Serbia is a country located in South-Eastern Europe and an official member of the European Union (EU). It is famous for delicious cuisines, beautiful nature, wild nightlife, rich history, and diverse culture. The economy is not very well-developed as most parts of Europe, but there has been a major improvement since the country joined the EU. Before moving or working in a foreign country, you need to find out how much money you will need to maintain your lifestyle there. In this article, I have compiled up-to-date information on all aspects of life in Serbia. If you plan on working or investing in the country, consider reading this to the end for more insights. Keep in mind that The Serbian Dinar (RSD) is the national currency of Serbia, and it’s equivalent to 0.0095 US Dollars (USD) at the time of writing this article.
The average salary in Serbia is currently $1,961 per month or $23,537 a year for salaried jobs, and $11.32 an hour for hourly jobs. The amount increased by 3% from $1,894.63 in 2018, which suggests a steady but continuous increase in the years to come. These figures are inclusive of employee benefits such as housing, health insurance, and transport. As such, the average net salary after tax comes down to $445/month.
Serbia has an upper-middle-income economy which compares more with African economies rather than European economies. The economy is mainly dominated by market forces, but the government still enjoys a monopoly in certain sectors. It largely relies on exports and manufacturing, which are mostly driven by foreign investment. The economy is very diverse and it’s based on the principles of the free market. Serbia’s main sources of income are manufacturing, services, agriculture, and energy industries. The country is gradually developing and recovering the losses it suffered after the Yugoslav war. Therefore, moving into the country is a perfect idea due to new opportunities availed each day.
The Average Salary in Serbia
Job opportunities are plenty in Serbia given the growing economy. Salaries are, however, relatively low compared to other European countries. Below are some of the average gross salaries to expect in Serbia per month:
- Nurse $1,450
- Pharmacist $2,081
- Teacher $1,396
- Chef $1,535
- Chief Executive Manager $4,112
- Waiter $1,145
- Electrical Engineer $1,872
- Dentist $4,318
- Human Resource Manager $2,528
- Receptionist $1,066
- Sales Manager $2,987
- Civil Engineer $1,635
- Accountant $1,203
- Police Officer $1,490
- Architect $1,747
- Photographer $1,198
- Attorney $2,553
- Mechanical Engineer $1,838
- Travel Agent $1,562
- Developer/programmer $1,570
Although the unemployment rate is at 9.50%, youth unemployment is as high as 24.40%. Many young people are jobless, which is an indication that the secondary educational system has failed to adapt to the needs of the labour market. The majority of unemployed youths have obsolete skills, making it difficult to get a job in the modern market.
Working as a foreigner
As an expat, you have to possess a temporary residence permit and a work permit to get employed in Serbia. A permanent visa is only given to long-stay foreigners or those married to a Serbian. Most of the people in Serbia are fluent in English; therefore, language is not a barrier for foreigners. With that being said, finding a job is difficult as evidenced by the high rate of unemployment. Many Serbians survive by doing two or three jobs at a go. I strongly advise that you move into the country only after securing a job.
Before working or becoming an employer in Serbia, you need to grasp the essential employment laws. Labour laws here are regulated by the Serbian national law, as well as collective agreements between employers and employees. The government employment law protects whistle-blowers, states on work safety, and protects employees from harassment at work. On the other hand, regulations resulting from collective agreement stipulate more favourable working conditions and extended employee/employer rights. An employment contract also chips in to regulate the duties, rights, and responsibilities involved in the employee-employer relationship.
Full-time employment requires one to work 40 hours a week. Overtime is allowed, but it must be paid separately and can’t last more than 8 hours a week. Employees are entitled to 20 days of paid annual leave. There’s no limitation on sick leave, but only the first 30 days are paid for by the employer.
An employer is also required to pay workers’ retirement gratuity, compensation of funeral services of an immediate family member, and compensation in case of a sustained injury at work or professional illness besides health insurance.
Taxation and other deductions
The personal income tax rate in Serbia is 10%. It is deducted from all types of an individual’s income –whether salary, dividends, capital gains, or profit from property. Fiscal non-residents are charged personal income tax only from income generated within the country. Companies also incur a corporate tax at a rate of 15%. The standard rate for Value Added Tax is 20% with a lower rate of 10% and 0% on certain products.
Serbia Average Household Income
The annual household income per capita report in Serbia is submitted every year. It reached an all-time high in 2008 at $2,887.885 and a record low of $1,466.888 in 2004. In December 2018, the average annual income household income per capita was recorded at $2,836.553, which was an increase from 2017’s figure of $2,504.316.
Household income includes every form of income for a particular household. Salaries accounted for 49.1% of the household income, pension 32%, agriculture 4.5%, social security 2.5%, and the remaining percentage came from other types of income like business and investments. On the other hand, food formed 34.3% of the household expenditure, housing and utilities formed 16.7% of the expenditure, transport formed 9.3%, clothing formed 5.3%, communication formed 5.2%, recreation formed 5.1%, and alcoholic beverages and alcohol formed 4.9%.
