Moving to Budapest
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What to know if you're moving to Budapest
Have you ever given a move to Budapest a thought? The Hungarian metropolis is the up-and-coming expat hot spot in Eastern Europe. Start a new life in this historic city with our help. We have information on the most important districts, visa applications, and public transportation.
All about Hungary
Relocating to Budapest
- In 1872, the three separate towns of Buda, Pest, and Óbuda were united to form Budapest.
- There are 23 districts in total in Budapest.
- Many countries have signed Visa Waiver Agreements with Hungary.
- You will need a work and residence permit if you plan to move to Budapest for a long period of time.
- Public transport in Budapest is efficient and preferable to driving on the hectic roads.
Budapest, located in Northern Hungary, is still a rather underestimated expat destination. Yet, more and more foreigners discover that moving to Budapest is an excellent choice for their assignment abroad. The beautiful, historic center and the reasonable cost of living are just some of the reasons why expats choose to settle down in the Hungarian Capital.
The city belongs to the administrative county of Pest and is comprised of 23 districts. It is built by the Danube River, which divides Budapest into the hilly left-bank Buda and the plain right-bank Pest, lending the city its name. Three islands in the Danube also belong to the city. Budapest is not only famous for its rich history, but also for the remarkable cave system beneath the city. In addition, moving to Budapest lets you enjoy a number of thermal springs which are said to have healing effects.
While traces dating back to the Old Stone Age have been found on both sides of the Danube, the building of a Roman fort instigated the city’s development in earnest; in the second century BC, Budapest really began to thrive. When the Huns invaded Europe, they proceeded to move to Budapest and establish their settlement there. They were the first but not the only peoples to storm the Hungarian towns in the area. In the 1200s, the Mongols followed their lead, taking over (the then still separated) Buda and Pest. Throughout history, the city and its inhabitants had to face attacks by the Huns, the Mongols, the Turks, and, during World War II, the Soviets.
Still, the city flourished. In 1872, the three separate towns of Buda, Pest, and Óbuda were united. With about 150,000 inhabitants, it quickly became Hungary’s capital, inaugurating the country’s golden age. During the World Wars, Budapest was heavily damaged and suffered under Soviet rule for many decades. In the 1960s and 70s, the city began renovations and it soon became a major tourist destination.
A Brief Guide to Budapest’s Many Districts
Moving to Budapest will confront you with a variety of different neighborhoods and districts from which to choose your new home. Buda is comprised of six districts, while Pest has 16 all-in-all. (The 21st district, Csepel, is an island in the Danube River and belongs neither to Buda, nor to Pest). Most expats choose to move to the Buda side, as it is quieter and more residential, with plenty of green spaces. With 23 districts, Budapest has too many to talk about individually so here is a summary of just a few.
District 2: Pesthidegkút
Moving to Budapest’s District Two will take you to an area referred to as the capital’s ‘Beverly Hill’s’. The former German village is home to the rich and famous. This particularly applies to Roszadomb, or Rose Hill, the most upscale and expensive neighborhood in the district.
The district’s main attraction for expats moving to Budapest, however, is that it is quiet, clean, and has a mild climate. The castle is not far away, and many public schools and the city center lie in close proximity as well.
District 11: Újbuda
Újbuda, also known as New Buda, is in the city’s south-west. This part of town is home to various hot springs and spa hotels. It is overlooked by the Turkish fortress, situated on top of the hill. Although New Buda is home to many students, it does not lack the upscale housing options expats moving to Budapest might be looking for. Sashegy and Sasad are the preferred residential neighborhoods in the district, but they are also farther away from the city proper.
District 12 and District 14: Buda Hills and Zuglo
Moving to Budapest’s District Twelve takes you west of the Danube to a very green place known as Hegyyidék. Naturally, the neighborhood, also referred to as Buda Hills, gives you not only peace and serenity but also offers a beautiful view of Budapest. The highest point is St. John Hill (Janoshegy) at more than 520m above sea level.
While Zuglo is the preferred home of many expat families moving to Budapest, it is not that far from Pest’s urban hustle and bustle. Unlike many of the areas mentioned above, Zuglo is not too expensive and is a great choice for expats who move to Budapest on a budget. It is a very historic part of Budapest, with various major buildings dating back as far as the 13th century. Today, Zuglo is known for its zoological and botanical garden and for the Városliget city park.
District 13 and District 5: Downtown and Belváros
District 13, containing Újlipótváros and Angyalföld, is a clean and safe neighborhood, despite its downtown location in Pest. It has a few nice parks, shops, and cafés. Currently, a lot of new development is taking place in the district, increasing the residential space and local quality of living. Moving to Budapest’s District Thirteen will take you to a middle-class area that’s very affordable for expats with a smaller paycheck.
Belváros is considered the heart of the city. It is right on the Danube. Moving to Budapest’s District Five is a great choice for young, single expats who don’t want to miss out on the city’s nightlife. Many hotels are located here which makes it something of a tourist magnet. In terms of accommodation, it is quite inconsistent. While there are many fancy, expensive apartments for rent or sale, some are also cheap, yet may be rather run-down.
Visa Requirements for Budapest
Visa Waiver Agreements
Hungary has signed visa waiver agreements with various countries that allow citizens of these nations to travel to Budapest without a visa. If this applies to you, all you need to enter the country is a valid passport. Most member states of the EU/EEA as well as various other countries are part of these agreements, such as Argentina, the Bahamas, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Africa, Singapore, Turkey, Tunisia, Venezuela, and many more.
