Belgrade, Serbia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/11/13
Personal Experiences from Belgrade, Serbia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Mumbai, Buenos Aires, Sydney, Hungary...
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?
East coast, three flights which takes us around 20 hours door to door.
3. How long have you lived here?
I am currently in the middle of my tour there.
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?
For the mission, singles and couples without kids opt for apartments in the city or near the Embassy most often. Families frequently opt for houses in a suburb of Belgrade that is around a fifteen minute drive to the city center and to the Embassy or they opt for housing near the embassy. We live in the former, which has more mission families living close to each other and we love it. Housing ranges from duplexes, triplexes, and standalone houses and they are very nice and spacious. They usually have a one car garage, a good amount of storage space, and fenced in yards. We are also just a few minutes walk to an awesome awesome giant park filled with walking paths, a track, basketball court, restaurants etc).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local produce, meat, groceries are very reasonable, quite a bit less than in the U.S. Produce at the green markets is fantastic, so so tastey and they have the best eggs and bacon here!!! They are also well known for their breads, which are delicious, and pork is the meat of choice. It is a bit harder to find a good steak the way Americans like it, but once you find your restaurants that do it right, you're set (na cosku, ebisu etc).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I can get anything we need from the local economy, our embassy commissary and amazon. It's very very comfortable living here. Bring a bike if you like to bike, roller blades have made a big comeback here, so you can bring those too, many folks like to bring tires and car parts as these can be expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Wonderful restaurant scene, you can find it all here...Sushi, Italian, Mexican, Indian etc. Really nice restaurants main dishes average US$10-$20, and that is for a really nice restaurants. Alcohol is very reasonalble, maybe US$2 for a beer, US$3-5 for a glass of wine or cocktail.
Fast food, McDonald's and KFC. The McDonald's are way nicer than ours in the U.S., haven't seen a KFC. Apparently there was a Pizza Hut but it closed.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Nothing out of the norm. We've really had no problems whatsoever in our home with ants, roaches etc. Ticks would be our biggest complaint and we have found them on our dog (who we treat monthly) and our toddler (this has been a bigger concern as there is Lyme disease here).
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and pouch for the embassy staff.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Americans tend to pay 4-5 Euro per hour for nannies and cleaners, its a bit higher than what other expats pay and I think if you hire someone full time you could offer a monthly or weekly salary rather than an hourly salary that would break down to less than this cost per hour.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
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 use them all the time, but try to leave tips in cash always.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, but they aren't great. There are Catholic, Evangelical, Mormon, Jewish...not much variety if you want something in English.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
We have AFN through the mission for around US$10 month but many folks get big cable packages too, rates similar to the U.S.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Many Serbs speak English but its very nice to have some, definitely at the green markets.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be challenging, sidewalks can be in rough shape in some areas and cars often park on them (meaning it can also be quite hard to get around with a stroller in some areas).
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes and yes, but they can get very crowded and hot in the summer.
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 have a bigger car but smaller is generally going to be better for city living and parking. Roads are pretty good so most anything works. Gas is expensive, as it is in all of Europe so if you don't get VAT free gas then bring something with good fuel economy.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Similarl to the U.S.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
No, I think anything goes, you can find them at the grocery stores, small phone stores, in the malls etc.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Good vets and pet sitters and boarding options.
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?
Unemployment is pretty bad here so you'll be hard pressed to find a job as you'd be competing against very talented multilingual Serbs, but if you are attached to the mission there are some EFM jobs. Right now not enough to meet demand though.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Formal...similar to the U.S.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
We feel very very safe here, however there have been some small smash and grab occurrences and there is always the possibility of unrest. Overall, we feel safer here than in many places in the U.S.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Fine-good, but if you need to be medevac'd you'll go to London. Well trained doctors, but sometimes public facilities are lacking due to funding.
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?
It is good most of the year, but winters can be a bit rough in terms of pollution (not to mention it gets dark early, like 4:30pm early).
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?
We don't have school aged kids but we have heard very positive feedback about the international school of Belgrade. There are quite a few others as well including a French international school, Chartwell international school, a British international school etc.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ISB has limited resources for kids with special needs, Chartwell is supposed to have more resources for kids with special needs but I believe still only for children with minimal special needs.
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 international daycares as well as local ones. We have had a great experience with a local one, but have visited several and they were all quite nice. Serbians are quite loving towards children so its a win-win. Many families hire nannies as well.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
I think most kids get involved through their schools, but I have heard of soccer camps, overnight camps in the summer for horseback riding and soccer etc, there is a hippodrome where I think people can take riding lessons, and there are tennis courts and basketball courts that fill up quickly.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's a good size and very good morale!
2. Morale among expats:
Great, its really a wonderful post and great group of expats!
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?
Great, awesome restaurants, plenty of at home entertaining, parks etc.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for all! Apparently some of the best nightlife and clubbing in Europe for singles and those that like a good party, fantastic restaurant scene for everyone, excellent parks for families, most people we know here are very happy regardless of family demographics.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It is a homogenous society, however movements are being made to generate awareness and acceptance. That said, it may be easier for foreigners than locals.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Serbia, again, is pretty homogenous so most Serbs are white and Orthodox Christian. There is a small Roma population that faces some discrimination and I imagine Serbs don't have many opportunities to interact with individuals of different races/sexual orientation/religions, so I imagine there could be some challenges with prejudices here, I just haven't personally experienced any.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The wonderful produce, great travel, kind people, eating out, going out in the country for lunches as the salas!
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Going to the green markets, dining out, visiting the parks, enjoying a day at Ada (a five mile stretch of park on water lined with restaurants and with a path for walkers, runners, rollerbladers, and bikers), walking through kalamegdan fortress (and enjoying a meal at its Terasa restaurant or a trip to its adjoining zoo), day trips to salas for a country lunch, day trips to vineyards, skiing in Kopaonik, visiting pretty little villages and their festivals (there are annual beer, bacon, bean soup, wine, hay festivals throughout Serbia!)
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Food and drink.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
This is a great post, the Serbian people are very friendly and love kids and dogs, there are amazing green markets, large grocery stores just like back home, excellent restaurant scene, great parks, the countryside is beautiful and you're also just a short drive, or flight, to many other fabulous destinations like Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania etc. The mission is well run, good morale and leadership, nice housing, interesting work... We love it here.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely, we wish we could stay longer.