Juris is a Latvian expat that's been stuck in Czech Republic for about five years now thanks to a crazy redhead Czech woman and a few mystical forces working against him. He moved his entire life to Czech, specifically Ostrava, in 2016, when he and his wife welcomed a little human into their lives. A few years later, in 2020, when Covid hit, a new daughter decided to make their lives a bit more complicated. Now a family of four, they have been happily living in Prague for the last three years. Juris has a Facebook page, Expats Gathering in Prague, on which he organises meet-ups and shares his experiences of expat life in Prague.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Dobele, Latvia
Q: Where are you currently living?
A: In Prague, Czech Republic
Q: When did you move here?
A: I moved to Prague in the spring of 2018 thanks to a job opening, but I have lived in the Czech Republic since 2016, first having lived in Ostrava.
Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: No, I spent a year in Slovakia as a volunteer. I applied for an Erasmus+ Volunteering programme in Slovakia. That was the first step in the move towards my life in the Czech Republic. But back then I just didn't know it yet.
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: Technically, I moved to the Czech Republic alone, by bus.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I moved to Czech because during my volunteering year in Slovakia I met a woman who got pregnant and, therefore after my year in Slovakia, I decided to move to the Czech Republic. What I do now is enjoy family life as a father of two highly energetic kids.
Unfortunately, since Covid, I lost my job and have had no luck in finding a new one. Meanwhile, the time off has helped me and my wife to focus on our business ideas, which we are slowly making come true.
Living in Prague
Q: What do you enjoy most about Prague? How would you rate the quality of life compared to home?
A: The best thing about Prague is that you'll always find a spot where you can have a great time and, thanks to a very efficient public transport network, it’s possible to get there very easily.
In regards to quality of life in Prague, if we disregard these past years with Covid, which hasn’t been easy for anyone, it’s definitely been a positive living experience. A few things, like housing costs, are quite high and salaries, if you begin in a junior role, are not as high, so you can’t live in complete comfort. Prague is definitely a more expensive city than any other in the Czech Republic, or even if we compare to the Latvian capital city, Riga. But somehow it’s still easy to live in Prague. I think the blend of a big expat community and a Czech community creates a very pleasant environment to be in. It’s more distant in Riga, back in my homeland.
Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: During the summer season way too many tourists come into Prague, which is quite a scary thing to experience. I, therefore, understand why most Czechs aren’t happy about foreigners coming into their country or cities and disrupting their peaceful living. Usually, I try to stay out of Prague during peak seasons.
About my homeland, I mostly miss the peaceful environment there. In Czech, I always feel like I’m in a rush. Also, I miss the dark bread from Latvia, which is my go-to bread, and saunas. We have a strong sauna culture in Latvia, which is Latvians' source of power and youth. Besides all of that, I miss my family, who I haven’t seen in person since May 2019, when my crazy Czech woman and I decided to get married. I come from a big family and it’s quite hard not to see them at least once a year.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here?
A: Probably my greatest obstacle was the language barrier. Even now, since my Czech has improved, I am still not very confident when speaking with Czechs. My wife and I communicate in English daily, because she doesn’t know my native language and I don’t know hers well enough. Besides that, I must say, it’s hard for me to adjust to Czech hospitality customs. I mean, Czechs are very friendly and welcoming but somehow, when you are around them, it’s like you’re always in some sort of competition. I guess that’s what still affects me. Czech is a very competitive nation. It’s not a bad thing when they work towards goals, but they can’t come out of that competitive state when they’re in their comfort zone. Also, family relationships in Czech are far more distant than in Latvia. They’re more like a group of friends than family. I am not saying this is all Czech people, but definitely most of them, especially in Prague.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Prague or your home?
A: If we just compare capital cities, Prague and Riga, then I would say that Prague is more expensive in almost all areas. This is mostly because Prague is built for tourists and the locals are slightly left out. The rental prices, entertainment options and eating out are probably the areas where Prague is more expensive than Riga. The rest of the cities in Latvia are way smaller, and cheaper living options can therefore be found.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Prague?
