Pristina, Kosovo Report of what it's like to live there - 07/31/19

Personal Experiences from Pristina, Kosovo

Pristina, Kosovo 07/31/19

Background:

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

No, we have also lived in Moscow, Russia.

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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?

Colorado, USA. Most people that fly from the States connect through Frankfurt, Munich, or Vienna. There are also quite a few flights through Istanbul if you don't have to fly a US Carrier.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Just over one year.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We live in a neighborhood, which is like a very US/Western suburb with townhouses and single family homes. Most of the residents in this neighborhood are with a foreign mission or are from wealthier Albanian families. There is also housing in the another neighborhood up by the US Embassy; both families and singles live in this area. "IV" is really great for families as the housing is big and it's a gated neighborhood with a big sand park. There is also a pool that is open during the summertime.

The commute to downtown Pristina/most embassies is about 15 minutes driving (no public transportation). People that live downtown can walk to most of the restaurants, which is nice, though the walk to the new US Embassy will be longer once it opens in September 2019. All of the housing comes with plenty of air filters, which is very helpful during the winter when the pollution is bad.

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

The cost of everything in Kosovo is much less than anywhere else in Europe, not to mention the US. Produce is very seasonal, and finding specific products is tricky. The general rule of thumb is if you see something that you want - BUY IT - because you don't know when you'll see it again. You can only find pork at a butcher shop in Gracanica (south of Pristina) or you can buy it in Skopje. The shops have increased their variety quite a bit over the last year and if we can't find something here we can either: order on Amazon, go to Bondsteel (very limited selection), or go to Skopje. We chose not to do a consumables shipment and are still happy with the choice.

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

If I were to send anything I would probably send Asian cooking products. You can now find Kikkoman Soy Sauce, but that's about it. Sometimes I have seen rice vinegar and sesame oil, but it's been a while. Also, any Latin America products like chipotle in adobo or dried chilis. Indian spices are also hard to come by and cilantro is nearly non-existent (unless you grow it yourself)

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

Lots of restaurants carry the same fare - we call it "Italian-ish" - pizza, risotto, steak, burgers (but with Balkan spices); some are definitely better than others. Recently we've had a sushi place open up that's expensive, but good, and a Mexican place also opened that has been getting positive reviews from expats. There is a Thai place run by a lovely Thai woman and her husband, and an Indian-ish place that is okay if you're a little desperate. In terms of "chains" that people might be familiar with, we have Dominos, Burger King, KFC, and Taco Bell/Subway at Bondsteel. Most places will deliver if you pay the cab fare. We often will call ahead and do carry-out on our way home from work.

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

No.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch and DPO (although that might change). I've never used the local postal facilities.

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

Typically people pay about 5 Euro an hour for household help. If you have a full-time person usually there is a monthly rate, I've heard it's around 600 Euro/month. Most people have at least a housekeeper and if the have kids then also a nanny or a steady babysitter. There are a lot of English-speaking Nannies available, everyone knows someone!

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

Not sure, most people use the one at the Embassy.

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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?

Yes, though I always carry some cash as a back up.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

It's helpful to learn the language, the US Embassy offers Albanian classes. Most people here speak English or German as a second language, so if you don't want to learn the language (or don't have time to learn) you can still get by.

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

Sidewalks are hit and miss, though they do seem to be building more. There aren't a lot of stairs, but I don't think that it would be an easy place to be in a wheelchair or have crutches.

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Transportation:

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

No experience with the local buses (there are a few). No trams and while I hear that there are trains, I've never actually seen one. Taxis are plentiful and affordable, lots of good companies to choose from and the dispatchers generally speak English.

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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?

Something with clearance as there are lots of potholes/construction/uneven roads.

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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, quick and easy to install.

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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 provides phones, but if you bring your own you can use Vala or Ipko. You need to go into one of their stores or a gas station every month to add money to your account (10 euro is average per month)

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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?

I believe that people are happy with the vet care, there is also a very active dog rescue group here. Animals do not need to be quarantined. Keep in mind that there are lots of stray dogs and cats here.

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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?

Most people that I know that want a job have found something, either at our Embassy or at other missions. Quite a few spouses telecommute.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots of people volunteer to help with the stray dogs (fostering, vaccinating, working to send back to America for adoption). There is a local NGO that some volunteer with called the IDEAS partnership.

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

Business at work. It is a more modest society, but people definitely get dressed up to go out.

