Belfast, United Kingdom Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Belfast, United Kingdom

Belfast, United Kingdom 11/19/14

Background:

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

Fifth -- St Petersburg, Russia, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Baku, Azerbaijan, and London.

View All Answers


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?

NJ. To date, the only direct flight from Northern Ireland to the U.S. is a daily United flight to Newark. There is talk of offering another flight, I think, to Chicago. Otherwise, there are many flights from Dublin which is only 2 hours away, or you can get a connection in London. The direct flight is 6.5 hours westbound, 5ish hours eastbound.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

4 years.

View All Answers


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

Initially to study, but then I married a Brit and stayed for a bit.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

I don't know for Consulate personnel, although I think most either live in South Belfast (the posh area and close to the Consulate) or East Belfast (normal middle class neighborhoods). Both areas are lovely, although there are some more divided areas in East. Any part of the city is really only a 15-minute drive from any other part, so commuting shouldn't be too difficult regardless. Beware of mold in houses. Many houses don't have good insulation but they are older with quite pretty features. Also make sure you have a dryer -- quite a few houses don't, but with the rain it's really hard to dry clothes on a line.

View All Answers


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

You can get anything you want (except pie tins!) but for more than in the U.S. I tended to go to a green grocers, butchers, and bakery -- most neighborhoods have them within walking distance, and the price is comparable to the large food stores but the quality is much better. If you are desperate for American food, Picnic in the City (Royal Avenue) and Sawyers (near the Waterstones) have a good selection.

View All Answers


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

Aunt Jemima's and pie tins.

View All Answers


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

There's actually a surprising variety, given the size of the city. -- Although to date there is no vegetarian restuarant in town. McDonald's/KFC/BK are more expensive than in the States. Great NI take outs are Meat in a Bap, Boojums (like Chipotle), and Build A Burger. Bubbaque restaurant near City Hall has great pulled pork and bbq food. Made in Belfast and The Barking Dog have great casual-ish food -- but expect to pay 30-50 pounds for two people. Molly's Yard is lovely for a slightly fancier night out.

View All Answers


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

None, really. Beware of moths eating your clothes.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

Royal Mail, which is a bit slow but does the job.

View All Answers


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

Expensive.

View All Answers


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

Definitely. Priced as you would expect. There are also 'Leisure Centres,' which are kind of like YMCAs although government run.

View All Answers


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?

Perfectly fine, few problems. -- Although there is one ATM on Botanic Avenue (just north of University Street) that is regularly targeted by people stealing card information.

View All Answers


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

Most religions are covered in Belfast. There are two mosques, one synagogue, and many more churches than you could ever want! For Protestant churches, I'd recommend looking into Fitzroy Presbyterian (social justice, ecumenism), Orangefield Presbyterian (large contemporary service), Kirkpatrick Memorial (good, middle class), City Church (contemporary, active nondenom), and Windsor Baptist (strong 20/30 somethings).

View All Answers


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

Most people only speak English. Now, understanding their English is something different...

View All Answers


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

Not really. My friend who is blind has no problem traveling around the city independently.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

Safe and affordable. Do be careful sometimes -- there are two city-wide taxi companies, and many neighbourhood-based taxi companies. These latter will sometimes be reluctant to take you from a Catholic area to a Protestant area or vice versa, so if using them, it's normally best to get off in a neutral area and then walk the rest of the way home. Also, you need to call and arrange for a cab to pick you up, you can't hail one on the street (normally).

View All Answers


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?

Anything, but I'd recommend bringing something with good gas mileage and perhaps something that is a bit smaller. Ford Focus and Toyotas are common here.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

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

We paid about US$55 a month for internet and TV.

View All Answers


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

Much of a muchness, really. Three has unlimited internet, which can be useful for FaceTime calls to the States. I think O2 has the best coverage, although the differences are negligible.

View All Answers


Pets:

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?

I assume so...

