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Moving Abroad, Personal Stories

What We Did for our First Christmas in Budapest

December 26, 2017
Family Christmas in Budapest

Today is December 26th and still an official holiday here in Budapest. Sadly, my parents flew back home to Toronto this morning. However, my sister and her husband are still here – woo hoo! Andrew and I are at home today and getting organized to move to our new apartment. It’s been a great couple of days, so I thought I would share what we did for our first Christmas in Budapest.

Hungarian Traditions

Christmas is celebrated a little differently here in Hungary compared to the typical Christmas in Canada.  Santa or “Mikulas” visits on December 6th and leaves chocolates and small presents in your boots.  Mikulas serves a similar purpose as the Western Santa Claus in that he keeps track of the good and bad deeds of children all over the world. This tradition is why you don’t see “Mall Santas” here at Christmas.  No photo op with Santa to be found (much to my husband’s distain).

Christmas Tree

Decadently decorated trees at the Gresham Palace Hotel – but few Santas to be found.

Christmas Eve is when families get together. It’s when the adults set up and decorate the Christmas tree and place the larger gifts underneath.  Even in Canada as a child, I had to wait until a heard a bell ring to tell me that the angels (or Baby Jesus) brought the tree and the gifts for me. There is much more of an emphasis on advent and other Christian traditions.

In case you were wondering, the angels brought us a new flatscreen TV 😉

Our Family Christmas Eve

To celebrate our first Christmas in Budapest, I was lucky enough to have my family here from Toronto.  My mother, father, sister and brother-in-law made the journey arriving in the days before. In addition to my immediate family, we also hosted my Aunt (a Budapest resident) and our friend, Wes, from the travel blog, Feather and the Wind.

We decided to celebrate at my parent’s rented apartment so they didn’t have to be the ones to travel.  Like every city, its hard to get a taxi on Christmas Eve.

The Food

Rather than trying to sort out the pots and pans at an AirBnb, we decided to order dinner from one of our favourite downtown restaurants, Kiosk.  Early on December 24th, Andrew and I hopped on the Number 2 tram and went to pick up one whole turkey, one whole duck and all the holiday fixings.  The food was delicious.  I would highly recommend their services for the future.

We ate my mother’s deviled eggs and cabbage rolls as starters.  We ate tons of turkey and duck. We finished off our casual night with a shot of palinka and my Aunt’s traditional (and homemade) chestnut cake for dessert. A very happy and full bunch indeed!

Christmas Dinner

Christmas Day

Christmas Day in Budapest was GORGEOUS.  Full sun and twelve degrees.  We’ve had Christmases in Florida with similar weather! We wanted to have a family brunch at the Gundel Restaurant. The Gundel is located just beside City Park. Gundel is the restaurant where you can find traditional Hungarian dishes based on original recipes, served in an exceptional ambiance. For those of you reading from Toronto, it is a similar experience as going to the Old Mill for Christmas Lunch.

It was a fabulous day and I was so happy to be able to spend it with my family here in Budapest, Hungary.  Missed were my step-children who celebrated Christmas in Haliburton, Ontario and Calgary, Alberta respectively. Fingers crossed to seeing them here for the holidays sometime soon.

Moving Abroad, Personal Stories

How to Find the True Meaning of Christmas This Year in Budapest

December 23, 2017
Christmas Angel Budapest

As you saw in my last post, Budapest is an absolutely beautiful place to spend Christmas.  This Christmas I am even luckier as my parents, sister and her husband have all come from Canada to share it with us here.  However, Andrew and I wanted to do more then just simply over-indulge, and set out on a tiny journey on how to find the true meaning of Christmas this year.

My husband and I enjoy volunteering. We typically spend around 1000 hours per year donating our time to various organizations and events.  This Christmas in Budapest, we were offered the opportunity to sponsor a local child and help make his Christmas wishes come true. Thanks to Chris Clarke of Clarke and White, we became part of the “Scottish Mission’s Children’s Christmas Event”.

Scottish Mission Christmas

Rev. Aaron C. Stevens, Minister at the Scottish Mission and Chris Clarke of Clarke and White.

