Tag Archive for: Expats in Budapest

There are some people who quietly go about their business in the background, almost as an “éminence grise.” They work away and live their everyday lives while improving the fortunes of others.

Scottish-born Douglas Arnott, owner of  a professional translation office and a translator/interpreter himself by profession, is one such person. Besides his significant daily workload, he is the Chairman of the Robert Burns International Foundation.

Alongside the Burns Supper charity event, he regularly participates in other charity activities. He puts just as much heart and soul into helping as he does into his profession of translation.

We sat down for a chat about expat life, his career, and what motivates a professional like him in Hungary.

Today, you’re a father to three children, the owner of a significant translation agency, and the chairman of one of the largest charity foundations. Twenty years ago, is this where you thought you would be today?

20 years ago, I was still coming to the end of my degree in Edinburgh and hadn’t put much thought into what I wanted to do with it.

Having been trained in translation and interpreting, working abroad was clearly an option, even a likely option, but I don’t think I really believed I would still be here after almost 20 years.

You are renowned for your precision and high professional standards. Did you start your career here in Hungary?

After graduating, I spent another 4 weeks in Scotland before catching a flight out to Budapest, ostensibly to start a job here, which eventually came to nothing. Rather than head back home, I decided to set up shop by myself, establishing EDMF initially as a limited partnership (Bt.).

I used up the rest of my student loan to buy a PC, a printer, and a fax machine, and I waited for the phone to ring. So it was a slow start to the business. Translation is very much a service based on trust, and that trust has to be earned, which is difficult when people have no idea who you are.

Back in 1998, the online translation industry was nowhere near as developed as it is today, so initially EDMF was quite reliant on “local” business, but things soon picked up.

‘Cherchez la femme’ – as the saying goes. I believe an exceptional lady “enticed” you here to Hungary and has since become your wife.

Zsuzsa is well-versed in the profession too, and you run your translation agency together. How did you divide up the work with Zsuzsa?

That’s right, there was a reason for me jumping on the plane to Budapest back in 1998! I spent a year with EDMF and then almost six years working in-house at the translation department at KPMG Hungary before leaving in 2005 and devoting myself fully to EDMF again.

It was probably a couple of years after leaving KPMG and after our three kids arrived that Zsuzsa began to help out with the firm. I handle the professional side of the business; she coordinates the admin and back office, including marketing and social media.

Many people have said to us that they couldn’t imagine working side by side with their spouse. While it’s not always plain sailing, we have a system that works in the office, and more often than not, we’re able to leave our work minds behind when we head home.

How would you describe your everyday life?

Active! EDMF is growing, but we all have to be great at multi-tasking as everyone has not just one or two but many different tasks that need to be completed every day.

My time in the office is limited by when I have to drop the kids off at school in the morning and when they need picked up in the afternoon following whatever extracurricular activities are scheduled for that day, and there are a lot of them! This means the time spent in the office has to be as efficient as possible.

There are also periods of the year when the Robert Burns International Foundation takes up a lot of my time, giving me a few more balls to keep in the air. This is when I need to be particularly good with how I split my schedule, and Zsuzsa plays as much of a part in the RBIF from that point of view as I do.

EDMF, which you own, has today become one of the most professional translation agencies, operating for 19 years with clients in more than 20 countries and with 150 translators. How did you build up such a prospering business in Budapest?

We made a decision early on that quality would be what stood us apart on the market. This meant we concentrated on working with smaller teams of linguists, as opposed to the mass approach followed by many other companies in the industry.

Consequently, we were able to pay close attention to meeting our internal standards, and clients came to appreciate and value the consistent level of quality we provided. Over the years we have enjoyed steady growth that has enabled us to adapt and adjust to as we see fit, without having to take radical or risky decisions.

I think stability and reliability has been one of EDMF’s key factors of success over the last 19 years.

Do you consider yourself successful, what makes you happy?

What makes me happy – is sipping a glass of wine at home in the garden too simplistic an answer? It’s not that far from the truth though, what with our three kids, the company and the foundation, our lives are anything but slow and boring.

