Skopje, North Macedonia Report of what it's like to live there - 06/28/23
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?
No. Sofia (Bulgaria), London.
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?
Tampa, FL. About 15-20 with a layover always in Vienna.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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?
Large houses and duplex style apartments. Most homes appear to be about 15-25 minute drive from the US Embassy. There was a range of very old and new homes or newly updated. Ours was older. Strange layouts for many. Housing pool was strained as there weren't many available units. We had a 3 BR, 3 Bath for a family of 4, with a storage basement and finished 3rd floor/attic which we used as a playroom for the kids, plus a small garage, which we used mostly for storage- had plenty of space but not all have that much storage space.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very affordable food costs, especially if you buy seasonable produce from the local farmers market. Selection is getting better but this was still a consumables post when we were here so we sent lots of spices, sauces, ethnic food items. Seafood is not the best here (landlocked country), though river trout appears to be abundant. Ethnic foods are seriously lacking; there was one decent Chinese and Thai place and so much Italian. Mostly, it's Balkan food. Household supplies are not as good quality as in the US, but there are a few German and EU-branded stores that are entering the market with better quality supplies.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
See above- consumables.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots of takeout options and a delivery service you order online or through an app. Restaurants get a little old after a while but generally you can find something you'll like. More American-style burger and steak spots and tons of pizza.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We had ants but it was easily dealt with. Sometimes there would be a gecko or lizard that would get in the house- nothing crazy. Lots of tiny spiders and I've heard some have had scorpions in the summer, but I think those are rare.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Post DPO and pouch. Never tried local post.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very affordable. Most people with small kids have a nanny and lots of people have housekeepers. We had a part-time nanny who also cooked and cleaned for us. She did about 20 hours a week and cost about $500 monthly. It's typical for employers to pay for their transport. We also had a gardener that came in the summers to cut our lawn about every two weeks and cost about $20 or so each time.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The large hotels in town have nice gyms people join. The embassy has a small gym. I never joined any but they seem affordable. Lots of people go running outdoors when weather is good along the river (running path) or at the "central park" of Skopje.
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- widely used, no problem, but not all take the cellphone applePay/googlePay features. ATMs are common and I've never had any problems using them in the city.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I think there's an LDS and Catholic church in town but not sure.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can get around with English. Most young people speak English. However, if you go to a local green market or getting out of the capital, knowing the local language will be helpful. Older generations speak Serbian. Post has a language program.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Bad sidewalks or none at all.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Never took local transport, no metro, just a lot of red double decker buses sourced from China. Taxis in Skopje are affordable and safe but use the recommended companies like GlobalTaxi. Usually a ride from home to the embassy would cost $3-4 for a 15-20 minute ride. We mostly drove our car, walked, or biked.
2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?
Small cars would be best unless you plan on doing a lot of hiking or skiing in the mountains and then something with AWD and a bit more clearance would help. We tried taking our Mazda CX-5 up into the mountain (Vodno) the first winter after a big snow to go sledding and got a bit stuck (as did everyone around us) so we ended up coming back down. If you just plan to drive in the city or some small road trips, my recommendation is a small, zippy car.
Parking is a HUGE hassle in town so a small car helps. Outside of the city, road infrastructure can be bad, depends on where you're going. The highway to Kosovo and Greece are great; the one to Bulgaria is terrible and was under construction the entire two years we lived there. Additionally, they are building a new highway just outside the embassy and that area was also under construction the entire two years we were there. While you can get most things serviced here, European and Asian brands tend to be most common (Mercedes, Peugeot, Seat, BMW, Volkswagon, Hyundai, Honda, Toyota). There was a Mazda dealership in town but when we had to get our windshield replaced (because a rock hit it while on that highway to BG), they had to get it shipped from the US since the car was US spec-ed, which meant a longer wait. We brought our own winter tires. I know some people have a prius and are very happy they brought it.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, post assisted with installation- we had it on the first or second day we arrived.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We kept our Google FI phones but also had local phones through Tmobile. Since we did so much regional and outside country travel, having the Fi phones were useful. Local service was very affordable.
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?
Don't have pets so can't speak to this, but many people did have pets and there were vets and boarding services in the city. One friend had a sick cat and had to go to Bulgaria to get more serious attention.
