Bratislava, Slovakia Report of what it's like to live there - 06/23/15
Personal Experiences from Bratislava, Slovakia
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, Tashkent, Guangzhou, and Kabul.
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?
Washington, DC. Most people prefer to fly direct from Washington to Vienna via Austrian Air/United and then drive about 40 minutes from the Vienna airport to Bratislava. Bratislava has a small international airport, but there are no direct flights to the U.S.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Affiliated with U.S. Embassy
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Many people live in apartments, although there are also nice single family homes that are fairly centrally located. I have a 25-minute walk to the Embassy, which is located on a beautiful central square in Bratislava's old town. There is also good public transport that consists of buses and trams, and taxis are fairly affordable, with many rides only costing about 5 Euros.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get almost anything here that you would want, although produce is more seasonal than in the U.S. and the quality of produce is a bit lower than in neighboring Austria. Prices seem reasonable and roughly comparable to the U.S. for many items. Anything that is not available here is availabe in Austria, just a 20-30 minute drive away.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a fairly nice range of restaurants and they are affordable. We typically spend about 10 Euros/person on a main at dinner, and beer is cheap, at 2 to 3 Euros for a half liter. There are not a ton of exotic restaurants, but things like Italian, Indian, Chinese, sushi, and Thai food are all available.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Some mosquitoes in summer but nothing too bad.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Via the State Departments Diplomatic Post Office (DPO) and Diplomatic Pouch. I do know that some colleagues have also had Amazon ship directly from their UK or German websites via local mail.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Private childcare costs 5-6 Euros and hour and people pay housecleaners about 8 Euros/hour, so most people do not have full-time help employed here.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, many, and they are pretty affordable. I think some people joined gyms for 20 Euros a month.
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?
Both are widely accepted/available. In fact, it seems like we can use credit cards in more places here than we can in Austria.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can get by pretty well with almost no knowledge of Slovak. It's nice to know it and sometimes helps if a waiter forgets to bring an English language menu, but in most places people in service jobs speak at least some English. Many people here also speak German.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I think someone with physical disabilities would have some difficulties living here, as it is not very wheelchair accessible. I realize this now that I often travel with a stroller.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes to all.
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?
Nothing too big as, like most of Europe, some roads are narrow, and parking spaces and garages are tight. We have a RAV4 and think that is a perfect compromise to fit our growing family and luggage or groceries, but still let us just fit in tight spaces.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, about 30 or 40 Euros/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The Embassy can arrange a contract for personal use with Orange that only costs us about 10 Euros per month and includes a lot of data usage.
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 to quarantine. I haven't used a vet or kennel for our two cats yet.
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?
I don't know as both my husband and I work at the Embassy. I do not know too many accompanying spouses who work on the local economy, though.
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?
Similar to in the U.S. Young people dress casually in jeans and sneakers. I wear a suit or dress to work and blend in with Slovaks.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No, it's pretty safe here, although I hear pickpocketing is a concern during the summer tourist season and we did have bikes stolen out of our shared apartment garage.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No particular concerns. Medical care in Slovakia is a bit post-communist, but world class medical care is available just across the border in Austria, either in Hainburg for routine care or Vienna one hour away for any type of care. I medevaced to Vienna to have my son last year.
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?
Good, some of the cleanest air I've had overseas.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
No one complains of allergies too much that I know.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Winters are similar to Washington, DC, not too cold, but days are short in the winter and long in the summer. Spring and autumn are a bit cool.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are two international schools - a QSI American curriculum school and the British International School of Bratislava (BISB). My child is only 10 months old, so I have no experience with either, but it seems like more Embassy kids go to BISB.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
Preschool and daycare is available but not plentiful. Childcare for young children is actually hard to come by, as Slovak women are entitled to up to 3 years of paid maternity leave. I hired a full-time Filipina nanny who is willing to work the hours that my Foreign Service Officer husband and I both needed. From what I have heard anecdotally, the preschool is good but requires one parent to drive a child to and from it every day, so I'm not sure what my husband and I would do if our child were older.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small, but good morale. People really like it here, as life is affordable, the local people are friendly, and there is so much great traveling both in Slovakia and to neighboring countries. My 10-month old son has already visited 10 countries in Europe.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, for all. There are many restaurants and cafes and also museums and some theaters. There are also numerous opportunities for outdoor activities - great bike trails, hiking, running, nearby skiing. Everyone here really enjoys life at this post.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I have no personal knowledge, but I would guess it is not great, as Slovakia is a fairly strongly Catholic country, and public opinion polls find that there are many with negative feelings about issues such as same-sex marriage.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Slovakia is fairly homogenous, so there is some opposition to immigration from countries outside Europe, but my impression is that people from other countries/cultures are not unhappy here.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Visiting castles, bike rides in Slovakia and to neighboring countries.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Bratislava is incredibly centrally located in Europe - just 1 hour from Vienna, 2 hours from Budapest, 4 hours from Prague, and 6 hours from Venice. We LOVE the travel opportunities, and being in Slovakia is also fun. We are really enjoying all the bike trails nearby. Life in Bratislava is also really easy to navigate, as the city is compact, so we find we can walk many places we want to go, including work, and only get in our car every few weeks.
8. Can you save money?
Yes if you don't travel too much to other more expensive Western European countries.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Nothing - I felt pretty well informed.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Worries about security and pollution - it's safe and clean here.
4. But don't forget your:
European travel dreams - as I mentioned, Bratislava is an awesome home base for trips all over Europe.