4 April 2018

Gabriella Karvák - Expat in Hungary

Gabriella Karvák - Expat in Hungary

We’ve had the chance to talk to Gabriella Karvák, 39, a Serbian expat who has moved to Hungary alone. Ms Karvak, who has been living there for almost more than half of her life now works as training professional, singer, model and blogger. Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: From Serbia, a small village called Banatski Dvor.


Q: What made you move out of Serbia?

A: I wanted to study further after finishing my secondary school education and the fact that my family was not able to support my university education on their own was one of the drivers. I also wanted to start a separate life from my family, find a job and become more independent.


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

A: I live in Budapest, in Hungary. I chose Hungary due to the University education possibility. At age of 18 I found about a scholarship availability for Hungarian minorities that is supported by a Hungarian community in Vojvodina (from the norths of Serbia) and the Hungarian government. I applied for the scholarship, I have started studying and also found a job.


Q: How long have you been living in Hungary?

A: Well, almost more than the half of my life is now in Hungary. I arrived to Budapest in 1996, but I worked back in Belgrade between 2004-2006, however, I think I count now more for local in Hungary, then in Serbia.


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

A: I live with my son, he is 6 years old. He was already born in Budapest, Hungarian became his first language, beside Serbian. He is attending a Hungarian kindergarten.


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

A: Yes, I do, I specifically miss the Sunday lunches when the family gathers and I miss their help in everyday life as I am a single parent.

I miss my friends and family, as even they live under hard life & financial circumstances, they never lose the Serbian humour and irony above the difficulties they have in their personal lives. I miss their humanity of being a helpful even to a stranger in a trouble.

Only as one example, once we travelled home with my ex-husband and our car got broken at a gas station in one small village. A guy who was waiting behind us for fuelling ran out of his car, moved us on a side and checked on our issue, the next minute he took out from his car cable for charging the battery and the car was working.

I miss the immediacy I learned from Serbian people and I do not feel here in Budapest. A stranger will talk to you in the street or wherever without knowing you, a train conductor will be playful with your child and give him some nice words. They love children!

If I ask a Serbian friend to help me he/she will immediately respond and will organize 10 more friends to help you.

I have no home-sickness as I try to travel home as much as I can and I surround myself in Budapest with people I like to be around. I am in love with this city, I had my “A-HA” moment since the first time I arrived, went through the bridge with the 4-6 tram and looked over the Danube on the city.

Plus, I can always visit some Serbian restaurant or a co called Yu-Party, or meet a Serbian friend in Budapest. (Yu-Party is a serie of parties for people from Ex-Yugoslavia happening on a monthly basis in Budapest)


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: In general I think that Hungarians are very polite and nice people, however not always easy to connect with. They like nature, many people are hiking! They have good wines! Great thermal baths!

I find them sometimes too negative toward thing, they like to complain and they do not stand out for themselves.

I think the language skill knowledge of the nation changed a lot, especially if I recall the situation from about 20 year ago, the younger people nowadays are getting better in English, yet there is still a place for improvement.

There is also a place for improvement also for the people working in service areas.

I think, an average Hungarian should learn to be more open on other nationalities and cultures, and hereby I am not talking about my Hungarian friends.


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

A: Yes, for me it was easy to make new friends and find social circles as I like to network, meet new people and I have an active social life, I do music, I am singing, modelling, acting, dancing Samba, I took classes of Bachata, I am doing Yoga, I am a Couchsurfer, I am attending international events, etc., but in general I socialize with expats.


Q: How does the cost of living in Hungary compare to your home?

A: Hungary is a bit more expensive, as the living in Serbia, and I think the prices in Belgrade and Budapest do not differ a lot.


Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: a better quality Cappuccino is around 500 HUF (about 1,5 Euro)

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

A: A meal in an inexpensive restaurant can be around 10 Euro.

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

A: In an expensive restaurant prices starting from 15 Euro.

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

A: A bottle of a wine which counts for an average quality is around 6 Euro. A pack of cigarettes is around 3 Euro.


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

A: The best to consult a bank, I used the same provider since I arrived, I do not think there are such big differences in the offers.


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

A: Be patient a lot and speak up for yourself if you are not well threated.

Before I got my double citizenship I had lots of struggles with the governmental paperwork, they were not the most polite in the offices and I was turned back to supply additional documents many times. I had a bad experience with the Labour authority that is providing the working permission. Here I met a very unpolite clerk and reported her to her supervisor. As a result I got my working licence much quicker as earlier and also received an apology from the director of the authorities.

However I also had a positive situation when my visa was about to expire and I managed to arrange it in Hungary by writing a request about visa prolongation to the Immigration office. My request got approved and I did not have to travel back to Serbia.

If you have the luck that the company arranges the permit for you be grateful, otherwise arm yourself with a patiency or leave it on an agency to do it for you.


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

A: Healthcare - sometimes here I am not sure the right people are working in the right places here. I am going to a governmental clinic only in case of ‘smaller’ illnesses (cold, blood test etc.).

I prefer to use private clinics for making examinations. Dentists and gynecologist I advise you to go only to the private ones.

Usually the company that hires you has it’s own contracted medical center, consult your company about healthcare.


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

A: My health insurance is in the host country, the governmental one. I do not own a private health insurance. I think you should have the minimal amount for the health insurance paid, just in case you end up in a hospital to have a coverage.


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

A: I moved with one travelling bag, so I had no need for a mover.


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

A: For me the biggest challenge was getting my working permit and residence permit each year before I became Hungarian citizen in 2008.


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

A: As positive I would mention the public transport. I have not been yet to a country where the public transport is so well organized and reliable as in Budapest (probably if you ask the same from a local Hungarian, they won’t agree).

I think the country is very livable and as an expat you can afford a nice living in Budapest.

Negative side is the big gap that is still in place in comparison to the salaries in Western Europe, plus women earn less in the same position then man.


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

A: Budapest is great for socializing, the city is full of possibilities whether is about arts, music, recreation, studies, job etc.

Join International Facebook communities, meetups for networking, find what are your interests and search for such communities.

E.g. Join Women of Budapest (so you can sing in a choir or attend a sandal workshop, just as an examples)

Visit some of the IMP (International Meeting Point) or Couchsurfing events to make new friends.

Would you like to do some acting or collaborate on some artistic projects?

Join “Hungarian models, actors, musicians, entertainers - English speaking” Facebook group and register to casting agencies to collaborate on a movie, modelling, music project, get information about English speaking artistic events etc.

Recommendation for future expats? Use the opportunites to meet people from all over the world. Our city has become very international in the last years.

I can reassure you, once you move to Budapest it will take a piece of your heart and even once you leave the city, you will keep coming back.


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

A: I would love to move to Portugal, Spain or Brazil. I am learning Portuguese and it would help me to progress quicker in this language, plus I might have better job opportunities on acting and modelling.


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

A: Smile and hug a Hungarian, they need more smiley people in the country!


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

A: I like to read sometimes articles from WeLoveBudapest.com. I think they have good articles about everything related to Budapest! There are also great Instagram pages too.


Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLgySvlUGtSKedlf74eDvQ6qlDxN8IaQg8

Instagram: @karvakg

Blog: karvakg.wordpress.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GabiKarvak/