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An Expat's Guide to Living in Budapest

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Are you considering making Budapest your new home? You're not the only one! After I moved to Budapest to teach English in 2017, I quickly fell in love with the city and never left! However, I know that establishing your life in a new country can be exhilarating and confusing at the same time, so I'm here to make things a little easier for you.

In this Budapest expat guide, I'll take you through some essential aspects of living in Budapest, from public transportation to the best neighborhoods to live in, to how to connect with fellow expats.

Let's dive in and get you situated!

What is the Cost of Living in Budapest?

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Budapest has gotten a reputation for being cheaper than other major European cities. Prices have risen considerably over the past decade, putting some living costs on par with other nearby capitals, but overall, it's still one of the more affordable cities in the area.

Did you know that, while it is part of the EU, Hungary's currency is the Forint? As of November, 2023, 1 Euro = ~370 HUF.

Let's take a look at some average costs of living in Budapest:

  • 1-bedroom apartment in the city center: 250,000 HUF (~$720)
  • 1-bedroom apartment outside of the city center: 200,000 HUF (~$575)
  • Monthly public transportation pass: 9500 HUF (~$27)
  • Glass of wine: 1200 HUF (~$3.50)
  • Meal out at a mid-range restaurant (appetizer, main, and wine): 4500 HUF (~$13)

What is Budapest Famous For?

If you're considering moving to Budapest or are new to town, you'll probably want to know how you can entertain yourself. Certainly one of the best places to live in Hungary, you'll have plenty to see and do while living here. What activities can you enjoy that are unique to Budapest?

Thermal baths: Hungary's capital city is actually nicknamed the "City of Baths" thanks to its many thermal springs. You're spoiled for choice if you're craving a spa day, but some of the most famous baths are Széchenyi, Rudás, and Gellért.

River cruises: The Danube River provides some particularly beautiful views of Budapest's most iconic monuments (such as Buda Castle, Parliament, and the Fisherman's Bastion) without walking back and forth! Tip--go at sunset! Watching the city light up at dusk is truly stunning.

Ruin bars: Started after Hungary emerged from its Communist era, these eclectic bars have become a hub for vibrant nightlife--you haven't visited Budapest until you've paid a visit to Szimpla Kert!

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Best Neighborhoods to Live in Budapest

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Thankfully, violent crime isn't something you really have to worry about while living in Budapest, although be on guard against petty theft when in central tourist areas (I always feel safe to walk home, even at night). The choice of the best neighborhood for you will depend on your preferences and priorities.

Here are a few neighborhoods most expats often find appealing.

District V (Belváros-Lipótváros)

Located in the heart of the city, this district offers a mix of historic architecture, vibrant streets, and the convenience of central living. Stretching along the Pest riverside, the 5th district holds landmarks such as the Parliament, the Shoes on the Danube monument, and St. Stephen's Basilica.

The 5th is lovely because it has a lot of wide boulevards, leafy parks, and grandiose buildings. However, the pricing of apartments reflects this.

District VII (Erzsébetváros)

Known for its lively nightlife and the historic Jewish Quarter, this district is a favorite among students and young professionals. You can be within a stone's throw of Budapest's most famous ruin bars and clubs, such as Szimpla Kert and Fogas Haz.

Since the area is so popular with tourists, it's chock full of cafe and restaurant options and has one of the highest concentrations of late-night spots in the city. However, this can also be a downside, as it remains noisy and crowded late into the night.

This district also runs up against City Park (Városliget), a huge green space that contains the Budapest Zoo, Heroes Square, Széchenyi Thermal Baths, and Vajdahunyad Castle (whose lake turns into a skating rink in the winter).

District XIII (Angyalföld)

Angyalföld is a more residential area along the Danube, offering tranquility while remaining well-connected to the city center. This is a great place to live if you prioritize peacefulness over partying. It's many schools and St. Stephen's Park make it a popular place for families with young children.

Poszonyi Street is a leafy walking street that's full of bars and cafes that will keep you busy all afternoon long.

District II (Rózsadomb)

If you prefer a quieter, upscale neighborhood with green spaces, this area in the Buda hills is an excellent choice. The Buda side is known for its peacefulness and solitude, so if you enjoy the quiet, want to be close to more international schools, and have more of a flexible budget, this could be the place for you.

How to Rent an Apartment in Budapest

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As in any big city, flat hunting can be exciting and heartbreaking all at the same time. Here are some steps to get you started.

1. Start Your Search Online

Budapest offers a wide range of housing options, from historic apartments in the city center to modern flats in the suburbs. The first step in your apartment search is to explore the numerous websites and online platforms dedicated to rental listings.

Try apps/websites such as Ingatlan.com or Otthon Centrum. There are also several Facebook groups dedicated to flat rentals in Budapest.

2. Beware of Scams

While there are many legitimate listings available, Budapest, like anywhere else, has its fair share of rental scams. To protect yourself from potential scams, be sure to never wire money in advance, verify the landlord's identity, and visit the property in person before making any financial commitments.

3. Check the Lease Agreement

Review the lease agreement carefully. Make sure you understand all the terms and conditions, including rent, security deposit, and any additional costs (and how much notice your landlord should give you before just "dropping by"). If you have the budget for it, feel free to hire someone to translate the contract for you.

And most importantly, make sure your landlord will provide a rental contract! Some landlords try to avoid this so that they can pay less in taxes. However, as an immigrant or expat, a lease contract is essential for visa paperwork.

