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Moving to Ukraine

Expats moving to Ukraine will find themselves in a country of extremes, where heavy industrial areas are interspersed with beautiful and varied natural scenery. Though new arrivals often sense an abruptness about locals, they will find that the people are warm and respectful once one breaks the ice.

Decades of Stalinist rule and post-independence economic and social problems continue to leave their mark on the country. However, recent reforms and a closer working relationship with the EU mean that the outlook for Ukraine’s future is promising. 

Economic growth has shown impressive improvements over the past decade. The country is home to established manufacturing and commodities sectors, as well as an evolving agriculture industry, all of which look to improve as trade with the European Union opens up. In addition, Ukraine boasts a growing information technology sector. 

Before the political unrest, European tourism used to be an important contributor to the economy, thanks to Ukraine's abundance of hiking, skiing, fishing and hunting opportunities, not to mention plenty of ancient castles, Soviet-era monuments, vineyards and beaches. Today, these remain compelling reasons for many expats’ moves to Ukraine.

Ukraine's capital city of Kiev is fast becoming one of Europe's most exciting cultural hubs due, in no small part, to the energy of the city's inhabitants who have worked hard to resist Russian influence and forge closer ties to the European Union. Now, Kiev abounds with sophisticated cuisine, vibrant nightlife and contemporary art that all acknowledge the country’s fascinating history.

Kiev has a lot to offer, but this does come with the highest cost of living in Ukraine. Still, most expats find that Kiev is substantially less expensive than other European capitals. Expats looking to relocate will find that housing can be very affordable, and healthcare is free to residents. Major structural reforms promise to only improve the standard of government services and the quality of life. This is also true for education. Expats who relocate to Ukraine with their families will find that there are several good public Ukrainian schools, although for those who are just passing through, and who can afford it, there are also a handful of private international schools in Kiev.

While Ukraine isn't the most typical expat destination, those brave enough to venture to move there are sure to be richly rewarded with a truly unique experience.


Fast facts

Population: Over 43 million

Capital city: Kiev

Neighbouring countries: Going clockwise, starting from the southeast, Ukraine is bordered by Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus and Russia.

Geography: Ukraine's geography is incredibly diverse, consisting of everything from plateaus and steppes to mountains and highlands. The country also has a vast southern coastline, stretching around 1,700 miles (2,700 km). 

Political system: Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic

Major religions: Orthodox Christianity

Main language: Ukrainian, though Russian is also widely spoken.

Money: The official currency is the Ukrainian hryvnia (UAH), subdivided into 100 kopiyky. ATMs are commonplace in Ukraine, particularly in Kiev.

Tipping: Though there isn't much of a local tipping culture, it's usually expected in areas popular with foreigners. 10 to 15 percent is the norm at restaurants, though sometimes this is already included as a charge in the bill.

Time: GMT+2 (GMT+3 during summer)

Electricity: 220 volts, 50 Hz. Plugs have two round pins.

Internet domain: .ua 

International dialing code: +380

Emergency numbers: 112

Transport: Driving is on the right-hand side of the road in Ukraine. Expats may, however, prefer to use public transport as it is easily accessible and affordable, as well as safer than driving.

Embassy Contacts for Ukraine


Ukraine embassies

  • Ukraine Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 349 2920

  • Ukraine Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7727 6312

  • Ukraine Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 230 2961

  • Ukraine Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6230 5789

  • Ukraine Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 460 1946

  • Ukraine Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 668 5189


Foreign embassies in Ukraine

  • United States Embassy, Kiev: +380 44 521 5000

  • British Embassy, Kiev: +380 44 490 3660

  • Canadian Embassy, Kiev: +380 44 590 3100

  • South African Embassy, Kiev: + 380 44 289 8870

  • Honorary Consul of Ireland, Kiev: +380 44 279 3200

Public Holidays in Ukraine

 

2020

2021

New Year’s Day

1 January

1 January

Orthodox Christmas Day

7 January

7 January

International Women’s Day

8 March

8 March

Orthodox Easter

19-20 April

2-3 May

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Victory Day

9 May

9 May

Orthodox Pentecost

7-8 June

20-21 June

Constitution Day

28 June

28 June

Baptism of Kyivan Rus

28 July

28 July

Independence Day

24 August

24 August

Defenders' Day

14 October

14 October

Catholic Christmas Day

25 December 25 December

Pros and Cons of Moving to Ukraine

Ukraine is one of the largest countries in Europe, both in area and population. It's a country with a rich, albeit conflict-infused, history. Things are constantly in flux as Ukraine navigates its future. This looks promising, as it establishes closer ties with the European Union and reimagines itself as a cultural centre of Eastern Europe. 

Ukraine's Soviet past has given many expats the impression that it is grim-faced and gloomy, but those who stick around for a while will discover that the pros outweigh the cons in this Eastern European country. Individuals who enjoy a good challenge will find life in Ukraine to be a new and wholly captivating adventure.