I grew up in Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow, and loved it, but over the years I’ve come to value living outside the city. Etyek, from that point of view, is perfect. And the fact I can enjoy living there with everything we need as a family I guess means I can tick success off the list as well.

Besides your family and your business, you also participate in charity activities. These are clearly important to you. Do you want to give something back to the community, or does something else motivate you?

I grew up in an extended family full of doctors: a GP and a plastic surgeon for grandfathers, an uncle as a vet, and my sister and brother-in-law are both consultant physicians in the UK. While the medical genes passed me over, when I learned the Robert Burns International Foundation supported sick and underprivileged children in Hungary it just seemed like something I should be doing.

That was back in 2012, and now as Chairman of the RBIF I’m proud of what we have achieved over the last five years and indeed what we continue to do.

Last year we supported hospitals in Budapest and around the country as well as joining forces with the Caledonia Bar to help a nursery in a very poor village in northern Hungary. We have also launched a scheme helping SMEs get involved in supporting charitable causes with the help of the RBIF, with Inter Relocation the first company to sign up, on the initiative of Stuart McAlister.

As expats I think we can live quite a sheltered existence sometimes in Hungary, and it’s with projects like these where we can and certainly should do as much as possible to better the lives of those who have not been as fortunate as we are, especially when it comes to enjoying good health.

What are your plans for the future? Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

Let me see, in twenty years’ time, preferably retired and on an exotic golf course somewhere.

More realistically, I’ll be happy if EDMF has continued to go from strength to strength. I took up wine-making as a hobby a few years ago and will soon be bottling my fourth ‘vintage’.

The problem with making wine is that when you mess up you need to wait a whole year before trying not to make the same mistake again. I should know, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Slowly but surely though I feel happy for others to taste the end product. Not enough to contemplate a career change though, I’ll leave that to the professionals.

Stuart McAlister, owner and Managing Director of Inter Relocation has been named as the new Vice-President of the European Relocation Association.

He will hold this prestigious position for two years. Then he will have served the maximum six years that EuRA board members may serve. His time with the executive group of EuRA will end.

Inter Relocation Receives Commitment to Excellence Gold Award

Stuart will assist and work closely with EuRA’s new President, Andrew Scott and the rest of the EuRA board. He hopes to helps its management team further the causes of the world’s greatest representative organisation for Destination Service Providers.

Stuart was quoted as saying “I’m delighted to have been nominated as EuRA Vice-President for the next two years. The development in this amazing organisation that I have witnessed over the last four years has been phenomenal. I hope my time as Vice-President will allow me to further the goals of making EuRA a global representative for companies in the relocation industry.”

About Inter Relocation

Founded in March 2002, Inter Relocation is a provider of relocation destination services and immigration compliance in Budapest, Hungary.

Now the company covers 23 countries and is Central and Eastern Europe’s premier provider of services to expatriates.

The company also provides comprehensive relocation service – assignment planning, preview visits, home search, move management, immigration compliance, settling in, tenancy management, departure support.

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.

Adapting to a new country and culture can take several weeks or even months, but with appropriate help, the transition can be a lot smoother.

2015/2 – by Ágnes Horváth, in Business Traveller Hungary /interview with Stuart McAlister

Finding and furnishing the suitable home, handling the documents necessary for legal employment and residence, getting to know the new place of residence and the local customs as well as finding a school and doctor pose serious challenges for foreigners when moving to another country, especially if they do not speak the local language.

Inter Relocation Group has considerable experience in helping newly-hired foreigners and their family members settle down in Hungary or any of another 19 countries. Its founder and managing director, Stuart McAlister, came to Hungary as a young and adventurous expat in the mid-1990s, before founding his own company in 2002. Over more than 20 years in Hungary, he has not only become accustomed to the culture but also mastered the language.

“We are not movers – although we can provide this type of service too with the help of our partners – we facilitate the integration of foreign employees coming to Hungary” explains Stuart McAlister.

