Some people have been surprised about our choice of Romania for a long-term base. Surprisingly, most of them have been locals. They are pleasantly surprised we’re here exploring and even more shocked when they hear we’re planning on being here for a while. I’ve been tempted to try to start taking photos of people’s face when I tell them we’re considering being here for possibly a year or two. It’s kind of entertaining. Even our cabbie the other day was sure he wasn’t hearing correctly. I even had to say “months” in Romanian. He was still incredulous.
While I’m going to mostly address our decision to live here, especially in Brasov, I also want to highlight the reasons I think Romania should be on your European itinerary.
And the fact that it has four seasons wasn’t the main reason. (But it didn’t hurt!)
Part of the lure of having a long-term base is to be able to unpack our suitcases, travel more lightly when we take trips (aka leave the suitcases at home), develop friendships and become part of the community. When considering Europe as a base, most people, like me, are frightened off by Europe because of its high price tag. However, parts of Central and Eastern Europe are quite affordable, and in some cases are quite comparable with Latin America and Southeast Asia in terms of prices.
In most of the cities we have looked at, which have been mid to large size, it has been easy to find fully furnished 2-bedroom apartments and houses with equipped kitchens priced at or under 300€ (about $412 USD) per month. That was a big shock for me and a very welcome one! And these are nice places.
Utilities are quite reasonable. During winter, I’ve been told to expect to pay around $100 USD per month.
Many of the other affordable European countries have languages that are quite an achievement to learn. Bulgaria uses the Cyrillic alphabet, and Georgia has its own confusing one, which adds an additional layer of challenges to things.
While Romanian is a mixture of several languages, it is primarily based on Latin. Being fluent in Spanish and having some basics in some of the other romance languages means that I can understand a lot of the written, and some of the spoken, words. It is also reported to be a language that is easier for speakers of the romance languages to learn.
A lot of Romanians speak at least a little English, too, especially in the larger cities. So it has been easy to meet people and have actual conversations with them.
The rules for pronunciation are fairly simple which is quite helpful.
I was expecting pretty bland, simple fare when coming to Romania. While there are certainly some of those things, like covrigi, most of the food has been quite flavorful and hearty. I have been amazed at the quality and flavor of the produce here. I’ve had tomatoes and pears that actually elicited a moan of pleasure from me.
Hey, after 7 months in Asia and Oceania, it’s almost miraculous to have flavorful produce. Don’t judge me!
Transylvanian cuisine is even more savory than the typical Romanian fare.
Time and time again we’ve been surprised by the flavor from a generic-appearing cheese or dish.
Food costs are quite reasonable, especially for fresh foods. Fruit is often $2 or less per pound. Ten eggs cost about 15 cents USD. Fresh loaves of bread at a bakery run about $1.
I wanted a place where a car wasn’t required. Also, it was important to me that we could get around the country easily to explore without long bus rides (not a fan). I also wanted to be fairly close to an international airport so we could still travel.
Trains in Romania are extremely reasonable. Most cities have a very good public transportation system that is quite inexpensive. On the average, you will pay about 50 cents to ride the bus, tram, or trolley. A train between Brasov and Bucharest costs about $15 if you take the faster one. We recently took a rather long train to the western edge of the country, and it cost $50 total for both of us.
I can get around most of the city of Brasov by taxi for about $2-3 if I don’t want to take the bus for some reason. With the exception of the taxis parked at the train station, they will all automatically use their meters, too, which is something I really appreciate.
There are some really cheap train fares (39€ to Vienna) and airfares ($27 USD to Milan, Italy) from the Bucharest airport (OTP).
A lot of Europe falls within the Schengen Zone. For most of us that means we can only stay in the entire region for up to 90 days in a 180-day period, unless you get a long-term visa which may be rather complicated (and can require you to have thousands of dollars in the bank, which we don’t).
Romania is not a member of the Zone yet, and prospects aren’t good thanks to the current level of discrimination against the Roma (gypsy) community. Romania has a large population of Roma, and other Schengen countries have protested their admission because of that.
However, they are members of the European Union (EU).
Generally, visitors receive 90 days upon arrival. It is easily extendable, and Romania does not have the nightmare process for obtaining a long-stay visa that many other countries do. A long-term visa (temporary residency) in Romania, gives you freedom of movement within the EU. As most of the Schengen countries are also members of the EU, that can enable us to remain in other areas of Europe longer.
Safety and Comfort
Most of Europe is quite safe; however, Romania actually has one of the lowest crime rates, especially of violent crimes, in the Union. One of its cities (Cluj Napoca) was recently declared the friendliest city in Europe.
Romania is a developing country so it has some of the access and features of a developed nation while retaining some of the simplicity and attributes of a less-developed country. For me this means both modern comfort and charm.
I probably wouldn’t want to undergo a major procedure in Romania, but generally speaking there is good access to medical and dental care. My medications are quite inexpensive ($5 per month for my antihypertensive) and most do not require a physician’s order.
Because our education and income sources all involve working online, I need great access to fast broadband. I have been stunned at the level of available broadband in Romania! The speeds are absolutely incredible, and unlimited fast broadband costs about $10/month. We spent some time with another traveling family in Brasov. They are from Portland, Oregon, and he said he was getting speeds here that were much faster than what he had in the US.
As we’ve traveled around the country and stayed in apartments, guest houses, and studio apartment hotels, the free WiFi has consistently been outstanding.
There are some apps I like to use a lot on my phone, especially when exploring, so I generally like to have a data plan. I currently am using a 250-MB plan (which has been more than enough), and it costs 4€ per month prepaid. A postpaid plan might be even cheaper. I’ve made several phone calls and have done a fair amount of texting, and 1€ lasted me more than a month.
Brasov also has a free citywide WiFi program, and almost every cafe or restaurant offers free WiFi as well.
Not heavily touristed
I’m not a fan of places that gets tons of tourism. Romania is still very much “off the radar.” While that makes me happy in some ways, I think it’s a real shame because this country and its people are absolutely worth experiencing.
Romania seems to be stuck between two worlds, and it’s fascinating. There is the very modern side, but take a short ride out of the city and you feel like you’ve stepped into the past where carts being pulled by horses outnumber cars, and homes are still done in the “old way.”
While the country doesn’t have the level of customer service many Americans are used to, I have found the people to be quite warm, helpful, welcoming, and patient.
If you love the outdoors, this is a great place to visit. Brasov is at the base of a ski resort. Just a short distance away you find yourself in the Carpathian mountains with tons of hiking and other nature-loving pursuits.
Like the beach? You’re in luck! In addition to some lakes, the country also borders the Black Sea.
The culture has not really been changed by tourism, and sites are generally uncrowded.
After visiting several cities and towns, we selected this mid-size community as our home. It meets all our criteria except for having an international airport. However, Bucharest is about 2-1/2 hours away by train which still makes it a very reasonable base. The train station is a 15-minute bus ride from our home.
Brasov is a transportation hub, so we have lots of train and bus routes that are easily accessible.
There are 2 theaters (not cinema) and a philharmonic orchestra all within an easy walk of the historic center, where we live. I am attending the Philharmonic for a concert, and the ticket cost me $6.
The city is quite walkable, and there is work being done to make it more bike friendly.
It has a great relaxed vibe that we haven’t felt in other similar or larger-sized cities.
Most importantly, it feels like home. When we recently left to explore some other candidate cities, after being here for about 2 weeks, we felt sad to leave. When we decided to return, it felt like we were coming home.
Who knows, we might find another place that’s even better as we continue to travel. But for now, Romania is home, and we’re loving it. I would love to see more people coming to visit this wonderful country.