Skopje, Macedonia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/02/09
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?
2. How long have you lived here?
3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. Embassy spouse.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Scattered throughout the city. Some live in a suburb and have very large houses, but all of the housing is very nice. Some housing is walking distance to the embassy. There are some issues with electricity going out occasionally. Everything here was built poorly. For some reason, all of the plumbing is terribly designed. The bathrooms smell very bad. But the houses are large and nice.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Fruits and veggies are only available by season. You can only drink shelf-stable milk. There is little in the way of frozen convenience food or canned food. Cost is about the same as the U.S. (less for seasonal produce).Most people bring a consumables shipment and also shop regularly at the PX in Kosovo.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Paper products because the quality is low. Clothes--again low quality here. U.S. style mixes. And lots of baking supplies. There is constantly a function where you need to bring food or a bake sale. Also bring potluck dishware and entertaining stuff.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Only McDonald's. We miss American fast food. There is a good food court with Chinese, Mexican(ish), good pizza and sandwiches. Street food, which is mostly bread stuffed with cheese, is cheap. Most restaurants, however, are sit-down, nice restaurants. Although relatively cheap, service is slow. It is difficult to dine out with children because they become impatient.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We have APO, which is wonderful!
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most people pay around US$5/hour.
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?
We use them without a problem.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Almost none. They appreciate it when you try!
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
No curb ramps and wheelchairs would have a hard time stepping over the trash that lines the sidewalks in some areas.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are very cheap and available. Safe also.
3. 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 were told to bring a small SUV.I would say you need the most narrow car you can find. Streets are incredibly narrow. You are required to have chains for your tires outside of the city in the winter, so bring those.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The embassy will help you get set up with service. Buy a local phone for around US$100.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
We use skype.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
Just the school or a few jobs at the Embassy.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business attire at work; almost anything in the city. Most people don't wear shorts in the old town area.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Many people feel the air quality is bad in the winter, but it is now January and I don't notice much of a problem.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Quite safe. Gypsies beg but are just annoying, not dangerous. People send teenagers in taxis by themselves. I feel as safe as in the U.S.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Quality of medical care is low. Try not to get sick or hurt. Dental care seems excellent.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Two main schools: QSI and NOVA.NOVA is larger and has more local Macedonians. Students stay with the same teacher as they progress from grade 1 through 4.My children attend QSI and love it! There are a couple of teachers that could be better, but most are wonderful. The music program is amazing, considering it is such a small school. Several languages are offered and the grounds/playground are nice. They offer after-school activities such as science club, gymnastics, and a few others. The school is very small and tight-knit. Every Friday, the school has Community Time and the children perform. It is wonderful. This is a great place for kids to feel comfortable and reach their potential.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Fairly good I think.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Tons! Most people entertain casually in their homes very frequently. But this is up to you. The International Womens Associaion is very nice.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for families because there are so many families here who get together regularly.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I have noticed.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Travel!! Easy drive to Ohrid, a lovely lake city. Two hour direct flight to Prague. Greece....Some cultural activities are offered. Playgrounds are in terrible (dangerous) condition, but there is one indoor playground that is ok. Shopping in old town and at the American style mall. Ice skating, swimming, snow skiing. Mostly, though, people get together at each other's houses.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Interesting local crafts such as little leather shoes, hand-made tapestries, wood carvings, etc.
9. Can you save money?
Yes. Travel is a big temptation.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. It is sometimes difficult to live in such a trash-filled and poor city. But there is alot of fun to be had and the people are very nice and welcoming. It's a very small city, so it's easy to get around. The school is great; housing is nice. We love it here!
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Nutella; desire to live in a clean city; 80's CD's (the radio is a blast from the American past!)
3. But don't forget your:
Patience for aggressive drivers; tolerance for trash and dirt.