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Moving to Hungary

Expats moving to Hungary will find that it is the perfect mix of Eastern and Western European cultures. Not only is Hungary one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting nearly 10 million tourists every year, but it is also a popular destination for expats employed in the booming private sector that sprung up after its transition to a market economy in the 1990s.

Some industries in Hungary have experienced a peak in foreign investment, including information technology, luxury vehicle production and renewable energy systems; smaller areas of foreign investment include the textile and food industries. High-end tourism is an ever-expanding industry in Hungary.

Hungary has well-developed road, rail and water traffic networks. Budapest has an easy-to-use metro system, including four lines covering most of the city. The Hungarian healthcare system has its ups and downs; while good quality public healthcare is available and participation in the government’s insurance scheme is compulsory, many expats choose to take out private insurance as well.

The official language of educational instruction in Hungary is Hungarian (Magyar). However, there are a number of international schools in Budapest that offer English-language education.

Hungary is a wonderful expat destination with a stable economy and a government intent on expansion and change, particularly when it comes to adopting European Union guidelines and requirements.

Hungary has a continental climate, with warm summers and chilly winters. While many expats may find the colder months of the year quite trying, the warmth of the Hungarian people definitely makes up for it. Hungary is home to some of Europe’s friendliest people, offering both abundant economic opportunities and a relaxed pace of life that appeals to expats seeking a balanced life abroad.

Essential Info for Hungary

Population: Nearly 10 million

Capital city: Budapest (also largest city)

Neighbouring countries: Hungary is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Romania to the east, Serbia to the south, and Croatia and Slovenia to the southwest.

Geography: Hungary is a land-locked country. The Danube and Tisza rivers are the major defining features of the country's geography, splitting it into three sections. The first of these is Dunántúl, which has a hilly terrain with some small mountains. The other two areas, Duna-Tisza köze and Tiszántúl, are characterised by the Great Hungarian Plain.

Political system: Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic

Major religion: Roman Catholicism

Main languages: Hungarian, also known as Magyar, is the official language in Hungary, with Romanian and German being co-official minority languages. English is also spoken by a small percentage of the country and business dealings are commonly done in English.

Money: The Hungarian Forint (HUF) is divided into 100 fillérs. Fillérs, however, are now out of circulation. There are plans to replace the forint with the euro in the future. To open a bank account, expats will most likely need to present a residence permit and address card, though some banks may allow accounts to be opened with a passport only. ATMs are easily accessible. 

Tipping: Tipping is customary in Hungary. Ten to 15 percent is usually appropriate.

Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 from late March to late October).

Electricity: 230 volts, 50 Hz. European style two-pin plugs are standard.

Internet domain: .hu

International dialling code: +36

Emergency numbers: 112 (general emergencies), 104 (ambulance), 105 (fire), 107 (police)

Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side in Hungary. There is a well-developed public transport system including a metro system in Budapest. Most parts of the country are easily accessible by car or public transport.

Weather in Hungary

Hungary's climate consists of four distinct seasons: beautiful, warm summers; bitterly cold winters; and mild springs and autumns.

Summers are quite warm and can occasionally be uncomfortable, but there are lots of ways to beat the heat. Temperatures can reach 28°C (82°F) or higher, with the occasional evening thunderstorm. Although land-locked Hungary is far from the ocean, there are many beautiful public baths and open-air swimming pools providing an ideal way to cool down. Lake Balaton and Mátra Hills are popular places to spend time in the summer for locals and visitors alike.

In summer, clothing with lightweight and breathable fabrics is recommended, although a light sweater or cover-up might be necessary in the evenings.

Winters are often extremely cold but thankfully short, particularly in Budapest. Winter lows usually hover between 0°C and -15°C (32°F and 5°F) but can easily drop lower, especially when the north-easterly wind known as the Bora sweeps through the country. The coldest months of the year are December and January.

Snowfall is common in winter and those who love the outdoors will enjoy the opportunity to ski, snowboard, sled, or just play around in the snow. However, expats should take care as even light snow can be whipped up into a vicious snowstorm, especially in the high-altitude, mountainous parts of the country.

In winter, expats should wrap up warmly with layers and thick coats, particularly if the weather is rainy or snowy.

The pleasantly mild weather in spring and autumn makes these seasons popular with visitors, and they are widely considered to be the best times of year to be in Hungary in terms of weather. There can, however, still be bouts of relatively chilly weather in either spring or autumn.

Weather in Hungary; the climate in Hungary is characterised by cold winters and moderate summers. 

Embassy Contacts for Hungary


Hungarian Embassies

  • Hungarian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 362 6730

  • Hungarian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7201 3440

  • Hungarian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 230 2717

  • Hungarian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6282 3226

  • Hungarian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 430 3030

  • Hungarian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 661 3092

  • Hungarian Consulate-General, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 260 3175


Foreign Embassies in Hungary

  • United States Embassy, Budapest: +36 1 475 4400

  • British Embassy, Budapest: +36 1 266 2888

  • Canadian Embassy, Budapest: +36 1 392 3360

  • Australian Embassy, Vienna: +43 1 506 740

  • South African Embassy, Budapest: +36 1 392 0999

  • Irish Embassy, Budapest: +36 1 301 4960

  • New Zealand Embassy, Germany: +49 30 206 210

Public Holidays in Hungary

 

2018

2019

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Anniversary of 1848 Uprising

15 March

15 March

Good Friday

30 March

19 April

Easter Sunday

1 April

21 April

Easter Monday

2 April

22 April

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Whit Monday

21 May

10 June

National Day (Feast of St Stephen)

20 August

20 August

Republic Day 

23 October

23 October

All Saints' Day

1 November

1 November

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

Boxing Day

26 December

26 December

Pros and Cons of Moving to Hungary

As more and more people make their way to one of the EU’s most popular destinations, many find it hard to weigh up the pros and cons of moving to Hungary.

Just like any other country, Hungary has its high points, its low points and its in-betweens. Here are some things to consider before making the big move. 