“The majority of our work is made up of the administration of official documents, but we also focus on destination services, i.e. services related to settling down, namely residential, school and other services necessary for living in Hungary, as well as providing help with local orientation and bridging the cultural gap.”

To start with, how long does it take to obtain the documents necessary for legal employment in Hungary?

For citizens of the European Union and the European Economic Community the situation is more straightforward because the administration related to the required documents – social security card, tax card and documents necessary for employment – only has to begin after arriving in Hungary, which is less time-consuming.

For those coming from third countries, i.e. citizens of non-EU and non-EEC countries, however, the procedure is much longer because a visa is needed in many cases before even applying for a residence permit.

To this end, the purpose of the residence must be documented and fulfilment of the housing conditions must be proved (e.g. with a lease contract, title deed or address registration form) whilst verifying that there are sufficient funds on the bank account until the first salary payment is received – if a unified residence permit for work has been requested. Health insurance needs to be obtained too.

This procedure takes about four months, so it is advisable to launch it in good time as work cannot begin without a residence permit. For those who would like to drive a car it is also good to know that they can do so for one year after the legal acceptance of their residence, provided they hold an international driving licence issued by their own country. Thereafter, however, they have to request a Hungarian driving licence if their home country did not sign the 1968 Vienna Convention.

What are the first unexpected challenges facing those who come here?

Finding accommodation is particularly difficult, for example. Even more so if they do not know the language and the legal rules pertaining to lease contracts that should be observed. Another peculiarity of this issue in Hungary is that real estate agents only receive a commission from the landlord, instead of both parties or just from the tenant as in other countries.

Representing tenants we seek accommodation that satisfies demands in the best possible way, while our lawyers express opinions on the lease contract and we conduct negotiations on the rent to obtain the most favourable result for the tenant. Yet public utility contracts often have to be transferred into the tenant’s name after moving in, which can mean queuing for days.

Internet access and cable TV with appropriate channels are also frequently requested by foreigners, while they increasingly want to access online content available in their own country using their Hungarian IP address too. If something goes wrong, finding and communicating with a competent professional is likewise difficult due to the lack of language proficiency and local knowledge, not to mention recommendations for a reliable hairdresser, beautician, chiropractor or babysitter.

Families most frequently ask that their children be enrolled in schools and nurseries. Although there are plenty of “national” and international educational institutions in Budapest, they were fully occupied before the crisis with long waiting lists, since not only expats’ children attended. These institutions continuously expand, but waiting lists can still be expected.

Where do most foreign employees come from?

Hungary is becoming increasingly popular. While it was typically Europeans and North Americans that used to come here, today we now have citizens of more distant nations appearing, ranging from the Middle East to South-East Asia, while Indians are arriving in great numbers too.

But British pensioners are also able to live better here from their pensions than at home, and so we often help them in their integration and relocation.

Why has the number of Indians surged?

They mainly work in the IT sector and are needed because of their special software knowledge. They usually remain here for a couple of months, or a year, to teach the local staff, and then they leave because expats cost a lot in the long term.

Yet their departure is not always smooth since they need to claw back the deposit paid for the leased property, resolve any disputes with the landlord or even sell the car they bought here.

How has the composition of expats changed over the past years?

While it used to be mainly senior managers coming with their families, many expats are now single, have no children, and are not necessarily top managers.

Their relocation package does not always contain the presentation of elite private hospitals along with their services, as they need to settle for general Hungarian health-care services. Consequently they often ask for the contact details of an English-speaking GP or other doctor.

What problems do foreigners face most often having settled down in Hungary?

They mostly need help with repair jobs in their accommodation since repairmen and service providers don’t really speak foreign languages, though I must admit the situation has improved considerably over recent years.

On a positive note, the scandals “stinging tourists” around the turn of the millennium have now disappeared, since word gets around thanks to Tripadvisor and everybody stays away from places where this happens.

Above all things, the cultural differences present the biggest challenge.

In everyday life or at work?

Both. For example, they are not used to greetings from shop staff, so they don’t understand why they are welcomed like this. Managers of an American company recently complained that they could not find reliable Hungarian workers for months, because despite telling them what to do, the employees automatically reverted to their old habits after a couple of days.

