Moving from the US to Brasov, Romania: What Was It Like

Back in June 2015, I received an e-mail from one of this blog’s readers, Kevin. Kevin told me that he was planning to move from the US to Brasov, Romania and retire here.

He had a few questions about the entire process, but we ended up talking a lot about his plans to move to Romania, we shared stories and advice and… well… I was sure it wasn’t really going to happen.

I mean, he wasn’t the first (or last) person to contact me about moving to Romania or even Brasov… but in the end most people don’t do it. Well, with Kevin, things were different.

He was confident that a move from the US to Romania is what he and his family needed, and he actually did it. A bit of a leap of faith, I would say, as he decided to move here without ever visiting the country.

(He did spend countless hours exploring the city on Google Street view and he actually knew more about Brasov than I did!)

Long story short – he made the move from the US to Brasov. He chose this city because he and his family loved the colder weather (which I found funny, as they were living in Miami).

At the moment of writing this article, they are still living their Romanian dream in Brasov, after all these years. They managed to do it without major headaches and I was happy to play a small role in the entire process.

And this is their story – a story of an US family moving to Romania and how they did it, as well as how they feel about it now.

Americans moving to Romania

The biggest challenge – and also the biggest risk in my opinion – was that neither Kevin, nor his wife Katie or son Brandon had ever visited Romania before.

They did watch a lot of Romanian TV, read books about Romania, explored every street of the cities they were interested in with Google Maps / Street View and watched hours of YouTube videos about the country.

But they had never actually set foot here, so I was a bit worried. I would never recommend choosing a new place to live in without actually being there and getting to feel the place and breathe the air.

But in their case, it seems that they really knew what they were doing.

They wanted to jump head first into this, were confident that they knew all the Pros and Cons about living in Romania and they were sure they were going to love Brasov.

The main square in Brasov, Piata Sfatului
The main square in Brasov, Piata Sfatului

Preparing for the actual move also was, according to them, easier than anticipated: there are indeed a ton of things that you need to take into account, a lot of paperwork is required and unexpected things will always pop up.

But they took their time and did everything thoroughly, planning everything as well as possible before arriving and making sure that there are no loose ends.

The family has a fourth member – the Labrador Precious – and bringing her into Romania seemed to be the most difficult part, as not all airplanes handle larger dogs, there is extra paperwork that needs to be done, vaccines and such… but in the end they made it work – so those traveling with pets shouldn’t be too worried about leaving their friends behind.

They sold their house and most of their belongings, hopped into the plane and half a day later I was getting a short text: “We’re here!”

Meeting Kevin and his family, then going to Brasov

I first met Kevin and Brandon at the Bucharest train station: we were coming there to help them a bit with their new life as personal translators and partial guides (I say “partial” because I don’t really know Brasov – Kevin proved that Google Street View is an amazing tool and he actually knew the place way better than I did!).

They had only been in Romania for a few hours, and they decided to surprise us by waiting at the train station – they stayed at one of the best hotels near the Bucharest train station!

It was impossible to miss them: Kevin was the only person in the area wearing shorts and a t-shirt (he was that excited to be in Romania that he didn’t feel the relatively low temperatures we get in December), while Brandon was, in my opinion, the classic US college student: long blond hair, the constitution of an (American) football player, wearing his favorite team’s cap…

It was obvious to me and everybody else that they were the Americans in Gara de Nord. But nobody but me knew that they were soon going to become Romanians!

The American and the Romanian family enjoying dinner in Brasov
The American and the Romanian family enjoying dinner in Brasov in 2015

We got to know them better during the short train ride to Brasov: their family is absolutely amazing and I think that we managed to bond instantly.

They are all great, amazing people and I can only be happy to see that such amazing people decided to make Romania their home. And, best of all, they seemed to like the city and were not having second thoughts about the move.

We spent 5 nights in Brasov with them and I was really happy to see that they loved the city, but also the people there and the fact that nobody was lying when talking about the prices: everything’s cheaper than in the US, according to them.

Apparently, you can’t buy a bread in the US for 14 cents. Apparently, all food is a lot cheaper. And everything else. Restaurants? Twice as cheap. The food? Mostly delicious.

