health & Safety:

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

We were robbed the day of our departure. There is property theft occurring regularly but it typically occurs when you are absent; it involves no violence. Hence the need to use your alarm faithfully.

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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?

Very good medical care. Germans and Austrians travel here for medical/dentistry appointments (half the price than in their countries). Medevacs only for serious issues. Pregnant women select frequently to deliver in Vienna (rather than the U.S.) to be closer to their family.

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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 lived.

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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. Winters are supposed to be snowy but we had three very mild winters with barely a week of snow in the city (more on the hill where locals ski). Summer can be hot and humid (much less than D.C. though). Very sunny (like Barcelona or D.C.).

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Schools & Children:

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

People go to the American School (very far from all housing, university-sized, I would say better for older kids), Greater Grace International School, the British School, Britannica (both British schools are closer to housing and a size that seems better for younger kids in primary school, one has uniforms the other does not), the French School (second largest campus after the American school), and ICSB. There are also a German and a Spanish international schools.

The American school has a maximum of 20-25% US/GB students, all others are from Asia or Europe. The French school has about 50% French students in the small classes and less after 8th grade, most other students are Hungarian, speaking perfect English and many other languages. Our son was happy there since he knew everything local (tips, parties, some Hungarian). They were also only 13 in his class of 12th grade (versus 25+ in other schools). Some American families with no ties to a francophone country chose the French school before us.

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2. 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 very expensive (university pricing of about $12,000 minimum per year! Then add a nanny to get the kids from there at 2 or 3pm if both parents work or mono-parental). Some families chose a Hungarian preschool because it was a 5-minute walk from the embassy (and of course much cheaper).

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3. 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?

Very large (see number of international schools). Lots of people through Embassies, Exxon, a large missionary population, and many other businesses like IBM or PWC.

Morale is good. People like it here (except when there is a hiring freeze because working on the economy is super hard).

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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?

It's a social city with festivals of everything all the time – especially food-themed. Tons of bars. Young people do Tinder!

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

Everyone likes it. Good nightlife and restaurants for singles and no-kid families. Plenty of parks, Moms' groups, and family activities in the City. Very good for pets too – you can bring them to restaurants.

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

There is prejudice against the Roma (gypsy) population. People who are not white can get some looks, it really depends where they are and how they behave (loud or respectful to local customs).

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

Easily touring the rest of Europe (many countries within 2-4-hour driving distance and everything else within a 1-2-hour flight).

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

Drive to Bavaria (5 hours), Croatia (4 hours), Slovenia (4 hours), Vienna (2.5 hours), Slovakia (2 hours), Lake Balaton (1-2 hours). Within Budapest: go to Margaret Island, the great zoo, the circus, the baths (Szechenyi in winter, Gellert in summer), go to the wonderful chandelier-filled coffee shops, the Christmas market. Don’t miss the big festivals like Mohacs near Pecs or Easter in Holloko 2 hours north of Budapest.

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

Ease of travel throughout Europe, great food, fantastic wines, beautiful city, nice family activities, fun nightlife.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, and we met American expats who have decided to retire there, after careful calculations of all aspects including taxes (or actually no tax on retirement income).

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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.

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3. But don't forget your:

Passport for many travels around the region.

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