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.
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!
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!
Renting a 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.
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):
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).
Living in Brasov: what’s it life for 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.
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.
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.