I was really happy to notice that Romania was not failing them – and I am sure they had the same opinion!

The traditional soup-in-bread is touristy priced at $2.70. Still cheaper than many other countries out there.
The traditional soup-in-bread is touristy priced at $2.70. Still cheaper than many other countries out there.

Renting their house in Brasov, Romania

The most important thing on their agenda was to find a place to live in Brasov. This meant finding a place to rent.

They had already booked an AirBnb rental that they loved – and the owner even made them an offer to move there permanently for 500 Euros per month (we’re talking about a two bedroom house with a small yard included), but they chose to see other places before making a decision.

Plus, the one they were in was a bit smaller and not in the best possible location – up a steep hill.

I always said and will keep saying that housing is extremely cheap in Romania, even though a bit more expensive in larger cities.

Brasov is one of the larger cities and if you look online, many expats claim that you can’t find anything decent for less than $1,000 or maybe $2,000 per month. The problem is that these “experts” do minimal research online and don’t actually visit the place or even look at real offers.

The reality is that you can find an apartment for as low as $300 per month. However, Kevin and his family wanted a house: they needed a yard for their dog. Plus, a house would’ve made the transition to living in Brasov a lot easier.

The problem? Houses are a bit more expensive than apartments. And for some strange reason, it seems that winter is not the best time to move as many decide to pull their houses off the market and wait for better weather. So we didn’t have a ton of options from the get-go.

Saint Nicolae Church, a beautiful place in Brasov and the place we met the owner of the first house they checked out.
Saint Nicolae Church, a beautiful place in Brasov and the place we met the owner of the first house they checked out.

Still, we did visit a few places that can be considered cheap: we started with a 4 bedroom house that was available for 400 Euros per month. It was mostly unfurnished (it didn’t even have a kitchen!) and in a loud neighborhood, with mad dogs barking from every yard.

When I saw that place, I started to get a bit worried that they might not actually find something for around 500 Euros per month, which was their budget (or, better said, expectation).

The next house we visited proved that I might’ve been right: I don’t remember the price they were asking, but the place was horrible.

Extremely old furniture, even though the rooms were all large and beautiful. A 250 fixer upper followed, which was in an even worse state. Everything that looked nice was already rented or way over budget.

So finding a place to live in is not that easy and definitely not fast – especially if you don’t want an apartment (there’s a lot more of these available).

But in the end, it proved that it wasn’t impossible either as they did sign a contract before we left. They had managed to find a really nice house to call home for a decent price. (The house was listed for 700 Euros, but they negotiated a discount for paying the entire year upfront).

Having in mind that it took them less than a week to find their home in Brasov, I would say it happened reasonably fast.

(Update: They decided to move, once their year-long lease expired, to a larger and better house with a massive yard. This proves that if you can wait more and are not in a hurry, you can score the best possible deals!)

Tip: do just like they did and start looking at online ads before getting here, know the market and the areas you want to live in.

Also contact a few agencies because they can really help out and their commission is usually low by Western standards (at most half of the first month’s rent).

Why contact multiple agencies? Because they don’t work together and what one can offer won’t be found anywhere else (except for maybe online).

The house they rented for their first year in Brasov is absolutely beautiful, it is fully equipped and furnished and even has more rooms than they wanted (3 bedrooms if I’m not mistaken, 2 bathrooms, a small living room, plus a dining/eating area).

I personally believe that they did get a nice value for the money. Here’s how the place looks like (a few photos from the agency, but that’s exactly how the house looks like):

brasov house 01
The kitchen / eating area
brasov house 03
The living room
brasov house 04
One of the bedrooms – it’s actually really, really large!
brasov house 05
Two of the rooms on the second floor
brasov house 07
One of the bathrooms
brasov house 09
The small yard and impressive barbecue

Now that they had the contract signed, they decided to open a bank account in Romania.

It was as easy as going inside the bank, telling one of the nice ladies there that they want an account with debit cards attached and signing a few papers.

A couple of weeks later, they received their debit cards. They didn’t need to show a residency permit or anything like that – but they did need to have a Romanian address (which they did!)

However, for people coming from the US, it seems that the banks in the US need some sort of special instructions to allow transfers to Romania, which is something that should be done before living the US.