A Guide to Public Transportation in Budapest

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Coming from a small town with only one bus myself, I was overjoyed to find out how well-connected Budapest public transport is! It's known for its reliability, affordability, and ease of use, which can significantly simplify your daily life as an expat. 

Different Transportation Methods in Budapest:

Budapest itself is pretty walkable but there are plenty of transport options to help you get around speedily, such as:

  • Bus (the most common transport option in Budapest)
  • Tram (the yellow "caterpillars" that run around the city)
  • Trolley (look for the red, electric trolleybuses)
  • HÉV Suburban Railway (it's likely you won't use this very much if you live within city limits)
  • Metro (there are four lines!)

The Cost of Public Transportation in Budapest

The cost of using public transportation in Budapest is lower than in a lot of other European cities. As of November 2023, a single ticket costs 450 HUF (~$1.30 USD) and a monthly pass costs 9500 HUF (~$26 USD). If taking public transport will be a common part of your day-to-day life, then buying a monthly pass makes the most sense.

You can buy paper tickets or passes at the purple kiosks near most transport stations, or you can use the BudapestGo app. You must validate your ticket to avoid a hefty penalty fee. If you use the app, you can scan a QR code. If you're using a single ticket, you can stamp or punch it before the metro or on the bus/tram. Monthly passes don't need to be stamped, only shown to ticket inspectors. They are valid from the time of purchase.

The Historic Budapest Metro 1 Line

Here's a little fun fact to keep in mind! The Budapest Metro 1 Line is an iconic piece of Budapest's transportation history (and it has some of the prettiest metro stations in the city). It was the first underground metro line in continental Europe (preceded only by the London Underground Tube in 1863).

This metro line is not just a practical means of transportation but also a significant cultural and historical landmark, and takes you straight from the city center all the way to the famous monument of Heroes Square!

Alternative Transport Options in Budapest

If you have a driver's license, then you can make use of pay-as-you-go car services such as MolLimo or ShareNow. If you prefer open-air transportation, you can rent pay-as-you-ride bikes through MolBubi, or the similar scooter service, Lime.

Renting a car is also an easy option but best for weekend trips instead of a long-term solution.

Where to Meet Expats in Budapest

Part of settling into a new country is building your new network. Meeting fellow expats can be a great way to build connections, find support, and explore your new surroundings together. But where's the best place to start?

Budapest has a thriving expat community, and there are various ways to connect with expats living here. Consider joining social media groups or forums for expats in Budapest. Popular websites like Meetup, InterNations, and ExpatLoop Hungary regularly share relevant news and organize events and gatherings.

There are also some bars that regularly draw expats and open-minded travelers or digital nomads. If you hang out long enough, you're bound to strike up a conversation and become introduced to the expat community!

Be sure to try:

Where to Take Hungarian Lessons in Budapest

Photo by Emma Fabbri on Unsplash

I won't lie--Hungarian is a difficult language (it consistently ranks as one of the hardest languages in the world!), and thanks to tourism, many people in Budapest speak at least basic English.

But one of the best ways to integrate into your new home is to learn the language (not to mention it can be super helpful in daily life if you run into someone who doesn't speak English). Get a head start on language learning before you move to Budapest by downloading the Mondly app.

If you want to work at the language barrier, here are a few schools across different districts:

Visas to Live in Hungary

One of the most common ways to move to Hungary is by teaching English or teaching at one of the many international schools. This is exactly what I did back in 2017 and it paved the way for me to live and work legally in the country. Many others move here due to a job transfer while working with an international company. If you're moving here thanks to work, your job should take care of the visa for you. You'll just need to submit the documents they ask for.

It's even possible to earn some money while working as a party promoter in Budapest. While this isn't a likely option to gain a visa, if you already can legally live and work here (say you're from the European Union), then what better way to pass a summer living in Budapest than this?

If you're not able or willing to work in-person while living in Budapest, Hungary is one of the European countries offering a remote worker visa. That means, it's possible to work online while living in Budapest through Hungary's White Card.

Day Trips from Budapest

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Budapest's central location in Europe makes it an excellent base for exploring. Once you get settled into your new hometown, you can start planning on how you’ll explore the surrounding areas Hungary is known for its picturesque countryside and historic towns.

Some popular day trip destinations include:

  • Esztergom: Hungary's first capital is well known for its magnificent basilica overlooking the Danube River.
  • Szentendre: A charming artists' town known for its Mediterranean atmosphere, this colorful medieval town lets you wander its winding streets.
  • Visegrád: A trip to this town in the Hungarian countryside lets you discover a medieval castle, breathtaking views of the Danube Bend, and thrilling outdoor activities.
  • Lake Balaton (Varies): Hungary's largest lake is a popular summer destination for swimming, wine tasting, and relaxation. The North Shore is known for a peaceful atmosphere and vineyards, while the South Shore is known for its party towns and family-friendly shallow shore.
  • Eger: Explore this historical town, known for its wine culture, Turkish baths, and the iconic Eger Castle. This is a great city to visit if you want to try the famous Bikavér, "bull's blood", Hungarian red wine.
  • Vienna: As Budapest was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, you’ll see a lot of similarities between the two cities’ architecture, but Vienna has an upscale feel all of its own. Spend the day hopping between renowned museums (my favorite is the Belvedere), strolling in castle gardens, or dining on some of the finest schnitzel you could ask for.

Will You Move to Budapest?

If you're planning on moving abroad to Budapest long term, I'm so excited for you! There are many expats who have come before you and made this amazing city home. I hope that you take the chance to enjoy the beautiful architecture, riverside views, and overall Budapest vibe, and that this expat guide helps smooth your transition! Have fun!

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