Bratislava, Slovakia Report of what it's like to live there - 12/25/09

Personal Experiences from Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava, Slovakia 12/25/09

Background:

1. 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?

Virtually all connections are through Vienna's airport, which is only about forty minutes away by car or bus. DC to Vienna takes 8.5 hours.

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2. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

I am affiliated with the U.S. Embassy and have lived in Bratislava for three years, a third expat experience.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Most U.S. Embassy families choose apartments or houses within a 15-minute drive from the center of town. Many singles and couples live within a 10-minute walk from city center.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

British, French and German hypermarkets have brought in an abundance of choices. Many American brands and ingredients remain hard (or impossible) to find. Average prices are on par with most of Western Europe, noticeably higher than what most Americans are used to paying.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

The list is getting shorter all the time. Mostly old-favorite snack items. We always buy shoes and clothes on trips back home.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

U.S. brands are mostly McDonald's, Pizza Hut and KFC. Prices are close to those in the US. There are lots of good (and reasonably priced) Italian and Chinese restaurants, but very few Mexican or Latin American places. High-end continental restaurants are everywhere, but you will use them only for special occasions.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Very few. It gets cold enough in the winter to discourage them.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Through the embassy for incoming. The local post office is okay for sending things out to places other than the States.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

We have a great housekeeper who comes one day a week for $210 a month.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Several, but they are expensive.

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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?

Most establishments will take credit cards. ATMs are everywhere.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, at least Roman Catholic and Protestant.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

English is getting to be pretty common in Bratislava, especially among the younger people. Most servers in restaurants speak english because tour groups are so common. Some Slovak skills would be helpful on trips around the country.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Only the newer shopping malls have wheelchair ramps. High curbs and cobblestone streets would be difficult for many.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes, but beware of pickpockets on trams and buses. Affordable? About a dollar for a bus ride in town. You can take a taxi to almost anywhere in town for under five dollars.

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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?

Whatever fits your situation will work here. Roads are very good. Service is good through major dealerships. Snow tires are required in the winter, even of there is no snow. People who live in (or close to) Old Town can survive just fine without a car.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Cable or DSL for $40 a month. Fast and reliable.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Everything is here. Skype and Vonage are best for international calling.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Yes.

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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?

Most diplomatic spouses that I know who want to work do.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

A bit more dressy than in most of the U.S.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Pickpockets.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

No special health concerns. Emergency care is probably adequate. Routine procedures should be handled in Vienna or on home leave.

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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?

Air pollution is not a problem.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Winter low temperatures lately have usually hovered in the twenties (F), occasionally a bit colder. Very little snow. Midsummer days can be in the nineties. Air conditioning is a definite plus.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Very large for a country of only 5 million people. There are many American and European business people living here.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good.

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3. 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 many bars, nightclubs and restaurants, so there is something for everyone. Many people entertain at home.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes, for all.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

There are some active gay social groups.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Unfortunately, yes. Many Slovaks have yet to outgrow their traditional intolerance of people of any color other than white, despite the fact that Catholicism dominates the religious scene.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

There are several good museums and art galleries in town. Local and national theaters are very active, as are the orchestra and the ballet. Vienna is less than an hour away by car, bus or train. Nice wineries are within a 20-minute drive, as are small lakes for swimming and boating. Danube River cruises are popular. Nearby castle ruins make good day trips.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Folk art, local watercolors, traditional musical instruments.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The weather is not too bad, most people are nice, and it is a great base for exploring the rest of europe and scandinavia.

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10. Can you save money?

Only if you can avoid the expensive restaurants. Slovakia has been using the Euro for a year now, and despite government assurances to the contrary, prices have risen considerably. Restaurants were prohibited from raising the price on any given item, so they gradually dropped all of those old items and introduced "new" items at new prices.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, it can be a charming little town.

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2. Do you have any other comments?

Vienna is a short drive away, so most air travel goes through there.

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