Otherwise, you will have to make a trip to the US Embassy in Bucharest to solve this problem.

But US cards still work in Romanian ATMs, so you don’t risk running out of money even if you forget to do this step. Plus, you now have services like TransferWise which make it a lot easier.

For them, moving to Romania wasn’t as difficult as expected, although they did have a lot of paperwork to complete and there were always some minor but unexpected requirements or events taking place.

They managed to get their residence permit without a problem (read here how to get your residence permit in Romania) and renewed it each year without problems (but with costs going up almost yearly).

How does it feel to live in Brasov from somebody coming from the US?

I have a dedicated interview with Kevin about his life in Brasov and the experience of moving here, so make sure you check it out if you want to read more.

But I can tell you that he and his family agree that the people in Brasov are extremely friendly and easy going, They managed to make new friends easily and they meet new people almost on a daily basis.

They had almost no trouble speaking English with the people in Brasov – and the same would happen in all Romanian cities – while the cultural differences didn’t seem to bother them or surprise them too much.

There’s also a nice expat community in Brasov, they organize meetings regularly – so you’re not going to be surrounded only by strangers if you too make the move.

Piata Sfatului at nigh.
Piata Sfatului at nigh.

What’s different in Romania compared to the US

Even though they are completely delighted with how things are going at the moment and they don’t regret making the move here, I did ask them about things that were different compared to the US.

Some cons that a foreigner notices and feels and something that a local might miss.

They did notice a few things, some of which I didn’t: people in Brasov almost never clean the poop their pets leave behind.

In my opinion, it was a bit worse than in Bucharest and none of us escaped stepping in some during our stay. It’s sad for a nice city as you are forced to look down instead of checking out the beautiful things around…

Also, people seem to have a different way of clothing compared to the US and apparently the way we interact (in a restaurant for example) seems more like fighting than actually politely exchanging information with the waiters.

It was fun after our first time eating out, when they asked me what was the argument I was having with the waiter.

In reality, we politely exchanged some words, the waiter was being very nice and just informed me about the food and his recommendations. There was no rudeness or fighting on either side, but to them, it looked like it was.

And that kept happening with other people, but it’s something that you’re going to get used with. All those consonants in the Romanian language might sound a bit mean.

According to Kevin and his family, people are also not afraid to stare at you – which for non-Romanians might be a bit of a shock – and it’s not uncommon for people to start praising dogs or trying to pet them without asking for permission.

Also, in restaurants, you don’t get free coffee refills. I am sure that there’s even more, however nothing deal breaking so far…

It does make a lot of sense to consider Romania different to the US – and even different from other European countries, but Kevin’s family is so far satisfied with the move they made and are still sure that it was the perfect choice.

The Black Church in Brasov, during a foggy night.
The Black Church in Brasov, during a foggy night.

So if you dream of moving to Romania, just do it! Just do it, because it’s possible and if you feel that you’ll love it, you will most likely do!

Kevin, Katie and Brandon proved that and show us all that all you need to do is dream, then act quickly and make it happen.

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11 thoughts on “Moving from the US to Brasov, Romania: What Was It Like”

  1. Hi Calin:
    Glad you’re back! Great article and pictures, for sure! (I’d be interested to know why they wanted to leave the USA (mass shootings, crazy politicians, high taxes, high crime, etc.) and how they justify to Romanian authorities their reasons for wanting to live in Romania. Are they not needing to find a job, and will they do internet or some other work at home independent of the Romanian job market? It’s great they aren’t the all-too-typical “Ugly Americans,” who embarrass themselves and their home country.
    I am glad they could bring their pet with them! Yeah, trying to avoid doggie doo is hard. Years ago when I was in Germany that was a nasty problem there, too. (I guess the “newbie Romanians” will be the rare ones who clean up after their dog;-)
    It will be interesting to hear of their continuing Romanian adventures. I trust they will end up remaining in Romania as long as they are happy. (I hope what happened to “Wandering Earl” won’t happen to them. Also, when Romania goes to the Euro, the cost of living won’t soar too much and price them out!)
    Again, great to have a new post to pore over!;-)
    Thanks!
    ~Teil (USA)

    Reply
    • Glad you liked the article, Teil! They are self sustained, but are planning to start a business in Romania in order to make sure that they get the long stay permit. As far as I could tell, they were loved by every person they interacted with and I am sure that will keep happening. They are great – and more stories about this will come in the following weeks and months, with updates whenever necessary 🙂

      Reply
  2. Excellent article, the kind I need to convince my wife, LOL! How much is the rent on their home if it’s ok to ask? Would it be safe to say that Brasov is the most expensive city after Bucharest? We’re leaning towards Cluj because of it’s good airport but we’ll definitely visit a number of cities first before deciding. Glad to see you back Calin!

