Belgrade, Serbia Report of what it's like to live there - 06/22/10

Personal Experiences from Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia 06/22/10

Background:

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

No, Helsinki.

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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?

Washington, DC - total flight time can be long, depending on layover in Frankfurt/Munich (United) or Milan (Delta/Alitalia). I recommend United. Alitalia is the worst airline ever

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3. How long have you lived here?

I lived here for 5 years (2005-10).

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

Work (NGO sector).

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Mainly apartments. Some diplos live in the fancy suburb of Dedinje in villas, but you need to be an ambassador or similar to afford that. I had a great apartment in the heart of town.

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

Reasonable. For a poor country it is way too expensive, but the cost and quality are good. You can find plenty of fresh stuff, including all meat. Major stores are here, like Maxi.

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

My car and an American bed.

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

McDonald's and KFC for fast food. We just got KFC and we're happy. More and more great restaurants are opening on almost a daily basis. There is plenty of variety now - a huge difference in 5 years.

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

I never had any problem other than seeing a couple of cockroaches, which my landlord promptly killed with about 50 gallons of insecticide.

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Daily Life:

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

Regular post - though expect to pay duty, even with diplo status if you don't use the 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?

Not bad. I have a maid once a week for major stuff, and it's about 30 Euros.

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

Yes, but they're mostly crappy. There are some newer gyms starting up. Expect weight machines, a treadmill, and not much else.

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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?

There are ATMs on every corner downtown. And they are 99% are safe to use. Cards are being used all the time now in restaurants. Another big difference in 5 years.

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

Yes, mainly Catholic. I didn't find a Protestant service.

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

CNN, BBC, Discovery & History are watched by me a lot. Not many newspapers, but online at B92 is the best resource.

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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 lot - you can usually find someone to help you communicate in English, especially if they're under 35 years old or so.

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

This wouldn't be my first choice, but they are working on things like access ramps. But it would still be a little tough, I think.

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Transportation:

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

Buses? Yes. A little crowded, but OK. Taxis? Yes. Better all the time and fairly cheap. Trains? Give it 20 years to upgrade the system. There is no metro here, although it's been a pipe dream for decades -- it's more like a running joke now.

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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?

Anything is fine - all dealerships are here.

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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 - pretty cheap (maybe $40/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?

Everybody has one - learn how to text!

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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)?

They are available, but choose carefully, based on recommendations. I know some people have had bad experiences.

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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?

Come with a job - you'll have a hard time finding one here.

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

Business casual at work. In public anything goes (and I mean anything).

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Health & Safety:

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

None - this is a really safe place.

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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?

You have to find a private clinic. DO NOT use the public health system here. For major stuff, everyone flies out to Vienna or Munich.

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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?

Belgrade sucks. In Pancevo, right outside of Belgrade, there are chemical factories that sometimes have leaks. However, outside of Belgrade it's quite nice. If you are really sensitive, this is probably not the best place. Oh, and about 75% of the population smokes, so if that annoys you, it's not a good place.

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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?

The climate is much like that in Washington, DC. Hot summers, winter not too bad but can get cold. There's skiing in the mountains down south.

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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 is an international school here, but I don't have kids, so I don't know anything about it. Check it out here: www.isb.rs

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

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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?

Not sure, but most parents seem happy.

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

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Expat Life:

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

Not big.

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2. Morale among expats:

I'd say pretty damn good. Serbs can be stubborn and frustrating, but overall this place is great.

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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?

Rockin'.

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

It's good for everyone. The only problem I've ever seen is American wives who resent the care that Serbian women put into their image.

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

Well, not so friendly. Lots of homophobia. It's best not be proud and out loud. Gay friends who've come have told me (about places I've sent them) "that's NOT a gay bar, they just don't want to kill me". So I don't know. But if you're discreet, there are gays and lesbians here, of course.

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

Black people are a curiosity. However, there is no real discrimination that I know of. If you happen to be Albanian, you may have problems. Muslims, while not liked, are tolerated if they're from a foreign land. Most people here will tell you they're Orthodox, but most are atheists.

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

The people, for sure. If you're alone, as I was when I got here, it is difficult to meet people sometimes. However, once you establish a circle of friends, they will never leave you. Lots of good partying, lots of fun. If you expect to get a whole lot done here, though, FORGET IT. The Serbs pride themselves on living well while not having to do anything - leftovers from the Yugo days (which you'll also hear a lot about - how great things USED to be).

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

This is tough - the culture here isn't about events/stuff, but hanging with friends and drinking coffee/beer. However, periodically they have things like the Exit Festival, Beerfest, etc. And some top names have had concerts here in recent years.

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

Knit clothing, the local brandy called "rakija", meat, meat, and more meat.

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

The nightlife is awesome, if you're into it. Serbs know how to drink and party, and the women are incredibly beautiful. However, don't expect Kiev - these girls are not easy, though they are exceptional. You can save some money, depending on how you want to live. If you want to live large, you can. But most Serbs don't make a ton of money, though they manage to live quite comfortably. No one starves here. The weather is nice - 4 seasons. Summer can be hot in Belgrade, but if you get down south and west, the mountains are cool and wonderful.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, if you want to do so, you can. If not, you can do that, too.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

YES!

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

idea that the Balkans is Europe. It's not.

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3. But don't forget your:

salsa, hot sauces, and chinese food spices. OK, any spices.

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

"The Serbs" by Tim Judah.
"Black Lamb, Grey Falcon" by Rebecca West

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Don't believe the Hollywood crap that portrays the Serbs. Just come and live it yourself.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

This is a truly great place. I have had a lot of fun here.

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