Montenegro

Montenegro flag

Living Conditions

Communications

Mail

The Peace Corps will send you a mailing address that you can use for letter mail during your first 10 weeks in-country. Once you have been sworn in as a Volunteer and move to your site, you will have your own address for mail. Letters from the United States can take two to three weeks to arrive, while packages can take two to six weeks. Packages are held by post office officials until you pay a small customs fee. Packages cannot be received at Peace Corps Albania and Montenegro office addresses at any time during your service.

Telephones

SIM cards are reasonably priced in Montenegro, and if you have a SIM card phone in America, it is worth having it unlocked by your carrier for international use.

Internet

There is no guarantee that internet service will be available at your host family or host agency. However, if you own a laptop, you are strongly advised to bring it for work purposes. You will be provided with a certain amount of mobile data through your phone plan, which you can use for work, safety and health purposes. Volunteers find that USB flash drives or external hard drives are also very useful.

Host Families – You will live with a host family for the first three months (Pre-Service Training) and at least for your first six months in your permanent sites (after swearing-in as a Volunteer) or longer if you and your host family so choose. You will have your own room in the host family’s house. Furnishings will be fairly basic, but you will have a bed, table and chair. The money that is paid to them should be viewed as a contribution to the family rather than “rent.”

The Host Family relationship aims at replicating a real family, and both you and the family will go through a process of adaptation, which at times can come with misunderstandings. As such, you must refrain from viewing the Host Family as a service provider, and rather as a family that has opened their doors to you in the spirit of world peace and friendship.

Electricity – Electricity is usually available. There are power outages that can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. These tend to happen more frequently in rural areas.

Toilet – Most toilets are western-style toilets. However, in some cases you’ll find squat-style toilets. Some toilets may be detached from the main home/structure.

Water – Most Volunteers have consistent access to water, but there are outages at times and some Volunteers only get water (especially in the summer) at certain times of the day. Community members and host families will guide you on how to adjust and save water in buckets or containers. Water is generally not potable and must be boiled or filtered before drinking. (Peace Corps will provide you with the necessary filter.)

Weather – Cold and damp in the winter. Most homes aren’t heated or insulated, and the concrete keeps the cold in. Depending on the area, summers may be mild to very hot, and air-conditioning may or may not be available. For example, the coastal areas and the capital can be very hot, while mountains may have a more comfortable summer climate.

Economic challenges - Recent inflation, especially in the energy sector, has had an impact on all families in Montenegro. While PC helps to defray the increased costs associated with hosting a Trainee or Volunteer, you should be mindful of your energy consumption while staying with a host family and seek ways to reduce it especially with regards to heating and cooling.

Housing and Site Location

After living with a pre-service training host family, Volunteers in Montenegro live with a host family at their permanent site for a minimum of six months and potentially for their entire 24-month service. Living arrangements are in modest living quarters. While Volunteers have their own room, they have less privacy than what they are used to due to societal norms for communal activities. For the majority of Volunteers, kitchen facilities and bathrooms are shared with host families. Communities in Montenegro are often conservative and close-knit. Housing depends entirely on local availability and varies from Volunteer to Volunteer. Occasionally, electricity and running water may not be consistently available, and internet access may not be available at all. Housing for all Volunteers meets Peace Corps safety and security requirements.

Living Allowance and Money Management

Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable to that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. However, Volunteers often wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. If this is the case, it is advisable to leave some money in your U.S. bank account to access via ATMs in euros or dollars for vacation travel. Traveler’s checks and credit cards are also an option for vacation travel outside of Montenegro.

Montenegro and Albania are mainly cash economies, with limited use of credit cards. If you decide to bring your personal debit/ATM card, be sure you notify your bank that you will be living overseas.

Food and Diet

You should enter service ready to adapt your diet to the locally available foods, and local culinary traditions and customs. While many imported foods that you are used to may be available in some stores (for example, avocado, pineapple and imported nuts), they are usually prohibitively expensive, and you will need to find local foods to replace them in your diet. Common foods include cheese, yogurt, rice, beans, soups, pasta, fresh and seasonal fruits, and vegetables. Gluten intolerance is difficult to accommodate as the diet is heavy with bread. Milk and dairy products are very common. Meat is an important component of the Montenegrin diet and due to reliability of inspections and refrigeration, Volunteers should be careful about which meat products they buy, store, and consume, especially during summertime. During PST you can learn how to find and cook local foods. In winter in some areas, only potatoes, cabbages, leeks, onions, oranges, carrots, apples, and rice or pasta may be readily available.

While it is usually possible to eat a vegetarian diet, it is not common in Montenegro and requires a level of responsibility on the part of the Volunteer to communicate with their host family and flexibility/adjustment to the local diet. Even after communicating that you are vegetarian/vegan, your family may cook with meat/dairy and remove it from your portion or state that, for instance, poultry is not meat and serve it to you.

