Skopje, Macedonia Report of what it's like to live there - 06/28/13
Personal Experiences from Skopje, Macedonia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. We've previously lived in Taipei, Taiwan; Beijing, China; and Ottawa, Canada.
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?
We have family in KY and NY. We usually connect through Vienna and DC. The trip back to the States takes around 18 hours. Unfortunately, connecting through Vienna means a 4 a.m. flight out of Skopje, and a 4 hour layover in Vienna.
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?
Nothing is far in Skopje. Commute times are usually 10-15 minutes. For the US Embassy, the housing pool consists mostly of semi-detached or stand-alone houses.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Fresh produce tends to be cheap, but availability is still quite seasonal. Meats can be expensive, and good cuts hard to find. Availability of products in general can be spotty -- it's best to snag your favorites in bulk when you find them.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Organic and low-sodium shelf-stable products. Confectioner's sugar, if you like to bake. The powdered sugar here is too gritty for my taste. Vanilla extract (all they have here is powdered vanilla).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There a lot of moderately good restaurants. The only "gourmet" restaurants seem to be associated with the wineries and are out of town. Also, there is very little variety to the cuisine here --it's mostly Macedonian or Italian. Steaks are expensive-ish, but everything else seems to be inexpensive. Skopje also has Domino's and Burger King. McDonald's recently closed, but there is hope that they will eventually re-open.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Lots of bees and wasps.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most full-time housekeepers/nannies seem earn $4.00 - $4.50 hour. Expect to pay more per hour for part-time help.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
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?
Widely used throughout Skopje.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes: Non-denominational Christian, Catholic, LDS and Jewish.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
No English-language newspapers. We get AFN.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Very little if you're in Skopje. People 60 years and above don't seem to speak English, but most of them do speak Russian, French, or German. The younger generations all speak at least some English.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There seem to be few, if any, accommodations for people with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are cheap and safe. Everyone says to avoid the trains.
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?
Fender-benders are common, so it's best to bring a car for which new parts can be easily obtained. There are Toyota, Ford, Honda, and BMW dealerships in town, to name a few.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. $60 /month for internet and phone together.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
No particular recommendations. Most Macedonians have more than one cell phone, so they are readily available here.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
No. Unemployment is high, so it's difficult for even Macedonians to find a job.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Suit and tie at work. Casual to business casual in public.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Some petty crime, but otherwise a very safe post.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The health care is getting better quickly. Sistina hospital is working to bring in state-of-the-art equipment and has some expat doctors. But, the US Embassy still med-evacs everyone to London for all but the most run-of-the-mill problems.
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?
Good for most of the year. But the surrounding mountains create an inversion in the winter, trapping the pollution from cars, industry, and wood-burning stoves. Last winter, there were days were the pollution reached 300 ppm.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
4 distinct seasons. Moderately cold winters (though with little snow). July and August tend to be quite hot but dry, often with temps near 100 F.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Two good options available: NOVA and QSI. I have no personal experience with either, but parents from both schools seem to be happy.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Very little. Our daughter has Sensory Processing Disorder, and we've been pretty much on our own. We found a local auditory processing specialist through NOVA. One woman in Skopje has recently opened up an occupational therapy clinic, but it is not associated with the schools.
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?
Several good international pre-school options. My daughter goes to IPS, and we've been very pleased with the care she's received.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Some: karate, dance, basketball.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small but cohesive.
2. Morale among expats:
Very good. Most people seem to like it here.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Skopje is a great city for families. Macedonians love children, and there are play spaces in every shopping mall. There is also a nice zoo.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There is still a fair bit of prejudice against LGBTs here in Macedonia.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is religious tension here between the Macedonian Orthodox Christians and the Albanian Muslims. As a result, there are frequent protests that sometimes erupt into violence.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Visiting Lake Ohrid, going to the wineries, seeing ancient ruins.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Macedonia is actually sadly lacking in unique local items. There are some good Macedonian artists, though.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Interesting driving trips around the region, easy weekend visits to the beaches of Northern Greece, and prices in Macedonia are relatively inexpensive compared to the nearby EU countries.
9. Can you save money?
Yes. But, we've saved money pretty much everywhere.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?