During your initial orientation period (the first ten days), all mail should be sent to the Peace Corps North Macedonia office at the following address:
[Peace Corps Trainee Name]
Osma Udarna Brigada, 2
Mail takes a minimum of ten days to arrive in North Macedonia. As soon as you know your mailing address at your site, incoming packages and letters must be mailed directly to your site (not to the Peace Corps office). Please check with your local Post Office branch to open a P.O. Box or determine another way to get your packages. You will be responsible for arranging forwarding of any packages delivered to Skopje after you have arrived at your site.
The Post Office charges package pick-up fees (for administrative processing). The fee depends on the weight and the contents of the package (usually $2-$5 per package). Please consult your local post office before you receive any large packages. You are responsible for paying all fees/taxes associated with your packages.
Packages should not contain alcohol, liquids that contain alcohol (such as perfume), tobacco, or tobacco products. Incoming packages are subject to customs regulations and import duties may be assessed.
Packages sent by an individual are free of import taxes and VAT only if the value of the package content is not over $50. If valued over $50, all packages are subject to additional fees. Please advise your friends/family of this limit in order to avoid paying additional customs fees/taxes.
Peace Corps North Macedonia will provide sim cards for cell phones to PC trainees during the first week in country. You will need to bring your own “unlocked” device or purchase a simple cheap one in country with staff’s assistance. International phone service is good and most PCVs get prepaid service to place calls. Your living allowance will include sufficient funds to cover reasonable cellphone usage. Many Volunteers make international and local calls by using Internet calling programs, such as WhatsApp and Skype.
Internet and email access is available throughout North Macedonia. Internet cafes can be found in most major cities and towns, and wireless internet is available in many cafes. Most host families will also have Wi-Fi. You are strongly encouraged to bring a laptop or tablet with you. If you are unable to bring one, a tablet will be provided to you for the pre-service training period only. Some of the pre-service training will be done online and you will be required to submit online reports and monitor e-mail throughout your service. Insurance is recommended, but not required, for your computer and other electronic gear.
Housing and Site Location
You will be living with a host family during the eleven weeks of pre-service training, and during your two years of service. Living with a host family will help Volunteers learn the customs and cultures of the host country nationals, making it easier for Volunteers to integrate into the community as well as stay healthy and safe.
Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to adjust to the daily habits, customs, and lifestyle of their host families to learn about the similarities and differences in host country culture and American family behavior and share American culture and traditions with the host family. Volunteers will participate in host family events and daily chores like cleaning and cooking. Volunteers are expected to respect the individual rules of each household as explained to them by host family members and according to their own observation of their religion, customs, habits, etc. This includes appearance, behavior, and attitude. Volunteers may cook and eat together with their host families. Depending on the situation, Volunteers may negotiate with their host families to cook for themselves and eat meals on a different schedule. Volunteers are expected to be frugal in their use of utilities because of the extremely high cost for electricity. Electrical sockets in North Macedonia fit standard European plugs, so if you bring an adapter shaped like a square, it may not fit into the socket. It is better to wait and buy 220-volt appliances when you arrive in North Macedonia.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Volunteers receive a monthly living allowance and housing/utility allowances designed to enable you to maintain a modest lifestyle. These allowances are deposited in your bank account in denars every month and are intended to cover housing/utilities, food, household supplies, local transportation, toiletries, recreation, entertainment, and incidental expenses. Lifestyles are different here than in the States, but most Volunteers who adopt a Macedonian lifestyle find their living allowance to be sufficient for their needs. In other words, the lifestyle you adopt while serving in North Macedonia will largely determine the adequacy of the living allowance. If you adopt a typical Macedonian lifestyle, your living allowance will be more than adequate. Credit cards can be used in some locations in Skopje, particularly those that cater to tourists. ATMs are available throughout the country. Some Volunteers have found it useful to retain their checking accounts in the United States to pay bills in the U.S. or to access U.S. funds. Currency should only be exchanged at banks and legal change bureaus; changing money on the street is illegal.
Food and Diet
“Homemade” is the best word to describe the fare on a Macedonian dining table. Peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbages, onions, garlic, meat (chicken, beef), and olive oil are staples in Macedonian cooking. The meat most often found in restaurants and shops is mutton or beef, though chicken and fresh fish are occasionally also available. White and yellow cheese, eggs, milk, and yogurt are also a regular part of the Macedonian diet. Vegetarians will not have any problems maintaining a healthy diet if they cook at home. Lentils, beans, and rice are widely available, as are peanuts and other kinds of nuts. Eating out at restaurants may be a little more difficult for vegetarians, as most menus consist of meat dishes. You will never go wrong ordering a salad and bread. Along with a wide variety of vegetables, fruits are plentiful in season. North Macedonia is widely known for the production of fruits and vegetables. You can make your own juice and jam from these or they may be available in local stores.
North Macedonia has a large network of bus routes, as well as some train service, which makes it possible to travel to practically all destinations by public transportation. Getting around is relatively inexpensive, with city bus rides costing less than one US dollar. Most Volunteers utilize buses or shared vans/taxis to get around the country. As you would anywhere else, you should take care to protect your valuables while using public transportation. Traffic in North Macedonia can be hazardous - many vehicles are older, and the road conditions differ from those in the United States. Most major highways are in good repair, but many secondary urban and rural roads are not maintained and are poorly lit, and the mountain roads may be narrow, poorly marked, and lack guardrails. Pedestrians should be attentive when crossing the streets, even on crosswalks, because many drivers do not respect the given traffic rules. In winter, it is not uncommon for roads to become blocked due to snow and ice.
North Macedonia has an international airport with many flights leaving for numerous destinations in Europe every day and bus transportation to neighboring countries is affordable.
You will find no shortage of entertainment opportunities in North Macedonia. There are museums, concerts, theaters, athletic events, hot springs, outdoor markets, historical and ethnographic centers, coffee shops, bars, discos, and cinemas for you to enjoy. Most recently released American films are shown in theaters in English with Macedonian subtitles. North Macedonia boasts some of the most magnificent natural areas in Eastern Europe, with a great diversity of flora and fauna. Opportunities for outdoor recreation include hiking, camping, rock climbing, and bird-watching. During the summer, Macedonians flock to Lake Ohrid to enjoy its pristine waters and beautiful scenery. During the winter, Macedonia’s several ski resorts attract skiers from all over Europe.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity and working as a professional. It is not an easy situation to resolve, but the Peace Corps can provide you with guidance. While there are no hard and fast rules, a foreigner who wears ragged or dirty clothing is likely to be considered disrespectful and possibly unreliable. Improper attire creates difficulties in gaining the respect and acceptance of your Macedonian and Albanian colleagues. You will have occasions to dress up regularly, so bring some more formal attire in addition to professional clothes appropriate for everyday wear in the office or classroom. Think business casual.