Expat Life in Czech Republic and Slovakia

There is no doubt that the countries of Eastern Europe have much in common. Years under Soviet control created a sort of lowest common denominator. And nearly all Eastern European people who lived during that time could share a few similar stories of the effects of Soviet-style government on their lives.

Perhaps more to the point, however, are the differences between the Czech Republic and Poland or Hungary, and what effect these differences have on expatriate life.

One thing is certain. More expats choose to stay in the Czech Republic than probably in all of the other Eastern European countries combined. There are several likely reasons for this: the Czechs are affable and usually welcoming to foreigners, the Czech economy has not suffered as greatly as other Eastern European countries during the economic transition from the Soviet system, the country wants all the international exposure and assistance it can get, and Prague is one of the great cities of the world for anyone who appreciates culture, history, beauty, and plain old inexpensive fun. Simply stated, the Czech Republic is by and large a cooperative and friendly place.

Especially in Prague, the Czechs have made it possible for foreigners to come in and set up small businesses, particularly if this involves partnerships with Czech companies or individuals. You will find all sorts of expats (including a large Vietnamese community that runs most of the vegetable markets in the city) involved in various business endeavors such as bookstores, cafes, import-export, consulting, and advertising. This doesn’t mean it’s easy to set up shop there, but at least the Czech government doesn’t interfere all the time. In fact, most expats involved in business in the Czech Republic can tell you nightmare stories of all the bureaucratic red tape they had to go through just to get started. Some will tell stories of having to pay bribes.

In some cases, persistence pays off and people stay for the long haul. Others give up after a year or two.

Though Slovakia benefits to a certain extent from its former association with the Czech Republic, it does not attract as many foreigners. In general, Slovaks don’t go out of their way to stimulate interest in their country. Outside of teaching English, there simply aren’t as many avenues for ambitious expats to explore as in the Czech Republic. Having played second fiddle to the Czechs for so long, the Slovaks seemed determined to make their own way the world. Unfortunately, they don’t appear to be as savvy as the Czechs in the pursuit of economic revitalization. Perhaps the repressive pall cast down by Soviets during their tenure has had greater long-term effects on the Slovaks. Whatever the explanation, the fact remains that when compared to the Czechs, the Slovaks create more obstacles for the average expat who wants to settle down for a while to teach English and sop up the local culture.

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