Cost of living in Hungary

+ PRO: Low cost of living

As one of the most affordable European countries to live in, Hungary has a low cost of living which makes it appealing to many.

- CON: Expensive VAT

In Hungary, VAT is higher than any other country in the EU at 27%.


Accommodation

+ PRO: Rent can be cheap

Compared to neighbouring countries, accommodation in Hungary is affordable. There are a variety of furnished and unfurnished options, with fantastic deals waiting to be discovered.

- CON: Utilities are expensive

Maintenance and utility fees, especially heat costs during winter, can be exceedingly expensive. 


Transport in Hungary

+ PRO: Getting around is easy

Transportation in Hungary is not only very reliable but also affordable – even gasoline for your own vehicle is inexpensive which makes travelling a breeze. 

- CON: The roads can be dangerous

Hungarians tend to drive very fast and pedestrians don’t usually have right of way when entering a pedestrian crossing. It is important to exercise extra caution on roads whether driving or being a pedestrian.


Travel from Hungary

+ PRO: Easy travel to neighbouring European countries 

Hungary's location in the centre of Europe makes it easy to travel to other European countries, especially neighbouring countries like Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, Romania and Croatia.


Doing business in Hungary

+ PRO: Businesses save on corporate taxes

Companies can enjoy low corporate tax of 10%.

- CON: Lots of paperwork

Sometimes getting official administrative paperwork done in Hungary can be a very bureaucratic process which poses many inconveniences.


Lifestyle in Hungary

+ PRO: Fantastic sightseeing opportunities

When it comes to tourist attractions Hungry is not at all shy, showcasing an abundance of places to see and things to do. There are plenty of opportunities for enriching cultural experiences, from viewing historical monuments dating back to Roman Empires to visiting renowned UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

- CON: Hungarians can come across as ill-tempered

Perhaps as a result of Hungary's troubled history, locals tend to focus on the negatives – for example, visitors have observed the locals to rather “pile on complaints” when asked “how are you”? Hungarians are also very straightforward and may not spare your feelings.

+ PRO: Exuberant night life and eateries

Budapest showcases some excellent nightlife and entertainment like a “night party on the Danube”, fantastic festivals, the State Opera House, spa parties in the Széchenyi during summer and rejuvenating thermal baths to soothe your mind and body, to name a few. There is a wide selection of local eateries as well as regular to high-end restaurants.

- CON: Language gap

Hungarian is a very difficult language to learn, and most of the signboards are printed in Hungarian. Many of the locals in the countryside and outside of Budapest only speak Hungarian or a different language and communication may prove to be an immense challenge in certain parts of the country. Foreigners are encouraged to try and become familiar with at least some of the common phrases in Hungarian that will assist day-to-day interaction with locals. 


Healthcare in Hungary

+ PRO: High quality care at a low cost

The healthcare systems in Hungary are on par with Western countries and afford quality medical care at less expensive rates compared to some other European countries.  

- CON: Few English-speaking staff

Some hospital staff do not speak English at all, however, medical insurance cover for assistance at hospitals who employ English speaking nurses and doctors as well which many expats opt for.


Education in Hungary

+ PRO: A variety of great international schools to choose from

There are many well-equipped international schools based in and around Budapest. Unlike most schools in Hungary, these international schools teach in English. By following British, American or International Baccalaureate curriculums, international schools provide children with an uninterrupted schooling experience.

- CON: Expensive private and international school fees

Although public schooling in Hungary is free and of a high-quality, expats are dissuaded both by classes being in Hungarian and by the highly traditional approaches to teaching often employed in public schools. Consequently, most expats enroll their children in expensive private or international schools. 

Safety in Hungary

Expats moving to Hungary need not be overly concerned about safety as the country has a relatively low crime rate. Nevertheless, instances of petty crime such as theft, pick-pocketing and tourist scams do occur, especially in large cities and tourist areas like Budapest.


General safety in Hungary

Expats in Hungary should take general precautions such as not travelling alone at night in unfamiliar areas and not leaving valuables unattended. Hungarians are friendly people that are generally welcoming of foreigners, but expats should nevertheless keep their wits about them and not be too trusting of strangers.


Scams in Hungary

New arrivals should be wary of scams such as being overcharged by taxis, restaurants and bars. Establishments that are involved in such activities are known to work with some taxi drivers, so expats should treat any recommendations from a cab driver with caution. To avoid complications, expats should make sure that the price of food and drinks is clear before ordering at any restaurant. 


Emergency numbers in Hungary

  • Ambulance: 104

  • Fire: 105

  • Police: 107

  • EU emergency help number: 112

Working in Hungary

The Hungarian economy has opened substantially since joining the European Union in 2004. Hungary made the transition from a socialist economy to a market economy in the early 1990s and is now a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The switch from a socialist to a market economy meant that many smaller companies were privatised and larger companies, such as Cora, IKEA and Tesco, opened offices in Hungary.


The job market in Hungary

Although Hungary's unemployment rate spiked after the global economic crisis, the country's economy has recovered well and the unemployment rate has not only stabilised but is steadily decreasing. It currently stands at 5 percent, having dropped by nearly 2 percent in the past year alone.

As the largest electronics producer in Central and Eastern Europe, Hungary has plenty to offer for expats in electronics manufacturing and research in particular. Other strong sectors in the country's economy include mining, technology, telecommunications and IT. There are also opportunities for young and inexperienced expats as English teachers.


Finding a job in Hungary

Expats looking for a job in Hungary will need to be thorough in their search and use as many different methods of job hunting as possible.

The Internet is a popular way to look for a job and expats will quickly find that there are many potential opportunities online. However, but expats should be wary of accepting a job offer before meeting their new employer in person. 

For expats already in Hungary, it might be fruitful to peruse the job sections of local newspapers. However, to understand these, expats will either need to know Hungarian or have someone to translate for them.

Ultimately, expats may find that Hungarian companies are reluctant to employ foreigners. This is mainly because of the amount of red tape involved. In this respect, expats from EU countries will have a better chance at finding a job in Hungary because EU citizenship automatically grants them the right to work.