Three years ago, a few “Elves” came up with the idea of making dreams come true for Christmas. However, many children from in and around Budapest are not so fortunate, and can’t always get a present. Their parents simply can’t afford to buy any. This is why the children are asked to send a letter to Santa, and wait to see if “Santa” can reply.

Letters to Santa

As part of the letter, each child is asked some simple questions: “What is your favourite colour”, “Who is your best friend”, and of course, “What do you want for Christmas”. This year the Scottish Mission of Budapest  is the main channel of selecting the children.  They decided that an organization called “Kontúr Egyesület“, from the 10th district of Budapest would be where the recipient children came from.  This is pretty much a slum area of Budapest with very poor facilities meant to be torn down in the near future.

Andrew and I received our “Letter for Santa” from a 3 year old boy named, Krisztof. And my mother (being here for Christmas), kindly agreed to sponsor a 4 year old girl named, Hanna.  Off we went in search of the perfect gifts with a set price limit of only 10,000 HUF (about $50 CDN). It was tempting to spend more, but all the kids gifts were meant to be relatively equal.  Once we found them, we wrapped them and delivered them to Clarke and White’s offices. Chris and his assistants took on the gargantuan task of organizing and moving 100+ gifts to the St. Columba’s Scottish Church in time for event day.

Scottish Mission Christmas

The letter we received written to “Santa” telling us all about Krisztof and his wishes for Christmas.

Scottish Mission’s Children’s Christmas Event

The event was well attended by the local and expat community who donated their time, expertise and gifts.  We sat in the back of the hall and let the excitement of the afternoon focus on the children.  We watched a sweet performance of the Nativity play and listened to Hungarian carols. Once concluded, there was more music, magic, food, fun and of course, Santa.

Scottish Mission Christmas

All the “Santas” waiting for the children to arrive –  including the British Ambassador, Iain Lindsay and his wife. Amazing support for our community!

Andrew and I were lucky enough to see our “child”, Krisztof, with his gift. We spotted him because we recognized the wrapping paper we used!  He attended the event with two other siblings who also appeared to be sponsored that afternoon.  We saw his mother packaging up the unopened gifts with string to take them home. I presume to open officially on Christmas Eve as is the custom here in Hungary.

The Scottish Mission

The congregation belongs to the Church of Scotland and the Reformed Church in Hungary.   The church was founded by Scots 175 years ago. However, it was only with the cooperation, support and service of Hungarians that they survived many turbulent periods, including times when Scots were not allowed to remain but the congregation continued just the same.

Happy Christmas Everyone

I love Christmas, and seeing so many happy faces makes it even more meaningful this Christmas.  It was so easy for us to take part in this event. Thanks again to Chris Clarke for letting us be part of it.

Scottish Mission Christmas

Andrew and I waiting for the children to arrive!

As you all know, similar events take place in every city in the world, and I encourage you to be part of them.  Find the true meaning of Christmas and make a difference in your local community.  Your heart will thank you.

Moving Abroad, Personal Stories

Exploring the Christmas Markets in Budapest

December 19, 2017
Christmas Market Budapest

This past week has been crazy busy with organizing our new life, but when we take a break, we head out to go exploring the Christmas markets in Budapest. Luckily, there are several of them spread out around the city – both big and small.

The main Christmas markets are located on the “Pest” side of Budapest. One of these is located at Vörösmarty Square .  This includes lights, music, amazing food and drink stands, artists boutiques and other handcrafted goods.  All vendors are specially chosen for the high quality of their goods – and they are wonderful. There is a stage for live performances and Christmas lights are projected onto the facade of the iconic Café Gerbeaud. Established in 1858, Gerbeaud is Europe’s finest coffee house and pastry shop.

This Christmas market has been voted one of the Top 10 in all of Europe. To see some other great Christmas markets, click here.

Christmas Market Budapest

Vörösmarty Christmas Market at night. Our view from the St. Andrea Skybar looking at Gerbeaud.

