Arriving in a new city is always a daunting experience, and figuring out the practicalities of living in a foreign country is a headache in itself. Here’s our primer on how to get settled in the Hungarian capital with everything you need to know about sorting out visa paperwork, opening a bank account, getting a mobile phone, finding a job and renting an apartment.
Getting residency in Hungary, even as an EU citizen, is a challenge because of all the paperwork and things to organise. Non-EU citizens that can enter Hungary as a tourist for a certain period of time need to apply for a residence permit at the immigration office before that time period elapses, and anyone who needs a visa to enter Hungary may not apply for a residence permit at the immigration office unless they can provide a written deposition to the immigration authorities explaining why they should not return to their home country to make the application (such applications are rarely accepted). EU citizens must receive a registration card if they'd like to reside in Hungary. Anyone looking to settle down in Hungary will need to prove they have an income or the ability to earn a living to get the permits. Together with the address card ("lakcímkártya"), which is sent out to your address by post once you've got the registration card if you're a citizen of the EU/EEA, these papers serve as sufficient documentation to apply to live in the country, and you can then also apply for a tax card and get registered on the social security system.
So how do you go about getting the relevant papers? EU Citizens can get the residence card by going to the Immigration Office in the XI District (60 Budafoki Street) with the application form, proof of employment or that you have enough money to support yourself during your stay, and proof of accommodation (eg a rental contract) in addition to your passport of course, and a European Health Card. There is a processing fee for all applications.
It’s a little more complicated for non-EU citizens, for your application to be considered you’ll also need to take a recent passport photo and a proof of health insurance to the same place, along with the above documents required for EU citizens. You'll need to fill out a specific form for your case. If you're confused about which form to fill out, this website offers a nice questionnaire that helps assess which form you need to fill out.
If you’re a student, you’ll also need proof of your university or course admission. For a comprehensive guide to student immigration requirements, CEU has a detailed and digestible checklist for student cases. For more information and the forms you’ll need for the application, see the official website for the Office of Immigration and Nationality.
Often citizens of countries outside the EU often do not require a special visa to enter Hungary (although you should always check this before setting off), but if you are planning on staying more than the allowed period (usually 3 months under a tourist visa) you will need a visa or permit to stay. It's always best to apply for the correct visa before arriving in Hungary, otherwise you might have to leave the country to get the right visa in order to apply for the residence permit. You can find more on visa information here.
For complete assistance with these procedures, it can be well worthwhile to hire a Hungary-based professional relocation service like Inter Relocation, even just for consultation services.
Before looking for a job, it’s important to know whether you’ll need to be permitted to work or not. If you are an EU citizen or you’re married to a Hungarian, it’s not necessary. Non-EU members have a longer and more complicated procedure. You’ll need to have a job offer, but there is a catch, since the company you’re going to work for will most probably need to advertise your job position for 15 days to allow Hungarians the chance to apply for it. This process is a part of a larger application you would make for a work-based combined residence permit. You’ll also need suitable proof of your education or professional training, officially translated into Hungarian for the application. This combined permit application with the purpose of employment needs to be applied for in your home-country consulate (or current country of legal residence), or at the immigration authority in Hungary, if you’re already here and don’t need a visa to enter the country. For this application you will then need the contract, passport and two portrait photos, proof of accommodation, proof of living funds and health insurance, and an application form found here.
Now that’s out of the way, how does one find a job in Budapest? Most job listings will unfortunately be in Hungarian, but you can always find places advertising in English. Expat sites like Xpatloop have job classifieds for English speakers, and in the era of social media, Facebook is also a useful source, where you even have a group dedicated to Jobs in Budapest, not to mention most expat communities on Facebook advertise positions.
If you want to do things the old fashioned way, then try employment exchanges or online job sites like cv-online.hu or profession.hu/en.
The job application process is pretty much like what you’d do back home, so it’ll be pretty straightforward. Remember, contacts are a great way to find a job, so try to find some networking events in your industry or expat events to try to meet new people in your field.
It’s inevitable you’ll need to find an apartment on moving to Budapest, and sometimes it feels a little tricky to find the right place at the right price. One good rule of thumb is that if anything is advertised in euros, it could be too expensive and geared at tourists or foreigners who aren't yet familiar with prices. Flats advertised in English on Facebook sometimes charge “western rates”, and what seems like a bargain might actually be expensive once you get a Hungarian salary. Although having said that, if you look carefully, you can often find a room to rent or a furnished apartment by posting your needs in these groups. Try this one or this one for example. Another place to look is on Ingatlan.com, where there's an English language option as well. You’ll find that a lot of places come furnished - good for expats relocating from the other side of the world.
It’s a good idea to photograph the property when you move in, in case there are any damage disputes should you leave, and get a landlord who will give you a rental contract – you’ll be able to get the address card with this, and you’ll need the proof of accommodation for immigration anyway. Deposit fees are usually one or two months rent.
If you’re here on a short-term basis, it’s easy to get free medical attention for emergencies, especially if you have a European Health Card, but if you're staying in Hungary for a longer period, it’s worth exploring your medical-care options. Many expats prefer to go private and sign up to a private clinic or plan like First Med or Swiss Clinic. This does make life easier where language barriers are concerned, as most private clinics in Budapest have English-speaking doctors. However, all legal residents who are actively employed by a Hungary-based company are considered insured and are issued with a national insurance card ("TAJ kártya"), and their account will be valid based on the social security contributions the employer makes to the state on the employee’s behalf. You can either apply for this yourself at the National Health Insurance customer service department on Váci Street 73/a in the XIII District, or you can ask your workplace to see if they can sort out the paperwork for you. Applying in person, you need to bring an ID or passport.
On the public system, once you have the TAJ card you can see a doctor, although you’ll have to find a clinic in your district. Have a look in the Arany Oldalok ("Yellow Pages") or you can ask your embassy for a list of doctors who speak your language.
For most people opening a bank account in Hungary should be pretty straightforward once you’ve got all of your immigration paperwork done, although some banks might allow you to open an account with just your passport. Choosing a bank can be a big commitment, so it’s worth looking around to find a bank where they speak your language, have the best rates and so on. Also, if you have money in euros or dollars, you can also open a foreign currency account.
For those from other EU countries there are now capped roaming rates within the EU, so if you'd like to use your European mobile in Hungary this applies. But although many places have free Wi-Fi, it can still be more economical and easier to get a local number and the net on your phone if you're going to be in Hungary a while.
There are two routes you can take with getting a mobile phone in Hungary. You can either go for a pre-paid phone or a subscription. There are three main mobile phone operators: Vodafone, Telenor and T-Mobile. If you simply want a pay-as-you go SIM card, all you need is some form of ID (a passport will do) and an address. Contracts will require your ID or passport with the address card and a recent utility bill. Contract deals usually come with a new phone.
Now you’ve got through all the paperwork and hassle of moving to a new country, it’s time to make some friends. There are plenty of expat clubs and hangouts where you can feel less lonely in a new city.
The best way is to find something you love, be it a hobby, sport, interest or activity, and to look for a place where like-minded people hang out. Check out the numerous Budapest based expat and foreign student Facebook groups, these include Hungary Expats and Expats and International Students in Hungary.
Now you’re ready to enjoy a new life in one of Europe’s most exciting cities!