Though not the most conventional expat destination, Serbia is one of Europe's best-kept secrets. From deep blue lakes and rivers to soaring mountains, the natural beauty of the country is truly something to behold.
Living in Serbia as an expat
English is widely spoken as a second language, but Serbian is the country’s official language. Many expats living in Serbia hire an interpreter to assist them in the workplace. Learning Serbian and having a basic understanding of the Cyrillic alphabet can be immensely useful in helping expats navigate everyday activities. Making an effort to communicate in Serbian is also a sure way to bond with locals.
Given the high level of unemployment in Serbia, it's generally best to secure a job before moving. Most of Serbia’s small expat community can be found in the capital, Belgrade, and is made up of diplomatic personnel or employees of international organisations and NGOs. Other large sectors where skilled expats will find employment in Serbia are the energy, automotive, machinery, mining, and agriculture industries.
Accommodation in Serbia is affordable and the standard of living in the country is reasonably high. Housing in rural areas may be older and sometimes more run-down than in big cities like Belgrade, and even larger metros can have older buildings and a lack of general infrastructure. Foreigners can freely buy property in the country, making it easy for expats to settle down.
Public transport in Serbia mainly consists of buses, trams and trolleybuses. The ticketing system, called BusPlus, makes it easy for commuters to buy tickets from local vendors. These tickets are relatively cheap and can be used on most forms of transport. The Beovoz, or railway system, connects suburban areas and smaller towns to Belgrade. Driving in Serbia is relatively safe, although road networks may be poorly upheld, especially in rural areas.
The standard of healthcare in Serbia is not as good as in other Western European or North American countries. The country offers free emergency healthcare for those on the Euraxess universal health plan. Expats should be cautious when selecting hospitals. While Serbian doctors are well-trained and generally speak good English, medical supplies are limited and some hospitals may not have the necessary equipment to carry out more complex procedures. In many cases, foreigners travel to another country for specialist care or seek out private healthcare institutes. Pharmacies in Serbia are either state-owned or private, and both have limited supplies of medicine.
Cost of living in Serbia
Living in Serbia is comparatively cheap. Low-cost accommodation and cheap transport make the country ideal for expats, especially those earning in foreign currencies. Food and eating out may be more expensive, but will in no way break the bank. The most expensive aspects of expat life in Serbia are generally private healthcare and international schooling.
In the context of global living expenses, Mercer's 2023 Cost of Living Survey ranked Belgrade 175th out of 227 cities. This makes it less expensive than the likes of nearby Bucharest, Romania (ranked 142), and significantly cheaper than capitals of Western Europe like Madrid, Spain (ranked 83).
Families and children in Serbia
Public schooling in Serbia tends to be rather underfunded. Homeschooling is illegal, and expat parents usually prefer private or international schools as an alternative to public schooling. There are a number of international schools in Belgrade, offering foreign curricula such as that of the US, the UK and Germany. But places are limited and waiting lists are long, so many parents choose to send their children to boarding schools elsewhere in Europe instead.
With a range of monuments, monasteries and history-filled fortresses, families can explore the culture of Serbia at length. Besides the unique architecture, the country also offers expats the chance to get out into nature and explore the beautiful and serene landscape with hikes into impressive canyons and among interesting rock formations. In Belgrade, many tourist attractions offer insight into the city, and playrooms for the young ones are always popular here.
Climate in Serbia
Serbia has a continental climate in the north with cold, dry winters and warm, humid summers. To the south, the climate becomes rather Mediterranean, with hot, dry summers and milder, rainy winters and heavy snowfall in the mountains.
While Serbia's limited infrastructure can be frustrating for new arrivals, patience will reveal a charming country off the beaten path. Friendly locals, fascinating history and breathtaking natural features, paired with a low cost of living make Serbia worth it for any hardened expat.
Population: About 8.7 million
Capital city: Belgrade
Neighbouring countries: Serbia is bordered by Hungary to the north, Romania and Bulgaria to the east, North Macedonia to the south, Montenegro to the southwest, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the west, and Croatia to the northwest.
Geography: The southern half of Serbia is mostly mountainous, while fertile plains characterise the north of the country.
Political system: Unitary dominant-party parliamentary constitutional republic
Major religions: Eastern Orthodox Christianity
Main languages: Serbian
Money: The country's currency is the Serbian dinar (RSD). ATMs are easily found in large cities but may be harder to come by in more rural areas. Expats should be able to open a Serbian bank account with relative ease.
Tipping: Tip 10 percent in a restaurant or round up for smaller amounts.
Time: GMT+1 (GMT +2 from late March to late October)
Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. Plugs have two round pins.
Internet domain: .rs
International dialling code: +381
Emergency contacts: 192 (police), 193 (fire), 194 (ambulance)
Driving and transport: Belgrade is the public transport hub of the country, with buses, tramways, trolleys and trains. Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road.