Another huge tourist draw is the Christmas market located at St. Stephen’s Basilica.  This market features a spectacular 3D visual show projected on the front of the Basilica a few times every night. Andrew and I just LOVE watching it.  I’m sure he’s trying to figure out how he could do it himself at home for next Christmas 😉

In addition to the market booths, there is also a small skating rink for children under the huge Christmas tree located in the middle of the market. The sights, sounds and smells in this market are all delicious!

Basilica Christmas Market

The St. Stephen’s Basilica Christmas Market complete with skating rink.

Of course, we would be remiss not to tell you about our top three things to consume at any Budapest Christmas Markets.  1. Mulled Wine 2. Fried Potato Pancakes and 3. Marzipan Chocolate.  Okay, number 3 is really for Andrew as I personally find marzipan gross  – but Andrew can’t get enough of it!

Hungarian Potato Pancakes

A Hungarian Potato Pancake. We like to top ours with sour cream and shredded cheese. Yum!

Thanks for reading!  Andrew and I are popping out for another glass of mulled wine…



Moving Abroad, Personal Stories

Beginning our Everyday Life and Finding our New Home

December 8, 2017
Egg Nog Coffee

The past week has been a busy one… part tourist and part new resident. We are beginning our everyday life of shopping, laundry, home cooking, etc.  We also got busy finding a permanent place to live. Luckily, we are succeeding fairly well on all fronts.

Everyday Life

Grocery shopping has been the most frustrating task for me so far. Not the part where I actually go to the grocery store, but the part where I can’t read the ingredients.  I am traditionally an obsessive label reader and will spend a long time comparing items. I currently have no idea what is in my “healthy” cereal or yogurt and am suspicious it may be filled with sugar because my husband is eating both without complaint! LOL

Hungarian Bread

I definitely can’t decipher the ingredients listed on bread packages for toast. So far Andrew and I are enjoying the green one.

On the other hand, coffee here is always amazing.  There are tons of coffee shops from tiny to huge all over Budapest. Andrew and I have been enjoying many of them immensely  – with or without a donut on occasion.

Our New Apartment

The most exciting news of the past week was signing the lease on our new apartment. Thanks to the diligent work of Viktoria from Inter Relocation, we successfully navigated the current rental market and signed about 1000 pieces of paper to finally get the keys to our new home in Budapest’s 5th District.

Aniko and Andrew

On our way to sign our lengthy bilingual lease. While it was great to have an English version, the Hungarian version is the legal one. It was good to have a professional there to make sure they were actually the same.

Unlike Toronto, here in Budapest, you don’t pay “First and Last”.  There is no credit check. What you do pay is a two month deposit along with your first month’s rent up front.  You then continue to pay your rent up front monthly moving forward.  You get your deposit back shortly after you move out (providing there was no damage or other monies due).

To facilitate this, a lengthy pre-move inspection is done with both tenant and landlord present.  Every appliance is tested and run, all electronic devices are turned on and off, every piece of removable furniture, linens, dishes, etc is cataloged and photographed and finally, all meter readings are taken and recorded. Copies of all of this are then dispersed between all parties to review again when we move out.

In our case, Inter Relocation will come back with us again to do that inspection. It must be noted that having Viktoria with us was invaluable.  Not only is she friendly, fun and bilingual – but a consummate professional taking note of all details.  We highly recommend this service if you are moving to Budapest for the first time. I really don’t know how Andrew and I would have muddled through on our own…

We are thrilled with our apartment located on Egyetem Square and will make it our official home by the end of the month.

Our Art Deco building is picture here located on the lovely Egyetem Square.    Photo: Kőrösi Tamás

A Walk in the Park

Since we continue to enjoy chilly but sunny days, we decided to go for walk in Budapest’s City Park (Varosliget). We bundled up our dog, Lucy, put her in her carrier and took the subway to Hero’s Square to begin our walk in the park. City Park is close to the centre of Budapest, Hungary. It is a 0.9-by-0.6-mile rectangle, with an area of 302 acres, located in District XIV. It even contains a castle! The Vajdahunyad Castle to be specific.

Lucy in carrier

Lucy riding the subway with her carrier. Dogs in a bag ride free. All dogs outside of a bag must wear a muzzle and have a ticket.

Hero's Square

The beautiful Hero’s Square. What you see when you exit the subway station.