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?
Embassy has a good amount of EFM jobs but it's a small post. Some work from home. My spouse worked as a computer programmer from home.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Embassy was typical business attire; men in suits and women in equivalent, but depends on which office. When summers got hot they sent a notice allowing business casual wear. Macedonians are typically smartly dressed (they like irons, which I do not).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No. I found it incredibly safe and felt safer here than living in the US. Crime rates are very low. I felt safe walking late at night on dark streets (because their street lamps don't always work) and sometimes even forgot to lock my front door. The biggest concern here is car accidents.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Terrible air quality in the winter. Medical care is OK. Post health unit is fantastic but the hospital care, while affordable, I find lacking. I went to see a PT/chiro/massage person and he made things worse after a couple sessions. My daughter went to a dentist that didn't fully detect her cavities and I had to pay thousands of dollars to fix things when we got back to the US. Routine things may be OK, but if you have more serious issues, definitely consider where you can get care. Apparently Serbia and Bulgaria have much better dental care. I think medevacs go to London or Frankfurt.
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?
Terrible during the winter but good otherwise unless in the summer there are wildfires. There is pollen in the spring. It's a bit depressing since you can't get out in the winter and are stuck indoors all the time due to the air. Our remedy was to go for hikes in the mountains nearby or an hour and half away for skiing.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
There are tree nuts in a lot of the food, but can be avoided. If you have asthma, winter may be difficult.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
SAD in the winter for sure. Balkan winters are pretty depressing and grey. Get a Happy lamp.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Four seasons but the summer is dry and HOT. Like 100 degree weeks. The country gets a bit of that Mediterranean climate without the breeze. The first winter there was a good amount of snow but the last winter there was almost none.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Two international schools embassy folks send their kids to: NOVA international and QSI. QSI is much smaller with a more international crowd. NOVA I think has more locals. Both seem great. We sent our preschool and 1st grader to QSI and really liked it. There is a great community there.
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?
Lots of preschool options: British school, International Playschool (IPS), QSI and NOVA both have preschool groups. Very affordable but QSI and NOVA are more expensive. We sent ours to IPS at first and it was great. Almost none of them appear to have after-care, so many people have nannies for after 2-3pm.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. Soccer, dance, gymnastics, swimming, music (piano). Lots of options.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
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?
As a family with small kids we didn't get out much. There are different groups you can join through facebook or within the embassy community for working out, hiking, etc. We took tennis lessons which were affordable and there's a diplomatic match annually. Some people went on wine and rakija tastings.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It was a good family post for us. It was a bit boring as it's a small city and in the winter there's not a ton to do, especially during the pandemic. I think it's harder for singles. Not sure there were many social opportunities for singles outside of the embassy community. Many people traveled out of town on the weekends or on holidays to Greece, the region, and the cheap flights to other parts of Europe.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Not sure. I had a few local friends but they were mostly through work. I imagine it's not easy to make friends with locals otherwise unless you're into a specific social scene.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, I think it's okay.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
The country is mostly Macedonian (majority orthodox Christian) ethnicity but large Albanian and Turkish (majority Muslim) minority groups as well. The dynamics around those groups appear to be complicated. Roma people are discriminated against.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Our winter trips to Mavrovo mountain for skiiing were great- facilities aren't great but it was just nice to get out of the bad air. There are some beautiful wineries and historic ruins as well (Stobi, Lazar, Popova Kula). For the most part, very friendly locals.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Lake Ohrid of course is the UNESCO jewel. The drive south to Greece is lovely.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not at all. I was hoping to find some traditional kilims but didn't see much here.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's not densely populated so getting around is fairly easy. During pandemic times, it felt mostly safe as a result. The worst traffic during commuting hours is a piece of cake compared to the DMV or other large US metro areas. It's a small town can you can basically drive from one end to the other in a half hour. I really enjoyed my time here- there weren't a ton of concerts or events, but it had it's charms.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
There's not much of a folk culture here- it's very difficult to learn about folk traditions unless you really go out of your way to find them.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
I take everything.
4. But don't forget your:
Humidifiers, air purifiers, warm winter clothes and ski gear.