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Health & Safety:

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

I have not been concerned for my safety any more or less than I was living in Washington, DC. Always be aware of your surroundings, don't be stupid.

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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?

Air quality in the winter is terrible and all housing comes with air filters. The US Embassy med unit is great, and the local providers are good for things like x-rays and other smaller procedures (have known people to have their appendix taken out, my son broke his arm, etc.) They also send people to Skopje for something that needs more than Pristina, but less than a full medevac. I believe the medevac point for Kosovo is London.

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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?

Bad in the winter, lots of people wear face masks if they have to spend time outside. Not bad in the late spring/summer. The problem is that people burn lignite coal in their homes when it's cold and all of that PLUS the power plants PLUS the geographic position of Pristina makes for terrible air.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Bring a mask, be smart about your time outside. If you have food allergies... I would bring something translated into Albanian that you can show to waiters so that they understand the seriousness of what you are asking.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Not that I have seen. Even in the winter we still get a lot of sun, even if it's cold.

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

Pretty mild, like DC.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are two main international schools: ILG and QSI. My kids go to ILG and we've been really happy with it so far. ILG is bigger, with about 130 kids and has an Infant Creche- 8th grade. QSI is much smaller, but is really the only option if you have kids older than 8th grade. Ask the CLO to connect you with families so that you can get an updated perspective.

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

Not sure, though I'm sure that they would happily discuss options with you.

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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?

Yes, both of the main international schools (ILG and QSI) offer preschool. The rates vary depending on if you're an "Institutional Payer" e.g., from an Embassy/or your employer pays, or if you are paying out of pocket. ILG is a bigger school, and it just became the first IB school in all of Kosovo. There is about one class per grade and each class is about 15 kids. The kids are a mixture of Albanian and foreign mission. QSI is much smaller, but does seem to be growing. It's students are primarily from foreign missions, but that also seems to be changing. ILG is out by International Village and QSI is by the US Embassy, both schools offer busing. There is not before/after school care, but there are after school activities offered.

There is also the Park School out by Germia Park, which does Montessori preschool education. It's a bit further out, but the families that I know that have kids there have been happy with it.

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

A lot of kids take swim lessons at STEP, and I think that there is an after school soccer group that some kids participate in.

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Expat Life:

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

It's a fairly large expat community since there are so many missions here: UN, EU (several different groups here from the EU, other diplomatic missions. The morale seems to be good.

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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?

Many women join the International Women's Group (some men are members too!) Pristina is very small, so you see each other often, especially at some of the better restaurants. Downtown Pristina is entirely walkable and it's not uncommon to see someone you know when you're out. People get together in their homes, take weekend trips to Albania/North Macedonia/Serbia.

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

Most people travel a LOT, either by car or taking a cheap flight on WizzAir. Either with or without kids, there are lots of places to explore and it's fairly cheap and easy to do so.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Yes. They LOVE Americans here (and westerners in general) and people are very friendly and helpful over all.

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

Most of the problems are between the Albanians and the Serbians, but as an outsider living in the capital you do not see or feel that on a regular basis. One thing that is hard to get used to at first is that everyone has a war story, the war effected everyone in a very powerful and serious way.

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

The people are incredible: if you need something you just have to ask and someone knows something. Kosovars/Albanians are very entrepreneurial and are eager to please. Weekend trips to Valbona (Albania) are breathtaking, and there is great and pretty inexpensive skiing in Kapaonik, Serbia.

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

No, but you can easily get to places where you can go shopping!

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

Everything is so inexpensive. You can travel to so much of Europe from here. Roads keep getting better. People are awesome. It's a hidden gem for sure.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

It's good to educate yourself at least a bit about the 1999 war. It's very real for many people. Politics here are kind of a mess, don't fully expect to understand it all, ask lots of questions, people are very happy to share their stories and perspectives. Albanians are anything but shy!

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

Yes. Maybe not forever, but I'm very happy to be here now. We extended for another year as soon as we were asked, many others feel the same way.

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

Expectations that people will follow any kind of driving laws :).

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4. But don't forget your:

Positive attitude!

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

The Death of Yugoslavia, a six part series on BBC. It's old, we had to watch it on YouTube, very worthwhile. Travel in Blood and Honey (book), Balkan Ghosts (book).

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6. Do you have any other comments?

This is a great post! Reach out to people on Facebook or through the CLO to get the most up to date information. This is a very friendly and open community.

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