Daddy and doggie

Andrew and Lucy heading off into City Park.

Skating in City Park

The huge skating rink in City Park. At night its even prettier with all kinds of lights.

Meeting the Irish Ambassador

Thursday night we attended our first expat event here in Budapest by invitation from Chris Clark of Clark & White. We got in the festive spirit and headed off to the the Irish Hungarian Business Circle‘s Christmas Party at Jack Doyle’s Irish Pub. For the first time in a couple weeks, English was the main language spoken and Andrew was able to get a proper pint of Guinness. The party included expats not just from Ireland, but from many parts of the UK.  And while we met many lovely people at the party, we were lucky enough to meet and chat with the Irish Ambassador himself, Pat Kelly.  It turns out he is from the exact same part of Dublin that all of Andrew’s siblings were born in.  What a small world!

Jack Doyle's Irish Pub

Jack Doyle’s Irish Pub hand painted Christmas windows.



Moving Abroad, Personal Stories

6 Interesting Things we Discovered after our First Ten Days in Budapest

December 1, 2017
Anikó & Andrew

Life here in Budapest is certainly very different than in Toronto – but that is exactly what we hoped for.  We’ve managed really well so far, but here are 6 interesting things we discovered after our first ten days in Budapest.

1. Cursive

There is widespread use of cursive writing on a variety of signs, shops and personal notes.  While this may not seem strange to anyone over 35, this would be tricky for anyone under 30 in North America to decipher. Shortly after I married my husband and became a step-mother in 2009, I was shocked to learn they no longer teach cursive in the Canadian public school system.  When I left notes for my step-kids, I had to ensure to PRINT them for comprehension.  When they visit, I will have to put them to the test 😉

2. Public Transport

During my very first trip to Budapest, I learned the public transport was inexpensive and easy to use. However, now that we’ve been using for more than just to visit tourist hot spots, we’ve ascertained how really amazing it is!  Using the BKK (Budapesti Közlekedési Központ) you can get anywhere in Budapest.  In fact, you will often have two or three choices of routes to get there. Compared to the TTC (Toronto Transit Authority), it is nothing short of miraculous. The BKK app I mentioned in this post, makes it almost impossible to get lost. We have been to OBI, IKEA, doctor and veterinarian offices, 3 major shopping malls, Christmas Markets, live music venues, restaurants, parks and more.  Nothing has taken us more then 30 minutes from door to door!

Kalvin Ter Metro Station in the 9th District

One the entrances to the Kálvin Tér Metro Station in the 9th District

3. Manners

In these first few days, we immediately took notice that the general population in Budapest is a LOT more polite than our typical experiences in and around the GTA (Greater Toronto Area).  Upon entering the veterinarian’s office in downtown Budapest, each and every person sitting waiting greeted us with a “Good Day”, and wished us the same on the way out. This also happens in smaller bars and restaurants. On our way to IKEA, a teenaged boy got up and out of the way for me on the subway which both nicely surprised me and made me feel suddenly (and sadly) old.

4. Sunday Closures

Our first ten days in Budapest have included one weekend and you should know that Budapest shuts down on a Sunday. Like Toronto did until the late 1980’s, Hungarians still take “a day of rest” fairly seriously.  Sure, you can find the tourists spots open, but you better be prepared with your groceries and the essential items by Saturday afternoon.  I have to admit, it is quite lovely having an day off from going to the mall to buy more crap we don’t need and having dedicated time for people to spend with their families. Hungarians value their own lives, and the quality of those lives, very, very highly.

The Egyetemi Templom - a baroque style catholic church

Egyetemi Templom – a baroque style Catholic Church located in the 5th District

5. A Notary is not always required

We’ve been signing a lot of legal paperwork over the past week.  In Canada, some of this would have required the services of a notary, but in Hungary they seem to simply gather more personal information.  For each important document we’ve signed we have added our birthdate, place of birth and mother’s maiden name.  Its interesting seeing how much this system is used, but I do suppose it is a unique identifier. I mean, we all know there could be another Anikó here – but not one with the same birthday AND mother!