If unable to find a Hungarian employer, expats may be able to find a job with multinational corporations based in their home country instead, and request to be transferred to Hungary.


Work culture in Hungary

Expats working in Hungary will find that their work environment is quite traditional, especially if working for a local company. Multinational companies, on the other hand, offer environments similar to those in America and Western Europe. The work week is generally 40 hours and annual leave usually amounts to 21 days.

A basic knowledge of Hungarian is helpful when negotiating salaries and can put job applicants a head above the rest when applying for jobs in Hungary. Expats working for multinational companies can expect to earn more than their Hungarian counterparts.

Doing Business in Hungary

Hungary occupies a strategic location in the heart of Europe. With an open and export-driven economy, the country is an attractive destination for international business. Expats doing business in Hungary will find themselves amongst a highly skilled and educated workforce, and amid a business culture that is quite Western in nature. 

As with most countries in the former Eastern Bloc, Hungary moved from a socialist economy to a market economy in the early 1990s. It has been a member of the EU since 2004. Hungary’s main industries include mining, construction materials, electronics, pharmaceuticals, textiles and motor vehicles. The capital, Budapest, is the commercial centre of Hungary, with many multinational companies having offices in the city including IBM, Pfizer, Ericsson and Microsoft. The city is also a central hub of innovation and research as the headquarters of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

It is relatively easy to do business in Hungary, as demonstrated by its ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2016. Hungary ranked 42nd out of 189 countries surveyed. It achieved the top spot for trading across borders and also did well in enforcing contracts (23rd) and getting credit (19th). 


Fast facts

Business hours

Business hours are usually between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday. It is not unusual for Hungarians to work overtime and not take a lunch break. Most Hungarians take holidays during the summer months of July and August, so it’s best to avoid scheduling important meetings during these months.

Business language

Hungarian is the official language. Although many of the younger generation have a good command of English and it is becoming increasingly popular in business circles, many of the older generation primarily speak Hungarian or German.

Dress

Hungarians take pride in their appearance and it’s important to dress appropriately. Formal business attire is the norm; men should wear a dark-coloured suit and tie, whereas a classic business suit is acceptable for women.

Gifts

Gift giving is not necessary in Hungarian business circles; however, if invited to a Hungarian associate’s house for a meal, then a small gift of chocolates or flowers is appropriate, but roses and lilies should be avoided. Gifts are generally opened immediately.

Gender equality

Although there are equal opportunities for women, the majority of senior management positions are still occupied by men.

Greetings

A firm handshake with direct eye contact is the acceptable greeting between Hungarian business associates. If greeting a woman, wait for her to extend her hand first. Otherwise, a nod of the head is acceptable. Hungarians address each other by their surnames first and then their first names, e.g. John Smith would be Smith John.


Business culture in Hungary

Hungary’s communist legacy means that bureaucracy still abounds in its business dealings. However, Western influences have become more prominent in business culture in Hungary in recent years, and expats should not struggle too much getting used to how things are done in this Central European country. 

Hungary is a largely homogenous nation with close to 98 percent of the population being Hungarian. The official language is Hungarian, or Magyar as it is known locally, although English and German are also both widely spoken. English is becoming increasingly popular in business circles and is now the unofficial language of business in Hungary. Although expats would do well to learn a few key phrases in Hungarian, it is a notoriously difficult language to learn.

Hungarians are generally very friendly and generous hosts and socialising is an important part of business relationships; face-to-face meetings are key. In line with this, Hungarians prefer direct communication and vague and ambiguous language should be avoided. Meetings frequently start with small talk, as Hungarians prefer to get to know their business partners. Business relationships are vital and a lot of time is taken to build a solid foundation.

Business structures in Hungary are hierarchical and status is important. Decisions are made from the top down and senior managers don't consult their subordinates before making a decision. Decision making can be a slow process, as Hungarians prefer to consider all aspects of a deal before taking any concrete action. Punctuality is incredibly important and cancelling meetings at the last minute is decidedly detrimental to any further business dealings with the company in question. 

Greetings take the form of a handshake, and if you find yourself in mixed company, allow women to initiate the greeting procedure. Hungary is a male-orientated country, particularly in the business world, but being female is not considered a disadvantage. Always address business people by their title and surname. Business cards are common, and Hungarians tend to list their surname first.


Dos and don’ts of business in Hungary

  • Do expect to socialise with Hungarian business associates. Hungarians enjoy getting to know business partners in a social setting before any business decisions are made in the boardroom.

  • Do address Hungarian business associates by their full title.

  • Don't be late for meetings, and avoid cancelling meetings at the last minute.

  • Do show respect to senior managers and older associates as hierarchy and status are important in Hungarian business circles.

  • Don't rush meetings and business negotiations. Hungarians prefer taking time to consider all aspects of a business deal before making an informed decision.

Visas for Hungary

All foreigners require a passport valid for at least three months to enter Hungary. Hungary is part of the Schengen area, and citizens of EU and EEA states don’t need a visa to enter the country; all they need is either their passport or European identity card.

Citizens of a select number of non-EU countries, including the USA, Switzerland, Canada, Australia and Brazil, do not need a visa, but those who do need a visa for Hungary have to apply for a Schengen visa.


Schengen visas for Hungary

To apply for a Schengen visa expats will need to gather the required documents, complete the visa application form and submit to the Hungarian consulate or embassy in their home country before they travel. Processing time can vary, so expats should make sure to submit the application well before their departure date.
 
If applying for a Schengen visa to travel to Hungary for business purposes, it is usually necessary for expats to include a letter of invitation from the Hungarian business party and a letter from their local employer stating their duties in Hungary.
 
In some cases, applicants may be asked to provide additional documents at the discretion of the Hungarian embassy or consulate. It's common for expats to be asked for proof of employment and proof of residence in their home country as an indicator that they will return home after their trip.
 
Once granted the Schengen visa, it is still best for expats to bring their documents with them on their trip; in some cases the border guards may request them.


