Belgrade, Serbia Report of what it's like to live there - 12/02/18
Personal Experiences from Belgrade, Serbia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. I have also lived in London, New York City, Enugu, Nigeria, Hyderabad, India, and Dhaka, Bangladesh.
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?
France. It is a 15 hour drive, or anything from 3 hours to 12 hours flights with connections. I drove most of the time, and used the opportunity to visit all the neighboring countries.
3. How long have you lived here?
Five years, from2013-2018.
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?
Row house, a bit away from the center but closer to the schools. We lived in Senjak. Most expatriates live in Senjak or Dedinje, as these areas are closer to the international schools.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Life is relatively cheap in Serbia. Vegetables and fruits are really cheap. Unless you need very specific staples, we found it quite easy to find pretty much everything we needed to live.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Barely anything, honestly. We love our salted butter, and for a while, we found some, but then, only the President butter spread, but that's ok.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The main issue with restaurants is not so much the food offered (we would have liked more Asian options, but the offer expanded during the time we were there, and this will probably continue to improve), but the fact that the concept of a non-smoking area remains totally foreign, in Serbia. During summer, it is not too much of an issue, but in winter, it is very difficult to find non-smoking restaurants, or restaurants that actually have a proper non-smoking section - as opposed to one non-smoking table right in the middle of the restaurant!
There is an online food delivery service that delivers meals from a large variety of restaurants (donesi.com).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We never had any.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Postal services work perfectly.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Cheap. Expatriates usually pay around 5 Euros an hour, and that's much more than the local ongoing rate. Most expats have a cleaning lady, some have help for their children, or a housekeeper. A lot of them speak English, or German. Serbians are very, very good with foreign languages.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Lots and lots of choice. Serbians are very sporty. And no, it's possible to find gyms or classes (yoga, pilates, zumba, etc) for very decent prices. Dance schools are there, too. Large olympic-size swimming pools.
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, yes, and yes.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not much at all - barely anything, in fact, as most Serbians, especially in Belgrade, speak perfect English. It can be a bit frustrating, in fact, when you are trying to learn the language. Finding tutors is also very easy and affordable.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Probably not the easiest city to move about if you are disabled or in a wheelchair.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes. There is the occasional pick-pocketing in buses, but overall, we never had any issues. Nor with taxis. Belgrade is a very safe city.
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?
We were told to get a 4x4 but honestly, it was not necessary. We bought a Kia. Most brands are represented.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, and no issue for the installation.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We used Telenor at first, but after a couple of really bad surprises (massive fees when I crossed the border, even though I had deactivated roaming), I decided to get a pre-paid sim card with VIP. It was OK. Most expats used Telenor, though.
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?
Yes . We adopted two cats while living there. The first was was run over by a car, but the second one is now with us in Africa. We were happy with our veterinary. I don't know about bringing a pet to Serbia, but I know families who did.
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?
Difficult for spouses to get jobs. There is high unemployment in Serbia, and wages are low.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Suit and tie for men. Normal work attire for women.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Most expats we knew used Belmedic, where most doctors speak English. It is expensive, but they give good care, are readily available. We were happy, overall, with all their services, during our five years there.
2. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
It is dark at 3:30 pm in December. So, yes, long nights. Winter is not overly harsh. There are beautiful days often until the end of November. We didn't see a lot of snow, during our five years. Some, but not a lot. Spring can be beautiful. Summer gets really hot in Belgrade. I did get really depressed with the winter blues, the first year, after 13 years of no winter at all, but it got better. Now, we are in Africa and I see pictures of winter in Serbia and I almost miss it (almost).
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
See the school report, but schools there include:
International School of Belgrade (IB)
Chartwell and Prima (British curriculum)
Le LycÃ©e FranÃ§ais (French curriculum).
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?
Yes. Our children were older so I don't much about those, but they're there.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
This can be a bit tricky. The Serbian school system works on two schedules that change each week. 7 am to 2 pm, and 2 pm to 7 pm. This means that most sport classes and activities for local kids only start after 7 pm and can last until 9 pm or later. Also, the Serbian approach to sports or dance or music is very "Russian" and strict. It can work for some international children, or not. Both our daughters did a lot of ballet in Belgrade. It is possible to find a few schools which have a softer approach to teaching, but careful with their ethics (and expect sky-high prices). It is also possible to get private lessons, music, tennis coaches, etc. Investigate. You should find something.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
I think the morale is good. Belgrade is great city. Lots to do. And Serbia is a beautiful country. Men can be a bit macho. Their driving is terrible. They don't believe in rules, nor care for them. Otherwise, they are a warm people who love to sing and drink rakja, and eat.
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 is a fantastic Facebook page ran by two expat ladies who've lived in Serbia for some years: Belgrade Foreign Visitors Club. They organize a lot of activities, hikes, bicycle trips, pub crawls, etc. Joining a dance school, or sports club, is a great way to get to know local people. Joining a tango school totally changed our life there.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for everyone. Single people who like to party will have an absolute blast. It's good for families because there is much to do and see. And it's safe. Easy.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
This is trickier. As I said above, Serbian culture is very macho, and they really have a problem with LGBT. Gay parades were finally authorized but on that day, the whole military force is in the streets, with tanks etc. There is a gay community, though. Just be careful.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not really. There is a lot of prejudice against the Roman, though. This is an old communist country. Strong women. They are also as agressive as men, behind the wheel.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The viewpoint over the Uvac meandre. Hikes in the Tara National Park. Novi Sad and Subotica are lovely cities. The Belgrade Dance Festival brings companies from all over the world. Orchestra or first balcony opera seats at less than 10 Euros. Concerts. Traveling to the many beautiful neighboring countries (Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Albania, etc.) The tango school, Tango Natural, and their yearly international tango Festival, Belgrade Tango Encuentro.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Carpets from Pirot. Furniture from the Yougoslav years.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Many, many advantages. The city scene. The culture scene. It is safe and affordable. The nature. Warm people.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Ivo Andric' the Brdige Over the Drina, and All the Emir Kusturica movies.