Pristina, Kosovo Report of what it's like to live there - 08/17/21
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?
Fifth. Also lived in east Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Americas.
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?
If you have to "Fly America," the typical route is with United/Austrian via Vienna. Frankly, I find it a more exhausting flight than longer ones we've had.
3. What years did you live here?
2019 - 2020.
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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?
US Embassy housing varies, most of it is great. Architecture here is a bit unusual, so most houses in the embassy pool have four-five floors and the layout might not be what you expect. That said, this has been one of the nicest houses we've had overseas with the fewest problems.
Many families prefer living in International Village because it has lots of kids, a great playground/pool, and is close to ISK (and now QSI, since it moved.) PHS is a little further away.
IV to embassy commutes vary, depending on traffic. No traffic? Maybe 10-15 minutes. It's taken nearly 2 hours to get home on occasion.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are easy to get and prices are pretty good. The produce is amazing in season. The major grocery stores will take of the VAT if you bring in the embassy forms. You can have groceries delivered from maxiks.shop (but you pay the VAT.)
It is impossible to find non-scented cleaning supplies, so put those in your consumables shipment (along with coconut oil, peanut butter, Asian/Mexican condiments, etc.). You can find almost anything here, but not always when you need it.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Non-scented cleaning supplies. Coconut oil, peanut butter, Asian/Mexican condiments, brown sugar, salad dressings, chocolate chips, holiday foods, etc.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
TONS of restaurants and delivery services. Many places take orders via Facebook. Restaurant Fiorentina is one of our favorites for steak and salmon. We also like Rron.
I had heard about how much Pristina had a "cafe culture" and great macchiatos. While that is true, I didn't get to enjoy it the way I had hoped due to the ubiquitous cigarette smoke whether you sit inside or outside.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Not really. . . flare-ups of ants from time to time. Terro baits work.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO/Pouch. When we have tried to ship something from another European country to Kosovo, it's been challenging. Part of this is because not all countries recognize Kosovo, but also during the early pandemic shut down typical shipping routes were not open. Note: Food / household supplies were always available. It was less expensive and easier to have items from other countries shipped to our US DPO/Pouch address than directly.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Six Euros/hour is typical for household help. We had a fabulous housekeeper come multiple times a week and it was a great help, especially when telecommuting.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Omnisport is near International Village and offers group gymnastics classes for kids.
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 use credit cards and ATMs. We prefer to cash checks at the embassy because the exchange rate seems better and ATM fees are high.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
These are the five local protestant churches in Pristina which offer some English language translation.
Drita e Botës (Light of the World)
Kisha Protestante "Bashkësia Ungjillore e Mesisë" (Gospel Community of the Messiah)
Bashkësia e Popullit të Zotit (Fellowship of the Lord’s People)
Bashkesia Golgota / Calvary Chapel
Mother Teresa Cathedral has English services in the afternoon.
There are chaplains at both Bondsteel and KFOR, and I've heard there are regular English Protestant and Catholic services.
Check Facebook to verify details of service times and locations -- everyone in Kosovo uses FB for business.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I studied Albanian, but since nearly everyone I meet speaks English, I have barely used it. Occasionally I'll come across a taxi driver who doesn't speak English, but that is rare. Most people in the government speak English also, so very little Albanian is needed for many of the jobs at the embassy.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Those who have mobility limitations would have a terrible time with the lack of sidewalks or people parking on sidewalks, cobblestone streets, most houses having multiple floors, and so forth.
Those with asthma/COPD or other issues would struggle because of the pollution. While it might not be as bad as most cities in China or India, it really is awful during the winter.
Medical care here is adequate. The embassy health unit was amazing. The specialists we've seen in Pristina have not inspired confidence. We've had to go to Skopje for some medical care.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, safe and affordable. The bus system is good in the center but not great if you live in IV. Sometimes it is nearly impossible to get a taxi. I'm glad we have our own vehicle, but sometimes we take a taxi to the center just because parking is such a pain. Look on maps.me or google maps for parking lots before you go.
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?
If you are going to travel around the Balkans, make sure you have a really reliable vehicle and I'd recommend something with high clearance. There are plenty of potholes around town. We've had some trouble finding parts.
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 you can ask your social sponsor to have it installed before you arrive.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
It is a pain to use the local mobile company, in my opinion. If you buy a SIM card at the airport and put money on it, it is used up almost immediately. You need to go to the center to the main IPKO store (with your passport!) and sign up for a plan. You can put money on your phone for your plan at the Shell station (and probably other gas stations -- but not at grocery stores and nowhere in Albi Mall.)
We also have a US VOIP number that has made life easier for business and personal logistics.
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?
Lots of stray dogs in the city. Expats are known to be soft-hearted and people will dump their pets near expat housing areas.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Harder to volunteer than I thought it would be.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I've always felt safe here. Worst thing was an aggressive panhandler at a stoplight.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The embassy health unit is excellent. Local primary care and specialists are so-so. Various things are referred to Skopje for higher level testing or specialists.
Qeshu Dental has a US-trained dentist who is excellent and very affordable.
Serena Massage & Physical Therapy is awesome for massages.
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?
Winter air quality was the chief reason we did not extend. The embassy provides high quality filters for indoors.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very temperate with lovely four seasons. Tends to be dry. Pristina is at elevation and it is easy to get dehydrated. The weather is really wonderful, with the exception that the cold brings pollution.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Most people have their kids at ISK or QSI, however there are other options. Pristina High School (K-12) is popular with non-embassy expats, but is a little further away from most of the embassy housing. I've known people with kids also at the Finnish school (they were not thrilled with it) and the British school.
We've known some expats who have attended RIT-Kosovo / American University of Kosovo.
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?
I know a couple of families (embassy, other expat, locals) who highly recommend Park School Montessori. It is near Germia Park, and not close to most embassy housing.
Most people I know have nannies for young children. The nannies in International Village all know each other and very often the children will play outside together supervised by the nannies.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Omnisport for gymnastics. Some families have arranged a tennis instructor to come to IV for group lessons, and I've heard of a Tae Kwon Do instructor who will come to your home. We've had friends who really liked Misbah and Friends music school (near the old embassy), and we found a piano teacher who came to our home. Boy Scouts (for boys and girls) is quite active. All of these options have teachers who are fluent in English.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Quite a large expat population, especially with the foreign aid that has been invested by various countries over the last twenty years. It's easy to meet and get to know expats from multiple countries. Most of the non-embassy Americans I've met have been or plan to be in Kosovo long-term.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for families, and the singles and couples I know seem to like it, too.
3. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
It is super easy to make friends with people from Kosovo and the region. Very welcoming, often fluent in English, no weird patron/client dynamics like in much of east Africa.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Seems pretty tolerant.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
This is the Balkans. . . Ethnic tensions run deep.
However, it doesn't seem to impact most people in the capital on a day-to-day basis (unless you are Roma). Friends have said that it is more of an issue in the regions and villages.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We were disappointed to not travel throughout Europe as we had planned. However, Pristina was a great place to be on lockdown during the global pandemic.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
One of our favorite local get-aways was http://ujevaraedrinit.com/
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
We had most of our art work re-framed here and it was done excellently and affordably.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Very welcoming to Americans; there is a statue of Bob Dole at the corner of Bill Clinton Boulevard and George Bush Street.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How sensitive we would personally be to the pollution. At other posts, we've had pollution, but it was usually from trash burning and was sporadic. The near-constant high AQI during the winter impacted us way more than we thought it would (other people do fine.)
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. Maybe. Definitely if we didn't have health issues.
3. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Tales of Blood and Honey.