Moving to Budapest
For the most part, and much to the surprise of many foreigners, Budapest has shed its socialist past and recaptured much of the cosmopolitan spirit that it had in the first half of the 20th century. Foreign companies have bolstered the economy by establishing regional headquarters and shared service centres in the city, and a thriving international community now exists.
Although it accounts for most of the industry in Hungary, Budapest is more than just a political, cultural and commercial hub. Time Magazine, the International Council of Monuments and Sites, and the New York Times Magazine have all named Budapest as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Alongside the exquisite architecture and UNESCO world heritage sites, Budapest offers residents a range of world-class shopping opportunities and some of the best nightlife in Europe.
The city is divided into two halves by the Danube River and was formally two distinct cities, Buda on the western bank and Pest on the eastern bank. Buda is a popular residential area, while Pest is the city’s commercial core and home to many industries and businesses. Choosing which side of Budapest to live on is a matter of preference: bustling, urban, and exotic Pest, or stately, comfortable and considerably quieter Buda. In general, accommodation in Budapest is easy for expats to find and is considerably cheaper than housing in high-profile expat destinations. In fact, the cost of living in Budapest as a whole is much lower than in many Western European cities.
While easily one of the most walkable cities in Europe, Budapest also has an excellent transport network, which makes living without a car easy and stress-free. The metro is primarily a Pest operation, with two lines covering wide north-south and east-west arcs and a third, smaller line connecting the centre with the City Park (Városliget). Buda is dominated by a complex tram and bus system.
In terms of culture shock, expats can expect to hear the charming, if baffling, sound of Hungarian chatter throughout the city. English is increasingly spoken as well, though proficiency tends to be best closer to the city centre in the lower-numbered districts.
Life outside the city centre is starkly different from Budapest's bustling urban core, and is more like life in the countryside and in Hungary’s smaller cities. This means that, while it’s easy to get by with only English inside the Big Ring Road, expats who neglect to explore the fringes of the city will find themselves missing out on the nation’s more endearing and exciting cultural practices and idiosyncrasies.
Expats and English speakers currently flood the streets of Budapest and many services exist for them. Nevertheless, foreigners hoping to get the most out of Budapest will need to understand the city’s unique position as a Europe-in-miniature and appreciate all of the little quirks that go along with it.