6. Just enough Hungarian makes me dangerous

One last thing we’ve discovered is that I speak Hungarian much better than originally thought. In fact, I can speak my simple sentences so well that many have assumed I am fluent (instead of having a long way to go). Last night, after greeting the waiter and asking for a table in Hungarian, I was presented with the Hungarian only menu while Andrew was given an English one.  I was still going strong with my skills until it came to the soup of day.  I only understood… “blah, blah, blah, bacon”. Embassed I didn’t understand more, I simply agreed to have the soup.  In fact, I ordered one for myself and one for Andrew.

We still aren’t entirely sure what we ate at Input, but it was “nagyon finom” (very tasty)…



Moving Abroad

Night flight to Budapest: The First 24 Hours

November 22, 2017
Night flight to Budapest

We made it through our night flight to Budapest.  Our entire journey took about 16 hours from door to door – and I have to admit, it was a bit rough.  Our flight went from Toronto to Amsterdam to Budapest. We’ve never traveled with so much luggage AND a dog.  We were sweaty, tired, a wee bit cranky but pretty happy upon arrival. Lucy (our dog) was amazing.  Not an accident or single complaint at all!

Our 5 checked bags.  We had two more for carry on along with our laptop bags and the dog.

Our 5 checked bags. We had two more for carry on along with our laptop bags and the dog.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ve had a successful take-off on this first Nightflight to “Budapest”
Our flying time will be 16 hours. We’ll be travelling at a speed of 2183 miles per second.”  – with apologies to Boney M

Our car picked us up at the airport and we arrived at our lovely, spacious, but FREEZING apartment.  We successfully restarted the gas boiler and then hit the streets in search of a hot beverage while we waited for our apartment to heat up. We found a lovely tented area just down the block to have a mulled wine and a beer. Perfect.

View from our balcony on Raday Utca

The view from our balcony on Raday Street in Budapest’s 9th District

After our drinks, we came back to the apartment where we started to unpack our bags and then proceeded to promptly fall asleep until about midnight.  Of course, we then spent a few hours up in the middle of the night – hungry –  as our bodies aren’t used to the six hour time difference yet. Since we are typically morning people, we were astonished to wake up the next morning around 11:30am.

The next day

We got dressed, headed off to the nearby dog park and then walked a few blocks east to the Danube for a coffee (coffee is so very good in Budapest). We went to do small grocery shop at Tesco, dropped the dog back off at the apartment and went in search of some freshly made goulash soup.  We tried at first to go to the “For Sale Pub” – a quirky touristy spot with autographed papers everywhere – but it was packed full.  Instead, we ate at the cosy “Paris Texas” on Raday Street. The soup came from the restaurant next door and it was delicious!

Aniko and Andrew by the Danube

A very jet-lagged Aniko and Andrew by the Danube

Two very tasty goulash soups on a rainy first evening in Budapest

Two very tasty goulash soups on a rainy first evening in Budapest

Once our bellies were full and warm, we headed back “home” for more unpacking, did a little bit of work online and then collapsed into our bed… only to wake up again in the middle of the night. *sigh*



Moving Abroad

What We are Doing in our Final Week: Moving Abroad Checklist

November 14, 2017

Moving abroad to Budapest, Hungary is a huge undertaking. So many people, places and things to organize and get ready before we board our plane. Here is what we are doing in our final week in Canada.

Prepare an Important Document Folder

Perhaps obviously, you need to take important paper work with you to your new home. We are taking essential paperwork in our carry-on luggage.  That means our passports, International Driver’s Licenses, my Hungarian Residency Card, our Hungarian Marriage Certificate and our credit/debit cards.

In additional to these hard copy documents, I have scanned and uploaded all of the above along with MANY others to a secure cloud-based server that both my husband and I have access to.  You can use something like LassPast or even Dropbox, but I do recommend you scan important documents and keep copies somewhere in case of physical loss.

International Shipment Pick up

As mentioned in this post, we are using Move One to send our goods via sea shipping container to Budapest. Brytor is the company they partner with here in Toronto, so it was with them we met with to pack and load our goods directly from our storage locker. Unfortunately, this happened during a sunny but unexpectedly cold day. It was  -10 degrees celsius and absolutely frigid during packing. However, this made for fast work and our things are now safe and secure for international transit.