Residence permits for Hungary

Foreigners intending to stay in the country for longer than 90 days need to secure a residence permit for Hungary. They should apply before entering the country; successful non-EU applicants will be granted a single-entry visa, valid for 30 days, to enter Hungary for the purposes of collecting their permit. The permit allows expats to apply for address registration and is renewable and valid for a year. Long-term resident status is granted after five years of continuous stay in an EU country for both EU and non-EU nationals alike.

For EU/EEA nationals and other nationalities that do not need a visa to enter Hungary, a residence permit can be applied for at the Office of Immigration and Nationality in Hungary after arrival. This should be done within the first 93 days of being in the country. Upon being issued with a Residence Permit, EU citizens will be given a Registration Card and an Address Card will be posted to them. The Registration Card is only valid if presented with the expat's Address Card and passport.
 
The documentation required to secure a residence permit is dependent on the purpose of stay in Hungary.
 
Once expats have a valid residence permit and card, they can apply for a tax card and a social security card. To work in Hungary, a valid work permit is required, in addition to the residence permit.

*Visa requirements can change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Work Permits for Hungary

Nationals of countries that are members of the European Economic Area (EEA) may work in other member states, like Hungary, with only a passport – so no visa or work permit is needed. European Union (EU) member states have the same privilege.

However, expats from countries who are not a member of these organisations are not as lucky and will have to go through the paperwork necessary to secure a work permit in Hungary.


Applying for a work permit in Hungary

The work permit application is submitted in cooperation with the employer, who must obtain permission from the Ministry of Labor to hire a foreigner. Permission is granted in the form of a labour agreement if the employer can prove that a suitable candidate could not be found from within the EU areas, EEA areas or Hungary.

The work permit application hinges on the labour agreement as well as a signed employment contract. Therefore, it is not possible to apply for a work permit in advance and then look for a job at a later stage. It should also be noted that if expats wish to work for a different employer, they will need to apply for a new work permit.

The Hungarian work permit is usually issued within 30 days of the application being submitted, but can take longer if the volume of applications is unusually high. The period of validity begins from when the visa is issued.

For non-EU and non-EEA nationals, a long-stay visa is needed in addition to a work permit.

* Visa requirements can change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Cost of Living in Hungary

The cost of living in Hungary is on a par with, or just below, that of other European countries. The capital, Budapest, achieved a relatively low rank of 176th out of 209 cities in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey for 2017. With a low rank indicating a low cost of living, this is good news for expats on a budget.

Another plus is that expats tend to earn higher salaries than their Hungarian counterparts, which affords them a better quality of life. However, as with anywhere, there are certain aspects of life that can be expensive and expats should adjust their budgets accordingly.


Cost of accommodation in Hungary

The primary expense facing expats in Hungary is accommodation. This is especially the case for those living in urban areas, such as Budapest.

Naturally, the cost of accommodation in Hungary will largely depend on the location, size and condition of the residence. However, it is not unheard of for residents of Budapest so spend more than half their monthly salary on the combined cost of rent, mandatory household maintenance fees and utilities.


Cost of food in Hungary

After accommodation, the next largest expense for most people in Hungary is food, which accounts for approximately a quarter of the average Hungarian resident’s monthly salary. Expats longing for a taste of home may well find something to satiate their cravings at a Hungarian supermarket but imported goods can be very expensive. Ideally, expats should buy only local goods as this can bring the final grocery bill down drastically, as can shopping for fresh produce at local markets.


Cost of eating out and entertainment in Hungary

There are many good restaurants in Hungary tailored to a variety of budgets, so the amount spent on eating out really depends on an expat's choice of restaurant. It's entirely possible to eat out on a small budget, though this will, of course, cost more than cooking at home. Meanwhile, there are also fine dining options for those looking to splash out – but most expats will only be able to afford to treat themselves to this kind of indulgence occasionally.

Remember that tipping is mandatory in Hungary and should be taken into account when budgeting to eat out.

Imported wine and beer is pricey but expats fond of a drink or two will be pleased to know that Hungarian wine and beer is of good quality and is much friendlier on the wallet.


Cost of transport in Hungary

Hungary's well-developed public transport system is not only convenient but also extremely affordable. For a very reasonable price, a monthly ticket can be purchased which provides access to an unlimited number of trips across trams, buses, boats and, in Budapest, the metro.


Cost of education in Hungary

Expats with children who are well-versed in Hungarian or young enough to learn the language as they go can benefit from the free public school system, which will eliminate a substantial expense. Those keener on international schooling for their young ones, however, will have to deal with the predictably high fees of international schools. In such a case, education can be one of the largest expenses for expats in Hungary.


Cost of healthcare in Hungary

Healthcare should not be too considerable an expense for expats in Hungary as anyone employed in the country can make use of its free or highly subsidised healthcare services. The quality of healthcare in Hungary is on par with most countries in Western Europe and it is even making a name for itself as a prominent medical tourism destination. Private healthcare in Hungary is of a high standard and is relatively cheap compared to that of western countries.


Cost of living in Hungary chart 

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Budapest for March 2018.

Accommodation 

One bedroom apartment in city centre 

HUF 120,130

One bedroom apartment outside of city centre 

HUF 87,700

Three bedroom apartment in city centre 

HUF 208,400

Three bedroom apartment outside of city centre 

HUF 146,000

Shopping

Dozen eggs

HUF 480

Milk (1 litre)

HUF 220

Rice (1 kg)

HUF 280

Loaf of white bread

HUF 180 

Chicken breasts (1kg)

HUF 1,300

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

HUF 1,190

Eating out

Big Mac meal

HUF 1,500

Coca Cola (330ml)

HUF 275

Cappuccino 

HUF 390

Bottle of beer (local)

HUF 400

Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant

HUF 4,000

Utilities/household (monthly)

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

HUF 30

Internet (Uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month) 

HUF 4,200

Basic utilities (Average per month for standard household)

HUF 47,640

Transportation

Taxi rate/km

HUF 280

Bus fare in the city centre 

HUF 350

Gasoline (per litre)

HUF 360

Culture Shock in Hungary

With its mix of Hungarian and European cultures, as well as a cosmopolitan feel in the big cities, expats will most likely experience little culture shock in Hungary. The key cultural differences that expats are bound to come across include the cuisine and language.

