Other Work Opportunities for Expats in the Czech Republic and Slovakia
Of all the countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic holds the most promise for foreigners who want to seek employment opportunities outside of language instruction.
Given a relatively high tolerance for foreign involvement in the establishment of a market economy, many young Americans have traveled to the Czech Republic in search of a new and novel way of life. Though most younger expats begin their adventure teaching English by day and taking advantage of the low cost of living by night, after a while the initial allure of teaching may wear off. And partying every night can bring its own set of complications. When the glamour of teaching by day and carousing by night wears off, there is usually a choice to be made: stay and find some other kind of employment or leave and go somewhere else.
Not surprisingly, a lot of people choose to pursue other kinds of work. Some network with friends or colleagues in order to find jobs which will simply enable them to get by. Others strike out on their own and start up small businesses or find positions in international companies which require more responsibility and longer time commitments – not much different than working in corporate America. Regardless of the particular paths they choose, what generally sets these people apart from other expats is that they discover something truly inviting about the country and its people which gives meaning to their expatriate lifestyle. Most commonly, they learn to speak Czech or Slovak so that they can both socialize and work effectively with the locals. In fact, they may actually spend more time with their Czech and Slovak friends than they do with other expats. After all, most of them want to make the most of their experiences.
One American expat interviewee contributed:
“Now that I’ve begun working primarily with Czech people, I rarely speak English during my time in the office. And since my girlfriend is Czech, we speak Czech together at home. In fact, now that I’m no longer teaching English, I rarely see other native English speakers anymore.”
For the most part, the people who stay and work in the Czech and Slovak Republics make certain compromises with respect to both their careers and their personal lives. Staying overseas for a long period of time means carrying on long distance relationships with friends and family back home. The difference between living and working in the states and in Eastern Europe are significant. Time itself almost seems to have a different character when you live outside the context of the time and place that you are accustomed to. And when it comes to your career or work life, this warping of context often becomes even more pronounced. You might begin to ask yourself questions such as:
- Do I want my job experience in Eastern Europe to be directly relevant to my future career plans back home? Or, am I staying and working because it’s a valuable life experience and I might not have such an opportunity later on?
- How long will I need to stay in order to feel that I have accomplished enough to return home with the kind of experience that will look good on my resume?
- Though I am making enough money to live well while I am staying in Eastern Europe, am I willing to forgo making what I could back home if I really applied myself to a job?
Though these questions apply no matter where you decide to stay and work, there are distinct differences between the Czech and Slovak Republics. Just across a recently formed border with the Czech lands, Slovakia has not welcomed as many expatriates nor attracted much foreign investment.
Slovaks seem naturally more suspicious of foreigners than do Czechs. This doesn’t mean that you can’t teach English or create other opportunities in Slovakia. There are quite a few expats who have stayed for a time in Slovakia and enjoyed their work there immensely. It’s just more likely that you will attract certain kinds of unwanted attention or have to deal with more red tape. You must be both resilient and patient to find work other than teaching English in Slovakia.
Referring to many Slovaks’ sentiments toward foreigners, an American who lives there said:
“No one is paying any attention to Slovakia, so people here often look up to those who come here to try to help. But there is something of a ‘foreigner-go-home sentiment.’ And with the bureaucracy the way it is, you’re subject to the whim of the day. Sometimes it seems that all along the way people are able to make decisions which get in your way. Even so, the expat community here is small but relatively decent. You find people who have heads on their shoulders. They’re not trying to escape from something, which often seems to be the case in places like Prague.”
It’s worth repeating here that Slovakia is not as far along on the road to economic recovery as the Czech Republic. There isn’t as much to go around for either the Slovaks or expatriates in search of opportunity: the Slovak crown isn’t worth as much as the Czech crown, Slovakia’s infrastructure isn’t as well developed as the Czech Republic’s, and perhaps most importantly, Bratislava is not the thriving business center and vibrant tourist attraction that Prague is.
A Czech-speaking American who has traveled extensively in the Czech Republic commented:
“Whereas the Czech Republic has virtually completed the privatization process, Slovakia has slowed its drive toward privatization. I think about 30 percent of Slovak industry is now in private hands compared to 80 percent in the Czech Republic. There isn’t a feeling of entrepreneurial drive in Slovakia, and the Slovaks are more wrapped up in nationalistic sentiment. I was in Bratislava on a Monday morning and it was difficult to find a good place to get a pastry and a cup of coffee. There were a lot of places boarded up, even in the center of town.”
The following is a list of the kinds of fields in which American expatriates have pursued employment in the Czech Republic, and to a lesser degree, in Slovakia. It is intended to give you a general idea of what goes on outside of the English-teaching field.
- Service industry: restaurants, bars, hostels, and hotels
- Computer software: engineering and consulting
- Law: international law, business and contract law
- Graphic design and architecture
- Book and magazine publishing
- Marketing and advertising
- Translation and interpreting
- Journalism: reporting, editing, proofreading, photography
- Retail: bookstores and T-shirt shops
- Import-export industry
- General business consulting
- Food catering
- Babysitting, nannying, housecleaning, dog walking
- Various entrepreneurial and small business endeavors
- Freelancing in any of the above fields
Unless you want to apply for a job with an international company that does business in either the Czech Republic or Slovakia, your chances of creating opportunities without first venturing across the Atlantic are pretty slim. Most of the people who end up living and working in the republics begin by teaching English and then moving on from there. After all, no matter whether you are relocating to another city in North America or across the Atlantic, it takes time to get situated and to make the kinds of contacts that can lead to new job opportunities. Few who succeed at finding work outside of the English teaching field do so before they have established at least some range of local contacts.
If you’re searching for a job that requires either technical knowledge or an advanced degree, or if your area of interest or expertise is fairly specialized, it may be to your advantage to begin your job search in the United States or Canada. Those hired in North America are more likely to be well-compensated (i.e., paid a hard currency salary on a Western pay scale). If you leave before you begin your search on www.expats.cz, www.prageupost.com, and www.prague.tv; contact the agencies listed below. But remember: no matter where you are, the best way for you to find work is to make as many contacts as possible. A Texan who came to Prague looking for non-teaching work stated:
“I spent three weeks advertising in a classified ad in Annonce before I got an interview. The business sector here is a big market and the most important thing is knowing how to make contacts. If they don’t teach English, most expats get started in the service industry.”
Send out resumes and cover letters to companies that do business overseas and arrange to meet with someone who has worked or lived in Slovakia or the Czech Republic. Make contact with a Czech or Slovak person who might maintain either business or family ties with the old country, or consult the director of a foreign exchange or study program in either country through your college or university.
The United States Department of Commerce in the Czech and Slovak Republics publishes a list of all American companies that do business in both countries. The list contains addresses and brief descriptions of each company’s business. Contact:
The American Cultural Center
U.S. Department of Commerce
Prague 1 117 16
Another reliable source of information for job seekers are the American Chambers of Commerce in the Czech and Slovak Republics. They keep up-to -date files of resumes of people who are seeking employment in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, so that their members have access to a database of prospective employees. Joining the Chamber of Commerce is expensive, so you should make an appointment to speak with someone about the benefits of joining. Individual memberships cost US$250. Contact:
The American Chamber of Commerce – Czech Republic
Karlovo namesti 24
Prague 1 110 00
Phone: (02) 29 98 87
Fax: (02) 29 14 81