Friday, December 10, 2004

More FAQs Moving to Hungary

Hi guys, Could you recommend districts of Pest we might look to rent a furnished flat our first year and buy in the next year? At this point in time, I would recommend Dists. 5, 6, 7 (parts of), or 13. There are good and fair points about each district, but I would live in any of these on the Pest side. I do not know any of the districts on the Buda side, since we would not consider living there. One thing to keep in mind is that the trams stop at midnight, the subways at 11:00 pm and if you go to a late movie, you want to be able to catch a night bus to get home again. Some taxis are cheap, but if you are living on a budget, why waste the money? We are trying to work with HungarInvest at the moment. I sent them a snippy e-mail about their needing to learn how to work with foreigners if they want our investment dollars. I will report back on our satisfaction level. We are planning on buying our flat, but need to do some comparative shopping. We personally think that the older buildings have much more character than the new ones do. It adds to the cultural experience of it all. We love our flat. Like the States, they start high and you work them down. Our rent here is $500. a month, so it is to our advantage to buy it. Would it be safe to assume that we will not be able to rent for only 6 months? However, if we are not yet residents will we be able to rent for a year either? You most certainly should be able to rent for six months. It may not be the apt. of your dreams, but for six months, who cares? For a six month rental, you should probably think in terms of a much smaller apt. for two reasons. 1. The rent will be cheaper. 2. It will accustom you to living in smaller quarters. Large apts. do not rent well here. Ours was vacant for 6 months before we took it and the prior tenant was the owner's daughter. Apts. over 70 square meters are not rented by Hungarians. They cannot afford to rent/run a larger apt. If you buy a larger one, you will be dependent on ex-pats to rent to and this could be a financial risk. Unless a large apt. can be renovated into two apts. where one can be rented out, they do not sell fast either. Our apt. cannot be broken down to two since both bathrooms are next to each other. We don't intend to rent it out or to sell it for the near future, so it is not a concern for us. We have 3 bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths, a walk in pantry, huge living room and quite a large eat in kitchen, with a good size entry hallway. We rent out our large spare bedroom to Fulbrighters that need a night to a weeks lodging for 20 euros a night and we provide breakfast. Some day, Jean will include us on his web site for accommodations, but the summer is his busiest time. I have been editing the English of his site, but he does not have the time to make changes until the Fall. The lease laws have nothing to do with the Visa laws. They will give you a lease for 5 years if you want, but whether or not you can actually stay in the country is your problem. They will have all of your passport details to make sure that they collect from you eventually. Be careful of the agents that you use. All utilities go in the apt. owners name, not the tenant. When we first came, we rented off the Internet for fast service. The agent screwed us royally on the utilities and way overcharged us. When we asked to see bills, we were told that they were combined with other apts. that they managed and separating them and translating them was more than they were willing to do. When we moved, we found our utilities dropped considerably. Within your apt., you are responsible for repairs. The building itself is handled by the “homeowners assoc.” You can always have an apt. inspected like you would in the States to see if there are problems before buying. Having lived here in this apt. for over a year, we have a sense of what is what. Of course, one never knows either. One other thing to think about with buying. We just found out that most flats/apts. are sold unfurnished. What we did not realize was that also meant they also rip out the ceiling fixtures, the refrigerator, the stove, and anything else they like including the kitchen cupboards. It is not like the States, were you have to leave whatever is attached as a fixture. So, you need to consider furnishing a place too from top to bottom. Do you think that $1,000 is enough for basic monthly expenses if we own a flat. If you own your flat, it should be fine, but you have to consider the fluctuating exchange rates. When we first came it was 280 HUF to the dollar and everything seemed like we were paying with play money. Now it is 230 and we are more cautious about it. The opera depends on where need/want to sit. You can get seats for $3.00 if you are not prone to nosebleeds or you can spring for $20.00 seats. It does depend on the performance and the company too. Some are a little higher, but not all that much. Theater – Last year, we bought season tickets to the Merlin, the English speaking theater. The season ticket was $36.00 and include 6 performances with one bonus for a total of seven. The theater is small and it is first come, first to grab a seat theater. We have been pleased with most of the plays. “Stones In My Pocket” and “Two Blind Mice” were especially good. Movies – The highest priced one so far has been 1,000 HUF (about $4.00) depending on the exchange rate. There are cheaper ones, but they usually run the same English movie again and again or you have to wait weeks for it to arrive there. There is an English video store, you need to buy a VCR here since it is the PAL system. The VCRs here will play American videos as well as PAL, but not vice versa. There are usually tons of musical things that are free or under $5.00. You may not be able to see all that you want due to the cost, but there is plenty of free stuff to take advantage of. All other plays “CATS”, “Phantom”, “My Fair Lady”, etc are only in Hungarian. By the way, the