1 August 2016

Andrew Davison - Expat in Budapest

Andrew Davison - Expat in Budapest

We’ve had the chance to talk to Mr. Andrew Davison, 28, a British expat living in Budapest.

Arrived at Budapest at the end of a year-long road trip, Mr. Davison spontaneously decided to set up a life there, with nothing but a backpack. Loving the slower pace of life and cost-of-living compared to where he worked in London, he now lives with his girlfriend who is also an expat. The transition to Budapest, where English is the secondary language, was relatively smooth for Mr. Davison, and he finds no difficulty in socialising with the friendly locals.

Mr. Davison said, “I’ve lost count of the number of great nights I’ve had after striking up a conversation with a local at the bar and deciding to join their group. Food and drink, particularly the local tipple pálinka, is a huge part of Hungarian culture, so hosting a dinner party is another great way to make friends.”

Mr. Davison now earns a living by managing his start-up, Teacher Finder. Read more about his tips for expats in Budapest, in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I was born in a small town in the south of England called Dover. It’s a sleepy town and I got out of there as quickly as I could, next heading to study computer science at the University of Kent. After I graduated, I moved to London and started working in sales.

Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: As much as I liked the energy of London, the pace was just too fast for me, and life there is just too expensive.

Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I’m in Budapest now. I ended up here quite by accident after a year backpacking. I travelled through Canada, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe. Budapest was one of my last stops and I was looking for an excuse not to go home. As soon as I stepped off the metro from the airport, I got this feeling I hadn’t had elsewhere that was a city I could settle down in.

Q: How long have you been living in Budapest?

A: I’ve been here just over two and a half years now, although I’ve spent some time in other places, mainly the Balkans, and also in Ukraine and Georgia.

Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I arrived alone and live alone, but my girlfriend is an American expat with a similar story. She’s a kindergarten teacher and was originally looking to move to France, but got offered a job in Budapest instead. She’s been here four years now. We both enjoy life here and adjusting hasn’t been too hard as Budapest is a very international city and English is the secondary language here.

Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I miss my family of course, but I don’t particularly miss life in Britain so homesickness hasn’t been a problem. I like seeing and experiencing new places, and it’s staying still for too long that in fact, makes me feel sick. I head back for Christmas but I’ve also brought my parents out here for a few short breaks - exploring with them has been a great way to bond.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: Hungarians are a friendly bunch and most are eager to make friends with expats and visitors. I’ve lost count of the number of great nights I’ve had after striking up a conversation with a local at the bar and deciding to join their group. Food and drink, particularly the local tipple pálinka, is a huge part of Hungarian culture, so hosting a dinner party is another great way to make friends.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Budapest? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: My group is a mix of locals and expats. It was quite easy to make friends here thanks to the variety of expat meet-ups that go on here and also the strong CouchSurfing community this city has.

Q: How does the cost of living in Budapest compared to your home?

A: Everything is more affordable, that’s for sure, by about 50 - 65 per cent I’d say. Sadly, in the two years since I arrived, rent has started to climb, particularly in the central, which is popular with expats. The important stuff, namely food and beer, is still pretty cheap here, which makes for a great lifestyle.

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: Actually, coffee is starting to get more expensive than beer here! The coffee new wave has well and truly hit Budapest and places are fiercely competing with each other to be the hippest place to enjoy a break. Generally speaking, 2 Euros will get you a good coffee.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: If you head out during the day you can get what are known as daily menus - usually a soup, a main and a dessert - for under 3 Euros. Dinner time won’t be much more expensive than that.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: Thanks to a boom in the international cuisine scene, the sky really is the limit here, but outside the fanciest places, a nice meal is likely to set you back 10 - 20 Euros including drinks.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Wine is good here and thankfully cheap. If you but something local, expect to pay 3 - 5 Euros for a bottle.

Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Budapest?

A: It’s easy to do, and you don’t even need to be a resident here to do it. Just turn up to the bank with your passport and a mailing address, and you’ll be good to go in 30 minutes.

Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: As an EU citizen, the process was much easier for me, just a few forms and I was good to go. For someone coming from outside the EU, the process is more arduous, involves more forms and requires you to have a reason to be here and proof of means to support yourself.

You can expect to spend a few hours queuing up, being bounced between departments and possibly even sent home because your paperwork is ‘wrong’ (even if it isn’t). That said, there are plenty of firms that will help you navigate the bureaucracy or even take care of getting your visa for you.

Q: Would you say that healthcare Budapest reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: Luckily, I’ve never had any experience with it, although it’s got a bad reputation in the country. I believe healthcare workers here are some of the lowest paid in the EU. Subsequently, tipping doctors is still a widespread practice here.

Q: Did you secure a health insurance in your home or host country?  What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: If you’re an EU/EEA citizen in Budapest for just a short while, then you’re covered by your host country via the European Health Insurance scheme. Otherwise, when you become a resident, you pay something like 23 Euros per month for state coverage. There are also private options available, but I’ve never explored them.

Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Budapest? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: As I never expected the end up in Budapest, I never really had a packing experience, nor for that matter an unpacking one, because I arrived after a year on the road with nothing but a backpack.

Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: The Hungarian language is a challenge and not everyone speaks it very well. I’ve picked up some but still elaborate pointing or intuition is needed to get stuff done. I’ve become much better at just finding stuff myself in supermarkets rather than trying to ask someone.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Budapest?

A: Budapest is a beautiful city with lots of open space and a great vibrant atmosphere. Summer is when this city really comes to life, and you’ll find locals and expats alike drinking and partying in just about every bar and outdoor space in the city. It’s also right in the center of Europe and fed by a handful of cheap airlines, making it a great base for any expats, like myself, who still feel the urge to travel from time to time.

Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: Check out the ruin bars, Budapest’s famous artistic bars that never fail to amaze people when they see them. Also, check out the thermal spas. We’re one of the only countries in Europe with natural springs underground, and thanks to the Ottoman Empire’s time here many centuries ago, the city is full of bath houses to enjoy.

Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: No plans to move home and for now, I’m happy with Budapest. I’ll continue to travel and take short breaks but I think I’ll continue to build my life here for at least the next few years.

Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Get out and meet people. It’s a sociable city and it would be sad to sit on the sidelines here. There are language exchange clubs, social gatherings and a burgeoning tech startup scene and a large networking scene that goes with it.

Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Budapest?

A: I spent a large part of my day working on Teacher Finder, which is the start-up I founded to help match expats in various cities with a suitable language tutor. Other than that, Budapest Inc is a great source of expat guides while We Love Budapest has great reviews and recommendations for restaurants, parties, and bars in the city.