A: Highly positive. It’s relatively cheap and I can easily reach any point in Prague. The capital city Riga, in Latvia, should come to Prague for an education course to learn how to build a public transport network.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Prague? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: Since I’ve been living in Prague, I haven’t needed to go to the doctor. I’ve managed to stay healthy and, if I did get sick, it was usually during my off days so I managed to get better before going back. I worked as receptionist and I had a different schedule to the usual Monday to Friday. I can only share my experience about Ostrava’s healthcare system and Krnov Hospital in Czech Republic.
I had angina back when my family and I lived in Ostrava and had to visit a family doctor. I must say, I like this system. When you are sick you can go to a doctor for free during particular times. In Latvia, we don’t have it like that. At the doctor's, everything was simple even though nobody spoke English. I was definitely sick and was diagnosed with severe angina. The doctor prescribed me antibiotics. I think Czech doctors rely way too much on pharmaceutical cures than managing different solutions. I wasn’t even asked if I was allergic to antibiotics. I am quite sensitive to them so never take the dose doctors prescribe me, but I got better. Thanks to my insurance I got paid while I was on sick leave from work, which is definitely a double plus in this healthcare system. In Latvia, there are still problems with this.
About the hospital in Krnov, this is where my first child was born. My wife chose it because of the nicer staff, who respected her wishes about how she wished to deliver the baby. I definitely recommend this place. Our son decided to come into this world a week sooner than expected. So, when we contacted the hospital saying that we were on our way, the staff were a bit surprised, but were completely helpful and even gave us one of the biggest rooms. The food was like in any hospital. I would prefer better, but overall it was a nice experience.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Prague? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Definitely watch your six for thieves and scammers, there are a lot of these folks in Prague. My wife’s childcare bag with her ID, wallet and a dirty diaper were stolen three years ago in Prague 3, next to the Hotel Olšanka. This is definitely a place where you should look after your belongings at night. In areas around Charles bridge and Old town, both in the day and evening hours, you need to be cautious. Otherwise, you will go home without your phone or wallet without noticing that they're gone.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Prague? What different options are available for expats?
A: Positive, but with the only negative being the high criteria standards from flat owners. The apartments themselves are smaller than in Latvia for the price. For the price of a one-bedroom apartment in Prague, you could get a bigger space in Riga. I must say though, apartments in Prague are better equipped. In most of them there is already the basic appliances such as a fridge, a dishwasher and so on. It is also easy to find the flat that you want. There are many websites and Facebook groups where you can search for them, but the criteria to get it is way too complicated.
When I got my job in Prague, I also had to search for a flat where I could live with my wife and son. To get an apartment you must have a working contract and have worked for at least three months there before you can be a candidate. I do not know how it is for those who come with visas or as students, but for me it was quite hard. I was basically homeless. I had a job, but no flat for two months. I had to rent a room in hostels or sleep in the park. Thankfully it was the hottest spring ever recorded back then.
We were also declined because some owners did not want kids living in their apartments. It took a long time before I managed to find something. Since I had an irregular shift schedule, when I had a short work week, I just went back to Ostrava.
Eventually, we did manage to get our first flat in Žižkov, Prague 3. I think that is one of the best areas to live in as an expat. Now, we live in Prague 5, in Motol area. This area is nicer, but prices are higher than in Žižkov.
Q: Any cities, areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Another city I would definitely recommend is Brno. It is my favourite city in the Czech Republic to live in as an expat. But when we’re talking about Prague, Žižkov area in Prague 3, Motol and Smíchov in Prague 5, and Prague 4 is also nice.
Meeting people and making friends in Prague
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Prague?
A: I think Czechs are quite hard on foreigners. Their country is welcoming to new folks, but Czechs aren’t that happy about it. Mostly because of the tourist sea which floods in every summer and winter. I worked as a night-time receptionist in a hotel company and saw many episodes where a Czech person negatively impacted foreigners. I cannot say if it’s for any particular groups of people, it is just overall.
I had a situation where I needed to help a guest who reported to the police that his wallet was stolen, but the Czech police ignored it because he was from Africa and they did not believe that it could be a Czech person who had stolen it, even though there had been witnesses. Unfortunately, it ended with the lost wallet, but a report was made after long discussions with the police.
Once the tourists are gone, long-term expats still receive worse customer service due to horrible experiences with tourists.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: I am quite an introvert and do not seek out friends so much. But I do have a few very close friends from my previous jobs. I am still getting used to being a father and a married man, which kind of takes me away from seeking friends.