View All Answers


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?

Sure, especially in IT.

View All Answers


2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots. Whatever you'd find in a mid-sized city in the States, you'll probably find in Belfast.

View All Answers


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

Same as the U.S. Casual Fridays are taking on!

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

Meh. Sometimes you will have to evacuate a train because there is a suspicious package on the tracks or things along those lines, but those are mostly just precautions. I never felt unsafe walking around the main streets alone at night. You have to be careful what clothing, colors, soccer jerseys, etc you wear in certain areas, but mostly foreigners -- especially Americans -- are left out of the Troubles-related security issues.

View All Answers


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

The NHS is fine, and there's a strong private market for people who want faster service/are paranoid. Some maternity units are better than others, so if you're planning to have a child while here definitely do your research.

View All Answers


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?

Fine, very humid. Most houses have some mold due to the constant rain.

View All Answers


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

Asthma sufferers normally do better here than in the States. Do be aware of the mold in houses, though, especially if you are particularly sensitive to that.

View All Answers


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

While it rarely gets colder than 40F or warmer than 60F, it rains 300+ days a year. Autumns are dark, rainy, and miserable, summers are a disappointment (except for one or two glorious weeks), but springtime is more beautiful here than anywhere else in the world. From May through August, the sun doesn't set until around 10pm!

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

I don't think there are any international schools in Belfast. Methody, Academical Institution (boys only) and Belfast Royal Academy (BRA) are the best selective schools for the upper grades. Most public schools are great. Just be aware that traditionally Catholic kids go to Catholic schools and Protestant kids go to public schools and can tell each other's uniforms apart, which sometimes (but definitely not always, especially in the middle class areas) leads to bullying when they meet each other in the street or on the bus. There are mixed schools -- Lagan College is the main one -- and also Irish-language schools, which tend to attract a multicultural student body (and some Protestants, too): An Droichead in South Belfast is probably closest to the Embassy. Their elementary and preschool programs are fantastic.

View All Answers


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

Special needs accommodation and assistance in Northern Ireland is a bit behind the rest of the U.K. and the U.S. but it's still quite good.

View All Answers


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?

Yes available, at a rate probably equivalent to the US. I've known people who were very happy with Kids@BT9.

View All Answers


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

I imagine... Soccer is huge here. Rugby is popular in the middle class, and boxing is popular in the working class.

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

There isn't a really strong expat community in Belfast -- most people just blend in with the Northern Irish. That said, every expat I knew had trouble making really good friends with locals -- they are very friendly and nice, but most aren't interested in significant friendships.

View All Answers


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?

The same things you do in any Western city... There is a LOT of drinking here, it's difficult to do anything social with a Northern Irish person that doesn't involve some amount of alcohol.

View All Answers


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

Good for everyone! Great music and pub scene for singles/couples. Northern Ireland is a really great place to raise kids (except for the weather) -- lots of activities for kids, great schools, small enough to feel at home but large enough to have space when you need it.

View All Answers


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

It's conservative for Western Europe, but it's still Western Europe. There's a string of LGBTQ clubs along Donegall Street.

View All Answers


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

Well, this is Belfast so obviously there are still religious prejudices re: Protestants and Catholics, although they tend to be better hidden in the middle class world. Most black people have a least one racist incident per year, especially beyond middle-class-world or outside Belfast. There is increasing prejudices against Polish people and the Roma.

View All Answers


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

Seeing a lot of Ireland and Northern Ireland, spending lazy evenings in the pub with a pint of the dark stuff and some great music, getting to see the many different faces of this place.

View All Answers


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

So many! Off the typical tourist track (you can read about those in any guidebook), Crawfordsburn Beach is great for families on a sunny day. The John Hewitt pub has the best music, Kelly's Cellars has regular Irish music (so does Maddens, but it is also quite Republican!), The Spainard is a really tiny pub but also really good, and White's is my favorite for the traditional Irish pub feel. Every spring bank holiday weekend there is a Festival of Fools, where street performers from around the world converge on Belfast and put on shows for free.

