Read about Marylin Ball-Brown & Gene Brown, their journey to Hungary, how they retired here and the challenges they overcame.
By Marylin Ball-Brown & Gene Brown
We married in March of 1980 in the Pacific NW. Shortly after, Marylin had to have emergency surgery which put an end to any hope of having children of our own.
During our marriage we traveled a lot and were fascinated by other cultures.
We decided to begin hosting foreign exchange students to fill the childless void. Starting out with a Japanese short stay exchange program, we hosted 25 students, who stayed with us from 4-8 weeks at a time.
We decided that this type of program was unfulfilling due to the short time we spent with the students. We decided to host full year students so we could have more time to get to know them. Over the years we hosted 10 full-year students and became very close with them, their friends, and their families.
Where to spend our golden years
As we neared retirement, we talked about how we wanted to spend our golden years. When we realized the time had come to make a decision about the rest of our lives we began exploring our options. We had traveled to Mexico and had enjoyed our time there and thought, because Belize was nearby, and was an English speaking country we might settle there.
A trip to Belize in August made us change our minds. The heat, humidity and the bugs were too much for us Northwesterners. We had scheduled back to back trips at that time and the second trip was to Europe. We visited three of our European exchange students on that trip and realized the weather was similar to what we were used to and Eastern Europe was affordable.
Hungary had all
While visiting our Hungarian student that September, we realized Hungary had all the attributes of the retirement destination we were looking for, with friends and family, decent infrastructure, well educated professionals, good health care, a favorable climate, reasonable cost of living (which would allow us to continue our travels) and it is in a central position so we could visit all of our European students easily.
It has the most beautiful scenery and architecture we have found anywhere in the world. It was a perfect solution. We went back to United States and Gene gave retirement notice to his employer.
Our Journey to Hungary
We sold everything we couldn’t put into a 20 ft container. It was a bold move and with the help of our friends and family we were able to pull it off and were living in Hungary by December 2013. Neither one of us had Hungarian ancestors so we do not qualify for dual citizenship. We investigated the requirements of permanent residency in Hungary and began to assemble the necessary documents.
Our Hungarian son and his family were very helpful with translating the myriad government documents that were required and went with us to the Immigration office, insurance office and other various government agencies each time we found we were missing documents to complete the process. Even the Hungarians aren’t aware of and don’t understand all of the rules and regulations. The Parliament changes the rules so quickly that the bureaucrats have a difficult time keeping up on the current information.
Had we known about Inter Relocation
Had we known about the services that Stuart McAlister provides to expats for the process of establishing permanent residency, it would have made our experience so much easier, but we plowed through it with, yes, tears and many trips to Budapest before the residency documents were issued to us. We purchased a house in a small town approximately 25 km from Budapest as we had never been “city” people.
This process was made easier due to an extraordinary real estate agent, Edit Porkolab, who was recommended to us by our Hungarian family, and she helped us through every step.
The most memorable residency application process
The cost to purchase a house in Hungary was about 1/3 the cost of a similar house in the US. The surprises we encountered throughout the whole residency application process were many but the most memorable are:
1. We were planning to buy into the Hungarian National Health Insurance Program but were told that we couldn’t get the National Health Insurance without permanent residency status. In order to get our permanent residency we had to prove we were insured. Catch 22. We therefore had to purchase private insurance for the first year.
We were also told, by a bureaucrat in the National Health Insurance office, that after paying for the Hungarian National Insurance for one year at a rate of approximately $250 each per month, that after one year the cost would decrease to approximately $40 each per month. Not true. After one year we went back to the Hungarian National Insurance office and were told it was for a minimum of three years that we had to pay the higher amount. Big difference!
2. While still in the U.S., we sold all of our vehicles, except for our Harley Davidson motorcycle, as we planned to purchase a car in Hungary after we arrived. When we went to register the freshly purchased vehicle we were told we couldn’t register it in our name. However, with a little grease, we were able to secure the title in our name.
Since the Hungarian laws changed in August 2014, that is no longer possible. We purchased a trailer for the motorcycle in September, 2014 and had to register it in our Hungarian “sons” name. We are not allowed to register the Harley in our own names at this time. Registration of vehicles requires that one have the plastic Hungarian address card, but we had to find all of this out by trial and error.
3. After we had secured all of the documents the Immigration office requested we went to the office for the final time, or so we thought. This was the fifth trip to the Immigration office by this time and we were told we still needed one document. A document that, up to this time, we were never told would be required. We needed a letter from our Hungarian son that stated his family was happy that we were moving to Hungary. I guess the immigration officials thought we might be stalking the family.
Cost of living in Hungary is much lower than it was in the US
Our paper address cards, which were issued by the immigration authorities, are good for three years. After 3 years, we now understand we will be allowed to obtain permanent (plastic) address cards which will afford us lower cost insurance and, as we are senior citizens, free public transportation, and other senior benefits. Now that we are here in Hungary permanently, our cost of living is much lower than it was in the US.
We own our house outright, and our monthly expenses, including homeowners-auto-motorcycle insurance, health insurance, utilities, cell phone, cable, internet, gardener, and housekeeper average a little over $1000 per month. The property taxes are about $200/year (no, I didn’t leave out a digit).
Enjoying the beauty of Hungary
Our retirement funds allow us to travel extensively and, as we are located in central Europe, we can easily visit our European exchange students. We do miss our friends and family in the US but since we are in a vacation destination they can come and enjoy the beauty that is Hungary.
We were concerned that the language barrier would be difficult but have found the Hungarians to be helpful to the point of going out of their way to make it easier for us. We are taking Hungarian lessons and our Hungarian friends are taking English lessons so we can all better understand each other.
We have found that most people speak a little English and Gene speaks German so we haven’t had many instances where we haven’t been able to communicate and those few times we have needed help our Hungarian son is only a telephone call away! The lesson we learned during our move and the residency process was to leave it to the professionals.
We will be contacting Stuart McAlister to assist us through this next step and know it will be a much easier and less stressful process.