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An Expat Talks about Retiring in Kharkov, Ukraine

Submitted by jehu


Kharkov, Ukraine

Here's a detailed look at what it means for someone from the U.K. to retire in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov. Driving, citizenship, shopping, shipping... it's all covered and much, much more.

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Kharkov

Why did you choose to retire abroad?

My wife is Ukrainian, we lived in England for 10 years after getting married. I came out of I.T. and trained to teach English. We sold up and came to the Ukraine to take care of Elena's aging mother. I also teach English part-time.

Are you retired abroad all year or part of the year?

Yep, don't go back except for weddings and funerals, and here haven't been any of those!

Why did you choose the country you retired to?

My wife is Ukrainian, actually I'm 61 so took early retirement.

Did you ever live abroad before you retired abroad?

No.

How long have you lived abroad since you retired abroad?

18 months.

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How many countries (other than your home country) have you lived in as a retiree?

None.

What have been the most challenging aspects of being retired abroad?

1) Tackling the old soviet-style bureaucracy when it come to getting anything done, like getting a "probisca" of residency, visa etc.

2) The language. Russian grammar drives me nuts !

3) Cockroaches and the aggressive Ukrainian mosquito in the summer!

4) Crossing the road can be a little like Russian roulette, seriously they don't stop for anybody.

5) I bought a car last year and actually enjoy driving around here. The main roads are generally in good condition and very wide, however, the side streets are badly pot-holed and unless you have a 4x4 it's bad on the vehicle.

6) Despite the fact that I speak Russian to colloquial level, when I go shopping on my own, especially in the market, they detect immediately that I'm foreign and the prices, for some strange reason, seems to almost double.

7) I have to be very careful driving because the traffic cops love to stop speeding cars. Unfortunately, corruption is still a problem here and the cops always look for a donation to cover the problem. I heard that 2 driving offences and its immediate deportation, but I've been problem free so far.

What have been the most rewarding aspects of being retired abroad?

1) The exchange rate is still quite favourable against the British pound. So although we don't live like royalty we do enjoy an above-average lifestyle compared to many locals.

2) I'm just amazed at the quality of the food here, it's fresh and invariably organic. You can taste the difference, especially with meat. The shops and markets are great. There are even western-style shopping malls like "Karavan" if you're missing all those expensive clothes shops back home.

3) The people are generally more friendly and open.

4) British weather is both dull and unpredictable, whereas we get contrasting weather, cold and snow in the winter and a good blast of sunshine in the summer. There has been very little rain this year. Nice weather for retirement.

5) I like the wide open space once you leave the city. In the UK people live like sardines in a can.

6) The parks are great, we often frequent Gorky Park in the summer.

7) When I'm not driving I take the Metro. It's exceptionally good. For just 3 uah you can go anywhere and it's very quick and efficient. Whereas in London the Metro is always slow, crowded and very expensive.

8) Re. driving - there's no road tax, no MOT, no speed cameras and no speed bumps, it's great. The car insurance is against the vehicle, not the individual, so when you sell a car the insurance goes with it. A lot less hassle owning a car than in the UK.

9) There are some awesome places to visit in the Ukraine, barring the trouble spots of course.

What would you do differently if you were just starting the retire abroad process?

I'd definitely recommend learning Russian as quickly as possible. Most people here don't speak English, only the young people. So without some kind of language knowledge it can be difficult to gain any independence. I was fortunate in that my wife fronted all the conversation needed whereever we went. But it's nice to be independent and the confidence only really comes as knowledge of the Russian language improves. Which incidentally is quite a tough language to learn.

What is life like for a retiree in your city and its surroundings? (Is there an active expat community? Cultural Attractions? Recreation? Nightlife?)

We socialise with as many family and friends as possible. They are always celebrating something or other, folk bring lots of food and its a sort of bring-and-share mentality.

Expats are rare here. There are a lot of foreign students at the Universities but I've met one American guy, one Canadian woman, but not English since I've lived here 18 months. It doesn't bother me. I don't hanker after the old country. It's important not to look back when making this kind of lifestyle change.

The great thing about the Ukrainian summer is they very much have a European behaviour to night life. For example the shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, parks all stay open late, and people are out until late. In England people go home and lock their doors after 8pm, it's the British isolationist mentality, (barring to occasional barbie). Ukrainians are far more sociable and friendly. People will stop and talk, in England if you try talking to a stranger there is immediate suspicion. It's a totally different culture.

