Skopje, Macedonia Report of what it's like to live there - 03/24/09

Personal Experiences from Skopje, Macedonia

Skopje, Macedonia 03/24/09

Background:

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

We have also lived in Kampala, Uganda.

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2. How long have you lived here?

3 years (2006-current).

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Travel time from the states (West coast)is around 17 hours. Our favorite itinerary is U.S./Zurich/Skopje

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

Spouse of Foreign Service Officer.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

The homes are lovely, large (3 levels or more), well-maintained and (usually) have great yards. The GSO staff here have earned awards for their professionalism and excellent response time to requests. The commute time to the embassy is no more than 15 minutes from any of the housing neighborhoods.

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

We have found that we can get *nearly* everything we need (or a version thereof)on the local market or in Greece. The things we cannot find are easily ordered via Netgrocer.

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

Things we shipped that we knew we would not find here: Mexican spices & other specifics we liked, blueberries (dried), spray Pam, favorite cereals (the selection here is slim), peanut butter, chocolate chips & other specific baking needs.

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

McDonald's is the main fast food options. There are multiple take-away options as well (pizza, Chinese food, etc.). Skopje has many, many nice restaurants and new ones are always opening.

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

Nothing unusual.

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Daily Life:

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

APO and DPO.

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

House help here is easy to find & frequently over-qualified for the work they do. On average you can expect to pay: House-keeper: US$150-$200 per week (if full-time); Babysitter: US$4-$5 per hour (full-time staff would charge differently. I do not have experience in this area and cannot comment); Gardening staff: US$4-$5 per hour.

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

The Embassy has a small weight room/cardio room available to staff and spouses. There are other fitness centers throughout the city and more opening all the time. The equipment is good, personal trainers and exercise classes are available as needed.

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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?

We feel at ease using our ATM at major grocery stores, restaurants, doctor's offices or ATM machines as well as some smaller trusted mall shops.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are a few religious communities that are English speaking. You'll find an English speaking non-denominational Christian church, a small LDS community and an Anglican community.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

We use AFN. Local cable does have a few English language stations. I am not aware of an English language newspaper.

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

You can function with minimal language skills but a little bit is appreciated by your neighbors.

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

Physical disabilities would make it extra challenging to get around. The city is not set up for easy access for all. That being said, I have also noticed that I have a few Macedonian neighbors with disabilities who seem to be getting along just fine.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are affordable enough that they can be used exclusively if needed. I have no direct experience with trains or buses but know friends who do use them on occasion with no problem. The buses may not be completely "safe" per se as most of them are from circa 1965.

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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?

We purchased our car new here. The dealerships represented here are Toyota, Mazda, Ford, & Honda. There are a number of European brands as well (Citroen, Seat, Renault, etc.). We drive a minivan here with no "terrain" problems. All of the major brands have a dealership garage as well so can order necessary parts as needed. The only inconvenience is waiting for parts to clear customs.

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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. Cost is US$25-$30 per month.

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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?

Get one! We use ours in lieu of a landline. There are a few different carriers to choose from and several shops where you can buy/service phones.

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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?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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?

There are a few local opportunities but excellent local language skills are required.

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

Business dress required during the week.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Unhealthy. Skopje is a valley surrounded by lovely foothills. In the summer the smog "collects" in the city. During the winter all of the smokers move indoors. If you or your children struggle with asthma issues this post may be a challenge. Also, it is not unusual to hear of people who have never had allergies developing them during the spring here.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Same as the States.

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

There are under-lying tensions between the two distinct people groups living here (Orthodox Macedonians and ethnic Albanians). As an American living here, I have not felt threatened by the tensions but am aware of events that take place. There are always the random pick-pocketing issues to be aware of when in the city as well. For the most part I feel very safe in Skopje.

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4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Health concerns are usually related to Influenza outbreaks that hit during the Fall and allergies during the Spring. Some people also find that they have increased respiratory problems while here. There are good private clinics available for regular care (ie dentists, opthamologists, etc.). For more serious care go to Greece/London/Vienna or home. Avoid the hospitals if possible.

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

Skoje has 4 distinct seasons. Spring and Fall are lovely times of year for a visit!

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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 2 international schools that most of the elementary-high school aged expat kids go to. Both have their attributes that set them apart as excellent schools. These schools are Nova School(http://www.nova.edu.mk/index.aspx) and QSI Skopje (http://www1.qsi.org/mcn/). There is a Montessori school for younger children that some American children attend as well. Our experience is with QSI preschool through 1st grade. We have been very satisfied with the school.

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

The schools do their best to work with special needs kids, but truthfully are not set up to work with kids with challenges.

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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?

There are 3 good English speaking preschool options. There are also Macedonian speaking gradinkas that some Americans use for preschool.

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

Yes. Children and youth can participate in local or embassy sponsored tennis clubs, baseball teams, karate clubs, & swim centers. Both of the above mentioned elementarty schools are excellent resources for children's athletic options.

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Expat Life:

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

The entire expat community (embassy staff/NGOs/missionaries) numbers in the 600's.

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2. Morale among expats:

High to very high.

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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?

You can be as socially active as you choose. There are often embassy sponsored social events and even more frequent casual gatherings of friends.

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

Yes, to all of the above. The city definitely comes with its inconveniences and is lacking in some real ways. All things considered though, Skopje is a very enjoyable place to live.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Not to my knowledge.

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

Not to my knowledge. Our friends who are Asian American or African American feel as if they are "looked at" more but do not talk about prejudicial treatment.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

This part of the Balkans is full of interesting historical and a archaeological sites. Locally there are malls, cafes, art galleries, clubs, billiard halls, sporting events, ballet, concerts and cultural events. Macedonia is within easy driving distance to Greece, Bulgaria, Montenegro & Croatia. Other parts of Europe are a short flight away. Athletes will be happy here. Skiing in the winter, riverside roller blading/biking/walking paths, hiking trails, tennis clubs & hash harriers. Obviously, none of the above are along the same standard of what one would find in the States but the availability of such things is a positive thing in and of itself.

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

Pottery, honey (so many varieties available), filigree jewelry, some textiles, paintings.

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9. Can you save money?

Some...

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely! We are leaving this summer and will miss our life in Macedonia.

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

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3. But don't forget your:

Defensive driving skills, sense of humor, your glass that's half-full. You'll enjoy life here as much as you choose to.

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

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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