Every Christmas there is a Continental Market selling German/Dutch/Polish/French/etc food, Christmas trinkets, and so forth, which is quite festive and fun. Queen's Film Theatre has a fantastic selection of classic, foreign, and art films, with reasonably priced tickets. Avoca, an Irish chain, serves the best scones in town. The Botanic Gardens are by far the best city park, although the Lagan Meadows are great for long walks or bike rides. Hiking up Cave Hill will give you the best view over the city. Kids love Belfast Zoo, and I think there's an indoor water park in Lisburn for them as well. Sawyers is a great foodie store. There's a great second-hand bookstore on North Street. Trains to Dublin are cheap as long as you buy tickets three or so days in advance. The best thing in Belfast is St George's Market, an indoor market open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It has live music on Saturday mornings and stalls with local crafts and goods as well as food and dessert stalls -- it's a great place to go shopping for unique birthday presents for the family back in the States. Also great for your weekly grocery shopping!

View All Answers


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

Pottery, paintings, knittings, etc from St George's Market, Bushmills whiskey.

View All Answers


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

Everyone thinks it's so cool that you are living in Ireland (you give up trying to explain that you're not really in Ireland). It's the least expensive part of the U.K. but with okay transport links to Europe (primarily Spain and Amsterdam) and it's a beautiful little corner of the world. People are also quite friendly with Americans. It's a place that really gets under your skin, in a good way. Oh, and there's a great music scene!

View All Answers


10. Can you save money?

Yes, I suppose so, but I'd spend it on traveling and activities, if I were you.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

I wish I had known more about the Troubles. It's an insidious part of life here, and everyone assumes you know the basics. It helps to make sure you do know the basics!

View All Answers


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

Yes, but I wouldn't stay as long as I did.

View All Answers


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

Rangers and Celtic jerseys and any other thing that is overtly republican or loyalist. Also, your picture of Belfast as constant riots and bomb scares. Also you're expectation of going to a mini-Ireland. Okay you get the funky place names and gorgeous scenery, but Northern Ireland is quite different from the South.

View All Answers


4. But don't forget your:

Love of music, sturdy umbrella, and waterproof shoes.

View All Answers


5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Five Minutes of Heaven.

View All Answers


6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The Paperboy.

View All Answers


7. Do you have any other comments?

It would be a really nice, easy tour. Definitely worth it, in my opinion!

View All Answers


Belfast, United Kingdom 08/17/07

Background:

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

I have lived in Poland and Kuwait.

View All Answers


2. How long have you lived here?

3 years.

View All Answers


3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

There is a direct route from Newark to Belfast that takes about 5/6 hours on Continental. Often, however, we are forced to fly through London due to cost. Dublin also has lots of direct flights and is only about 2 hours away.

View All Answers


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

I work at the U.S. Consulate General.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Single family homes/duplexes. They are quite comfortable, though yards may be small. You can walk to work in 15/20 minutes and drive in 5/10 (depending on the traffic).

View All Answers


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

Everything is really, really expensive. Groceries are far more expensive then in the U.S., though pretty much everything is available. Grocery stores are increasing their offering of international food products.

View All Answers


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

You can buy most things. I have noticed that you can't get canned black beans/hominy here or reasonably-priced salon-purchased shampoos. Pet food and related products are 2 to 5 times more expensive than in the U.S.

View All Answers


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

There are the normal fast food joints--McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut. There is not a lot of ethnic cuisine here. Everything is really expensive. McDonalds for a family of 4 is US$30. A meal out can easily be a US$100 for 2 adults and 2 children, or US$100 for a couple with a cheap bottle of wine.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

Available, though very expensive- about US$18-20 hour.

View All Answers


2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

You can use credit cards and ATMs with ease.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


4. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

Not too difficult.