If you are originally from outside of Europe, please make sure to check with the nearest Hungarian consulate or embassy to find out if you require a visa to travel to Budapest or if there are any restrictions you should know of. Please keep in mind that, even if you hail from one of the countries with a visa waiver agreement, you are only allowed to stay in Budapest without a visa for a limited amount of time as a visitor or tourist. If you wish to live and work in Budapest for a longer period of time, you need a work visa and a residence permit.
Work and Residence Permit
Prior to 2014, expats moving to Hungary from outside of the EU had to apply for a work permit and residence visa separately. However, recent legislation has merged these two processes into a single procedure. The application is now filed to the Immigration authorities at your closest Hungarian Embassy. They will then submit it to the Labor Center for authorization. Once the application is validated by the Labor Center, it refers back to the Immigration office who decides if the residency requirements have been met and will decide if the joint permit will be issued. Officials state that this process should take up to 21 days.
Comparatively, the new process is more disadvantageous to employer and employee alike. While in the old system, employees with a work permit (issued before arrival) could work for their company for up to ninety days without having to wait until a residence permit was issued, employees must now secure the joint permit before arrival in Hungary. Moreover, in the old system, it was the employer’s prerogative to collect the relevant information and submit it to the Labor Center, while now employees must gather this information from the employer and submit it themselves. Application forms can be downloaded from the Office of Immigration and Nationality. To complete your application you will need the following:
- signed and completed application form
- a passport which is valid for at least three months after your intended departure date
- two passport sized photos, no more than six months old
- the residence handling fee of 60 EUR
- a copy of the employment contract or a letter of intent from the prospective employer
- proof of professional qualifications and education
- confirmation of accommodation
- travel insurance for at least the first thirty days of your stay
- proof of financial ability to live in Hungary
Getting Around Budapest
An Abundance of Choices: Arriving by Plane
You can reach Budapest easily by plane from various destinations around the world, with the airport serving as an important connection point to other European towns and cities for travelers. For these connections, many people choose, what are called in Hungarian, the wooden bench airlines, including discount carriers such as Air Berlin, EasyJet, SkyEurope, and Wizzair. They provide you with a cheap way of travelling around Europe.
However, it makes sense to shop around. Prices vary considerably between the different airlines. Please keep in mind that, while connections to other European countries are abundant, there are no scheduled domestic flights within Hungary.
The Airport and Airlines
Budapest has one major airport, about 20km from the city center, serving both European and international airlines. Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (commonly known as Ferihegy) has three terminals, one for ‘discount airlines’, one for flights arriving from and departing to other Schengen countries, and one for non-Schengen and non-European airlines. Whether you are visiting the city for the first time, moving there for good or just want to get away to explore other European countries, chances are that you will have to go through Ferihegy International Airport.
Although there are no domestic flights in the country, Hungary used to have a national airline, Malév Hungarian Airlines, which offered connections to more than 50 cities in 34 countries. In 2012, the airline was declared insolvent and had to terminate all services. A new national airline, Sólyom Hungarian Airlines,was founded in 2013 but as of March 2016, was facing economic problems, meaning it still does not offer any flights. Luckily, there are a lot of other airlines to choose from, including British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, Ryanair and many more.
An airport minibus service takes you from all three terminals directly to different hotels and hostels in the city center. Unfortunately, the vehicles make a lot of stops, making it a rather time-consuming way of getting to the airport. The same applies to the airport bus, which leaves from a stop marked “BKV Plusz Reptér Busz” between terminals 2A and 2B, with an information desk in arrivals, and travels all the way to Kobánya-Kispest metro station. If you are running late, a taxi might be the better choice.
Hassle-Free Travel with Bus, Tram, and Taxi
The best way to explore Budapest is probably by bus, tram, or taxi, although the city center can also be easily explored on foot. An extensive bus system that extends throughout greater Budapest lets you reach all corners of the city. If you’re on a time crunch, pay special attention to the color of the numbers on the bus. Buses with red number signs are express buses that skip a few stops. In addition to the regular buses, there are night buses which take you home safely. Or you can, of course, also take the tram, which is a little bit faster, a more convenient way to get a first impression of the city and a great means to go sightseeing. Just remember that to use the public transport, you must purchase tickets at newsstands or ticket windows before your journey and validate them as soon as you board.
With the excellent public transportation system, you will hardly need to fall back on taxis to get around. When you do though, you will find that taking a taxi in Budapest is much cheaper than in other European countries. If you choose a reliable provider, that is. No-name taxis and those with removable headlights are private providers, a.k.a. some guy with a car who will, most likely, rip you off. Look for a yellow license plate, an identification badge displayed on the dashboard, a logo on the side doors, and a table of the fares to recognize a reputable taxi company. Keep in mind that even among the trustworthy taxi firms, fares may vary considerably. In any case, it is cheaper to book your taxi ahead of time, as is customary in Budapest, instead of flagging it down on the street. The most popular taxi companies in Budapest include Buda, City, Fö, Rádió, and Tele 5.
Be Prepared: Driving in Budapest
Driving in Budapest, while absolutely possible of course, is not exactly fun. Unless you are experienced with heavy traffic, jammed roads, and a parking situation that borders on the ridiculous, think twice before getting in your car. The public transportation system offers a much cheaper, safer, and more convenient way of getting around.
If you can’t do without your own four wheels, please remember that your foreign driving license is valid for one year from the date of your arrival. After that time, you will need to secure a Hungarian license. Also, remember to get third-party liability insurance for your vehicle, as it is compulsory in Hungary. If your car is registered in the EU, you will not have to show proof of insurance when you cross the border. However, other motorists will be checked more thoroughly.