When I tell people in the UK that I’m living in Serbia, their reaction is usually fairly predictable. It ranges from the mystified “is that in Russia?” to the concerned “is there still a war on?” to the downright dismissive “my husband drove through there on the way back from Greece. He said it was awful”.
When I tell Serbs I am working here, they are often equally disgruntled. Like many countries in South and Central Europe, Serbia has a serious problem with unemployment. This has resulted in a brain drain of some of the country’s most ambitious young people, who are fed up with the clunky bureaucracy and nepotism that is rife in most of the country’s largest companies and go abroad to look for brighter opportunities elsewhere. This means the idea of a foreigner coming to Belgrade from the safe haven of Oxford University can take some getting used to. It just isn’t usually done.
People both at home and abroad find it hard to understand why I chose to forgo the higher wages available in the UK to live in a country whose international reputation has still not recovered from the turbulent events of the nineties. However, I am proud to call Belgrade my home, and I actively encourage people to challenge the stereotypes and see for themselves why I think it is a rewarding place to live and work.
It costs very little to start your own company in Serbia and expenses are low, meaning you can live well on a much lower wage than in USA, Germany, or the United Kingdom. This gives people room to experiment. iBikeBelgrade was founded by a Dutch entrepreneur who now leads a team of over 20 local and international employees who give lively bicycle tours around the city for tourists. Seven Bridges leads a collaborative approach to analysing biomedical data, accelerating breakthroughs in cancer treatments, drug development, and precision medicine. Want to know the where Top Eleven Football Manager was born? You guessed it – Belgrade, courtesy of the hugely successful Serbian startup, Nordeus.
Meanwhile, the company I work for, FishingBooker, is the world’s largest booking platform for fishing trips. Founded in Belgrade in 2013 and now with offices in North America and Asia, it gives visitors to its website the chance to browse through well over 2400 listings to book a fishing trip anywhere from the Florida Keys to Thailand. The startup scene is exploding in Serbia, and it is great to be part of it. And the best thing for expats is that not only do international startups provide employment for locals, they are also always on the lookout for international employees.
So, contrary to some expectations, fulfilling and rewarding jobs do exist in Serbia. But why do I recommend people come here to do them?
I first came to Serbia in 2013 to go to the award-winning music festival ‘EXIT’. Not knowing what to expect, I was amazed by the warmth and friendliness of the local people, even when faced with crowds of loud, drunk, foreign partygoers. Although I was here for just ten days, Serbia made a lasting impression on me as a country that thrives on music, fantastic food, and a relaxed atmosphere, all of which contrasts starkly to the ‘pariah state’ that became Serbia’s face in the international media from 1990 onwards.
I finally got the opportunity to come here for a longer period last year, when I worked as an intern for the country’s National Tourism Organisation. During the three months I worked there I didn’t only learn about the country’s gobsmacking cultural heritage (17 ancient Roman emperors were born in the current territory of Serbia, and there are classical remains spread across the whole country) and its untouched nature, but I also decided that I’m not in any rush to leave Belgrade.
- Belgrade’s nightlife is incredible. Belgrade isn’t known as the ‘new Berlin’ for nothing. With hundreds of ‘splavovi’ (floating bars and clubs) lining the Danube and the Sava rivers, the city is second to none for partying away the work week. Beyond the splavs, the areas of Savamala, Dorcol, and Vracar (to name but a few) are constantly surprising visitors and locals alike with the new and exciting bars and cafes that seem to pop up around street corners every week.
- You can go to a different festival every week in the summer. There is life beyond EXIT, Serbia’s most internationally-acclaimed festival. Other music festivals include the brass band bonanza of Guca and the chilled jazz of Nisville. Almost every town has its own culinary festival, with the show-stopping grilled meat festival at Leskovac being the most popular, and calorific, of them all. Which leads us on to the next point.
- The food is unforgettable. If you haven’t tasted ‘ajvar‘, you have only the slightest inkling of the heights that a simple spread can reach. I’m being serious. Unlike the country’s Eastern European cousins, Serbia has a varied (and delicious) cuisine that blends Greek, Turkish, and central European flavours.
- Expats are welcome. Tourism in Serbia has not yet grown to the point that locals are tired of newcomers snooping around their streets. Far from it – foreigners are warmly welcomed, and the majority of people who live here are delighted to see people appreciating the sights, smells, and tastes of a country that is only just beginning to come under the tourism radar. At the same time, the small expat community is tightly knit, and it offers support and very occasionally Cheddar cheese to those in need.
Not only am I living somewhere I love, I have landed a job in a company that I am proud to work for and that is tripling in size for the third year in a row. I am being challenged intellectually, growing my personal skills, and contributing to something that can really make a difference. You can’t ask for much more in life than that.
As luck would have it, if you happen to be searching for an exciting job in Belgrade, FishingBooker is always on the look out for new talent. Check them out: whether you are passionate about business development or creating quality content, they could have the perfect job for you.