Hungary has a unique culture and history. The population is largely homogenous with Hungarians making up the majority. Of the minority groups, Roma and Germans are the largest. Christianity is the predominant religion but Hungary also has a significant Jewish population; Budapest is home to Europe’s largest synagogue. Hungarians are generally incredibly friendly people who enjoy socialising and sharing their country and culture with visitors.


Meeting and greeting in Hungary

Handshakes are a common way of greeting in Hungary. Eye contact is important in Hungary and should be maintained during handshakes; avoiding eye contact may be interpreted as being evasive or having something to hide. When greeting a woman, male expats should wait for her to initiate the handshake. Meanwhile, close friends may greet one another with a kiss on each cheek.


Language barrier in Hungary

Hungarian, or Magyar, is the official language in Hungary. It is spoken throughout the country and is the language on signs and notices. Although it may help to memorise a few key phrases, Hungarian is a notoriously difficult language to learn and expats will generally be forgiven for not being able to speak it.

English is also spoken in parts of Hungary, especially in large cities, such as Budapest, as well as popular tourist regions such as the Danube Bend and Lake Balaton. English is an important language of business in Hungary and, as such, expats working in Hungary should have no trouble communicating in a business setting.


Relationships and communication in Hungary

The Hungarian communication style is direct, and it’s not unusual for Hungarians to ask very personal questions and share very intimate details about their own lives. This may be something expats are not used to; however, it is in no way meant to offend, but is rather a part of getting to know one another.

Family is the centre of social structure in Hungary. Family members look after one another and it’s not uncommon for extended families to all live together. Women and elders are highly respected in Hungary.


Food in Hungary

Hungarian food is quite distinct and has very particular tastes. Hungarians are famous for their hearty meals, the most popular of which is goulash, a thick soup made with meat, vegetables and paprika. Some expats may find the use of paprika (not hot, just spicy) difficult to stomach; however, Western foods are available in supermarkets and restaurants, particularly in Budapest. Nonetheless, most expats will find that they take to Hungarian gastronomy quite quickly.

Coffee culture is incredibly popular in Budapest. Hungarians also enjoy drinking, and it goes without saying that beer is very popular. Hungarian wines have also gained prominence in recent years; something that Hungarians are quite proud of.


Folk culture and the arts in Hungary

From Roman ruins to Turkish baths and Gothic churches, Hungary’s architecture is a unique blend of the different nations that have occupied the country over the centuries. Budapest, sitting on either side of the Danube River, is often cited as the most beautiful city in Europe, and there is plenty in terms of arts and cultural activities to keep expats occupied.

Hungarians are immensely proud of their culture and the country has a rich folk tradition, with dancing, music and decorative arts, such as colourful embroideries and potteries, preserved in museums and kept alive in smaller towns and villages.

Accommodation in Hungary

Finding a new home can be one of the most stressful parts of relocating to a new country. Most expats heading to Hungary choose to live in the capital, Budapest.

Although accommodation in Hungary is typically much cheaper than in the rest of Europe, rental prices vary considerably throughout the country and even within cities, so it's worth spending time looking for a good deal.


Types of accommodation in Hungary

In Hungary, apartments are the norm in the inner city areas, while houses are more likely to be found in the suburbs or outlying rural areas.

Both furnished and unfurnished accommodation is available. Expats who intend to stay in the country permanently usually prefer to rent unfurnished accommodation so that they can invest in furnishing their home to their own taste. Meanwhile, expats staying on for a shorter term or uncertain amount of time often find that the convenience of furnished accommodation suits them.


Finding accommodation in Hungary

Because of the language barrier, it is often preferable to employ the services of a letting agent; however, expats should note that the fee charged by the agent will be the equivalent of at least one month's rent, possibly up to three.

If the budget doesn't quite stretch to this, listings of available rentals can be found online and in local Hungarian newspapers.


Renting property in Hungary

Rental agreements tend to be quite standard; tenants are expected to pay the first month's rent upfront, as well as a security deposit equal to two or three months of rent. The rent paid to the landlord does not include monthly fees for utilities and, in the case of apartment rentals, monthly levies. These are for the tenant's own expense.

Some landlords will be happy to go without a contract and simply agree on rental prices and conditions verbally. While it may sound appealing to skip the paperwork, expats should insist on a written contract as a verbal agreement won't stand up in court if something goes wrong. Rental contracts or tenancy agreements should be written in Hungarian and English, to suit both parties.

Healthcare in Hungary

The quality of medical care in Hungary is up to the standards of most Western countries. This, combined with the relatively low cost of medical treatment in Hungary, has made the country a burgeoning medical tourism destination.

Healthcare in Hungary is financed by the Health Insurance Fund (HIF), which allows access to a wide variety of treatments in public hospital. The HIF is funded by public contributions and money from the state. 


Public healthcare in Hungary

Although treatment is generally good, public healthcare services in Hungary still have their fair share of challenges. Public doctors are not well-paid, and many of the best doctors opt to work in the private sector instead.

This has led to the public sector becoming understaffed and overburdened. Waiting times for non-essential surgery can be long and it is not unheard of for doctors to supplement their low salaries by accepting under-the-table payments from patients in exchange for a better quality of medical care. 


Private healthcare in Hungary

Even though the HIF grants access to subsidised or free medical care and prescription medications, some expats still find that they prefer to have private health insurance and treatment. This allows access to private hospitals with shorter waiting times and usually more English-speaking staff than in public hospitals.

Hungary's combination of affordability and technical prowess in the private sector has led to its rise as a popular medical tourism destination. Dental and cosmetic surgery, rehabilitative practices, eye surgery and joint surgery are all popular.