Accommodation in Ukraine

Expats moving to Ukraine will find that accommodation can be inexpensive, even in metropolitan areas. However, buying and renting property should be done with caution and possibly a lawyer, as there are frequent reports of expats being scammed.

+ PRO: Cheap housing

Compared with the rest of Europe, Ukraine has an astonishingly low cost of living, despite this becoming increasingly expensive in the larger cities.

- CON: Finding an apartment

While it is possible to find an apartment via elbow grease and good luck (using online or printed classifieds), many people opt for a realtor. Realtors run the real estate game in Ukraine: some merely provide the phone number of a landlord, others will escort you to the apartment and interact on your behalf, but their fees can be high. Meanwhile, Ukraine is riddled with real estate scams that go mostly ignored by the government. Expats should be cautious and never hand over money before finding out exactly what is being offered.


Culture and lifestyle in Ukraine

Ukraine has a rich cultural history and the lifestyle of its people is characterised by good food, deep friendships and a love of nature. Unfortunately, the Crimean Crisis currently renders Crimea inaccessible to Ukraine, and corruption is a problem in many aspects of life in Ukraine.

+ PRO: Captivating history, art and architecture

Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, was founded approximately 1,400 years ago and was a major centre of cultural and political influence even into the Soviet era. Throughout the centuries, Ukraine has seen rich, global influences on the entire country's art and architecture: from the fluted domes and spires that crown Kiev to the industrial modernism of later years.

+ PRO: Amazing food

Ukraine is making the old new again by using traditional methods to make food that appeals to the contemporary palate. Expats should try local favourites like a steaming bowl of borscht (beet soup) with a creamy dollop of sour cream on the side. If this does not appeal, thin pancakes filled with anything from strawberry jam to garlic-fried mushrooms will surely fill the void. Everything from cherry dumplings, cabbage rolls and cold summer soups to delicious honey cake is on offer.

+ PRO: Deep friendships

While Ukrainians can appear stiff and uncaring on the outside, it's a different story once one gets to know them. Friendships are taken very seriously and people will go out of their way to help a friend.

+ PRO: Beautiful landscape

The geography of Ukraine is bewilderingly diverse, and this means there is a lot to see and do. Summertime beaches are packed with families on a fun day out and young adults looking to party. Aside from the beautiful beaches, there seems to be an unlimited supply of castles, ancient ruins and caves to explore. Meanwhile, the nighttime party circuit is legendary. 

- CON: Corruption, bureaucracy, poor customer service

Unfortunately, corruption is still commonplace. Police often hassle foreigners for a 'small gift'. Shady businesses operate with seemingly no repercussions. Getting anything done officially takes a lot of time, patience, and the occasional 'extra fee' for officials.  Additionally, the concept of good customer service is only just beginning to make itself known. Waiters and cashiers tend to view customers as annoying problems rather than people.


Transportation in Ukraine 

+ PRO: Train travel

Getting around Ukraine is easy. While a small number of people prefer to fly or drive, most travel by rail. Trains criss-cross the country on short day trips and overnight journeys.

+ PRO: Easy access to transportation

Private cars are almost prohibitively expensive on the average Ukrainian salary, so many people rely on public transportation. Because of this, it's impossible to go more than 15 minutes without seeing a taxi, city bus or tram. Larger cities, such as Kiev, have metro systems which are cheap, incredibly clean and convenient.


Cost of living in Ukraine

+ PRO: Cheap alcohol and travel abroad

It probably doesn't come as a shock that alcohol (especially locally produced beer and wine) retails for much less than it does in other countries. All this means that unless a huge amount of luxury is involved, a night out on the town will leave partygoers with more than enough money for breakfast the next day.

For those who have a vacation coming up, travel packages are sold at local travel agencies. All-inclusive vacations to Turkey and Egypt are hot sellers, while outbound plane tickets from Ukraine to other destinations in Europe are available at a low price.

- CON: Expensive electronics and clothing

All the newest electronic devices are available in Ukraine but at a premium. For this reason, expats often ask friends travelling abroad to bring back electronics when returning to Ukraine.

Clothing is another popular item to buy abroad because the quality of clothing sold in Ukraine can be very low. This can be partially avoided by buying more expensive articles, but this isn't always a sure bet.


Healthcare in Ukraine

+ PRO: Affordable medicine and healthcare

The word is getting out about healthcare in Ukraine and each year brings more medical tourists to the country. Dental work is one of the most common requests and English-speaking dentists are becoming increasingly common in large cities.

- CON: Healthcare is still ironing out some problems

While the healthcare situation in Ukraine has improved radically, some remnants of an inefficient and uncaring past still remain, particularly in terms of bribery – in many cases bribes are still expected in order for patients to receive proper care.