    Reply
    • Thank you! It seems that Google Street View and the YouTube videos show exactly how Romania is – not the perfect photos you usually find online – so those are a must watch as well, in my opinion.

      Regarding the rent price, I will ask them if I can share that info and get back with it if possible.

      I can’t really say that Brasov is the most expensive after Bucharest – the prices in Brasov did seem to me similar to those in my small home city (Drobeta Turnu Severin) or Bucharest. You would indeed pay a bit more for rent but otherwise you can find similarly priced things everywhere, especially in supermarkets and other stores.

      Reply
  3. Hey Calin, I’m glad to see that I am not the only one interested in Romania, I am certain that if people knew how the quality of life, nature, food and PRICES are excellent in Romania, much more people would definitely start to moving there!

    Reply
  4. I thought I’d chime in to Teil’s questions about American’s moving to Romania, and specifically to Brasov. I’ve done the same thing and moved to Brasov in early 2014 and currently live there.

    As far as reasons to live outside of the US, I have several reasons why I chose to do so:
    – I enjoy the “cafe culture” lifestyle that Europe offers;
    – When living in a city center, I’m forced to do more walking and no need to have the hassle or the expense of owning a car;
    – It’s something new and different, especially since I’m interested in learning a new language;
    – My children will grow up with unique multi-cultural experiences vs staying back in the US.

    Regarding the ability to support a life abroad, many companies now allow telecommuting. Some places (such as Upwork) provide a marketplace for business looking to hire people for skills, regardless of their physical location. I know several people who make their living by working “virtually” for other companies, and they enjoy traveling to different countries.

    One good tip that I have for banking abroad is to get a Charles Schwab personal banking and brokerage account. It’s free and offers free international ATM fees. I’ve rarely had problems using their debit card for international transactions and I depend on it a lot for ATM withdrawals in the local currency.

    Reply
  5. Hi Calin! I’ve read this article several times and always find it newly informative. Next May, my wife and I will be leaving our Southern California mountain home and moving to Brasov. She left Romania during the bad old days and has chosen to return with me as I retire. We won’t be left on our own as we relocate – her world-traveling parents live much of their life in Bucharest. Even with this safety net, I’m on a frenzied search to learn everything I can to make the transition smooth. Your blog, and this article specifically, have been very helpful. Lately, I’ve been concerned regarding transferring and managing money between our two countries. Banking, ATMs, credit cards, wire transfers, exchange rates and all other financial matters can be overwhelming. We are not rich people. In fact, we have chosen Romania in an effort to get the most out of life with our meager funds. Reading the article this time, I am relieved to hear that it may be easier than I anticipate. It seems most of the difficulties come from US bureaucracy and their fear of tax evasion or money laundering. If you or any of your readers have advice for our financial transition, I’d love to hear it. Thank you, C, for this fantastic and informative site.

    Reply
    • Hello Jim,

      As far as I know, transferring money to Romania isn’t too difficult, at least for the family that moved here. The bank account was created immediately and all that was needed was the passports and address in Romania and transfers to the bank accounts could be made instantly. They give you Romanian debit cards in about a week, but the family I wrote about used their US cards as they had banks that covered the ATM fees. So US cards work in Romanian ATMs.

      There are indeed all sort of fees that apply when it comes to transfers and probably the best thing you could do is to set up both a Romanian (LEI) bank account and one in US dollars, then make the transfers yourself from US dollars to Romanian lei in order to get the best rates, rather than rely on the exchange rates of the ATMs which are most likely not that good.

      We should have a new interview with the Brasov family in the near future and they’ll cover this topic for a bit as well.

      Reply

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