Top private facilities include Aesthetica International Medical Centre for advanced cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, Hungary's First Med Centres (partnered with American Clinics International) for gynaecology and orthopaedics, the Buda Health Centre for spinal injuries and numerous low-cost dental surgery centres.


Pharmacies in Hungary

Hungary has a large pharmaceutical industry. As a result, medications are plentiful and the country has a high concentration of pharmacies. Pharmacies in the public sector provide subsidised prescription medication, so while patients must make a contribution, the fee is usually nominal.


Health insurance in Hungary

Expats who are working or studying in Hungary are covered under the HIF through mandatory contributions. Applying for a health insurance card, known as a Társadalomizosítási Azonosító Jet (TAJ) Card, at the local health authority in one’s residential area is relatively simple once a work permit is in order.

All foreigners, including tourists, are automatically covered for first aid and emergency treatment in Hungary.

Citizens from the EU and EEA are able to use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in Hungary. The card gives members access to free or subsidised medical treatment at state facilities in any of the EU-member states. Citizens of qualifying countries need to apply for the card in their home country, and it is available free of charge. Some countries do still charge EHIC holders for medical treatment, but the cardholder is reimbursed by either their host country or home country. 

The card does not give cardholders access to medical treatment for pre-existing conditions, but it does cover chronic conditions. Travelling to another country for the sole purpose of medical treatment (i.e. medical tourism) is also not covered by the EHIC. Therefore, private health insurance is a necessity for those coming into Hungary for medical tourism purposes. 


Emergency services in Hungary

Emergency services are generally good in Hungary - they usually arrive on the scene within 15 minutes of receiving a call. There will usually be someone who speaks English on staff at the main emergency call centre to handle calls, otherwise, expats can dial the EU emergency line on 112.


Emergency numbers:

  • Ambulance: 104

  • Police: 107

  • Fire department: 105

  • EU emergency line: 112

Education and Schools in Hungary

Hungary has a rich history of education, with some of its universities dating as far back as the 14th century.

Education in Hungary is generally of a high standard, although it frequently adopts a more traditional approach than that of other European countries. This is most evident in the increasing prominence of church-funded public schools, which incorporate religious elements into their curricula.

It is mandatory for children between the ages of five and 16 to attend some form of full-time education. There are a number of educational options available to expats living in Hungary with children; however, language barriers may end up being a deciding factor.

The school year in Hungary runs from September to August, with short breaks in autumn and at Easter and a slightly longer break over Christmas. The longest holiday in the school calendar is the summer holiday, which starts in mid-June and continues until the end of August.


Public schools in Hungary

Public schools in Hungary are free and attended by most of the population, although they can be inconsistent in terms of quality, accessibility and facilities. Public schools in Hungary’s rural areas are not usually as well-equipped as those in the country’s urban centres.

The official language of educational instruction in Hungary is Magyar (Hungarian), which tends to dissuade many expats from enrolling their children in the public education system. Some public schools do offer extra Hungarian language classes for foreigners, but this is at the school’s discretion and little further assistance can be expected.

Expats should note that many public schools in Hungary have looked to the Catholic Church for funding in recent years. This has inevitably altered the teaching approach of many of the schools, which may not be ideal for everyone.


Private schools in Hungary

There are a number of private schools in Hungary, many of which offer a unique teaching method and curriculum. These schools, which include the likes of Steiner Waldorf, Carl Rogers and Montessori, are free from government regulation, allowing for more specialised and modern learning approaches. Private schools can be quite expensive, and most are located in and around Budapest.


International schools in Hungary

Expats hoping to provide their children with an international education can look into Hungary’s numerous international schools. All located in and around Budapest, international schools in Hungary are generally of a high quality and boast comprehensive facilities. Curriculum options include the International Baccalaureate as well as the British or American curriculum. Other curricula are also on offer.

International schools in Hungary are bound to be the most expensive option for expats; however, they are taught in English, can provide continuity with children’s previous schooling and will allow for acquaintance with other expat families – for some families, this makes them the ideal choice.

Transport and Driving in Hungary

The public transport system in Hungary is comprehensive and expats will find it relatively easy and affordable to get around the country. Hungary's extensive transport system and stressful driving experiences mean that few expats buy cars. Most cities also have far-reaching bus and tram systems, whereas Budapest also has a metro system. Alternatively, bicycles are a popular means of getting around most cities, while taxis and select ride-sharing services allow expats even greater freedom of movement. 


Public transport in Hungary

Hungary has an extensive public transport system which is both efficient and affordable. Monthly passes covering all modes of transport are available for frequent commuters, which can be bought at all main transport hubs. Discounted rates are available for students and pensioners.

Trains

Budapest is the central hub for Hungary’s train network. All rail lines fan out from the city’s three railway stations, Keleti, Deli and Nguyati. Major cities in Hungary and other European cities are linked to Budapest by intercity and express train lines.

Metro

Budapest’s city centre has a metro system with four lines in operation. This includes the historically significant Line 1, continental Europe's oldest underground railway.

Buses

Hungary has a developed and comprehensive bus network spanning the entire country. Some bus routes reach further than the railway lines, making bus transport a viable means of getting around Hungary. Hungary’s bus network consists of both inner-city and intercity routes, including routes to other European cities. City-to-city tickets can be bought directly from the driver.

Taxis

Taxis offer a fast and reasonably cheap way of getting around Hungarian cities and towns. There are numerous operators and fares vary depending on the company and time of day. Expats should note that Hungarian taxi drivers are notorious for trying to rip off foreigners, so it’s important to ensure that the meter is turned on and running correctly. Otherwise, it is best to agree on the fare before embarking on a journey.

Rideshare Apps

Local legislature and an established public transport network have limited the expansion of rideshare services into Hungary. However, app-based transport services such as Fotaxi, City Taxi and Taxify flourish in Budapest, while City Taxi also operates in the cities of Eger, Debrecen, Székesfehérvár, Szombathely, Miskolc and Kaposvár. Ridesharing services are often preferred to taxi services as it gives expats more control over routes and service prices. 

