Considering Retiring to Serbia? My Tips + Your Advice?

Rosemary Bailey Brown RSS / 02.04.2008. u 20:12

A reader just emailed me to ask about retiring in Serbia. I'm not retired yet, but definitely considering things. Plenty of expat Serbs do retire in Serbia now, and that number will increase phenomenally if/when economic and political stability are on the horizon. Here are my tips and I'd love to hear yours:

o Cheap living -- Belgrade is pretty pricey (although not compared to London, New York or Boston), but other places, such as my part-time hometown of Sombor Serbia are remarkably cheap. You can buy or build a house for very little, perhaps 100k Euros for a nice house in the best part of town. Locally grown food at the greenmarket is inexpensive too. Imported stuff gets pricey.

o Bring your car -- Cars, even used ones, are really expensive. If you're coming from the US or Canada where cars are cheaper, then import your own vehicle. (Each Serb citizen gets to import one car free from customs tax per lifetime. I think the car must be less than 5 years old.) Shipping to German ports is up to 2/3 cheaper than shipping to Croatia. You can keep your US plates for a fairly long time.

o Don't move to a village or a fairly small town (unless you are from there.) Serbian villages can get incredibly claustrophobic, even for returnees. That's why we like Sombor, it's big enough to have a mix of people and not everyone is watching what you do all the time.

o Keep an 'escape hatch' outside Serbia -- Even if you sell your house outside Serbia, you might want to hang on to a cheap apartment or small condo in your old country just as someplace to go when you need some fresh air, especially in the winter when the coal-smoke from your neighbors' household heating gets too hard to breath (loads of people have respiratory problems in Sombor in the Winter) and/or when you just need to return to the thinking-cap of the wider world. Serbia can feel too parochial sometimes if you've lived elsewhere.

Some people I know consider buying a tiny condo in Belgrade as their escape hatch when they move back to smaller Serbian towns... I bet that would work for expanding your mindset somewhat, but Belgrade air quality isn't great in winter either.

o Medical and dental care isn't that bad -- My husband regularly has his dental work which would cost thousands in the US, taken care of by our dentist in Sombor for much less. I get my prescription glasses made up there. Great, fashionable frame selection and the cost is very reasonable. We've heard good things about heart surgeons in Novi Sad. You have to check through the grape vine about quality of medical care, but it's generally not bad.

o Buy clothing overseas or have it made by Serb tailors -- Off the rack clothing costs way too much in Serbia and there are no "outlet malls" or places like TJ Max. I've seen low-quality outfits (the sort that fall apart when you wash them a few times) selling in Belgrade malls for $400 or more. My sister in law who is planning to retire to Belgrade next year also plans annual clothing shopping trips to the US. Plus, she buys fabric and has local Serb tailors make outfits for her at very reasonable costs.

BTW: There aren't any larger sized women's shoes in Serbia (or Croatia) that I know of. If your feet are larger than US women's 9 1/2, you'll have to buy all your shoes somewhere else.  Weird but true.

o Add a guestroom -- the primary reaction of my whole circle of family and friends to our announcement that we were going to be living part-time in Serbia from now on was "When can I come visit?" We are now everyone's vacation destination - my brother plans to fish the Danube, my sister to go rug-shopping in Subotica, etc., etc.

o Visit in the wintertime - Don't base your decision to move to Serbia on a Summertime visit alone. August especially is very different from "regular" life, with all the ex-pat fatcats swanning around town showing off their German SUVs, fat wallets, and fatter waistlines. Come and stay for at least a few weeks in the off-season when you are the only ex-part visiting in town. See if you fit in as well, and if you like it. I loved Sombor in March, when practically no one else does, so I knew I'd be OK. But I am unusual.

o Build a silly house -- Maybe there's a law? :-) Returning expats often build houses that look nothing else in town. Either it's the house of their deeply-personal dreams, or a house that reminds them of "back home", or a house for nouveau-rich-style showing off. I've seen houses that looked like rococco palaces, houses with only round windows, shocking pink houses, etc.

o Keep the bulk of your retirement funds outside Serbia -- As I mentioned in a past post, banks in Serbia are not very safe. Your deposit is only insured for a couple of thousand dollars. Even banks with famous Western European brand names, may be nothing more than Serb franchises and not as safe as their mother banks. The Serb stock market is worth playing a little, but it's so new I would not trust the bulk of my savings to it.