What residency documents or visas did you need to obtain to retire in your host country? How difficult was this process? (Please describe)

I had an initial 90 day visa. but then we hurriedly made plans to secure an indefinite stay visa. Once you get an I.S. visa, then you can relax, stay here as long as you like.

I was hard work to get the I.S. going from one department to another, getting a plethora of documents together. (I'll be honest I had to make a contribution to get things moving along quicker). But if anyone is planning to stay here long term, the I.S. visa is a must.

Did you buy a home or apartment, or rent one? Is this a difficult process? (Please describe)

We moved in with my Ukrainian mother-in-law, into her two-bed apartment. I invested time and money refurbishing the place. I agree to pay all the bills which, for the three of us, averages at 750 uah per month (£20.50).

We are thinking about buying a house in one of the surrounding villages, which is a good option if you drive. You can pick up a 3 bed house relatively cheaply, and it's great to have your own "dacha" in the summer near a river of forest.

Financially, has living abroad in your host country met your expectations? Exceeded them?

Well prices have risen here of course, but the exchange rate is still consistently good against the British pound.

What are the most important financial considerations for retiring to your host country?

a) Whatever you do - don't relinquish your native nationality.

b) Do not open a Ukrainian bank account, they are highly volatile. Or even think about transferring money here, there is currently a Ukrainian government restriction on the transfer and withdrawal of US dollar.

c) Use a Visa card and withdraw cash at the beginning of each month, it's cheaper than using the card whenever you go shopping in a supermarket.

d) I actually have two UK accounts at the same bank, each with a Visa card. I keep the second one at home in case the first gets lost or stolen.

e) Make sure you are squeaky clean with your homeland tax department, they can find you even out here. Don't leave your country to escape debt or any other financial problem.

f) It's quite problematic bringing your own stuff here. I had to sell my for example car and buy another one here.

How much can a retiree live on comfortably in your host country?

Very difficult to say, depends on:

* If you have any dependents, ie children to support.

* If you rent a fully furnished apartment from an agency it's expensive, better to buy or find a private landlord.

* You have to buy extra clothing for the winter, it's inescapable unless you want to freeze your knees off.

Do you have access to quality medical care? (Please describe - is it close? Expensive?)

The medical services are good and easily accessible, but you have to pay. I had a problem with my eye earlier this year, was referred to a specialist eye clinic in the city on the same day. They conducted a thorough set of eye tests for 700 uah (£20) !

Medical insurance makes useful toilet paper and that's it, trust me - you still have to pay to get treatment, even the nurse will expect something, although for an expat it's relatively inexpensive.

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Expats in Ukraine may get a free expat health insurance quote from our partner Allianz Care, a leader in international insurance for expatriates. Allianz's plans ensure that you have access to quality healthcare whenever you need it. Their flexible solutions allow you to tailor your cover to meet your needs and budget..

Is there a lot of crime where you live? (Please describe)

First a comment about the conflict in he Donbass region. The Ukraine is such a big country compared with England, we only had one small incident last summer in the city, but Kharkov where I live has been peaceful.

I have to say the youth in this country demonstrate far more respect for adults than in the UK. I've never seen any problems. You do get a few drunks at night in the parks etc, but I don't go to any potentially risky places.

As I stated above, crime takes on a different guise here in the form of corruption. And I do get ripped off occasionally by market traders because I'm foreign.

On balance, especially in the evening, I'd actually say that Kharkov is a safer place to be than in England. There are many inner city areas in the UK that are best avoided at night.

Describe available transportation where you live. Do you need a car? Is there access to safe public transportation?

Yes, I've got a car but it's more for convenience, hauling larger items around etc. The public transport system here is excellent.

Is there high-speed internet access where you live?

Yep, I'm hooked up to an unlimited upload/download fibre-optic Internet system that handles 100 mbits speeds, no problem.

Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share about retiring abroad?

The Ukrainian people are great. The women dress and behave like real women and are fiercely proud of their feminity, my wife is awesome!

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Comments about this Report

Mikezap
Nov 17, 2015 07:17

I do agree for almost all the comments above. The only thing i am not quite agree with the about report is the fact that i ve never witnessed raise of prices in supermarkets just because i was identified as a foreigner. And i mean "never never". How could they do anyway such thing since the prices are sticked to the products. In a few words, almost anything aspect of life is fantastic in Ukraine for a foreigner, giving of course that should have a positive atitude and dont want to change the world. P S. I leave in the city of Zaporozhye

ccraig962
Jan 7, 2018 11:57

Hey Mike , are you still in Ukraine?

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Grant Short was in Kiev, Ukraine recently and captured these unbelievable photos of Independence Square.

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