Brytor picking up our belongs from our storage locker

Brytor picking up our belongs from our storage locker

Our worldly goods neatly stacked up and ready to be packed and loaded into a shipping container

Government Services

In this final week, we visited our local “Service Ontario” office to let them know we are leaving the country and that we need to suspend our OHIP health care services.  We informed them of our intent to take a two-year absence from our services. A quick and easy process (if you don’t count the long wait time in line).

Doctor’s Appointments

Andrew and I, along with our dog, all have our final doctor’s visit during this time.  For the humans, we are topping up on some prescription medication that may be harder to get in Hungary (that fact is, we don’t really know but we are hedging our bets).  For our dog, Lucy, this vet visit is essential for her being allowed into the European Union.  You can read all about that process here.

Sell Remaining Goods

Unbelievably, we STILL have stuff left to sell. By now, my husband and I are getting REALLY sick of Kijiji.  I mean, its been fabulous, we’ve sold tons of goods over the last few months, but the amount of people that respond to ads simply to express their dislike of the item/price/colour/whatever is truly bizarre and a huge time waster. Luckily, we were able to sell most items quickly and easily.  Our cars are both sold now, so its just some miscellaneous electronics left. The items we don’t sell will be donated or given to my sister to sell in our absence.  Thanks sis!

Pack our Bags

We are moving with seven suitcases.  Yes, you read that right.  Seven.  For those of you that know us well, you know that Andrew and I only ever take carry-on luggage when travelling.  No matter how far – or for how long.  So taking seven suitcases on a plane is completely contrary to our normal travel style.

Dog in Suitcase

Lucy sitting our suitcase “helping” me pack

We have three large suitcases and two medium suitcases that we will be checking in.  We also have two carry-on suitcases we are taking on board the plane with us.  These have our important documents, computers, cameras, medications, jewelry, etc.

While this many suitcases isn’t normal for us, it was considerably less expensive to come with us on the plane that add to our overseas shipment.  These bags contain everything we need to live and work for 8 winter weeks until our shipment arrives.

Saying Goodbye

By now, we have said good bye to the majority of our friends and family.  We had lunch with my husband’s brother and his wife yesterday and we will have a final dinner with the rest of our family on Saturday.  I predict the definite need for Kleenex.

However, unlike when my husband moved from England in 1988… Social media, FaceTime, Skype, YouTube and more will help us stay connected each and every day.



Moving Abroad, Personal Stories

Casting off the Lines: Saying Good-bye to our Yacht Club

November 5, 2017
Etobicoke Yacht Club

Saying good-bye to our yacht club was something I don’t think my husband or I ever expected to do.  I joined the club in 2005 and my husband joined in 2007.  It is where we met, fell in love and held our wedding reception in 2009. Practically all of our friends (and family) are members of the club and there has not been a party or event in the last decade we missed.  However last night, (with thanks to my sister), we found ourselves in the Great Hall saying good-bye to all the people we have shared our lives with. Over 40 people showed up on a rainy Saturday night to wish us well in our move to Budapest, Hungary.


My sister and I outside the Grey Wolf Gazebo at the yacht club.

Our Life at Etobicoke Yacht Club

It was wonderful to see all of our friends in such a familiar environment one last time before we leave for Budapest.  My husband and are dedicated volunteers at the EYC and have in excess of 2200 hours in our “volunteer bank”. Andrew is a “Commodore’s Cup” winner, the club’s resident DJ and I served on the Board of Directors and was the lead singer in the club band, ‘The Members”. Doing these things allowed us to form that friendships that will have no boarders.  No matter how far we go, EYC will always be remembered as our “home”.

Commodores Ball

Andrew and I at the 2015 Commodore’s Ball

Of course time spent at the club, really means time spent on the water.  For us that water is Lake Ontario in Toronto, Canada. And while Andrew and I are “power boaters”, we often enjoyed sailing with our friends. Especially those times with my sister, her husband and our good friend “Cap’t Dave”. Sailing gives us the ability to chat, sing and laugh while enjoying the sunshine, the water, and the waves. It was also the preferred method of travel for our dog, Lucy. She hates the noise that power boat engines make. To read more about moving with a dog to Budapest, click here.

