I Moved to a Foreign Country During the Pandemic

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At the beginning of 2020, I was going through a divorce, had just been furloughed at my job, and was navigating the “new normal” of a world undergoing a pandemic. Previously, travel had been a huge outlet for dealing with stress and issues in my life; it was so easy to hop on a plane and distract myself in a new city or country.

But between domestic quarantine restrictions, and the majority of international countries completely closed off to Americans, finding somewhere to go proved challenging.

Serbia became my (very unexpected) destination of choice. Still, I didn't think I would end up moving there.

I could point out Serbia on a map, but other than a surface-level understanding of the Bosnia-Kosovo conflicts — and that basketball was a very popular sport there — I didn’t know much about the country itself. But there was a direct flight from New York, and traveling to Belgrade didn’t require any negative PCR test results. Images from Belgrade, the country’s capital, showed people sitting in cafes, dancing and attending concerts, exploring nature, and more. Transmission rates were so low, they were almost nonexistent.

"I could point out Serbia on a map, but other than a surface-level understanding of the Bosnia-Kosovo conflicts, I didn’t know much about the country itself."

It was a reality I’d come to know for three and a half weeks. I spent half of my time in the Serbian countryside, with fresh air, mountains, canyons, and cows keeping me company. The other half was spent in Belgrade, walking along the Danube river, trying Serbian food at some of the city’s best restaurants, and mingling with locals, who were so open and friendly.

My outlook on life had been restored through the warmth and hospitality of the Serbian people. Some of them have since become my closest friends. They never hesitated to help me adjust to life in Serbia, and I felt incredibly safe — as safe as when I had traveled to Japan.

That’s when my mission became twofold. Moving back to Europe had been a long-standing dream of mine, ever since I had lived in Prague after college. My marriage and my career always stood in the way, but now that those were no longer a factor, I was hoping to invest in property abroad and begin my new life.

Cool Aunt in Europe

Belgrade’s proximity to my other favorite cities — and the rest of the world — was ideal. The cost of living was nearly four times less compared to my life in New York. I had nothing keeping me in America, it was time to completely move on. Belgrade seemed as good as any place to start over — so why not?

Twelve days later, I was sitting in the office of a Serbian notary, surrounded by other Serbian-language interpreters, real estate lawyers, witnesses, and the previous owner of my new home, as I signed a contract for a one-bedroom apartment located in Vračar, one of Belgrade’s premier neighborhoods.

"Belgrade seemed as good as any place to start over — so why not?"

The apartment was small — roughly about the size of my apartment in Brooklyn. The decor was a bit outdated, but most European apartments come furnished, and everything from the plumbing to the electricity to the appliances worked, so it was essentially turnkey.

I was with my ex-husband for 10 years, and within that time, we contemplated buying property, but never went through with it. He was set on staying in New York City, where prices were astronomical. The idea that I owned my new home, outright, with no mortgage or rent to worry about (I had paid in cash), was so surreal to me. At the end of the day, I was only responsible for utilities and a yearly tax of about $50 (yup, that’s right, $50).

Moving to Serbia was an incredible risk I’m so happy I had the courage to take. It finally feels like my life is settled, like my future is more certain. With the money I’m saving, I’m able to fully repay my student loans; I never thought I’d be a debt-free property owner before the age of 40. I am currently renovating my apartment to make it my own. If my life changes course, I can always rent it out or resell it. But honestly, I hope I become the “cool aunt with an apartment in Europe” someday.

Tags: Adventure, Courage, Empowerment, Personal Growth, Navigating the Pandemic, Overcoming Adversity

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

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