It turned out they only gave instructions without explaining the reasons – as is usual in the USA – and so it was really difficult to put their intentions across. Following my advice, they talked at length with the employees and sought their opinions, which eventually made the communication and workflow much smoother.

To prevent and handle such cases we introduced our cultural training service, where a much-travelled and experienced professional prepares managers for communicating effectively with Hungarian colleagues. As for everyday life, we have our own publication, a special guide detailing the most important things foreigners ought to know, such as the telephone number for the ambulance service and local customs.

How can expats relax and make contacts after work?

Foreigners can choose from a variety of special networks for friends and businesses, ranging from Expats Hungary and International Meeting Point to Internations or Friday Night Crowds.

The individual chambers of commerce also bring together the Irish, the Americans, the British or the Germans living here, women can always turn to the British Women’s Association, NAWA Budapest, the Professional Women’s Club or the International Women’s Club, while Hash House Harriers combine running with entertainment.

Many people remark that a lot of Hungarians attend expat clubs in Budapest, but I think this is perfectly understandable. If you have lived abroad for quite a while, it is difficult to find the rhythm of your own town again, and you just feel better among foreigners. To be honest, if I went back to England, I would definitely join such groups myself.

When the time comes to retire will you be ready to live in the same country in which you have always lived? Can you afford your house payments on just your retirement income?

by Gary Lukatch

How about renting an apartment in the middle of town? Payments, upkeep and maintenance on your car(s)? Food, utilities, entertainment? As costs increase, your fixed retirement income may not be enough to keep up with all the changes.

But there are still places in the world where your retirement money will stretch further than at home. Today I’ll tell you about one of them: Hungary. To be specific, Budapest, Hungary. I moved here in 1999 to teach English as a foreign language, with retirement in mind. Prices for everything were super cheap back then; people who lived in Vienna even came to Budapest to shop.

Well, things never stay the same. Over the years prices have, of course, risen, although not as much as you’d think. Hungary is no longer dirt-cheap. But Budapest is still good value for people who want to have a high standard of living for less. Retirees moving to Budapest from a similarly-sized city in Western Europe or North America can easily cut their expenses in half. And the rest of the country costs even less.

Estimates of how many expatriates live here range from 30,000 to 50,000; in fact, there are enough “expats” in Budapest to support business newspapers and magazines in English. So you won’t be all alone if you choose to move here.

I was earning more than 13 million forints (in 1999 Hungarian money – HUF, or forints) annual gross in the United States, working in the financial industry. It was always steady, reliable work, but not the best-paid industry available. When I moved to Budapest and began teaching English, my monthly net earnings after one year were around 135,000 forints per month. Then increasing to around 338,000 forints per month after five years. I took a huge initial pay cut, but I was one-thousand percent happier. Why? Read on.

Why Retire to Hungary?

After teaching English in Budapest for eight years, I retired and I still live a much better life than I could in the US with comparable spending. The cost of monthly house payments, plus car expenses, would be more than my monthly retirement income, which is around 475,000 HUF net. Here in Budapest, my monthly flat rental, plus utilities, averages around 80,000 HUF ($400 US), in the city centre.

Budapest’s public transportation system is excellent, so I don’t need a car; in fact, I haven’t even driven a car since 1999. I eat out several times a week and I still have enough money to travel wherever and whenever I want. I have now been to 58 countries, and I still take around five or six trips each year.

I’ve watched life in Budapest get easier and easier as the years have gone by. This has been partly through my personal adjustments, and partly because the level of English fluency locally has gotten steadily better.

For a step-by-step guide on how to prepare for retirement in Hungary click here!

Hungary joined the European Union in 2004, but the country still uses the Forint, which is a volatile currency. Prices quoted here are now based on 280 forints to the dollar, but I’ve seen it as low as 148 and as high as 300. So check the current rate before cursing my name because prices have changed.