Trams

A number of Hungarian cities have tram and trolley-bus lines, including Budapest, Debrecen, Szeged and Miskolc. Budapest is home to route 4/6, the busiest tram line in the world with trams arriving at 60- to 90-second intervals during peak time.


Driving in Hungary

Hungarian highways and urban roads are generally in a good condition and, due to the country’s small size, most domestic destinations can be reached within two to three hours. However, driving in Hungary can be a stressful experience because of erratic nature of Hungarian drivers who often ignore the rules of the road. Traffic is heavy in Budapest and other cities and parking can be a problem. With the country’s extensive public transport system and urban transport links, it may be unnecessary for expats living in Hungary to own a car.

EU citizens can drive in Hungary with their national driving licence. Non-EU nationals can drive in Hungary for a period of a year with an international driving licence and their national driving licence, after which time they need to apply for a Hungarian licence.

Cars in Hungary drive on the right-hand side of the road. The speed limit for cars is 50km/h in suburban areas and 130km/h on motorways. Hungary has a zero tolerance policy regarding drinking and driving, and road blocks and checks by the traffic police are common.

Tolled motorways connect cities and towns. Expats driving in Hungary need to have an e-vignette to use motorways. These can be purchased online and are valid immediately. Such e-vignettes are available for four-day, one-week, one-month or one-year periods.


Cycling in Hungary

Cycling is a popular pastime and mode of transport in Hungary, with the country's high volume of daily cyclists comparable to that of global cycling capitals like Amsterdam and Denmark. There are plenty of dedicated cycle paths as well as a widespread bicycle rental scheme, both of which make cycling an easy and convenient way to get around.


Walking in Hungary

Most parts of Hungary are relatively flat making it suitable for walking, but expats should take proper precautions when it comes to staying safe. Opportunistic crime does happen so pedestrians should be sure to stick to areas that are known to them and keep valuables well out of sight. Drivers in Hungary often behave erratically so extra caution should be taken when walking near traffic. 

Keeping in Touch in Hungary

Though far from home, expats will be glad to know that keeping in touch in Hungary is easy and convenient. There are many reliable and affordable ways of contacting family and friends, and anyone else from home should they need or want to talk to them.


Internet in Hungary

In the past, Internet in Hungary has been a bit on the pricey side; however, major Internet service providers like Magyar Telekom and UPC are having to contend with the low prices offered by newcomers to the industry, leading to an overall price drop.

Many service providers offer useful bundles of broadband Internet, cable television and landline telephone services. This often works out cheaper than purchasing each service separately. 


Mobile phones in Hungary

There are three mobile networks in Hungary: Telenor, T-mobile and Vodafone. Mobile reception is usually good in the city but is often patchy in rural areas, particularly when it comes to 3G and 4G mobile Internet.

Expats can choose between prepaid or postpaid plans. Although postpaid plans usually offer the most attractive packages, expats will need several documents to sign up. Typically, mobile companies require expat customers to present at least a passport, residence permit, address card and bank card.


Landline telephones in Hungary

The affordability and convenience of mobile phones has led to a decline in the popularity of landlines. Today, installing a landline is usually only necessary for Internet connection purposes or if a landline comes standard as part of a bundle of Internet, cable and telephone services.

Magyar Telekom and UPC are Hungary's major landline providers.

Some providers, such as BudgeTalk and Enternet, offer VoIP (Voice over IP) services which use an Internet connection to make phone calls. Both local and international calls using this service are charged at the same rate, making international calls much more affordable, which expats are sure to find useful. Expats should, however, note that a VoIP-capable telephone is needed to make use of this service. These can easily be purchased through VoIP service providers.


Postal services in Hungary

The national postal service is Magyar Posta. It is considered reliable but can be painfully slow, and international shipping services are extremely expensive.

While at the post office, expats can also pay bills or buy lottery tickets.

Expats have reported with amusement that post offices in Hungary often sell all sorts of interesting things, from fridge magnets and beaded necklaces to keyrings to stuffed animals.


English-language media in Hungary

Expats in search of English-language newspapers can pick up a copy of The Budapest Times once a week to get their fix of local news. Funzine, published once every two weeks, is targeted specifically at expats and is ideal for those wanting to explore Hungary's culture and entertainment scene. 

Magyar Televízió (MTV) is run by the state. It airs four channels and while expats may be lucky enough to catch the occasional news broadcast in English, all programming is usually in Hungarian. This network is not to be confused with MTV Hungary, the music channel owned by American network MTV Music Television.

Expats on the hunt for English television should consider purchasing satellite television, which often includes content from familiar channels and networks such as CNN, HBO and BBC.

Frequently Asked Questions about Hungary

Will I need a car?

Hungary has a great public transportation network that connects all areas of the country. While cars are convenient when travelling outside of the larger cities they are not absolutely necessary. In larger cities like Budapest, it is best to use public transportation as the quality of the roads is not always up to the standards Western Europeans and North Americans would be used to, and there is a fair amount of traffic congestion during peak hours.

How bad is the weather in winter?

Like most of Europe, Hungary can get quite cold during winter. However, most residents and Hungarians enjoy skiing and a whole range of winter sports during the cold season. There are also a number of spas and resorts with natural hot springs that residents in Hungary can enjoy all year round.

Is it easy to buy a house in Hungary?

The property market in Hungary has taken off in recent years and many investors from Western Europe have chosen to buy property in cities like Budapest. Buying property isn’t difficult but there are a number of steps that need to be followed. Expats looking to buy property need to put in an application for a permit to purchase. This takes about two to three months to be completed. Alternatively, they can establish a local company in order to purchase property without a permit. This will also allow expats to buy additional properties at a later stage, if they wish, and allows certain tax benefits. As part of the process of purchasing a house, expats will have to hire a Hungarian legal representative.

Will I have access to English language media?

