Welcome to the Expat Interview Series! I’ve reached out to expats in different countries to hear why people might choose to move abroad, and how they do it. If you want to know more about moving to a particular country this is the place. Check out the archive of Expat Interviews for more!
I’m excited to share this interview with Amy from The Wayfarers Book about a place that might not even be on your travel list! Hopefully, this will change your mind…
Tell us about yourself
Hi, all, I’m Amy! I’m an English teacher from New York City, currently living and teaching in Ukraine. Travel has always been important to me, ever since I went on my first trip to Europe with my aunt when I was fourteen. But I studied film in college and was eventually faced with the dilemma of whether to move to LA to pursue film or find a way to live overseas.
Being from New York City, living in Los Angeles did not appeal to me at all. After doing some research into different English teaching certificates, I decided to get a CELTA. I had planned to get a job in Turkey after completing the course but ended up sticking around New York for another two years, teaching at a school in Times Square. In October 2015 I quit my job and started a nomadic life with my boyfriend at the time. Since then I’ve visited over fifteen countries and lived for a month or more in Singapore, Ukraine, Serbia, and Romania.
What made you decide to move to Kyiv?
To be honest, I was just tagging along! I had been traveling with my boyfriend at the time, living short-term where he had work. He got offered three months working in Kyiv, and I readily agreed, though I had no expectations of Ukraine. I arrived in late February (maybe not the best time, weather-wise, in Kyiv!) and by the time the three months were up I had fallen completely in love with the café culture, the warm people, and the overabundance of lilacs (the shift from winter to spring is quite dramatic!).
I had plans to travel over the summer, but when September rolled around I was back on a plane to teach in Kyiv.
Tell me about the cost of living in Ukraine
Ukraine is ridiculously affordable. People are often dubious when I compare it to Southeast Asia, but it’s not far off. An expensive cappuccino is less than 2 Euros, a ride on the metro is fifteen cents, Ubers around the city are generally less than 5 Euros, and a craft beer is 2-3 Euros. I once bought three bottles of wine for 9 Euros at the grocery store! Most of the time when I dine out, even at nice mid-range restaurants, my entrée is less than ten Euros. Movie tickets cost around 3 Euros, and you can find ballet and opera tickets for 10 Euros. Clothes can be a bit pricey, so I tend not to do much shopping here.
Most of the time when I dine out, even at nice mid-range restaurants, my entrée is less than ten Euros. Movie tickets cost around 3 Euros, and you can find ballet and opera tickets for 10 Euros. Clothes can be a bit pricey, so I tend not to do much shopping here.
I live in a one-room apartment with a separate kitchen. My rent is 270 Euros ($310) a month. Utilities can be high in the winter – and by high I mean maybe 40-50 Euros ($50-60).
This affordability means it’s easy for me to travel around Ukraine as well. Most of my weekend trips are less than $150 – for everything, train tickets, accommodation, and all the coffees I can drink.
I live very comfortably here in Ukraine, especially coming from New York City, but I am not saving a ton even though I’m getting paid a decent wage compared to the average salary. I’d say the biggest money saving tip here is not to fall into the trap of affordability – because prices are crazy cheap compared to the US, the UK, or Australia, you might find yourself indulging a little more than normal.
How did you find the job seeking process in Kyiv?
I arrived in Kyiv without a job, but with a CELTA and several years of teaching experience. I printed out several copies of my resume and made a list of English schools. I was extremely lucky – the first school I walked into needed a teacher, and I started working there the following week.
Do you need a visa to live in Ukraine?
Yes, to live and work in Ukraine you need a visa. However, unlike the rest of Europe, it isn’t too difficult for Americans to get visas to work in Ukraine. Ukraine is not (currently) part of the European Union, so as far as I understand Europeans have to go through the visa process too, putting us all on a relatively level playing field. Americans can visit Ukraine visa-free for 90 days.
What’s the social scene like? How easy is it to make friends?
Ukrainians can be a bit shy but are in general friendly and open to foreigners. They also love a good party! The restaurant and bar scene is positively sizzling (and here, they’re really into reservations). In the summer the weekends are packed with festivals and celebrations. This weekend alone, there’s a night bazaar, a craft beer fest, and celebrations for Kyiv’s birthday – and those are only the events I know about!
One thing I love about living in Ukraine is that the expat community is small. But that can be a downside, too. Most expats I’ve met here work with NGOs, the government, in IT, or are teachers. The turnover rate can be quite high, too, so my friend circle is constantly shifting.
What’s the best thing about living in Kyiv?
The best thing about living in Kyiv is the dynamic energy that runs like an undercurrent in the city. Ukraine is just twenty-five years old, and the nation is literally making its own history right now. There is the buzz of potential, an air of creativity, and pride of accomplishment throughout the city.
What’s the hardest thing about living in Ukraine?
I think the hardest thing about living abroad in general is the isolation from the local community. Even though the Ukrainians are very welcoming and helpful, even if they don’t speak English, my own lack of language skills really makes it difficult to get fully immersed in the culture. Many of my other expat friends speak Russian or Ukrainian fluently, and I’m jealous of the way they’re able to connect with Ukraine that I am not.
How is your new home different from your old one?
To be honest, with all the cute hipster coffee shops, sometimes I feel like I’m back in Brooklyn! The Cyrillic alphabet took a bit to get adjusted to, but once you get the hang of it, you can actually read a lot of signs.
As for culture, Ukraine is full of nuance and contradictions. Being a post-Soviet country, it’s still trying to reconcile Soviet mentality with European ideas. And while Kyiv is cosmopolitan and modern, if you travel just a few kilometers outside the city you’ll see pensioners working in their home gardens, ploughing the field with a donkey or by hand.
If we had just one day in Kyiv what should we not miss?
This is so tough – I’ve been here almost a year and my to-do list keeps growing! But if you only had one day in Kyiv, I’d suggest sticking to the center for sight-seeing. Check out Saint Michael’s and Saint Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walk around Maidan and up Heavenly Hundred Heroes Avenue to pay respects at the memorials for the citizens killed during the Maidan revolution. If you have time, you can go to Lavra Pecherska, one of the holiest Orthodox sites in this part of the world, or Mezhyhirya, former president Yanukovych’s opulent estate that’s been turned into a public park.
But to be honest most of my suggestions are focused around food! My favorite places for breakfast are Milk Bar and #AllTrueEast. Stop for coffee at Blue Cup or One Love. Dine on modern Ukrainian fare at Kanapa or Ostannya Barykada. And make sure you indulge in Kyiv’s speakeasy culture at Hendrick’s, Barman Dictat, or Paravoz!
Can you share your best local/insider tip about where you live?
Have I already mentioned the amazing cocktails?
If you could give one piece of advice to people looking to live in Ukraine what would it be?
Don’t be afraid of the cold winters! The gorgeous summers make up for it.
So, are you convinced?