Pristina, Kosovo Report of what it's like to live there - 06/25/14
Personal Experiences from Pristina, Kosovo
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
First as an adult.
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. Connections to PRN are generally via Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna, or Istanbul. DC to Munich is approximately 9 hours and Munich to PRN is about 2.5 hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
2 years, 2012 - 2014.
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?
Most people live near the Embassy and can get there within 5 minutes' walking time. I lived about 4k from the Embassy and it would take me anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour to get to work, depending on traffic (mostly due to never-ending construction).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
A bit less than in DC. You can purchase giant bags of potatoes, onions, etc. for about 99 Euro cents. Staples are relatively cheap as well. However, you will miss cheddar cheese and pork (go to Gracanica if you have a craving) and bring any kind of comfort food with you if you can. American products are virtually non-existent.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Really good beer. Quick packaged dinners for lazy/tired evenings. Cheddar cheese in your carry-on. Real vanilla. American toilet paper and paper towels. Free and clear detergent. Natural cleaning supplies. High quality sponges. Mr. Clean erasers. Ziploc bags.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is no such thing as fast food in Kosovo. There is a brand new American-style craft brewery that opened a brew pub, called Sabaja's. Check it out, especially if you're home sick. There are several delicious local restaurants, with Renaissance II being the highlight, along with Tiffany's, Pinocchio, Mozaik, Rron, and Basillico being my favorites. Not many places deliver though the Thai restaurant and Nepalese restaurant will throw your food in a cab.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None. You rarely see bugs (if so, ants) and small animals (i.e. squirrels) are virtually non-existent.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Nannies are affordable as well, ranging anywhere from 200 Euros a month (local price) to about 600 Euros (which generally includes nights, weekends, cleaning, and some cooking).
Housekeepers are available for about 20 Euros a day.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. There is a gym at the Embassy and a new one right across the street. I believe it's about 20 Euro/month.
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?
Bring cash. Almost nowhere accepts credit cards. ATMs are generally very safe. Just be smart and aware of your surroundings. Use an ATM that is actually attached to a bank just in case it eats your card. I used Raiffeisen and Pro Credit during my tenure without any incident.
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?
Not much, but you should definitely learn Albanian niceties. It goes a long way. Most everyone under 40 speaks passable English. German is widely spoken as well.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, they would have a very difficult time. No matter which direction you go, you're generally headed uphill. There are stairs everywhere. The streets and sidewalks are cobblestone or brick pavers and are very uneven.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are very cheap. You can get around downtown for about 2 Euros. If you go to the Albi Mall or Viva Fresh supermarket, right outside of downtown, it'll cost about 4 Euros.
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?
Toyota RAV-4s were the vehicles of choice. Bring something with some ground clearance and a smaller 4x4 will definitely come in handy. Most people park on the sidewalk, so you have to be able to make it up there.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes and it's quite good. If you go to IPKO yourself, you can get set up for about 120 Euros/year.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Unlock yours and buy a local sim card. 3G is slowly making its way to Pristina (IPKO I believe, but not Vala). Almost every place you visit will have free wifi. Just ask for the password and you'll get it with a smile.
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?
Nope. There are vets, but I wouldn't trust them with more than routine vet care.
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, not unless you want to receive local wages (think 200 - 600 Euros/month).
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
All kinds. People from a variety of organizations will gladly accept your help.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Public - anything goes. Not strict at all. It is a very secular Muslim majority society. At work it depends on who you are meeting with that day.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No, not really. Everyone knows everyone so street crime is rare but it does occur on occasion if you're not paying attention.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
You get medevac'd for minor issues. Do not come to Kosovo if you have medium to severe medical issues. You do not want to go to a local hospital.
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?
Horrible the instant it cools down. Lignite is generally burned in the homes and the power plant emits various harmful chemicals. Pristina is in a bowl and the pollution tends to get trapped in it. I lived a little outside of downtown and the wind patterns worked in my favor.
Also, be warned if you wear contact lenses. You'll be wearing glasses 24/7 when winter hits. The pollution will sting your eyes.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Summers are dry and hot, springs can be very wet, winters can be bitterly cold (though I never saw the legendary snow in my 2 years there), and falls are lovely.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Not really available and not recommended.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
My guess would be nothing.
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?
Yes. Preschool was very affordable - about 160 Euros a month full-time, including food.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
No, not really.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community is a decent size. You'll find folks from all over. Morale waxes and wanes; it just depends on the leadership and the weather.
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?
Make yourself some good friends. Brunches, dinners, house parties, etc. are a way of life.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
There's a decent dining/nightlife scene for those who like to eat, drink, and dance. However, there is not much to do for any group and it can get boring. You really need to make your own fun especially when it's cold out. However, once it warms up, the cafe culture is quite large.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not openly; it's generally frowned upon by the local culture and there was a recent attack on an LGBT group. Things are changing, albeit very slowly.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There are definitely ethnic tensions amongst the local Albanian majority and the Serbian, Roma, and Turkish minorities. However, the younger generation seems very upbeat about getting past differences.
Also, men are definitely the preferred sex. If you're female, expect to get served after the men and to get cat-called on the street. Local women are expected to work, run the household, manage the children, and serve their husbands. Many have a tough go of it.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Visiting neighboring countries. Skopje, Macedonia is 1.5 hours away. The coast in Albania starts about 3 hours while the beaches of Greece are about 4 hours away. You can drive to Montenegro in about 5 hours and I highly recommend Kotor. Croatia is about 1.5 hours from Kotor. I highly recommend a visit to Plitvice Falls outside of Zagreb. It's absolutely breathtaking.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Hike the Rugova valley. Visit Prizren for silver filigree. Istog is known for fresh trofta (trout).
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Filigree, rugs, wooden chests.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The people are incredibly warm and friendly. They absolutely adore children. The food is very good and the prices are very reasonable. Spring and summer is gorgeous, with roses blooming everywhere. Summer and fall bring fresh fruit growing from the trees all over town.
10. Can you save money?
Not if you travel like I did. Take advantage of the Balkans while it's still relatively undiscovered.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
More about Balkan history - from the Illyrians to the Ottomans.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I would definitely return! It is definitely a hardship post - driving can be dangerous and the pollution is no joke - but I made friendships that will last a lifetime.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Positive attitude. Kosovars are great - make local friends! Learn about the culture of the country and of the region. Bring your hiking shoes.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Very few books are written about Kosovo. That being said, check out Elizabeth Gowing's two recent books.
7. Do you have any other comments?
This is a fantastic spot if you are adventurous; however, two years is plenty!