Pristina, Kosovo Report of what it's like to live there - 05/18/16
Personal Experiences from Pristina, Kosovo
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
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 is home. Connections are usually Frankfurt, Munich or Vienna. Total time is approx 15 hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
Year one of a three-year tour
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?
Two types - 1) an international townhouse community (tennis and basketball courts, small market, restaurant, bar and dry cleaners) about 10 minutes outside of Pristina near the malls and grocery stores; and 2) houses/apartments that are a short walk to the Embassy. They are building a new Embassy, to be completed in 2018, and then no one will really be able to walk (or it won't be an easy walk.) Both options have pluses/minuses.
We live in the townhouse community and it takes 10-15 minutes to get to Embassy/downtown. During the summer when the diaspora returns or when it rains (roads don't have good drainage), the roads can get very congested and it can take 45-60 minutes to get home.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Produce here is great and cheap, but seasonal. You aren't going to find American brands, but if you look, you can find most things here. You do have to be selective about where you buy meat; fresh chicken is pretty easy to come by (packaged and imported from Slovenia) as is fish. I've given up on beef; the cuts are strange and unless you go to a halal butcher, it's hard to know how old it is. We eat well and entertain and spend about US$100 a week on groceries (which includes alcohol.)
There is a commissary and there's Camp Bondsteel, but we only use it to buy bacon. Local cleaning supplies, paper products, etc are fine, though if you want unscented products, you should probably include them in your consumables shipment. Otherwise, the only thing I wish we would have sent more of are ethnic ingredients (sesame oil, rice vinegar, hoisin, etc.), beer, and uniquely American things like chocolate chips, shredded coconut, vanilla extract. The quality of baking/cooking supplies like parchment paper, aluminum foil, saran wrap is poor here.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
No American fast food. Pizza, qebap, and burek can be found everywhere. There's also a place to buy rotisserie chickens. Restaurants are cheap, plentiful and can be very good. Variety is lacking. Other than the standard fare (grilled meat/vegetable/pasta/pizza), there is also Thai, Indian/Nepalese, Spanish/tapas and a NY steakhouse-style restaurant.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None. Maybe some ants and there are yellow jacket type things that live in the greenery and come out in the spring, but that's about it.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. Sometimes the pouch address is needed.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Readily available. Cleaning and/or babysitting is around 5 euros an hour.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a gym. There are gyms around the city. I don't have direct experience, but people say they are fine and cheap. Many people mountain bike in Germia Park.
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 mostly use cash, but do use credit cards at the major stores. We cash checks at the Embassy.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Very little. Learn the necessities, but most young people speak (or understand) English. Someone will always help translate if needed.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes; hills and steps are everywhere. Steps are often in disrepair. There might be sidewalks, but it usually has crumbling mortar and a car parked on it.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
All are safe. There's a train to Peja, but that is more for the experience. Taxis are plentiful and cheap.
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 small 4WD with some clearance is best for going off paved roads, driving up on sidewalks, and potholes. We have a RAV4 (like many) and the Toyota dealership takes the VAT form for maintenance. While this is ideal, any vehicle will make it. There are still Yugos on the road here.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, fast, cheap and reliable. It is around US$175 for a year. We stream everything (Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime) through VPN and have few problems. This can vary by housing location, some families have problems with stable internet, mostly due to specific provider and/or infrastructure issues.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You can buy a local sim and add money as needed.
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?
Not really - you might find something, but pay is going to be very low.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really. You can't travel to/through the north. Though it is a poor country, petty crime doesn't seem to be much of a problem (as long as you use common sense.)
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The Health Unit can handle small things, but you'll be medevaced for anything complicated. Local medical care is not good.
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 can be unhealthy in the winter. They burn very dirty coal. We chose to live in the community 10 minutes outside of the city where the air is much cleaner (up on a hill with lots of wind.) Those living near the Embassy are more affected. The Embassy does provide air filters. An air monitor installed at the Embassy shows the air to be quite clean in the spring, summer, and fall.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
There are a lot of fruit trees here and some people really suffer with seasonal allergies. I had terrible allergies in DC but none here, but my husband had none in DC but terrible here. You never know. Pollution/air quality can be bad in winter.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Four seasons. It's like DC, except it isn't humid. Winters can be mild or you can get a lot of snow. Summers can be hot, but since there's no humidity, it is really pleasant. There's a lot of wind.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are two main ones that embassy families use - ILG and QSI. ILG is near the international townhouse community and QSI is near the Embassy. QSI opened in Fall 2015 and is now the Embassy school.
2. 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?
The two main English-speaking preschools are ILG and QSI. ILG has a two-year old class, QSI's preschool starts at 3 years. Our child attends ILG and we've been happy with it. It's a half-day program, cheap (around US$3,000), and the teachers are very loving. I don't have any experience with QSI's preschool program, but I know it is slightly more expensive. For younger children, people use nannies.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Our child isn't really old enough, but there are some kids activities/lessons. Not sure about sports - I know there is swimming and judo. There's a good resource (Misbah) for dance/art/music lessons.
1. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, good for all, though not sure about singles and dating. Also, families with small children seem to do better than families with older kids. There's no good high school option.
2. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, I think the previous posters captured it.
3. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Travel has been amazing. Driving: Mostly on long weekends, we made trip to: Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. Longer trips you can see Croatia and Bosnia. Flying can get you to Central and Western Europe very easily.
4. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Kosovo has some beautiful natural resources - hiking in Rugova, hiking in Dragash, the Gadime caves, various waterfalls. And a 4-5 hour drive takes you some amazing places. A small group does weekend mountain bikes rides throughout Germia park in Pristina.
5. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not much and most are food-related (rakia and honey).
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Kosovo is centrally located in the Balkans making regional travel very easy. A five-hour drive will take you to some amazing places. Kosovo (and the Balkans) are very cheap; you can easily save money even if you travel. We think the weather is great - four seasons but not extreme. And summers aren't humid, which is a big plus. Albanians/Kosovars love children. There are very nice indoor play areas all over for young kids. Americans are generally well-liked here.
7. Can you save money?
Yes. We travel extensively and still save a ton.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
More about the history of the region.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely. We extended, as have many people.
3. But don't forget your:
GPS for traveling! Patience (things are not going to be done quickly or logically.)
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Death of Yugoslavia (BBC documentary) on YouTube