Bratislava, Slovakia Report of what it's like to live there - 09/19/16

Personal Experiences from Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava, Slovakia 09/19/16

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. We've lived in Bologna, Italy; Guadalajara, Mexico; and Bucharest, Romania.

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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?

Boston. There's no direct flight, so we end up transferring through Amsterdam or Paris. It's about 13 hours total with a 1-1/2 to 2 hour connection. There are direct flights from DC and NYC.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

U.S. Embassy

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We live in a big two-story house in a nice part of town -- walkable to two parks (one of which is huge, with playgrounds, bike and hiking trails, a chair lift), a grocery store and the zoo. The houses are all nice and close to public transportation. We are one of the furthest from the old town area and it takes about 7 minutes by car and 12 by bus. Some people (mostly singles and couples without kids) live in an apartment building walkable to the downtown (takes about 20 minutes). Some of the houses are closer to old town than the apartment building.

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

Price of groceries varies depending on which store you choose -- though it's significantly cheaper overall than in major U.S. cities. Most things are available but you often have to go to multiple stores to get everything on your list.

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

Liquid items like real maple syrup and real vanilla (they only sell imitation vanilla here). Brown sugar for baking.

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

There's not much available take-out-wise. There's sushi and pizza (Mr. Pizza tends to be the favorite). There's a lot of good Slovak food but other types of food tends to be so-so. There are a couple Asian fusion restaurants and a Mexican place. There's also a new Wagamama. There is a chain of restaurants here that have play areas for kids -- the Italian version has a pizza-making station where kids can cut shapes out of dough and have them cooked.

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

We had a major problem with ants, but it was taken care of quickly. We know other people who had ant issues as well.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO. I've heard mixed things about the local PO.

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

Very few families here have full-time nannies or household help. Slovakia has a generous maternity leave policy -- moms can take three years off to stay home with a baby. This means there's not really a nanny culture here. When moms go back to work, they tend to put kids in pre-school or have grandparents help out. Many people have someone come to clean once a week, which is around 8 euros an hour. Babysitters charge 5-6 euros an hour.

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

There are many gyms -- they range in price. New yoga studios have popped up in the part two years.

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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?

Yes -- widely accepted and safe to use. We used ATMs frequently and have never heard of anyone having an issue.

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

There is a Catholic service in English on Sundays. There's also a non-denominational church with a Sunday service.

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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?

It's helpful to have some Slovak. Often people working in grocery stores (or other shops) and restaurants don't speak any English.

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

There many be issues with wheelchair access in some places but, overall, I think it would be fine. There are elevators in many places, ramps, etc. Lots of handicapped parking.

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Transportation:

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

Yes. Cheap, convenient and safe.

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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?

Any car here is fine -- though would recommend against a very big SUV. Parking spaces are extremely tight.

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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?

Yes. We were lucky enough to have ours installed before we arrived. There are a couple different providers, depending on where you live. Our internet is mostly fine, though it does randomly drop out often.

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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?

Local provider. We have Orange.

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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?

Some work at the embassy. Others telecommute. I don't know of anyone working on the local economy.

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

Business casual. Women tend to dress up here more than in other places I've lived.

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Health & Safety:

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

Not that I know of.

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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. Many people go to Vienna for routine medical care.

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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 quality is good.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Everywhere in Bratislava there is a list of potential allergens on the menus -- each has a designated number. The number of the allergens in each dish is listed next to the name of the dish. It's helpful to people with allergies (though if someone has a nut allergy, be aware that pine nuts are not considered nuts here -- so you would need to specifically ask about that one!)

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

No. Though the winter months tend to bring many gray days.

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

It's hot in July and August and cold in the main winter months. But there are four seasons and it doesn't seem to get extremely cold. Climate is a bit like DC but less humid in the summer.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are international schools -- many expat kids go to the British International School, QSI or the Cambridge School. Each of the three English schools has pluses and minuses. They are expensive, so they tend to draw wealthy locals. Some expats also attend the French International School. QSI is the only school with an American curriculum but the facilities are not as nice as those at the other schools and the classes tend to be very small. All of the schools have extra-curricular activities. The sports associated with the international schools tend to be more like club sports -- Slovak and expats kids often go outside the schools for more serious sports instruction.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

QSI has allowed aides to assist kids in the classroom. I'm not sure about how it works with other schools.

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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?

All of the international schools provide after school care until 5 or 6pm and all have preschools. There are many pre-schools here, usually starting at age 2, including Montessori schools. I believe there is one (maybe two) that teach in English.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

All of the schools have extra-curricular activities. The sports associated with the international schools tend to be more like club sports -- Slovak and expats kids often go outside the schools for more serious sports instruction. There's a painting class in English for kids, martial arts, skiing, skating, swimming.

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Expat Life:

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

Morale is high. There are some expat groups in Bratislava. We have found, though, that there's so much to do -- places close by to travel to, etc. -- that the community here isn't as close as in other places we've been.

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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?

Going out to restaurants and bars in old town, parties at homes. There's a Facebook group Bratislava & Me that is helpful. There's also an international women's group and Internations here. There's a group for moms of babies and toddlers on Facebook, too.

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

Good for all. There's so much to do here for adults and kids and Vienna is only an hour away -- the options are endless.

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

It's not known to be extremely welcoming but I think it would be fine.

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

Slovakia is very nationalistic -- so there are biases against anyone who does not look like they "fit in." There have been protests against refugees and the Roma are discriminated against.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Slovakia has a lot to offer. We've been lucky enough to have a chance to travel most of the country. Bratislava is in a prime spot -- 4-1/2 hours to Italy, 3 1/2 hours to Prague, 2 hours to Budapest, 1 hour to Vienna (35 minutes to Vienna airport). There are so many small towns in Slovakia, Czech and Hungary that are amazing that we would otherwise never have explored. Slovenia is beautiful and close. Zagreb and Krakow are 4 hours away. Flights to to other parts of Europe are quick and cheap. We loved exploring the Tatra mountains, castles including Orava, Spis and Stara Lubovna, the wooden churches along the Polish border in Eastern Slovakia.

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

See above!

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

There is pottery in Modra and beautiful crystal.

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

It's a very easy life here. Everything you need or want to do is available.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

That it can be gray for long stretches of time in fall and winter. But, often, if you jump in the car (or on a train) and drive for an hour the clouds stay behind ...

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

Yes.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Desire to stay home. There is too much drawing you out!

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4. But don't forget your:

Desire to explore.

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