The countryside of Hungary is still quite cheap, but few expats live in the rural areas unless they’re in the wine industry. Most choose to live in Budapest, around Lake Balaton, or in one of the smaller cities like Egér or Pécs.

Hungary got hit hard in the European economic crisis like many other nations on the continent, but has recovered faster. The official unemployment rate was 8% in mid-2014, which looks downright glorious compared to Italy, Spain, Greece, or Portugal. Hungary feels like a nation on the rise and young people are displaying something not seen much in the past couple hundred years of Hungary’s history: optimism.

Housing Costs in Hungary

The residents of Hungary figure their rent costs in hundreds, not thousands, of dollars. You won’t find many single people or couples paying more than $1,200 (about 270,000 HUF per month), even in the capital. When you get into smaller towns, you can get a house for that. In fact, most locals pay between $200 and $500 a month rent for an apartment, not including utility charges. In the southern wine region, there are houses with a nice garden going for the same monthly rental.

I know an expat from New Zealand working for a winery by Lake Balaton, who was paying $210 (47,250 HUF) a month for his two-bedroom apartment with a lake-view balcony. I pay just under $300 for my apartment in District 5, one of the most desirable and central areas of the city. If you decide to buy something eventually, which you can do freely as a foreigner, a typical apartment in Budapest will cost around 80 million HUF, dependent on size and location.

Health Care Costs

In Hungary, medical care is good, dental care is great. With the rise of cross-border medical treatment happening in many places in the world, Hungary has jumped on the trend with both feet. Many residents of the UK and Ireland come here to have dental work done or to receive good medical care at a discount. I

n addition to standard dental care over the years, I had to have dental implants a few years ago. While in the US, I would have had to pay several thousand dollars; in Budapest, the charge for two implants was just over $800.

Getting a cleaning and check-up at the dentist is around $40; getting a set of x-rays is about that much again.

Food & Drink

Two people can usually have a good cloth-napkin dinner with wine for around $50. If you eat at more humble places, a soup will be a dollar or two and main dishes range from $3 to $7. When you shop in the market, prices are at the low end for Europe. You can get rolls for 10-25 cents each or a huge baguette for a dollar or less. Get 100 grams (around 1/5 of a pound) of good cheese for a dollar, 100 grams of good local sausage for $2, and a jar of pickled veggies for another dollar or so.

For a dollar or less, you can generally buy 100 grams of any of the following items in the market: raisins, peanuts, sunflower seeds, banana chips, or dried apricots. Or you can get a kilo of seasonal fruit or peppers, cabbage, potatoes, radishes, or carrots. A big bunch of white asparagus runs about a dollar. A family of four would probably spend $120-$160 a week on groceries, not including wine.

Hungarian wine

Hungarian wine should be known around the world, but the Soviet occupation days seriously hurt its reputation, so for now it’s some of the best value in the world. You can find a nice drinkable table wine bottle in a store for $4, something quite good for $6 to $8. If you spend over $12 you might end up with something from a “winemaker of the year” who has adorned Hungarian magazine covers.

As Hungary was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, you can get a killer coffee and pastry here just as you can in Vienna – but for one third of the price. After you do a double-take at your low bill in a wine bar, finish with a coffee and dessert for another nice surprise.

Transportation Costs

Getting around Hungary is relatively cheap by bus or train when you want to get out of town. Figure on $10-$12 for a trip of two hours, or $30 to go as far as you can possibly go within Hungary. Seniors and young children travel free. The longest ride on the suburban railway out of Budapest (30 kilometers) is just $2.50.

Budapest has a fantastic metro and while it’s no real bargain on a ride-by-ride basis (around $1.40 per ride), a monthly pass that also works for the trams and buses is a good value at around $35. If you’re of retirement age, you might squeak by for free and EU citizens over the age of 65 can legally travel on the entire public transport system, free of charge.

Apart from the ride from the airport, taxis in Hungary are a bargain. In general you can get around the center of Budapest in a cab for $3 to $7. It’s around $1.80 to start and $1 for each kilometer, so it’s hard to spend $10 anywhere unless it’s a long haul. Like much of Europe, this country is set up well for those on a bicycle and some expatriates use a bike as their main means of transport.

