Pristina, Kosovo Report of what it's like to live there - 08/03/15

Personal Experiences from Pristina, Kosovo

Pristina, Kosovo 08/03/15

Background:

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

No. Third overseas tour.

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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?

DC -- one hop, usually through Vienna or Frankfurt.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2013-2015

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

U.S. government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Two sets -- one suburban-style gated community with large-ish homes about 30 minutes from the Embassy compound, and a set of houses/apartments within walking distance of the compound. All are quirky, and few are designed with storage in mind. GSO are very responsive when it comes to fixing home issues, though be advised some are unsolvable.

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

Variety of produce is seasonal. Fresh chicken is only available at specific places -- most grocery stories carry frozen chicken imported from Turkey. If you are willing, you can get good beef and chicken from local butchers. Pork and fish are harder to find. Variety is lacking and its easy to fall into a rut. Some people took advantage of Camp Bondsteel to get American products, but we found the base disappointing.

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

Baking supplies. An air purifier for the winter. A better vacuum (the Embassy-provided one was just OK).

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

Fast food: qebaptores, burektores, all varieties of pan-Balkan snacks. Often delicious and very cheap. Restaurants are unpredictable. Some of the fanciest looking places are just "meh," but there are many very good ones. Prices are very low -- dinner for two with wine at the best places rarely tops US$40.

All that said, variety is lacking. There's one Indian place (run by Nepalis), one Thai place, and the rest are local cuisine or Italian-ish. The best places are in or around Pristina. It does get a bit monotonous.

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

Nothing major.

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Daily Life:

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

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?

Available and affordable though you should be choosy. Some people have had problems with reliability.

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

The Embassy has a good gym, but this will go away when the new Embassy compound opens in a few years. There are a number of private gyms around, but I don't know how good they are.

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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?

Use sparingly. Skimming is common. Cash is king.

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

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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?

Realistically very little within Pristina. More helpful outside the city.

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

Yes. The city was not designed to be accessible.

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Transportation:

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

All are safe and affordable, though I've only ever heard of expats using taxis. The train only goes to Skopje (and is thus a bit useless.)

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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?

Highly recommend a 4WD/AWD small SUV. Very useful when you're going off paved road -- which you will be doing more than you expect. Also critical on icy roads in the winter.

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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. Sometimes faster than in the U.S. Not cheap (US$100+/mo) but worth it.

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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?

If you don't get one through work, go local. Prices are low.

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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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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?

Probably not.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many, especially with NGOs working with minority communities.

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

Business at work. Anything goes in public.

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Health & Safety:

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

For the Embassy, the Serbian-majority area north of the Ibar river is forbidden unless on official business. We had to travel in FAV. This policy gets reexamined periodically, but security in "the North" is unpredictable, especially after dark. In the rest of the country, the biggest hazard is crazy drivers. Crime is very low.

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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?

Tons. Medical care is notoriously poor, though the Embassy health unit is very good. If you have a serious issue, expect to be sent to Skopje or to London.

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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?

Moderate in the summer. Truly horrible in the winter. The two powerplants that supply most of Kosovo's power are right on Pristina's doorstep, and they burn the lowest-quality coal (which is abundant in Kosovo.) People also burn coal in their homes in the winter. All this leads to Pristina being enveloped in a vile yellow fog in the colder months. Its inescapable and revolting.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Pollen can be a problem. Vegetarians will have a hard time. And everyone will develop new respiratory issues due to pollution. Don't be surprised.

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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?

Beautiful if too short spring and summer. Cold autumn and winter, often wet and sometimes quite snowy/icy.

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Schools & Children:

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

No direct experience. People seemed to like ILG. Post just became fully accompanied a few years ago, so this school thing is new.

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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?

They appear to be, though most people hire nannies.

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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?

Large though it's getting smaller. Morale varies based on how long they've been in Kosovo and the season.

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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?

Eating out. Clubbing, usually starting late and ending later. Day trips, hiking, group road trips.

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

Good for all for various reasons. For singles I hear nightlife can be quite something, though I don't know what dating would be like. For couples life would probably be very rich, especially with the travel. For families it was quite good, especially with comfortable housing and good childcare.

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

Yes with a caveat. There is acceptance of non-Kosovars being gay, but very limited acceptance of LGBT people in the local community.

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

Yes, of a sort. Albanians and Serbians instinctively do not trust one another, and live segregated lives. This is a major issue for the survival of the country, and will certainly affect your work if you are in the diplomatic or development world. Gender prejudice also abound, especially outside of Pristina. However, these prejudices seldom affect expats' daily lives.

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

Roadtripping. Northern Greece, the Albanian coast, the other former Yugoslavian republics, so many more. Travel within Kosovo can also be amazing for the adventurous and fearless. Challenging and very rewarding hikes, beautiful monasteries and Orthodox churches, fantastic nature outside of Pristina.

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

Kosovo is fun to explore, though infrastructure is lacking. Each small area has its own personality and flavor. Hiking in the Rugova gorge is a must (I wish we had done more of this.) And you can be in the neighboring countries in a matter of hours!

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

Limited. Some local carpets, silver work. Some interesting work by local artists. Nothing awesome.

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

Amazing travel in the region. Kind, warm, hospitable people. Good restaurants that are incredibly cheap. A very low cost of living in general. The best strawberries you have ever tasted.

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10. Can you save money?

Absolutely.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How long and challenging the winter would be. How rejuvenating local travel could be (we put off our first out of Kosovo trip for far too long.)

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

Yes, probably. But two years was plenty and I wish we had traveled more.

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

Manolos (your shoes will be ruined), low-clearance vehicle, bike (unless you're very brave).

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4. But don't forget your:

Yak trax, SE Europe map/GPS, hiking shoes, sense of adventure.

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