It might sound like the most obvious of tips, but it really can’t be stressed enough. Moving to Serbia isn’t just a case of rocking up and hoping for the best, although that hasn’t stopped many from attempting to do just that. You really need to have a decent idea of how long you want to stay, as that will obviously inform your actions when it comes to visas and registering with the police.
The Internet is a magical place, and as such it is now easy to rent a flat in a city from afar. Belgrade is no different, and it isn’t hard to find somewhere to live before you even step foot in the Serbian capital. This is a fool’s move however, and you would be well advised to spend a few days in the city before committing to a neighbourhood.
‘Belgrade’ isn’t just a coverall term that describes every part of the city. Dorćol, Novi Beograd, Karaburma, Konjarnik, Zemun and all the rest are vastly different. Don’t commit to something when there are better (and often cheaper) alternatives.
English is a lot more prevalent in Belgrade than many will assume, but that doesn’t mean you can fully experience the capital without learning a single bit of srpski. All of the best things in the city require a little bit of confidence and a willingness to try, and nothing opens doors like trying (and failing) to converse in Serbian. People will truly appreciate the effort. At the very least, familiarise yourself with the Cyrillic alphabet before arriving.
Going back to the point about the internet and its magical ways, social media has well and truly revolutionised the way expats interact with each other in their adopted homes. Belgrade is no different, and there are many groups set up on Facebook that allow foreigners to ease their way into life in the city. Be sure to take advantage of these, as Belgrade seems to have one of the friendlier versions.
Don’t expect to walk into gainful employment when you move to Serbia. There are jobs for English language speakers around, but the wage offered to English teachers isn’t going to be enough to cover a decent life in Belgrade, not right away at least. The best way to get by in Belgrade is undoubtedly through freelance work, preferably online and paying in a currency other than Serbian Dinars.
Be aware that ‘reading up on the history’ isn’t the same as ‘understanding the history’, because the latter may as well be considered a superpower. You don’t need to be a Balkan expert, but gaining a vague overview of the many centuries of Serbian history is imperative, if only to avoid certain pitfalls like asking about Kosovo, 1389 and all the rest. Knowing some of the history of a country before moving there is Basic 101, but its surprising how few still bother to make the effort.
Rumour has it that Serbia once flirted with the idea of banning smoking in public places, but quickly stepped back when it became clear that policing such a law would be impossible. Serbia is one of the smokiest places in Europe, so be prepared to have to deal with cigarettes indoors, outdoors and all the rest. For those who smoke, the country is a paradise. For those who are sensitive to tobacco, you might want to think about moving somewhere else.
This may come as a surprise to the Brits reading, but Serbia has very clear seasons. Well, at least two of them are particularly clear. Summers in Serbia can get extremely hot, closer to 40 than 30 degrees in some parts. This sounds all good and well, but just you wait until you’re stuck on a bus on Slavija with everyone else in Belgrade.
Winters are long and cold too, with temperatures frequently hitting the minuses and staying there. Prepare adequately for both and you will be fine, but don’t arrive in the middle of July and express surprise at how hot it is.
There are plenty of expats in Belgrade, and as such it can prove fairly easy to find comfort in and around circles of new foreign friends. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it is undeniable that Serbia is best experienced with local people at your side. If you’re looking for the best restaurants, bars, cafes and the rest, the advice of Belgraders will prove invaluable. Serbs are absolutely incredible, too, and anyone’s life is richer for having a Serb friend or three.
A small number of those moving to Serbia will pitch their tent outside the capital, but it goes without saying that the overwhelming majority will find themselves in glorious Belgrade. There is more to Serbia than its invigorating capital, however, so be sure to get out and experience the inspiring nature and fascinating towns around the rest of the country. There are day trips waiting in all directions, so make the most of the opportunity.
Finally, it takes patience to live and thrive in Serbia. The country is an astonishing place full of the continent’s finest people, some of its tastiest food and more fun than you can shake a stick at, but all of those things might feel like a world away when you are stuck queuing in a post office, or are stuck on that aforementioned bus on Slavija. Serbia has its own way of doing things, and adjusting to that can prove difficult to begin with.
Persevere, and you’ll be rewarded with one of the greatest experiences available. Living in Serbia is not for the faint of heart, and it will almost certainly put hair on your chest whether you like it or not (not in a literal sense, don’t worry). Be patient, give it time, and don’t rush. It will all be worth it in the end.
If not, stock up on the rakija and drink to the struggle.