Have you retired or considered moving back to Serbia? Got any tips to add to this list? Please post them! Thanks.

Komentari (10)

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skyspoter skyspoter 20:28 02.04.2008

what do you get

for being first?
Solomon Solomon 20:37 02.04.2008

February test

Spend a February in a medium size Serbian town.
If you cn survive February, then you'll find life in Serbia just peachy.
February is terrible.
Cold, Damp, Minimal sunlight, mud everywhere, road conditions are a disaster, everyone has the flu, nothing's going on, and everybody is lethargic from stuffing themselves at Holiday feasts since November.
Februrary just sucks. It really collects all the negatives Serbia can dish out.
If you can make it through February.... you'll have no problem living in Serbia.
sarum sarum 21:36 02.04.2008

perfect spot

My favorite location - if I ever return to Serbia- would be one of the villages on the bank of Danube between Belgrade and Novi Sad (Stari Banovci, Surduk, Stari/Novi Slankamen etc); You can (could 2-3 years ago, not sure about now) buy a 2-3 bedroom house with a few acres of land for anytheing between 30-70k; get to live on the river bank where all the stink is being washed away and it also precludes the necessity of a "cultural window" as it takes you 30-40 minutes to get to either Belgrade or Novi Sad.

Mosquito window nets are compulsory though :)
Torpedo Torpedo 09:41 03.04.2008

Re: perfect spot

My favorite location - if I ever return to Serbia- would be one of the villages on the bank of Danube between Belgrade and Novi Sad (Stari Banovci, Surduk, Stari/Novi Slankamen etc);

My man :)

blue rider blue rider 09:24 04.04.2008


And in my oppininion very true statements. Except the one for the banks. It has nothing to do with reality and your husband will tell you so if you ask him. Those banks are not franchises and operate under the ownership of mother companies (eg Banca Intesa, Reiffeisen and others...)
man ray loves me man ray loves me 19:24 04.04.2008

Re: Interesting

Those banks are not franchises and operate under the ownership of mother companies (eg Banca Intesa, Reiffeisen and others...)

I worked for a Czech firm for a while. They proposed I open an account at Raiffeisen, so they could pay me without some additional fee to the bank since they have a special contract with Raiffeisen in Europe. I did so. When the payment came, it turned out Raiffeisen Serbia has to charge me the fee since, in their own words, they have nothing to do with Raiffeisen Europe.
The big question being - if they go bankrupt, who, if anybody, reimburses the clients?
Solomon Solomon 19:41 04.04.2008

Re: Interesting

if they go bankrupt, who, if anybody, reimburses the clients?

In the US banks must have FDIC insurance which reimburses the banks clients on case of the banl forclosing.
However, the FDIC only cover amounts of up to $100,000. So anything above this level is theoretically uninsured. There should be a similar sistem in Europe, though the amount may be different.
man ray loves me man ray loves me 23:52 04.04.2008

Re: Interesting

The way things are turning out, not being the same bank may work to our advantage - SocGen is more likely to go bust in France than in Serbia.
janos janos 14:26 05.04.2008

banks going bust

Banks go bust everywhere,all the time..
With the "sub-prime" credit crunch still not reaching the peak, it will be happening even more often over the next couple of years.Even the largest banks in the world, like UBS are having troubles because there is no inter-bank liquidity. The banks do not know the size of exposure to bad debts, so they do not want to lend to each other.
It was not very much publicised,but the National Bank of Serbia has recently interveened several times with many millions of dollars to help liquidity in Serbian banking - meaning that without these interventions some of the banks would have closed by now.
The Deutche bank has within the last couple of weeks refused to provide loans or guarantees for large projects in Serbia (Horgos-Pozega hihway construction and privatisation of Bore copper smelting complex). This was partly due to the "credit crunch" but possibly also due to the weird behaviour of the "technical government" of V.Kostunica.
Serbia had in the not that distant past several banks going under, and during the Milosevic years, bank deposits were regularly fleeced by Milosevic and cronies.
Even today, most of the savers have not been reimbursed yet.
So my advice is, do not under any circumstances keep your capital in a bank in Serbia. If you must keep your money in a bank, keep it in the nearest branch accross the border in Hungary or Croatia.
Brooklyn Brooklyn 16:13 07.04.2008

Re: banks going bust

and i also wouldn't advise keeping your money in indian banks safe deposit boxes, or this may happen.



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