Expatova is an American expat living in the Czech Republic. She moved to a small village on the outskirts of Prague a couple of years ago with her Czech husband and young son. While it wasn't so easy for her to mix with the locals, Expatova found many ways to connect with fellow expats in Prague through online forums. She loves Prague and has settled in well to life in the Czech Republic.
Learn more about the country in the Expat Arrivals Czech Republic Guide and read more Expat Experiences in the Czech Republic.
To learn more about her experiences in the Czech Republic check out her blog - Expatova - Expat Life in a little Czech Village
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I'm originally from an isolated part of the North Western USA.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: I now live in a little village outside of Prague in the Czech Republic.
Q: When did you move to the Czech Republic?
A: Two and a half years ago.
Q: Did you move to the Czech Republic alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved with my husband and small son.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do here?
A: We moved to be closer to my husband's family (he's Czech). I am a teacher.
Living in the Czech Republic
Q: What do you enjoy most about the Czech Republic? How would you rate the quality of life compared to the USA?
A: I love the city of Prague – it's beautiful, historical, and with lots of cultural events (from United Islands of Prague, which is a rock/jazz/folk/world music festival hosted on the islands in the middle of the Vltava to a classical musical concert performed in the open air by Prague castle). Prague offers a really pleasant, exciting quality of life.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: On the other hand, Czechs are not known for being friendly....especially to strangers. I miss the pleasant chitchat from home.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in the Czech Republic? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: Most of the people here value being straightforward over being polite, which I'm still learning to adjust to. The Czech language is both beautiful and bloody difficult, and I get very frustrated with not knowing what people are saying or what information I need to fill on a form.
Q: What’s the cost of living in the Czech Republic compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Generally, things are about the same price as at home. However, the beer and services in general are a lot cheaper, so eating in a restaurant or a night out isn't such a big expense. Babysitting, housecleaning, and haircutting are all cheaper. And public transport is great and also very reasonable. Good quality (British-style black tea) is harder to find and more expensive, as is cheddar cheese and cereal. American deli-style dill pickles are sadly very difficult to find as well.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in the Czech Republic? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: Public transport in Prague is excellent, with a good network of trams, buses and metro. Tickets are inexpensive and monthly or yearly tickets are a good deal. Outside of Prague, trains are okay, if sometimes a little outdated. Buses tend to be good too. A car is not so necessary if you live in Prague. For me, since I live in a village, a car makes my life a lot more pleasant.
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: Healthcare in Prague is excellent, but without many frills. Many of the medical treatments offered here are on the cutting edge, especially in fertility and oncology. However, many doctors' offices and most of the hospitals have a very strong Communist-era ambiance. Nemocnice Motol is a very well-regarded hospital with a special focus on foreigners. Canadian Medical Care seems to be the go-to for expats, but I've also had very good experiences with standard Czech doctors.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Prague? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: There are a number of pickpockets in Prague, especially on public transport. It's a good idea to keep an eye on your things and to avoid being too loud and obviously foreign when on public transport or in tourist hotspots (Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, Prague Castle). Like most big cities, there are some areas that have more of a reputation for being dangerous than others, but a lot of it depends on which street you live on.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Prague? What different options are available for expats?
A: The standard of housing is good – especially compared to some of the places I lived in when I was in England. Flats tend to be fairly spacious. The cheaper options include flats in concrete Paneláky (Communist-era apartment buildings) or flats in older buildings in less desirable locations. There are many newly-built blocks of flats, especially around the ends of the metro stations. The most glamorous option would be an Art Nouveau flat in the centre, which are relatively easy to find.
It is also possible to buy or rent a house with a garden, either inside Prague or in the many villages close by.
Q: Any areas/suburbs of Prague you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Letná is cool and artsy, as well as being very convenient. Vinohrady is one of the more expensive areas, and traditionally many expats live there. It is very central, but with some nice parks and areas to walk along the river. There is a large expat community in Dejvice, which has some lovely tree-lined avenues. There are some nice areas in Prague 5, though there are also some areas that have a bad reputation, especially close to the tramline. Břevnov is pleasant, especially if you can afford a house near the very large park Ladronka.