Minimum Wage in Serbia
National minimum wage refers to the lowest amount of salary that the government allows employees to be paid for the work done over a given period of time (hourly, daily, monthly, or yearly). Employers who are caught paying workers a salary below this amount are punished by the law. The minimum wage is set by the government to protect employees from under-payment and sudden change of salaries. As a foreigner, it’s important to know your rights as an employee to avoid being exploited.
The national minimum wage per month in Serbia is 36,197.28 RSD ($343.20), while the national minimum wage per hour is 175 RSD ($1.66) gross or 130 RSD ($1.23) net. Over 350,000 employees in Serbia are paid this minimum wage.
These figures are about 11.1% increase from last year’s minimum wages of 155.3 RSD/hour and 27,022 RSD/month. Changes were made due to the demands of trade unions who wanted a 24.5% increase and employers who were offering a 6% increase. Since trade unions and employers failed to agree on a common minimum wage, the government decided to increase it only by 11.1%, which seems fair to both parties.
The government-mandated minimum wage applies to employees who work five days a week, eight hours a day, and forty hours a week. Despite having one of the lowest minimum wages in the EU, the NMW in Serbia has increased by 29.7% within the last three years and shows no signs of slowing down. However, according to recent surveys, the country still needs economic growth of at least 5% to be able to catch up with other EU countries.
Average Salary in Belgrade
Belgrade is the capital city of Serbia and the most populated region in the country. It is the economic, cultural, and political hub of Serbia. The cost of living is low compared to other European cities and the nightlife is wild, with many mainstream clubs and splavs. Fluency in English is quite high in the capital. There are several international schools and healthcare centres with Western-trained doctors. This old town has beautiful scenic views consisting of rivers, fountains, fortresses, art galleries, statues, and theatres. The transport sector is also well developed compared to the rest of the country. If you plan to move to Serbia, Belgrade is the best destination with international standards.
All this seems great, but how much can you make working in this city? Salaries in the capital range from a minimum gross of $290/month to a maximum gross of $9,462/month. The average salary is $2,136 per month or $25,621 a year. This is 9% more than the average salary offered in Serbia as a whole. Employees working hourly jobs are paid an average salary of $12.32 per hour. While these figures are great guides, keep in mind that salaries will vary significantly between occupations, employers, and employees’ qualifications among other things
Belgrade has the largest community of expats in Serbia due to the presence of many foreign embassies, international companies, and NGOs, which mostly employ foreigners than natives. Most global IT companies have chosen Belgrade as their European or regional base. The Microsoft Development Centre is based in the city, as well as other IT companies like Intel, Dell, and Asus.
Cost of Living in Serbia
The cost of living in Serbia is low compared to other countries in Europe. Those who do not pay rent/mortgage and have no bank credit to settle have higher disposable income. Below is the cost of living based on general living expenses:
Despite the low cost of living, housing costs are generally high, especially in the capital. A one-bedroom apartment will cost an average of $293 per month in urban centres and $193.45 in rural areas. In the case of a larger family, you can rent a three-bedroom apartment at an average of $539.18/month in urban areas or $339.67/month in rural areas. Purchasing an apartment will cost you $2,116.96/square meter in towns and $1,244.11/square metre outside major towns. You can buy on credit and pay a mortgage at an interest rate of 3.94% per annum for 20 years fixed rate.
You can buy a one-way ticket for public transport at $0.84 only. A monthly pass costs $28.46 and the cost of gasoline is $1/49 per litre.
Purchasing grocery, especially in the local market rather than malls, is cheaper compared to eating out in restaurants. A litre of milk will only cost you $0.86, a kilogram of rice is $1.12, a 500g loaf of bread is $0.44, a kilogram of tomatoes is $1.03, a kilogram of potatoes is $0.55, a kilogram of local cheese is $4.58, and a kilogram of chicken breasts is $4.69.
Serbia is known for its delicious cuisines, and restaurants offer a wide variety of foods. A meal for one person in a relatively inexpensive restaurant costs $5.69. A three-course meal for two people costs $22.30 in a mid-range restaurant. A cappuccino costs $1.27 and you’ll spend $0.83 for a 0.33-litre bottle of water. In alcoholic drinks, domestic beer is sold at $1.52 for 0.5-litre draught while imported beer is at $1.90 per 0.33 litres.
You may have to budget for include utilities, leisure, health and fitness, personal items, child care, education, and much more, depending on your needs and type of household. A single expat living in a studio or a one-bedroom apartment can get by comfortably on as low as $650-750 a month. There are locals who survive on much less than that and there are others who live a more luxurious life. Ultimately, the cost of living in Serbia will depend on the kind of lifestyle you choose to adopt.
About the author: Marta Kovachek is the author of this article. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a master’s degree in Economics. Marta enjoys writing about the current economic situation and loves helping our readers to find their next "destination". From places to live to complex social and economic topics, we always enjoy Marta's work. Please contact us in case of any questions.