Belgrade, Serbia Report of what it's like to live there - 11/21/10

Personal Experiences from Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia 11/21/10

Background:

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

Yes

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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?

Boston, MA, U.S.A. is about 8+ hours with one stop in Germany.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1.5 Years (August 2009 - December 2010)

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

Educator

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Cheap housing blocks exist in New Belgrade across the river from downtown. Senjak has most of the upscale neighborhood apartments and homes as well as the nicer schools. Banovo Brdo is the embassy community housing with very nice houses.

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

Groceries are easy to come by. Americans can use the U.S. Embassy commissary for refried beans, salsa, junk food, ice cream, hot sauce, etc. Every supermarket has the same thing. There are not a lot of non-Serbian items available (as in you can't find Asian or Mexican foodstuffs).

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

Mexican and Asian spices (although there is a secret Asian market in the Chinese shopping complex down past Bouviac and Delta City). Clothing is super pricy and will not fit and American physique, so shop a bunch before you come.

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

Fast Food: McDonald's ($1.50 for cheeseburger, $5 for Big Mac), KFC, Foodies, etc. Decent Restaurants: Nearly all restaurants are Serbian/Italian and make for boring cuisine (Mixed Grilled Meat $10-14, Pizza $6-10, Pasta $6-8).

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Nothing is labelled organic per se, but the green markets in various neighborhoods pass for organic. This is a society that does not accommodate vegetarians. There are a chain of nondescript-looking health food stores selling all sorts of helpful products like Tofu, Cashew/Almond/Sunflower/Pumpkin butter, Bee Pollen, Carrot Juice, etc.

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

None

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Daily Life:

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

Through my place of work, but I've heard it can be complicated.

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

I've heard it's allright, around $10/hr.

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

Yes

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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?

No problems. Banks and ATMs are everywhere. If you buy a car here, you have to pay in cash. This means withdrawing cash in batches from your ATM if you have a withdrawal limit. Then you need to exchange your money for Euros to buy a car. Most ATMs charge between $2 and $5 per transaction. VISA charges $5 and 2% for all credit and debit transactions.

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

Maybe. Not sure, but it's a huge Christian Orthodox country.

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

Blic, MTV, etc.

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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?

Not a ton of English spoken here, only amongst the younger people. Learn some Serbian as you go ("Kako se cashe CHICKEN?" = How do you say CHICKEN?).

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

There are good walking areas which would be accessible by wheelchair.

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Transportation:

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

Trains go everywhere in the region and range between $20 and $50 one way to various countries which share a border. Buses and Trams require you buy a $1.50 ticket and punch it while on board yourself. This leads to an honor code for purchasing a ticket, which is not enforced much. Every now and then someone gets on (I've only seen it twice) to check for tickets. If you don't speak Serbian, they won't want to deal with you. Taxis are sometimes good, costing anywhere from $8 to $12 from most places within the city. Calling ahead usually nets you a 20% discount on the fare. Beotaxi and Lux are very good.

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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?

Tiny cars work best. The roads are pretty good, so there is no need for a large car unless you have kids. Fiat Punto is the national car here because of its efficiency and small size for parking in the jungle of parked cars downtown.

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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, $20-50 per month for high speed ranging in data limitations.

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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?

Pre-pay for minutes, using VIP or Telenor. VIP customers talk to each other free.

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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?

No.

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

Decent vets. Our Vet is great and he is in Senjak right by the lower school of the International School of Belgrade. He once ended a romantic date early on a Saturday night because my little dog got into a chocolate candy bar and became quite sick and needed to be observed and be put on an IV.

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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?

No.

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

No tie, plantinum jeans, suit jacket over a wide-collared Euro-trash dress shirt unbuttoned to mid0chest, black leather dress shoes.

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Health & Safety:

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

There are issues concerning the status of Gays in Belgrade, and when there are demonstrations, violence usually ensues.

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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?

Good medical with no health concerns.

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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?

Gasoline used is lead-based, and there is no restriction on the quality of the car (lots of Yugos) or standard of exhaust system. The air is kind of poor.

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

Hot, dry summers which last between May and October. Fall and Spring can be drizzly with rain and cold winds. Winter is usually snowy and cold, but not bone-chilling since Serbia is still close to the Mediterranean.

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Schools & Children:

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

The International School of Belgrade is clearly the top school in Serbia with little competition from the likes of British International School, Crnjanski, Prima International and the French/German schools. ISB is an IB World School and hosts all major college fairs, SAT testing and other events.

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

None of the schools are equipped to handle any sort of special needs.

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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?

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

It can be hard to find your way into the various sports clubs without a connection, but the International School of Belgrade has a thorough Sports program available for students.

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Expat Life:

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

Tiny.

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2. Morale among expats:

I'm bored, so I would say the morale is low. Plus I would say the treatment of Americans is not unbiased.

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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?

Good if you like to go clubbing.

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

Everyone will get along ok, but singles may enjoy this city the most.

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

Terrible place for the gay community.

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

This is a very sexist culture.

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

The cafe/bars are pretty nice. Most people do the cafe thing for coffee or beer from 5 PM to 10 PM. People tend to go to a bar or night club from 10 PM to 2 AM. The dance boats open around 2 AM and close around sunrise. 24-hour burger shops are common.

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

Going out for drinks is one of the few things to do besides admire historical relics. Wineries and Bee-keeping can be fun to check out in the surrounding country-side.

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

Liquor, Honey, Wine, Ajvar, etc.

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

Good beef, honey, wine, trout, tomatoes and peppers.

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11. Can you save money?

I think you can if you are a couple, but not if you are single.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Probably not, although it hasn't been a nightmare.

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

You can leave behind your smile, because no one will return it and it makes you look weak. You can leave behind your respect for women, because you'll be the only one willing to listen.

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3. But don't forget your:

Don't forget to bring an extra heart, because you will wear out your original heart after a couple Serbian dinners. Oh, and don't forget an extra liver to handle all the Rakija. Bring some decent coffee as well, because coffee is terrible here.

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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. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

This city is culturally stagnant with little or no diversity.

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