Belgrade, Serbia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/19/14

Personal Experiences from Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia 08/19/14

Background:

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

No. Before Belgrade we lived in Skopje, Macedonia.

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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?

Southeastern U.S. - trip takes around 15 hours with at least one stop in western Europe.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I am currently starting the third year of my three-year tour here.

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

U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

City Center: Mostly made up of apartments in mid-rise buildings, the city center is a great place to be if you want to be near the restaurant/cafe/nightlife scene.

Dedinje/Senjak: These upscale neighborhoods are good for being close to the Embassy. Housing consists of apartments and houses, and most of them are very quiet. My commute to the Embassy from Dedinje is 20 minutes by foot or less than 5 minutes by car. It takes about 10 minutes by car to get downtown.

Banovo Brdo: This neighborhood is popular with families with kids as it has a suburban American feel and most houses have fenced-in yards. Housing is a mix of standalone houses, duplexes, and triplexes. Commute is about 15 minutes to the Embassy, 15 minutes to downtown.

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

Local meat, produce, dairy, and bread is delicious and inexpensive. The availability of international food has improved tremendously in recent years, and you can find taco shells, jarred Thai and Indian sauces, Cheddar cheese,etc at large grocery stores and specialty shops, but prices do tend to be higher than you would pay in the U.S. for these items.

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

I'm able to get what I need on the local economy or through the mail. Clothing and toys are more expensive here than they are in the U.S. so it's best to stock up ahead of time.

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

The restaurant scene is great - you can get excellent local food as well was really good sushi, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Spanish, etc. Prices are generally less expensive than you would find in the U.S. Nice restaurants have entrees ranging from around US$8 - $20, and local restaurants are less expensive. Alcohol is also cheap. If you need a taste of America, there are several McDonald's and KFC restaurants around town.

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

Nothing unusual. The mosquitos can be pesky at times but the city does spray for them.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO and Pouch.

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

Lots of highly-qualified applicants are available. The going rate for housekeepers and nannies is about 5 Euro/hour in the American community.

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

Yes - prices are about the same or higher than what you would find in the U.S.

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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?

Large grocery stores and restaurants generally accept credit cards. Some smaller establishments don't. There are numerous ATMs all over town.

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

There is one Protestant non-denominational service and two Catholic masses each week in English.

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

In Belgrade, not a lot. I came here with no language skills and was able to find people who spoke English almost everywhere I went. I did end up taking classes so that I could more effectively navigate taxis and the green markets. You won't find as many English speakers outside of Belgrade.

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

Yes. Sidewalks are rough and often covered in cars, so it would be difficult to navigate them with physical disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

Buses and taxis are both safe and cheap. Buses are crowded and get very hot in the summer. There have been a few reports of people getting ripped off by taxis, so, like in every place else, make sure that the meter is running. Regional trains are cheap but extremely slow.

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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?

A smaller car is better for city driving and parking - SUVs, minivans, and larger cars may have a hard time fitting into city parking spots.

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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?

High-speed internet is available and reliable. Cost is comparable to U.S. prices.

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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?

No.

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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?

The process of getting a pet into Serbia is very simple and does not require a quarantine. Vets are good and there are several options for pet care while you are away. There are also big pet stores.

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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?

Finding work on the local economy can be quite difficult as the unemployment rate is very high, the local population is highly education and qualified, and almost all jobs require that you speak Serbian.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Bingo with senior citizens, arts and crafts with adults and children with special needs, helping kids with homework at Roma day centers, etc.

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

Usually business casual, but some events require business formal attire.

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Health & Safety:

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

Overall I feel safe here. We are, however, advised to avoid major sporting events and political rallies. We have also heard of a few residential break-ins and some pickpocketing.

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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?

The quality of healthcare varies - some providers and facilities are very good, others are not. It also depends on the issue. Major health issues typically result in Medevac.

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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?

Air quality is typically fine but can get bad in the winter as locals burn coal and wood to heat their homes. Pollution is worse downtown than it is in the suburban neighborhoods.

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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?

Four seasons. Spring, summer, and fall are all pleasant. August is the hottest month, with temperatures reaching 90F degrees often. Winters are cold with frequent snow/ice mixes that make the city streets pretty slushy. It's also dark at 4pm in the winter.

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Schools & Children:

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

I don't have school-aged children, but families seem happy with the International School of Belgrade. Other options for K-12 include Chartwell International School, the British International School, the French International School. There are other smaller schools as well.

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

The International School of Belgrade and Chartwell can accommodate children with mild special needs on a case-by-case basis, so it's important to contact the schools ahead of time to discuss individual concerns.

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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?

Yes, there are numerous preschool/daycare options available, including the International School of Belgrade, Chartwell International School, the International Nursery School of Belgrade, the French International School, and the International Preschool of Belgrade. Many families in Banovo Brdo send their kids to Cili Vili, a Serbian-language daycare/preschool located very close to many houses in the neighborhood.

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

There are several sports programs available through the schools. There are also horseback riding lessons, swimming lessons, dance lessons, etc. available locally.

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Expat Life:

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

Medium-sized expat community, many Europeans. Morale is good, and there are several ways to engage with other expats in the city (International Women's Club, Internations, Foreign Visitors' Club, etc).

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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?

Go out to dinner, theater, concerts, clubs, cafes, parks, etc. It's hard to run out of things to do in Belgrade.

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

Belgrade is good for all demographics. Plenty of things to do for the singles/couples crowd - restaurants, nightlife, cultural events, museums, etc. For families, the local culture is extremely child-friendly, so there are numerous indoor/outdoor playgrounds, arts and crafts, etc.

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

There has traditionally been strong anti-gay sentiment in Serbia although efforts are being made to promote acceptance.

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

The vast, vast majority of Serbs are white Orthodox Christians. Because many people are not often exposed to others of different races and backgrounds, I would imagine that there could be some issues with prejudices. I have never personally experienced this.

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

We have enjoyed the close proximity to many other interesting cities in the region and the good number of flights available from Belgrade to western Europe. We also enjoy the wide variety of restaurant and entertainment options, as well as the delicious fresh produce available at green markets around town.

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

Visit the local green markets, stroll down the main walking street to Kalemegdan fortress, take day trips to Novi Sad and Subotica (try some wine from the Subotica region), visit a farm-restaurant in the countryside, check out Belgrade's eclectic cafe and restaurant scene. There are many interesting/fun things to do!

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

Belgrade is a cosmopolitan city with many good restaurants, great nightlife, friendly locals, and plenty of opportunities for regional travel. It's also relatively easy to navigate, many neighborhoods are quiet and peaceful, and the cost of living is relatively low.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes - the cost of living is low.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely - would love to stay longer.

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