Sailing on Lake Ontario

Andrew enjoying another great day on Lake Ontario

Our Future on the Water

We sold our boat in September in preparation for our move  – we just can’t reconcile shipping it all the way to Hungary.  It was one of the saddest moments of our journey so far – as it meant we were really going. We are really going to move abroad! And in case you were wondering, there IS a place to sail and boat just about an hour from Budapest on Lake Balaton.  Lake Balaton is often called the “Hungarian Sea” due to its size and beauty.  Andrew and I are very excited to spend time there next season and who knows?  Maybe we will have a boat on the water again soon…

Lake Balaton

The Mediterranean-like microclimate around Lake Balaton also makes the region ideal for wine making. Just about perfect!

Budapest Expat Tips, Moving Abroad

Budgeting for Budapest: Avoid these Top 3 Expat Mistakes

October 30, 2017
Budgeting for Budapest

Budgeting for Budapest is top of mind for my husband – and rightly so.  We want to avoid expats mistakes that we’ve heard other people have made.   While we are both lucky enough to be able to work remotely and have that work continue – not all of our work is remote.  For us, moving to Budapest means a drastic cut in our dual family income – and with that comes a monthly budget.

To tell the truth, neither of us have ever been big budgeters before… but we sure are now.  We use resources like Numbeo for Budapest to help us gage our monthly living costs along with other research done on Facebook.  To see my recommendation for the best Budapest Facebook Groups, read this post. As of October 2017, the cost of living index in Budapest is 32.21% lower than my hometown of Toronto, Canada.

The 3 Top Expat Mistakes when Budgeting

1. Not budgeting for the cost of international shipping.

If you can fit all your belongings into two suitcases then you don’t have to worry about this too much.  If it is a company transfer or job offer, its likely the corporation will pick up the bill. However, if you are moving by your own choice midlife like we are, or you’re moving to retire in Hungary, its likely you have more “stuff” you want with you.  Especially if you are planning to be away for more than a year or two.

We had a garage sale in preparation for our move and sold all of our bigger items through online marketplaces, so we will not be moving any furniture or cars.  However, the smaller stuff still adds up.  We have boxes of china, crystal, decor items, paintings, stereo equipment (yes it will all work with 240v), a bicycle, purses, shoes, clothes, tools and more. In total, we will be moving about 190 cubic feet of precious (to us) cargo.

Our belongings will make the journey via container ship and should arrive about six to eight weeks after we do.  The shipment is considered “household goods” and thus duty-free. But don’t be fooled, the total cost of door-to-door shipping with insurance for our smaller amount is around $8000 – even without duty or import taxes. You really need to crunch the numbers to see if its worth it. It may be cheaper to simply purchase everything new on upon arrival. Furthermore, the shipping company will want all the money upfront sent via international bank wire.  No putting it on your credit card and worrying about it later!

2. Living like a tourist upon arrival

Hand decorated gingerbread cookies at the Christmas Market Stands.

Hand decorated gingerbread cookies at the Christmas Market Stands.

We are really excited to be arriving in Budapest at the start of the holiday season.  We have never been in Budapest for Christmas and are looking forward to the famous Christmas Markets, mulled wine, marzipan and hot pálinka.  The temptation to go crazy buying holiday items, food, wine, gifts and attend special events is strong. However, we know we need to keep to our budget for any unexpected items that may creep up.  We can not live like we are on holiday.  Unexpected charges could be anything from lawyers, rents, visas, permits – not cake and champagne.

Since we know we want to participate in some of the many the holiday events in Budapest, we included those bigger tickets items into our first month’s budget.  Moreover, we are able to purchase tickets in advance or make reservations online from Canada for the Nutcracker Ballet, La Bohéme Opera and our Christmas Brunch at the famous Gundel Restaurant.

