Skopje, North Macedonia Report of what it's like to live there - 05/18/16
Personal Experiences from Skopje, North Macedonia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
6th tour overseas
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. Flight went from Dulles to Vienna but these only come in a few days a week.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Varied. There are some apartments for those without kids, and houses for those with. They are spread out over town so you may not have embassy neighbors. Probably 15-minute commute form the farthest area.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Things are pretty cheap but very seasonal. Winter is a sad time in the produce department. Also there is some sort of supply chain issue here - one week all the stores will have FAGE yogurt and then you won't see it again for months. If you see something, buy a bunch. Cheese is also sad here, unless you like very salty local cheese.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Patio furniture it is very expensive
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Burger King and Dominoes. Cheap. And two spooky deserted McDonald's restaurants....
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?
DPO or pouch but there is one woman using local mail for a business and she says it is cheap and fast.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Around US$3 an hour
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a small gym. A lot of people have started going to Synergy Fitness; it is cheap and new.
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?
You can use your credit card around town. There is a cashier and ATM at the Embassy and an ATM at the gate of QSI.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is one LDS family at the Embassy and you run into their missionaries all over town, so there must be something. There is an English speaking church run by a couple who have been here forever. Lots of missionary 'NGO' types in Skopje.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be terribly hard.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are cheap. About US$3 to go anywhere. Lotus usually has good drivers who speak English and their dispatchers are very helpful.
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?
You can bring anything. Roads can be in poor repair and with lots of hills and mountains outside of town. Many have SUV's.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Good and not too $$
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Get one. Embassy can set you up or T-Mobil at any mall.
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?
No quarantine. There are a few vets and a few different pet care options for when you travel. This is hard to figure out though, no one wants to share such information.
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?
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There do not appear to be any.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Standard business dress at work, in public anything goes.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Normally no, but currently there is a political crisis brewing over elections. Security staff sends out nightly protest reports and basically you should not go downtown after 6 most nights.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The water is safe but full of calcium. There was a movement to take away the house distillers at one point.
Medical care is so so. The two local nurses at the Embassy are lovely, be nice to them always.
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?
Skopje is VERY polluted. Not just a little polluted but in winter there are plenty of days it is on par with Beijing. You can taste it, you will get sick from it, it seeps in your house. Skopje is located in a bowl and many of your neighbors will burn wood or other things to stay warm in winter. The schools are located in the bottom of the bowl and there are many days the kids do not go outside to play in the winter time.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
They sell Zyrtec but you might want to bring what you need - spring is beautiful and there are flowering things everywhere. Food allergies are not common here so I think eating out may be a challenge.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Like DC, all four season.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are two. QSI and NOVA. The oldest embassy kid at post is 12, the rest go to boarding school. Both schools have issues. Bullying can be a problem. Poor teachers, yelling by teachers. If your kid is 4th grade and under, it is probably fine. QSI is not run well, NOVA has almost no foreign teachers and the student body is primarily local.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
QSI has a few aides for various kids and a few specialists who come in e.g., speech therapist.
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?
QSI has a preschool and there are some other options as well.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
QSI offers no sports teams. You would like have to arrange private lessons on your own. There is no soccer league for kids like you might find in NOVA.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty small and the embassy community is very cliquish.
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 are vineyards, Lake Ohrid, traveling, hiking Matka Canyon.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Probably not a great town for a single woman as the dating pool would be small. Couples probably enjoy it most.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
If you look like you could be Roma, you may have issues.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Meeting some really lovely Macedonians. I have met a few who are real gems and have made our lives better.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Matka Canyon is pretty, traveling
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?
Being about to travel has been great. From Skopje we have gone to several countries via Wizz Air and driven to eight.
10. Can you save money?
It depends on how much you travel. There is nothing to buy in Macedonia so it's all on travel.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The pollution and the state of the schools. We would not have come.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No, absolutely not.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Being detailed oriented or planning anything ahead. Ever.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
'Your Woman in Skopje' and '90 Days in Macedonia'