Skopje, Macedonia Report of what it's like to live there - 10/23/13
Personal Experiences from Skopje, Macedonia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
This is my third expat experience; all have been in Europe.
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?
From DC: it takes only 12 hours or so to get here, but to return home, it takes much, much longer (26-28 hours).
3. How long have you lived here?
We have been here a little less than a year.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My husband works for the government.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
"Traffic" in Skopje means that it might take, at most, 20 minutes to get home. Nothing in town is more than 10-15 minutes away, and everyone I know of seems to love their home.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are very inexpensive here! For less than $20, I recently bought two bottles of decent wine, two kinds of fancy cheese, a dozen eggs, and some crackers. However, shoes, clothes and books cost a small fortune.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Soft toilet paper, Halloween candy, vegetable oil, mascara, hair dye, sugar-free jam, cake mixes, and chocolate chips.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a McDonald's here, but I don't know anyone who eats there. I think there is a Domino's too. The local restaurants are excellent and inexpensive but I've not seen fast service anywhere.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Even the bees in Macedonia are mild. There are no real problems to speak of here!
1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
2. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
In addition to the Embassy gym, there are embassy employees and EFMs who run their own fitness classes (crossfit and a new yoga class come to mind). There are a few other gyms where people go, but I have not been to them so I can't speak to cost or facility.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
People recommended using cash to me, so I've only used credit cards and ATMs sparingly. One time I found that an ATM couldn't read my U.S. card, but the other handful of times I've used ATMs and credit cards, everything has been fine.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is a thriving Christian community. I don't know much about the other religious services for expats although I think the LDS church might be active here.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Very little--it seems like everyone speaks English.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
This isn't really a good walking city for anyone so I don't think it would be that much worse for someone with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
I don't know anything about the trains and buses, but taxis are super affordable with no ride within the city ever costing more than US$5. Safety is another story, as not all taxis have seatbelts even though all taxi passengers should use them.
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?
All cars are fine here and it seems like there is a really good resale market.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is excellent here and very inexpensive too.
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! This is the biggest drawback to Skopje. Many spouses who would like to work cannot find employment.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Habitat for Humanity has a great presence in Macedonia so I think there are lots of opportunities to volunteer with them.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The embassy community is pretty formal but Macedonian society is very laid back.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
While much of Skopje looks like it is run-down and in a bad part of town--mostly due to graffiti (which is everywhere) and broken windows--there is very little crime here. All of the crime seems to be rooted in ethnic tension and none of it is directed towards expats. I have not heard of any gun violence at all here. The real security concern is traffic: people drive like madmen and no one wears seatbelts. Pedestrians are in constant danger.
2. 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?
The air quality definitely declines during the winter, but for three seasons out of four, it is perfect.
3. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is mild. We experience every season but never anything extreme.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are two excellent international schools: Nova and QSI. I've heard that Nova has a great college acceptance rate, and most people with teenagers love the school. Many of my friends with younger children prefer QSI. It seems like Nova is larger and prettier but QSI hangs in there with a devoted group of students and parents too. Anyone who comes to Skopje and has to choose a school will find themselves with two great options.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Unfortunately, there aren't any league sports for young kids, but the schools provide lots of opportunity for intramural type activities. I think that Nova may have league sports for junior high and high school students.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
People are very happy here!
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Everyone seems happy here: families, singles, and couples! I'm here with a family, and we love it. There seems to be a thriving singles scene as well, although I have heard that men here don't approach single women unless they are introduced through a friend. I suppose that dating may be difficult, but I haven't met any unhappy singles yet.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I have no real experience with this but I suspect that it would be fine.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is some old school gender stuff going on here, but nothing worse than 1950s America. There is an undercurrent of tension between Albanian Muslims and Macedonian Christians, and that tension sometimes erupts into violence between the two groups. Society here is not very diverse ethnically, so it's possible (likely) that someone who isn't White might experience more difficulties than I have.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
I have loved traveling both in my car and via Wizz Air (an incredibly discounted airline). I have never had such delicious and fresh produce. I love being able to afford the services of drivers, nannies, and housekeepers (US$4/hour for housekeepers, less for babysitters). I love being somewhere where expats are so welcome.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
This is not exactly a shopper's paradise, but there is an excellent sauce called Ajvar that makes for a great gift back home.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Macedonia is a wonderful place to live. Although it is not your typical European city--no one would ever call it glamorous--it combines the conventions of Europe with the charm of a more developing nation. People here are extremely friendly; almost everyone speaks English; the food is fresh and delicious; the cost of living is low; the access to beautiful yet unconventional travel opportunities abounds; the weather is mild; and the expat community has incredible morale.
8. Can you save money?
Yes! If you don't spend it all traveling...
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Don't be scared off by the graffiti and litter. At first glance, it seems dirty and distasteful here. There are a lot of stray dogs, trash everywhere, and a shocking lack of street cleaners in public places. If that stuff bothers you, go inside somewhere. Indoor spaces are well maintained and welcoming.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes! I wish I didn't have to leave!
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Wine. Macedonian wine is excellent!
4. But don't forget your:
Amazon prime account--you'll want to ship a lot of things from home.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Do you have any other comments?
I hope you'll like it here as much as I have.