Pristina, Kosovo Report of what it's like to live there - 06/16/16
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 year assignment in Pristina Kosovo. Over 13 years experience in overseas environment. Pristina, Thailand, Hong Kong, UAE, Africa, Caribbean and more.
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?
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
Apartment, 3rd floor walk-up. We had asked for single-family housing since we have dogs. We have a small yard. There is a walkway from gate leading to the street and then up 2 flights to the 3rd floor. There is a shared attic/storage on the very top floor. The apartment is nice, more modern than some of the older homes. It has a laundry and two bedrooms plus an optional third bedroom/office. There is a small living room, a dining room/sitting room, and an eat-in kitchen. However, counter space and the sink are both small. The apartment does boast a great view of the city from a small front balcony.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are 3 groceries within 1-2 miles of home, plus a plethora of small "mini-mart" groceries within a short distance of the apartment. Prices are comparable to U.S. or better. Very near the Embassy are these grocery stores: Viva Fresh (smaller than its larger parent store located off the M2 Hwy, but it carries all that you can feasibly obtain from any store locally. It has a large variety of products and produce and meats. It is one of two stores carrying U.S. style ground beef). Other comparable but smaller stores are: Vipros, Conad, Meridien and Tregu.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Ship your favorite toilet paper and paper towels; also dish detergent, baby detergent, personal shower wash/gels, and soaps. Bring these things until you can find comparable items locally.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Restaurants: Pinocchio's (local/Italian/continental foods and wonderful wines), Cleo's Pub/Restaurant (great burgers and spirits; also serves brunch on Sundays until 4pm).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Via DPO if you are with the Embassy via DPO. Be aware that when you are ordering from US to Kosovo that some items cannot be delivered outside of U.S. So if there are things you really need, investigate as to wether you can get them mailed to Pristina prior to departure. The work around is to mail to a relative or friend in the States and then have them mail it to you.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
So far I have not seen any established gyms. The Embassy has a small gym.
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?
Yes, in all of the restaurants and grocery stores frequented by expats.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
St, Anthony's (Catholic) has 5 p.m. services in English on Sundays. KFOR has both Protestant and Catholic services: Catholic service on Sundays at 2pm at KFOR and at Camp Bondsteel. Check with DAO for hours and days of services for both Catholic and Protestant services.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Language classes are offered by the Embassy. English is spoken in venues that are frequented by expatriates.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
YES! If you have physical disabilities this is a HARD city to navigate. Roads and sidewalks are not easily managed, even for those with no health/disability concerns. The streets are cobblestone and are not always maintained. Road and sidewalk infrastructure is not the best. There is a stairway that starts at the top of the hill near KFOR and USAID and runs down to the "city-centre", and the stairs there are crumbling and you have to criss-cross the stairs to avoid slipping/falling on a broken step. This is the shortcut from top to bottom of the hill; otherwise you have to go out and then walk up streets to get to your home if it is located near the "Embassy Row".
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
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?
Bring a small SUV, 4WD vehicle, CRV, or RAV-4 type of vehicle.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. If you are with Embassy, they can assist you in getting it installed with 24 hours. Coverage may vary depending on where you live. In newly developed areas, service may be sketchy, as they are still working out the "bugs". If you are living in an older/developed place, coverage should be reliable.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Currently there are two major providers: IPKO and Vala. I use IPKO and have a pay-as-you-go plan that works reasonably well. Make sure that the plan you choose can be used outside of Kosovo if you plan to travel. And, of course, know what the charges are.
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?
Yes. That is something we used frequently for both our personal dogs and rescued dogs. Dr. Illyrian Jusuf runs a vet office at the bottom of the hill just one street over from the Embassy. He is wonderful, knowledgeable, and speaks perfect English. There are other veterinarians that may offer excellent services as well. There are no shops that offer high quality grooming services.
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?