For those who want a modern house, Nebušice is a popular area for expats and it also has a well-known international school there.
Meeting people and making friends in Prague
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: In Prague, Czechs are used to foreigners and are generally welcoming, especially if you are the sort of foreigner who doesn't sing loudly on trams. The Czech Republic has a traditionally homogenous population, so non-white foreigners might find themselves stared at in public, but it's generally more curiosity than hostility. The Czech society has historically been prejudiced against Roma people, and still is in many ways today. Women have more equality in many areas, but traditional gender roles (e.g. the woman cooking lunch for her husband and doing most of the housework) still persist, especially among the older generation.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: It was relatively easy for me to meet new friends. I found some people who had posted on online forums and we arranged to meet up. They introduced me to their friends, and my friendship network grew.
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? Any social/expat groups you can recommend?
A: Most of my friends are Czech, but it's possible to have a good network of expat friends. There are a number of Facebook groups that are active, especially ones for families with kids. There is a surprisingly active Czech cricket league for anyone with nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon, as well as football/soccer leagues and basketball teams. There are also art classes and theatre groups run by expats and many group Czech lessons, which could be a good way to meet other brave souls.
Working in a Czech company or participating in a mostly-Czech organization is a good way to meet the locals.
About working in the Czech Republic
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit for the Czech Republic? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: I didn't have problems getting a visa since my husband is a Czech citizen. It did, however, take several trips to various government offices where the only language they will speak to you is Czech, so it is very helpful to have a friend or partner who speaks Czech to help you along.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Prague? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: The economic climate is fairly strong for central Europe. The website Jobs.cz has job listing in English as well as Czech. Foreigners who are planning to teach English as a foreign language should be aware that, while there are many jobs, most employers require certificates or experience.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Prague?
A: Many companies expect earlier starts – at 7 or 8am for office jobs, but with the bonus that employees then are expected to leave earlier too, at 4 or 5 pm, which can be nice. It's important to be aware of formal/informal Czech and to use formal Czech when conducting business. Also, Czechs tend to be very straightforward, with fewer pleasantries than some other countries. Americans especially might be surprised at the number of vacation days they get and the fact that most people actually use their vacations days to go biking in Germany, to the seaside in Croatia or to potter around at their cottages.
Family and children in the Czech Republic
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: I am the trailing spouse, and my husband was delighted to be back in his home country. I think it's easy for trailing spouses to feel lonely, so it was very important for me to find jobs and friends. I also found it very helpful to develop my independence by joining clubs and activities on my own.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move?
A: My son is very happy here. He doesn't seem to have any problems with being bilingual. Sometimes, I find the societal expectations of how to raise children difficult – for instance, strangers on the street have told me that my son should be wearing a hat. Overall, though, Czech children have a lot of freedom and there are many aspects of Czech childhood that seem very nice.
Q: What are the schools like in the Czech Republic, any particular suggestions?
A: State school starts at 3 years old in most areas and goes until 18 or 19. Parents should be aware that the Czech system encourages children to specialise early on and that in order to get into the elite 8-year gymnasiums (university preparatory high schools), students must pass entrance exams. Other options include 4-year gymnasiums and practical schools for trades. Some state schools offer a very good education, but other schools and teachers take a very traditional view of education, which involves a lot of memorising and repetition. It's a good idea to go to the school open days to get a feel for how the headmaster and teachers run the school.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals moving to Prague?
A: Life in Prague is much more interesting if you learn a bit of Czech and make friends with the locals. You must, of course, try smažák (fried cheese) and the famous Czech beer. Czechs can seem a little abrupt, especially shopkeepers and strangers, but most of them have a sense of humor and can be extremely kind.
►Interviewed August 2015