In Prague, it is very easy to meet people. For example, my family and I go to the park from time to time to make a fire and enjoy an evening with hot sausages cooked on the fire and a cold beer. Usually, other random people come along and join us, so you can connect with them. To my surprise, we generally meet other foreigners like this, not Czechs.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: I mostly hang out with my wife’s friends or people from our house. I keep close contact with people from my previous jobs in Ostrava and here in Prague. I have mostly Czech-speaking friends.
Probably the best way for expats to get comfortable in the Czech Republic, especially in Prague, is to seek out Facebook groups and ask for meet ups. There are many of them and each of them does different activities. I also released mine last year, but it did not go that well because, after the Covid iron curtain was lifted, everyone left Prague. I will see how it goes this year.
Working in Prague
Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process?
A: My country, Latvia, is in the Eurozone and therefore I did not require a visa to move here. It was relatively easy to move here from Latvia. I had to fill in a form that resigned me from my former place in Dobele, register my new address in Ostrava, wait about a week or two for confirmation that everything was fine and then I just needed to buy tickets.
I did already have a job interview scheduled, so I did not need to worry about that. I just went to Ostrava, waited for a time when I could talk to company management and successfully secured my place there. It was actually my very first official job contract. In Latvia, I did mostly part-time jobs, where you do the job and receive payment on hand.
Q: What is the economic climate in Prague like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: To find a junior position, or something like a receptionist job, should be relatively easy. Also, language requirements will not be as high for start-up positions. Now, due to the pandemic, everything has changed. I’m still struggling to find a new job. Probably because I kind of enjoy the freedom from a daily work schedule.
To look for jobs I recommend sites like: Expats.cz; Jobs.cz, LinkedIn and Facebook. With Facebook, you need to be careful because of the many scammers. It would definitely be helpful to learn the Czech language as fast as possible. That would definitely increase your chance of finding a job, but it will not guarantee that you will be accepted.
Czech is a highly competitive nation and you must make sure you are a good asset for a Czech company. Overall, in Czech, there are many foreign companies, who try to attract more people for various positions, so just keep an eye open and CV ready.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: If someone wishes to execute their business idea in Latvia, it is a simple bureaucratic matter, but it is a bit harder for foreigners to attract an audience. In Czech, it is the opposite. It’s easy for foreigners to attract an audience but the bureaucratic stuff, what you have to take care of even before beginning your business, is highly complex and lengthy. Even for my wife, who began her art business, it was a ridiculous process.
If we talk just about casual work, then, in Latvia, your hard-working hands will be helpful everywhere, but the standards for hire are much higher. Without speaking Latvian it’ll be almost impossible to get a job. For expats who wish to work in the Czech Republic it is relatively easy to find a nicely paid job. Well, at least it before Covid.
Family and children in Prague
Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in Prague?
A: As a family we like to explore places on foot, so the parks and forests are our natural habitats. Since we now live in Prague 5, Motol area, the Cibulka Park is the place where we usually spend our free time. I also recommend Vyšehrad for families, or Malá Chuchle Zoo, which is hidden in a forest and free to be explored by animal lovers. For those who really like to hike, I recommend going to Divoká Šárka Park and Hostivař Park. And of course Prague Zoo and Petřín Park are must visits for a family.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: I do not have very good insight about schools in the Czech Republic. At the moment our son is homeschooling, and we are also sending him to the forest schools in summer, which are definitely better than standard classroom schools. It’s definitely better to choose schools with mixed classrooms of foreign kids and Czechs so your child can blend in easier.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Prague?
A: Be open minded and do not argue with Czechs, they are professionals on that part. Czechs are always right, even though most of the time they are not. They do not like to be behind somebody, and will do anything to get on top.
Enjoy the parks during high tourism season. They will be your sanctuary, because the centre of Prague will be occupied at all times.
Be sure to scout for jobs and accommodation very carefully to ensure you aren't being scammed. Ask for advice on Facebook groups if you have difficulty understanding customs.
Just take a beer and go to Stromovka Park to enjoy a lovely day. It is probably the best park in Prague, from my point of view, and if you need a guide, I can help you.
►Interviewed in May 2021