The larger cities in Hungary have a wealth of English language newspapers and magazines for expats available at news kiosks around the city. Many of the larger hotels also stock well-known weekly and monthly international newspapers, such as the International Herald Tribune, the Guardian International, the Financial Times and the European version of the Wall Street Journal. In Budapest, some of the popular English resources include the monthly Budapest Panorama and the weekly Budapest Times which will keep a person up to date on what’s happening in and around the city. Online, expats can access Hungary Around The Clock and All Hungary Media Group for local news in English.

Will I need to learn to speak Hungarian?

Although it is possible to get by without speaking the language, it's recommended that expats learn at least basic Hungarian. Not only will this make daily life easier, but it's also an important way of bonding with the locals and assimilating into their culture. Also, most of the older generation, especially outside of the big cities, speak only Hungarian or German.

Is it expensive to live in Hungary?

Hungary's cost of living is relatively low in comparison with the rest of Europe. Healthcare and public schooling is available at little or no cost. However, expats should be prepared to spend a significant proportion of their income on accommodation, especially if living in Budapest and other large cities. Food expenses can also start to add up if expats buy imported goods – purchasing food from a local market instead will bring the cost down substantially.

Banking, Money and Taxes in Hungary

Expats should not experience much difficulty managing their money in Hungary, as the country offers all the financial amenities expected of a modern European state.


Money in Hungary

The official currency of Hungary is still the Hungarian Forint (HUF) rather than the Euro, even though Hungary has been a member of the EU since 2004. An official date for changing over to the Euro has yet to be set, although it is estimated the switch will happen at some point in the 2020s.

Historically, the forint was divided into 100 fillérs but fillérs are not in circulation anymore; today they are merely used as a quantity in accounting.

  • Coins: 5 HUF, 10 HUF, 20 HUF, 50 HUF, 100 HUF and 200 HUF.

  • Notes: 500 HUF, 1,000 HUF, 2,000 HUF, 5,000 HUF, 10,000 HUF and 20,000 HUF.


Banking in Hungary

Banking in Hungary is relatively simple and up to the standards that expats from other Western countries have become accustomed to. There are dozens of banks operating in Hungary, among them many foreign-owned banks.

Banking hours in Hungary are from 9am to 5pm from Monday to Thursday, and on Fridays banks tend to close early, usually at 3pm or 4pm. Most banks are closed on Saturdays.

Opening a bank account

When opening a bank account, expats will be asked whether they would like to open a Forint, Euro or US Dollar account; each account has its pros and cons and varying fee structures. Minimum deposit requirements are usually the equivalent of USD 100.

Expats opening a bank account in Hungary will need to bring their passports. An address card is also sometimes required and a letter from an employing company with proof of income is also helpful, but not essential. 

Internet banking is usually included with most bank accounts.

Credit cards and ATMs

ATMs are widely available in Hungary and debit and credit cards can be used in most large supermarkets and chain stores.

Expats wishing to have a debit card will need to make an initial deposit. While credit cards are available, it is notoriously difficult for a foreigner to obtain one from a Hungarian bank. For this reason, expats generally use credit cards from their home country or an international bank, rather than ones from Hungarian banks.


Taxes in Hungary

Expats working in Hungary whose only income is their salary are not required to file tax returns, as tax is deducted by their company on a monthly basis.

Foreign residents employed in Hungary are only required to pay tax on their income earned within Hungary. If expats stay in Hungary for more than 183 days of the year, they will be classified as a permanent resident of the country and be required to pay tax on their income earned in both Hungary and abroad.

As of 2016, Hungary has a flat tax rate of 15 percent. Expats working in Hungary should note that the country has double taxation agreements with a number of countries so that they don't pay tax in two countries. Expats are advised to check this with the tax office in their home country.

Expat Experiences in Hungary

When considering a move to a new city, there is nothing more useful than hearing real life stories and experiences from other expats who have lived there. We'd love to hear about your expat experiences. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Hungary and would like to share your story.

Gary Lukatch left America to start a new life in Hungary. Since then, having travelled to nearly 75 countries, he's become a man of the world. Find out why Gary said that "becoming an expat is the best move I ever made" by reading about his experience as an expat in Hungary.

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After selling their business, Colm FitzGerald and his wife left California to settle in Miskolc, Hungary. Colm, a Hungarian wine aficionado, enjoys the countryside and the many hiking trails available to him in Hungary. Read about his experience as an expat in Hungary.

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Starr Varga, an American social media expert living in Hungary, is the self-proclaimed 'Black Girl in Budapest'. A city connoisseur, Starr can be found walking through the romantic Budapest streets or brunching in corner cafés. Read about her life as an expat in Hungary

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Mary Murphy, an Irish woman living in Hungary, can be just as impulsive as she can be indecisive, but luckily for her, moving to Budapest was a matter settled by higher intervention. Find out what convinced her to take the plunge and read more about her expat life in Hungary.

Jake, an American expat living in Hungary, made his move abroad both to avoid the ruined US job market and to experience the wonders of the expat realm. Life in Hungary has allowed him to realise he has a propensity for both peanut butter and Mexican food, and perhaps more importantly, that this wide world is filled with the potential for countless discoveries. Read about his expat experience in Hungary.

Lauren McCawley's bubbly enthusiasm for her adopted land and the adventure it brings comes through loud and clear in her interview. She tells us: "I like media, biking (pedal, not motor), animals, and cooking, and I prefer trains and couches over planes and fancy hotels any day. I also love Budapest and I hope you find my experiences there helpful!"

Rory, a Canadian living in Budapest, was wooed by the city’s brilliant balancing act, a phenomenon that places equal emphasis on the post-communist kitsch and the capitalist West. He’s conquered most of Eastern Europe and the Balkans by train, and has now waded through the tedium of the work permit application process to put down roots in Hungary. Read about his take on expat life in Hungary.

Daniel Swartz is a long-term expat living in Hungary. He's an interesting man - a renaissance figure with a multitude of qualifications and abilities. He runs Treehugger Dan’s Positive Blog, covering environmental and social justice issues in Hungary like how to recycle here etc. He also blogs about theatre, concerts, travel, culture, wine, books, and other positive stories about his adoptive homeland. Get his take on expat life in Hungary.