opera house and the Merlin are closed during the summer due to no air conditioning. Being from 'the sunny South', we always have to ask about air conditioning. We monitor the temperatures in Budapest and it seems like it would be tolerable in the summers...warm days but cooler nights. July and August are by far the hottest months. It is not unheard of for the temp to be in the 90’s. Last year, we thought we were going to die and we came from Central CA where 105 is usual from June to September. It is the humidity, here which makes it unbearable. We have had a relatively lovely summer this year, but we still have had days that have approached close to 100 and the nights have not been cool. Yesterday was a scorcher. Now, I have to take a pause to stop laughing about the air conditioning. Okay, I am being snide, but WHAT AIR CONDITIONING???? The malls are not air conditioned, most of the movie theaters are not a/c’ed. Though interesting, the movies in the mall are. They were not last year. Have you been here in the summer? If you stayed at a place with a/c, unless it was a 5 star hotel, I would be shocked. The only places with a/c that we have been to are the embassy, 5 star hotels, and the theater in the mall. There are some casinos that advertise it, but we have never been. Window units are few and far between due to the very large windows. It would be hard to place a window unit in most of them. The a/c units that one of our friends have is a small unit, but they had to cut a hole over his kitchen door to install it to the outside. His electric bill skyrocketed. For the number of days that you really, really need it, we get by with a couple of fans. Pest has more traffic than Buda, but we have not had any problems with the air quality. It is far better many U.S. cities that I have been to, but since I have only been in the Atlanta airport, I cannot compare. If you have been to Athens, it is pure air here in comparison. As hot as it gets, I still drag my ass to the thermals on Tuesdays. What part of the year is considered the coldest? I would venture that January and February are the coldest. It was still cold in March, but all of the Hungarians said that this was strange since March it usually starting to be Spring-like. I was still wearing my winter coat into the middle of March and changed to a lighter coat around second part of March. I still needed a jacket until May, but it was not glove weather. The thermal makes you warm inside on the coldest day. Could we ask for the name of your Israeli friend's insurance company in the UK? I will have to call her for this, but that means at least an hour on the phone, so I will get back to you with this. Sounds like being Directors of a Corporation is an imperative. Does this corporation have to be profitable? Does it require taxation, reporting, other oversight by government? We have an idea for what our 'corporation' might be but it would not be a full time concern. Would that be a problem? Just like the States, you are given a few years to make a profit. The bad part is that by Hungarian law, you must have an accountant. This can turn into a hefty fee. Most that we talked to wanted the equivalent of $75.00 to $150.00 a month for services. They know that they have you over a barrel, so they can charge a high fee. Although, you may not have any business activity, your accountant still has to file monthly forms on your behalf, quarterly reports, and do your income tax. All of this is legally required. Yes, you have to pay taxes, but you can have write-offs similar to the States. It does not need to be full-time. When we started our company, we were shocked and horrified to find out that just because we owned the company, not only did we have to get Work Permits to work for ourselves, but we also had to compete with Hungarians for our own jobs. As part of the Work Permit process, we had to send a job description to the local employment office where it had to be posted for I think it was two weeks, before we were cleared for the jobs. I had forgotten about this piece until now. The employment office could have sent us a potential employee for our company even if they did not have the same qualifications that we did. We sweated those two weeks. In line with this, you have to produce all ORIGINAL diplomas, certificates, etc. that you want to be used to qualify you for your “company” job. They will not accept photocopies or transcripts, which is what we had with us. I had to fax all of our universities and get duplicated done since all of our originals were in storage. It was a nightmare. They also wanted one for every degree I received, which made it worse and very expensive getting the duplicates. They then have to be translated into Hungarian by a government authorized agency and notarized. Only lawyers here can be notaries. Since I am only at three pages, here is some info you have not asked for. There are low cost airlines moving into Budapest. Right now, there is Germanwings (one word) and is an offshoot of Lufthansa and Snowflake, an offshoot of SAS the Scandinavian airlines. Germanwings only flies from Budapest to Cologne at this time, but from Cologne, you can go many other places. These are similar to Southwest. If we had booked when we talked about it, we could have gotten a r/t ticket to Cologne for 19 euros or to Copenhagen for 49 euros. We waited to discuss it more and the flights sold out. We are however, leaving for Cologne tomorrow for 5 days on Germanwings. The cost was $145.00 r/t each. Still not bad, but could have been better. Ryanair and Easyjet are looking at Budapest, but I heard that Ryanair is going to start service out of Debrecen, Hungary in a few months. Debrecen is a three hour train ride from Budapest. Okay, I ran into page four and need to get some things done for a very early flight tomorrow. We will be back on the 29th, so mull over your answers, think of more questions and I will answer them when we return. Regards, Ryan

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