View All Answers


Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right-hand- opposite of the U.S.

View All Answers


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

They are generally safe and relatively affordable (given how expensive everything is).Buses and trains are readily available throughout the country and have good on-time records.

View All Answers


3. 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 bought our cars here. Cars from the U.S. may have to be fitted with special-headlights etc. to meet annual MOT testing requirements (required for any car over five years old).While plenty of people have relatively large cars, small ones are easier, particularly given the size of the parking spaces.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

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

Can easily get high-speed internet for about 70 USD month.

View All Answers


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

Shop for cell phone packages as the rates and deals are always changing.

View All Answers


3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

We just use our land line; it is not that expensive.

View All Answers


Pets:

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

Yes - U.K. quarantine requirements are very strict and not alterable - minimum 6 to 7 months needed if pets have not been in a UK-approved country prior to arrival - and local quarantine is very expensive.

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


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

Business attire in the office.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Good.

View All Answers


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

None to speak of. There is still some sectarian violence about, but it is generally not where we would be living. The terrorist threat here has never been directed toward Americans. Most people actually like Americans here, given that nearly everyone has a family who is living or has lived or visited the U.S. Of course, as in all cities big and small it is better to avoid certain areas at night etc.

View All Answers


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

Medical care is fine.

View All Answers


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

It never gets too cold or hot. In the winter we hover around 7C (wind chills can make it seem colder, as can the rain) and in the summer it rarely goes above 18C.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

There are no international schools. The children at post attend the local schools, which follow the British system. In recent times children have attended a local private all-girls school or private all-boys school. There is also a very good co-ed school located nearby. In P7, the equivalent of 5th grade, children take the

View All Answers


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

There are a couple of special needs schools in Belfast which generally have a good reputation, however I am unsure of how the school system places children in these schools.

View All Answers


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?

Yes, there are lots of options, though they are expensive.

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

There is no real expat community.

View All Answers


2. Morale among expats:

Morale among at the Consulate is good. Most Americans find it generally easy to live here.

View All Answers


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 is lots to do outside the consulate. There seem to be a lot more formal evening functions here, than in other places.

View All Answers


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

It is a great place for families and for those that want to get out in the community. Few people where my children go to school, for example, even know where I work. There are few officers at post and it is an easy place to live, so most people do there own thing. There is lots to see and do on this island.

View All Answers


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

I would expect so. I think there are a couple of clubs/bars. Last week there was a gay pride parade. It was opened by the Deputy First Minister of the local government.

View All Answers


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

Yes,there are definitely still sectarian divides. There has also been a recent large increase in the number of third countries nationals living in Northern Ireland (mostly economic migrants from Eastern Europe), which has created some tension.

View All Answers


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

There is a lot of natural beauty and a ton of historical sights. You can easily keep yourself busy ever weekend (and you would have to, if you really wanted to see everything).

View All Answers


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

There is Waterford Crystal (South) and Tyrone Crystal (north); whiskey (Bushmills); woven goods; Beleek pottery; better chocolate than in the US and millions of flavors of potato chips (you wouldn't believe the choices).

View All Answers


9. Can you save money?

No.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely.

View All Answers


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

Summer clothes. In the last three years, I don't think I have worn shorts more that 1/2 times. Extreme winter clothes - winters rarely deep below freezing (though wind chills can make it feel colder).

View All Answers


3. But don't forget your:

Rain gear; Hiking boots for beautiful mountain and coastal treks; Bicycles - there are lots of trails and bike paths.

View All Answers


4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Any Colin Bateman books (he is a local author).

View All Answers


5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Any Colin Bateman books (he is a local author).

View All Answers


6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Mickeybo and Me; In the Name of the Father

View All Answers


7. Do you have any other comments?

This is a great place to live and work.

View All Answers


New book from Talesmag! Honest and courageous stories of life abroad with special needs.

Read More