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Straddling the Danube River, Budapest easily has one of the most beautiful settings in Europe and, combined with its wonderful architecture, greenery and breathtaking river views, the city is often touted as one of the prettiest on the continent. Expats moving to Budapest will find the city vibrant and modern while still maintaining an old-world charm.
Living in Budapest as an expat
Capital of Hungary, the city is bisected by the river, which formerly divided it into two distinct cities: Buda and Pest. Long since united, Buda and Pest are still opposites, both in look and feel: Buda on the western bank is hilly, residential and pretty, while Pest on the eastern bank is flatter, industrial and edgy.
The city has successfully shed its socialist past and nowadays attracts tourists and expats in their droves with a cosmopolitan spirit and exciting business opportunities. 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, and it generates significant tourism. Alongside the exquisite architecture and UNESCO world heritage sites, Budapest offers residents a range of things to see and do, including world-class shopping opportunities and some of the best nightlife in Europe.
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.
Cost of living in Budapest
While the cost of living in Budapest is one of the most affordable in Europe, allowing expats to enjoy a high quality of life, salaries in Hungary are notoriously low. Consequently, those accustomed to higher wages might need to budget carefully, with accommodation likely being the heaviest expenditure in their monthly budget. Budapest was ranked as the 161st most expensive city out of 227 cities globally in the 2023 Mercer Cost of Living Survey – compared to Warsaw in Poland and Sofia in Bulgaria, ranked 170th and 168th respectively.
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. While housing in Budapest is largely affordable, utilities will set expats back a fair bit, especially during the cold winter months.
Families and children in Budapest
Budapest is a wonderful city to raise a family in, as the family structure is integral to Hungarian society. Expat parents whose children are not proficient in Hungarian will need to budget for the exorbitant costs of private or international schools in Budapest. While public schools in Hungary are free to attend, most expats find this cost worth it. International schools provide students with continuity in their studies by offering global curricula such as the International Baccalaureate or the British or American curricula.
Healthcare in Budapest is also excellent and comes at a fraction of the cost of what expats may expect in other European countries or in the US. Expat parents also needn't worry about activities to keep their tots and older children entertained during their leisure, as there is always something new to explore in Budapest.
Climate in Budapest
The weather in Budapest is largely continental, but can also be unpredictable. Winters in the city are freezing, while summers are quite hot with occasional light showers. November brings the highest levels of rainfall, and autumn is slightly cooler.
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 the little quirks that go along with it.