Whilst Budapest is frequently named as the cheapest capital in Europe; the cost of living in Hungary is fairly proportional to average teaching wages and you’ll be able to enjoy life, but not live like a millionaire, in Hungary on an average teacher’s salary.
You can expect your accommodation to be your highest outgoing in Hungary as a typical 1 bed city centre apartment costs around £250/$704 per month to rent. If you are working for a public school, you’ll probably find that your employer offers you accommodation free of charge, sharing with another English teacher; whereas if you are hired by a language school, you will have to find your own accommodation.
There’s a reason that Hungary is so popular with visitors from Europe and one of those is the cheap leisure activities and how reasonable eating and drinking is – you can expect a meal for two with a bottle of wine to cost around £20/$32.
Much like Central and Eastern Europe, traditional Hungarian cuisine consists of filling meat and potatoes. Perhaps the most well-known Hungarian dish is Goulash; a beef stew with paprika, onions and tomato, each family tends to have their own traditional recipe that varies slightly. Some Goulashes are more soup-like, whereas others add potato or noodles to absorb the sauce – you may well be lucky enough to be treated to your Hungarian TEFL colleagues’ versions of Goulash!
Drinks-wise, the Hungarians like a bit of alcohol, and Pálinka – a traditional fruit brandy – is loved by nearly everyone. Made from a variety of fruits (some of the most popular flavours being plums, apples and apricot), Pálinka is usually drunk slowly to savour the taste either before or after a meal. In fact, it’s loved by the Hungarians so much, that there’s even an annual Pálinka festival held in Budapest, with over 300 types on offer to try!
As a landlocked country, Hungary arguably enjoys the perfect weather, with four very distinct seasons. In the winter, sub-zero temperatures are the norm – as is the blanket of snow that covers the country for weeks at a time – but in the summer, the sun’s out shining, and temperatures regularly exceed 30 degrees Celsius, and the locals spend their evenings sipping Pálinka in the many outdoor bars – a perfect way to end a day at work!
Accommodation in the city centres is a mixture of modern apartments and old Communist blocks. Despite the dreary grey exterior, a lot of flats have been renovated and are cosy and comfortable. Out in the country, accommodation isn’t as modern, but the cheaper prices reflect this. If you’re lucky enough to have your accommodation provided by your employers as part of your teaching contract, you’ll likely be living close to work with another English teacher – not bad considering all of the money you’ll be saving!
The top three destinations to teach English in Hungary are Budapest, Debrecen and Miskolc, as their larger populations mean there are more schools, and lots of international businesses are based there.
Despite how cheap it is, Budapest is a charming capital, split into two sections of stately Buda and chic Pest. If you’re into culture, then Budapest is the ideal choice with two annual festivals a year (the Spring and Autumn Festivals for music and contemporary arts respectively), over 100 museums and regular folk dancing. This aside, the shopping is the best in the country, with several malls on the outskirts, and markets in the centre to buy traditional souvenirs. The nightlife is varied too, with a mixture of clubs, pubs and bars – make sure you try an outdoor club in the summer months!
If you’re looking to reclaim your student years, then Debrecen is the place for you. Home to the University of Debrecen (meaning there are opportunities to teach English at degree level!), the hordes of students have resulted in the further lowering of the cost of drinks and club entry prices, so it’s even cheaper than Budapest – just be aware of the seedier venues popular amongst the stag dos. Debrecen is home to many parks including the Hortobágy National Park and the Nagverdő park – perfect for relaxing in at the weekend.
Close to the Slovakian border, the third largest city of Miskolc is perfect for history buffs. Seeped in history, Miskolc is very proud of its roots as a trade city in the Middle Ages, and then as a steel producer in the 1900s, of which there are still remnants of in the city skyline. If you’re into culture and the arts, be sure to visit the Annual Music Festival, with performances from world-famous opera singers, held in honour of composer Bartók, who was born in Miskolc.
Public transport in Hungary’s cities are frequent and cheap, with a one-way ticket costing around 88p/$1.44. In Budapest, the locals favour the metro as it covers the centre and surrounding suburbs, so you’ll be able to reach the school where you’re teaching easily, regardless of where you’re living. With the trains dating back to the Soviet-era, riding the metro is an experience you definitely won’t forget!
There are numerous taxi companies operating in all cities, with taxi drivers generally honest. However, not many speak English, so it’s best writing down where you need to go on a piece of paper, or asking your new Hungarian teaching colleagues to help you! Prices are cheaper if you call a taxi rather than hail one, with a 10 minute trip costing around £5.80/$9.50, so it’s great if you want to get back home after a night out of drinking too much Pálinka!
English teaching contracts finish at the end of June for two months, so you’ll have plenty of time to get out of Hungary and explore neighbouring countries. Hungary’s location makes it the gateway to Eastern Europe, so you can spend your holidays catching the train to cities including Bratislava (from £15/$24.50 return), Prague, Vienna and even Moscow!
The Hungarians are hospitable and friendly people, and are willing to share what they have with others – and this extends to the classroom. People are encouraged to re-use things again and again, so make sure any TEFL resources you bring will last the entire academic year, as unless you are willing to use your own money, you won’t have a budget for buying new resources!
Budapest is divided into 23 districts; the most popular districts for expats being number 22 in Buda – Budafok Tétény, known as the ‘town of wine and champagne’ because of the nearby manufacturers, it offers numerous shops and restaurants, and beautiful city views – and district 5 in Pest. Otherwise known as Belváros, this area is extremely central, with bars, pubs, restaurants and shops lining the streets – accommodation is more expensive here due to location; maybe not the best on a teaching salary, but it’s always good to have aspirations!
Be sure to visit the Christmas markets in December – centred around Vörösmarty Square – with over 100 stalls offering everything from traditional Hungarian food to cute souvenirs and gifts that would make great Christmas presents for family and friends! Be sure to sample a traditional Chimney Cake – a rolled pastry in a variety of flavours, pick from cinnamon, coconut, almond and more!
If you're keen to find out more about teaching in Hungary then you'll want to check out the i-to-i TEFL free guide. You'll find out loads more useful information on finding your first job, where you can teach and how to negotiate the best salary package.
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