Skopje, Macedonia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/08/19
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 was our first post.
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?
Houston, TX. Relatively easy flight, but nothing direct. Most flights come through Istanbul. Total flight time is around 17 hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
Housing is inexpensive and spacious. Much more space than we expected when we decided to move to Europe. We lived very close to work, so it's hard to comment on commute times. We did not own a car.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Produce is limited (especially in the winter) but very good. Overall our grocery bill was much lower than we are accustomed to in the States. Non-perishables are also limited; certainly what one needs to get by, but it was often surprising what we could not find. I'm not gluten-free or vegan, but I had friends who were. They were able to find food, but not a wide variety.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Boxed macaroni and cheese, some cereals, and cream of mushroom soup. Mostly trash food.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Food is good and cheap. Grilled meat places are plentiful, and most restaurants, frankly, are very good. However, food tends to be about the same from place to place. Americans wanting food from home have the option of Domino's, Burger King, and KFC. That's pretty much it, but local food is excellent. Sushi delivery is popular but pricey.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Our apartment is very susceptible to ants.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Sending is not a problem, but receiving takes a very long time. A friend sent us a care package in November that we received in January.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We had a nanny five days a week during the work day who did some cooking and cleaning, for approximately 400 Euro per month. Most people have a cleaner come by regularly.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms are available, but I don't know much about them. There is a wide variety of prices, as I understand it.
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?
Credit card machines are everywhere except taxis and green markets, and very safe to use. ATMs are everywhere.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
A local Evangelical church, and some orthodox churches have English services.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It is not expensive to find a tutor, but one can get along pretty well with only English (spoken). It IS helpful to learn to read some Macedonian, as there is not a huge percentage of written English out in the world.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would definitely pose a challenge. Many buildings (including apartments) are not accessible, and the elevators are not consistent. However, sidewalks are pretty wheelchair friendly.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are incredibly cheap. We never use the local bus because walking and taxis meet all of our needs.
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 did not bother with a car, but I see all kinds on the road.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet was installed around a week after we requested it, and it was fairly easy to have arranged. No complaints about speed or reliability.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We used a local provider, and we were happy with it. Roaming between countries was not really an option, though, and apparently many people have had VERY bad experiences with accidentally keeping their data on and owing an absurd amount of money.
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?
Vets are available for foreigners; many of them speak good English and they know their stuff regarding foreign families.
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?
Businesses are all about who you know; often, they will find/make a job for the spouse of a person they want to hire.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
I'm sure churches have options, but I did not look into them.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Relatively casual at work, much like the States in public. I'm sure certain people need formal dress, but I never do.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No. I mean, I wouldn't walk away from my bag in the Old Bazaar or anything, but it is a safe place.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The air quality in the winter.
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?
The pollution in the winter is AWFUL. I did not give this enough credence when I was researching. The air is toxic. My baby was hospitalized twice. We often cannot see the mountain right in front of us. YOU CANNOT BE OUTSIDE. It's frequently worse than Shanghai.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Food allergies are usually taken pretty seriously in the more expat-friendly restaurants, but be careful. Apparently the seasonal allergies are substantial, but I don't suffer from them, so I have no experience there.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Nothing that I notice.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Four clear seasons, very livable.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
They are not good. NOVA puts on a good show but cannot actually deliver on their promises. Most of their teachers are local and many do not have a teaching credential. They do not take bullying seriously (and the teachers are often bullies themselves) and in general should not be running schools. QSI is much more international, but does not have a strong upper grade program. I would not put my kids in the schools in Skopje above grade 5, and certainly not high school.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Almost none, and they charge extra for any real accommodations made.
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?
We got a nanny specifically because we did not find good options in day cares.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
It's not easy to find them in English-speaking form.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's relatively small outside of the embassy community. However, morale is pretty good.
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?
I found most of my friends through my job. There is a pretty strong Internations community, though.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's an easy place to be a family or a couple. I don't know about being single; though it is, at least, inexpensive to go out. Being a parent of small children, I don't know much about night life, bars, etc.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It's ok. It's safe to be LGBT here, but gay marriage is not legal and there might be some dirty looks and even comments. It seems among younger people, it's no big deal.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Locals do not make friends easily with foreigners, at least in my experience. It's a little bit clannish.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I've seen ethnic prejudice toward Roma people. I have seen troubling bullying in school based on ethnicity, but nothing out in the world beyond.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
It is SO inexpensive; it's a great opportunity to try things we couldn't afford back home. Skiing is incredibly cheap, so it's a great place to learn to ski (outside of the city where the pollution is not bad). Also $20 flights to Budapest.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Matka. It's not exactly hidden, but it is so lovely, and there are a variety of things to do. And it's a ten-minute drive, so it's RIGHT there. Also, easy travel to Greece.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not really. Some good finds in the Bazaar, but there is not a particular artistic style as there is in some places.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Value for the money. Movies cost practically nothing, and they're all in English.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Aside from THE POLLUTION (seriously, it's really, really bad), it is harder to travel out of the country than we expected. Unlike similar countries in the EU, there is not easy train access to other countries, and some of the flights are more expensive to get in than they might be elsewhere.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
It's hard to say. I really like it three out of four seasons, but winter is SO bad for my kid with sensitive lungs. Other than that issue, I would still do it for sure. Skopje is a nice place to leave.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Car, I think (though locals don't agree with me).
4. But don't forget your:
Bike, important electronics.
5. Do you have any other comments?
I cannot emphasize enough that I would not come here if education for kids above elementary level was a factor.