In Budapest there are lots of dedicated bike lanes and the city recently introduced the new city bikes, a pay-and-ride bicycle system used successfully in other European capitals. In the countryside there’s not nearly such an abundance of cars as you see in the capital.

Frequent promotions on the train system and Eurolines bus make international travel from here a bargain. If you plan ahead you can get to Vienna for less than $20 or to beach locations of Greece, Bulgaria, or Croatia for around $60.

Other Costs

If you pay your own utilities they can vary greatly by the season. My utilities are a good example, going from $30 in summer to $60 a month in winter. My place is not the best insulated in town, so I pay more in the winter for heat. In the summer, utilities are much lower.

Internet plus television cable service is $15 to $30 per month depending on speed and if you want a great connection, you can usually get it in the cities. The lowest-priced speed is generally 5 mbps, which is fine for a lot of people.

The land of Liszt and Bartok has an abundance of cultural performances going on at all times, from high-brow opera in the capital to an annual festival of wine songs in the south each year. Performances that aren’t free are very cheap by European standards.

The theatre is amazing here; the cost of going to a ballet or opera can nearly bankrupt you in Australia or New York City; here it’s for everyone. Tickets usually start at $5. If you buy really great seats on a weekend for a popular show it might cost you all of $25.

For more information on English language theatre in Budapest click here!

Visas in Hungary

Hungary is part of the Schengen Agreement covering much of the European Union. This means you can’t just stick around here on a tourist visa. You get three months upon entering the zone, but after that you have to leave the whole Schengen area for three months before returning.

No problem if you’re only coming for the summer; terrible if you want to settle down for longer. To get residency without being tied to a specific employer, you generally have to show you’re doing work a local can’t do, like teaching English. Or you have to show that you’re self-supported by income from abroad e.g. a retirement pension.

You can find a link to your embassy at the following site: http://www.kulugyminiszterium.hu/dtwebe/Irodak.aspx Check out your embassy website to see a sample of costs and documents needed and to be warned in case of changing requirements.

A work visa is good for a 3 years and renewable. Expect to endure a lot of bureaucracy and if you don’t have a college diploma, it’s going to be even tougher. You theoretically have to apply in your own country and will then have 30 days after entering Hungary to get the local paperwork sorted out.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the process of gaining legal residence in Hungary as a retiree, please contact Stuart McAlister from Inter Relocation at [email protected].

Most people who want to stick around either get a work permit connected to a specific job and company, or a residence permit that’s not tied to one employer.  If you wish to gain permanent residence, you can apply after being in the country for five years. This costs money for a lawyer and requires a lot of additional paperwork.

Most of the items need to be translated into Hungarian as well, plus you have to show proof of health insurance or buy into the Hungarian health care plan. If you have Hungarian blood, you may have an advantage, but gaining citizenship will still require extensive paperwork and a workable knowledge of the Hungarian language.

Hungarian Language

Hungarian is an especially tough language to crack, but you’ll often need at least some basics when you get outside the capital. Many courses are offered through local language schools in Budapest, which should get you started on what you need to know. Of course, so many more people speak English now than when I moved here that it’s much, much easier to get along these days.

For all of your relocation needs, of course, your friendly English-speaking Representative at Inter Relocation is ready and able to help you define your objectives and arrange for pretty much all documentation.

Still not sure about retirement in Budapest? Pay us a visit and check out the city and environs. Conde Nast travelers recently voted Budapest one of the top places in the world to visit, and The City on the Danube was also voted Europe’s Most Welcoming City. Budapest will no doubt cast its spell on you as it has on me and so many other foreigners. It really is a magical city on the Danube.

Related Resources:

Book: Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America, by Mark Ehrman

Book: A Better Life for Half the Price, a new book by Tim Leffel, author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations: 21 Countries Where Your Money is Worth a Fortune.

Various websites offer information on living abroad; look under ‘Expats’ and the country of your choice.