Unless you arrive with a job, it will be hard to find one. The jobless rate here is 60% plus. If you are able to telecommute, that is a viable plan. For the most part, the internet can accommodate telecommuting. If you are with the Embassy, you are asked even before arriving: "Are you planning to work?"Jobs with the Embassy are few and far between. If working is a prime concern for you, and you have a meaningful well paying job with upward advancement possibilities, think long and hard about giving it up for two years.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Volunteering with an animal-rescue service seems to be the most likely possibility.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Because the country has no rules regulating the buy/breeding of dogs, people obtain and then discard animals (especially dogs) like trash, usually dumping them near the embassy. There is a rampant stray-dog problem. These abandoned dogs after often have been known to go after people, especially kids that they believe are hostile to them.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Pollution/bad air caused by burning of various fuel types, especially during winter or colder periods.
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?
There is pollution caused by the burning of various fuels. If you have specific respiratory or other health concerns, it is something to consider --- because during the winter this is very prevalent. There is pollution from the energy factory as well.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Basically WASH everything before preparing it for a meal. Food is very fresh here, and it seems that there is little pesticide use. That being said, wash all fruits and vegetables before serving them.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Winter blues, claustrophobia. There may be times when the area goes dark because of clouds or fog that settles over the city for long periods. During the winter of 2015-16 this was the case. Fog settled over Pristina, and you could only see 10 feet in front of you (barely), making it difficult to walk or drive at all.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Winter months are rainy and cold, sometimes with snow and freezing temperatures. The terrain is hilly, and roads are made of cobblestone and concrete/asphalt, so they are extremely slippery even on dry days. But throw in the cold weather, and then one should consider if driving should be an option.
Summer and spring can be very nice, temperatures in low 60s to mid-high 70s.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
American School of Kosovo and QSI. If your kids are over 5 years old, I would recommend not bringing them here. Schooling is limited. QSI is right next door to the Embassy, but it is small, and a lot of classes are mixed-age; kind of like "Little House on the Prairie". A little one-room class room situation.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I doubt that there are any accommodations for special-needs kids.
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There don't seem to be any activities outside of embassy/clo organized events.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Morale is variable: from long-suffering to upbeat and positive, depending why you are posted here and how often you can get out of Pristina. There is an expat community, but it does not appear to be cohesive. You have to make the effort. The community seems to take of the persona of the host country-city: not very welcoming or hospitable compared to what you find in other European countries.
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?
There is UMIK, an mixed agency expatriate community that goes on trips and dinners together. And then there is the CLO. No comment.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think efforts are being made, and it is growing in its education with regards to LGBT issues and understanding.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Does not appear to be.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Highlight: managing to rescue some of the stranded/abandoned dogs in the city, the local wine, Mass at KFOR.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
You are here for either your career or your significant other's career. After that, there are NO advantages to living here. It is a good idea to read the Fact Book on Kosovo and its history in order to understand Kosovo's position from its own perspective and that of the world community before arriving here. That way you understand why, unlike Europe or other countries, it can be a disappointment. Then, on the other hand, the one advantage I can think of is that if you are starting a family and your kids are newborn-5 years old, it can be a good experience for all.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The political situation and Kosovo's standing in the world community. How it (as a country) feels about itself. The Serbia - Albania connection or rather disconnection. How the people feel about themselves as well. All of this plays in to how the state is or is NOT set up and runs.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Animals, expectation of beauty, peace, privacy.
4. But don't forget your:
Anything that makes you feel happy, upbeat and happy.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
World Fact Book, State Department guides/policy papers on Kosovo, New York Times articles on Kosovo.
6. Do you have any other comments?
My disappointment and regret in coming here is tempered by my age, travel experience (15 years as an expat), and my attempt to try to like the city and its people... all to no avail. You can judge a place by how it treats its poor and disenfranchised, its animals, and how it takes care of its environment with regard to making the city a cleaner, brighter place to live. But, sadly, I can only say they are in sore need of re-education in all these ares.