3. The cost of Health Care

Hungary has a tax-funded universal healthcare system, organized by the state-owned National Health Insurance Fund. But don’t assume that because you are moving to Hungary that you will automatically have access.  As mentioned in this post, I am a dual Canadian-Hungarian citizen and my husband is British.  You would think this gives us access to a EU health-care system – but if you do, you would be wrong.

Since I have never lived in Hungary, I have not yet paid any taxes.  Since the health care system funds itself by taxes, I do not qualify and this requires me to get a private plan.  The same goes for my husband.  Since he has been in Canada for many years, he does not quality for his EU card which would typically allow British citizens access to the healthcare system. Both of us will need a private plan for this first year or until we perhaps work with a Hungarian employer.

However, if we are employed, the Hungarian company will pay this health care fee for us.  Consequently,  if we remain independent consultants, we need to foot the bill. The good news is, this cost is not exorbitant and a wide variety of plans and providers are available. After a our first year, we are able to “buy” into the social system and use it like any other citizen.

Interesting: Hungary is one of the main destinations of medical tourism in Europe and has excellent medical and dental services. According to Wikipedia, the most popular medical treatments are dentistry, cosmetic surgery, orthopaedic surgery, cardiac rehabilitation, fertility treatment, dermatology, anti-aging treatment, obesity treatment, addiction programmes and eye surgery.

Of course there are other financial considerations to make – personal, business and property tax rates, pensions, bank accounts, life insurance, etc. If in doubt, speak to your accountant before you leave – and find a good one upon arrival.  We are planning to meet with an accountant I found via Facebook.  To find out my favourite Budapest Facebook groups, read this post.



Moving Abroad

5 Tips for Moving with a Pet from Canada to Europe

October 24, 2017
Pet Relocation

As we get closer to the “big move”, we find ourselves making our final visits to doctors and dentists. Moving with a pet from Canada to Europe is not difficult  – but paperwork, bureaucracy and patience is required. Our 8 year old dog, Lucy, is no exception. In fact, for Lucy, this final vet visit is an essential part of her travel and immigration requirements for her new life in Budapest, Hungary.

Moving with a pet

Lucy hanging out at a local park in Toronto.

Lucy needs to visit her veterinarian and get a “Veterinary Certificate” (clean bill of health) within 10 days of travel. We then take that certificate the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and get it endorsed by a CFIA vet before we fly.

Top 5 Tips for Moving with a Pet:

  1. Make sure your vet has the correct form for European travel and has done it before. You need to complete this for your port of entry into Europe (in our case, The Netherlands) NOT for the final destination (in our case, Hungary). This is especially relevant as we almost messed up on this thanks to bad information we received.
  2. Note that you must personally accompany your dog while moving – at least within 5 days. Dogs can travel in-cabin or as cargo.  Lucy is small enough to come in-cabin with us.
  3. If your dog comes in-cabin, it will count as your carry-on luggage – VERY FRUSTRATING. Not only do you miss out on being able to take a bag, but you have to pay $125 (may vary) for the privilege of having your pet on board. This is standard for Economy or Economy Premium classes – I’m not sure about the fancy folks in higher classes.
  4. Identification is mandatory for the European Union. Your pet needs to be identified with a microchip (or in some cases a clearly readable tattoo is acceptable). Be prepared for them to scan your dog to ensure your paperwork and pet match up.
  5. And finally, know that a rabies vaccination is required for entry of pet animals to ALL EU countries. This needs to been done AFTER your pet receives their microchip. An essential part for any pet’s relocation.

Bonus Tip: Make sure you fully understand your airlines regulations.  In our case, we booked our tickets FIRST with KLM and then waited about 5 days to find out if there was room for our dog to accompany us on the plane.  Airlines have limits to how many pets can be aboard any given flight. This may effect moving with your pet, so make sure to check before you arrive at the airport to board your flight!

“Some of our greatest historical and artistic treasures we place with curators in museums; others we take for walks.”  -Roger A. Caras

Click this link for detailed information and CFIA paperwork for entry of pets to the European Union (EU).

Furthermore, we use a carrier like this one. We use it successfully on WestJet, Air Canada and KLM for international travel – no problems at all. However, please check with your airline for specific recommendations.