Skopje, North Macedonia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/27/19
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?
I had previously been posted in Bogota and as a private citizen lived in Mexico, Guatemala, and Argentina.
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?
Coming from DC the flights are all overnight and takes two full days. I much preferred the return trips to the US which took place all day- most flights are through Austrian Air which is decent and pay the 30 euros to get into the lounge in Vienna- worth it!
3. How long have you lived here?
I was in Skopje for 2 years.
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?
My housing was amazing but I think I was one of the lucky ones- I lived in a nice gated complex with a pool, gorgeous lake, and in a large two-bedroom apartment (the third bedroom had been converted to a laundry room/storage). I couldn't walk anywhere from my place but I did jog to the river path a lot and was literally 10 minutes from downtown. Most of the housing seemed a mixed bag- not the best I've seen but definitely not the worst and plenty of nicer places. Not a lot of closet space.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries were cheap and easy to get- even unique health food items! Pre-made convenience food isn't really a thing though, nor was most frozen food. Produce is AMAZING here literally the best I've ever had, plentiful and cheap except in the winter when there are mostly just rotten onions and cabbage. There were more and more specialty grocery stores popping up as I was leaving. Expect limited supplies of certain things (eg no blueberries, kale, or sweet potatoes) but basic fruit and vegetables are available.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Honestly I wish I had shipped LESS stuff- I found most items were easy and cheap to find locally.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
SO many good and very cheap restaurants! Delivery wasn't really a thing when I was there, but I had a great local taxi driver who was also my fixer and would pick up pizza for me if I was feeling lazy. We would frequently go out to dinner and have a bottle of wine, dessert, etc., and the bill would be under $20! Macedonian food is the BEST!
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
HAHAHA!!!!! I had baby frogs jump out of my shower drain while I was showering three times!!! On completely different days. :)
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
There was DPO and pouch- it came pretty fast!
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I had an incredible maid I think I paid her around $20 per day to come all day and do cleaning, laundry, sometimes basic meal prep. She was so great I still keep in touch with her and miss her!
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There were lots of gyms! Not so many classes available especially not in English but I joined a very modern gym that had great equipment and a sauna/steam room I could use. Also the Marriot had just opened when I left but honestly I wasn't impressed with their gym and the price was very expensive. The Embassy gym was small but decent and rarely crowded.
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 I used my credit card all the time. This is the SAFEST country ever!
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes I know there was an English-language church that several Embassy staff and their families attended.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Almost everyone speaks English even taxi drivers and shopkeepers. I took survival Macedonian at the Embassy and had enough to order beer, give taxi directions, etc. Most signs are in Cyrillic so having a basic knowledge of the alphabet helps.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Definitely; taxis are safe and affordable- local transport not so much.
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?
Parking is really tight in most places downtown but I was very happy with my Jeep Patriot!
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes internet was great and cheap, I think around $50-$60 a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I used a local SIM for unlocked Iphone and it was very inexpensive- the Embassy set everything up for me.
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?
Spouses mostly worked at the Embassy and even that was a struggle because there weren't enough EFM jobs. I know some ran home businesses like teaching yoga or zumba and one was a teacher at the local school, but my husband couldn't get an EFM job and just chilled by the pool most days. :)
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is a very safe country!
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Local healthcare is limited and not so great. We drove to Thessaloniki every month for my husband's treatment and the hospital there was incredible! It's only a 3-hour drive.
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?
This is the one huge negative- the pollution is HORRIBLE in the winter. They cancel flights frequently because the visibility is so bad, you need purifiers in your house, you literally can't see very far in front of you..... but that's only in the winter months so plan your R&R accordingly and go to Greece a lot and you'll make it.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
4 seasons with mild winters and hot summers- not too much snow in the winters but it does come occasionally.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Expat community is small but generally gets along well. There are a few foreign missions and also an army base nearby in Kosovo so enough foreigners to keep life interesting.
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?
I struggled to make local friends but was very happy to have a few friends who were international diplomats and others who were contractors at the Kosovo Army base so I wasn't constantly in the "Embassy bubble" but the Embassy community had great wine and cheese events and a fun book club.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Not so great for singles, I think wonderful for adventurous couples or families.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think Skopje is okay for LGBT folks- not the best but certainly not the worst. There is discrimination against LGBTs in Macedonia (and the region in general) but that is slowly changing. There was a gay couple at the Embassy when I was there and they did not experience any direct discrimination.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Frequent trips to the beaches in Greece! Exploring the Balkans by car! The amazing food and hospitality.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I had known how bad the pollution was in the winter.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Currently I would not go back there because I have a one-year old daughter and wouldn't want to expose her to the pollution. But my husband and I do miss the great food, cheap household help, outdoor adventures, and frequent trips to Greece.