Volunteers assigned to predominantly Muslim areas should be aware of dietary restrictions, specifically around the consumption of alcohol and pork, and be mindful of their host family’s and community’s practices.

Montenegrins do not use many spices in their cooking, so you may want to bring a supply of your favorite spices and recipes as well as collect them throughout your travels to neighboring cities and other countries.

Peace Corps will provide all Volunteers with a water filter. It is required that you drink out of it throughout your entire service. At cafes it is common to be served a glass of tap water with your coffee – some Volunteers drink this without issue; however, most Volunteers carry a water bottle filled with filtered water wherever they go.

Transportation

Public Transportation Safety

Albania and Montenegro have a large network of public transport vehicles that make it possible to travel to practically all destinations, given enough time and persistence. However, some PCVs/Trainees have reported incidents of theft while traveling or riding buses. You should be aware of the people around you and protect your valuables using good judgment and be careful where you place them.

When using any form of public transportation, you should avoid overloaded vehicles and look out for vehicles in poor condition (bad tires, cracked windshield, etc.) and driver’s poor conditions (such as intoxication).

Buses are Montenegro’s primary mode of transport, with routes connecting most towns and cities. For most of the destinations there are buses departing from Podgorica each day. Travel by bus is economical and buses travel almost exclusively during the day, but sometimes they do not always run according to regular schedules.

There are some vans that operate in villages to main cities. Many of these vans do not adhere to accepted safety and maintenance standards or driver training.

Road/ Travel Safety

Historically, transportation accidents have presented the greatest risks to the safety of Volunteers and Trainees during PC service globally. Because the transportation systems available in Albania and Montenegro may present specific challenges and because the traffic rules are often disregarded, the following policies have been enacted to minimize risks to PCVs while traveling. PCVs are strongly advised to choose the safest transportation option available and should travel at times and on routes that present the lowest risk. When available, seatbelts must be always worn in accordance with local laws and good common sense.

Roads conditions in Montenegro continue to progress. Major thoroughfares between cities are usually paved highways, however they can be curvy and narrow. Many smaller roads in villages or neighborhoods are primarily dirt and rock and are in poor condition. In the winter, roads through the mountains in northern Montenegro can be snow-covered and icy.

Traffic rules in Albania and Montenegro, are often disregarded. Traffic accidents involving other vehicles and pedestrians are much more common than in the United States. Volunteers/Trainees should be aware of surrounding traffic and keep well clear while walking near roads.

It is prohibited for PCVS to travel at night. Almost all types of inter-city public transportation shut down around 7:00 to 8:00 pm depending on the season of the year. This schedule is even earlier in winter when daylight hours are limited. Most roads in rural regions are dangerously narrow and hazardous during daylight hours and much more so at night and in winter. Most of the roads in Albania and Montenegro, especially in rural regions, are not marked with center line or other highway safety standards and do not have road signs. The traffic statistics show a marked increase in traffic accidents during night as compared to daylight hours. The only exception is if there is an imminent threat to PCV health & safety and security related to NOT traveling after dark, in which case the PCV should contact the health or safety staff for advice and assistance. Night is defined as: between the hour following the setting of the sun (sunset) and the hour preceding the rising of the sun (sunrise).

Social Activities

Depending on the size of the community and the level of development, social activities across Montenegro vary. Still, each part of Montenegro provides unique experiences and as a Volunteer, you will get to know and spend time with members of the community and enjoy Montenegro in the same manner as local community members.

Volunteers should expect limited opportunities for dating and know that their dating will be publicly scrutinized. Just as Volunteers are embraced and protected by host families as family members, their actions and public behaviors are also considered to reflect on the honor and respect of the family. To effectively serve, Volunteers should be open to adapting to this reality to successfully integrate into the local culture.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Volunteers require an unwavering professional and “pioneer” attitude. Volunteers have a unique opportunity and responsibility to help establish and build up the foundation of the Peace Corps presence in Montenegro. Volunteers should anticipate considerable interest in and attention on their work performance and cultural integration by their Montenegrin colleagues, the Ministry of Education, and the broader public. The highest degree of professionalism is expected.

You will be working in a professional capacity and will be expected to dress and behave accordingly. Stylish business casual is acceptable in most situations. Montenegrins and Albanians dress in their fashionable best in public. A foreigner who wears ragged or unkempt clothing is likely to be considered an affront and not taken seriously. Away from the office and social events, you can wear shorts, T-shirts, or casual clothing in your home.

Body piercing and tattoos are not very common in professional settings in Montenegro. Visible body piercings (other than earrings for women) and tattoos for both men and women are not usual in professional settings. Please be prepared to cover tattoos whenever possible. In some areas, wearing facial piercings may make it more difficult to integrate into your community.