13 September 2016

Jo Weaver - Expat in Czech Republic

Jo Weaver - Expat in Czech Republic

We’ve had the chance to talk to Jo Weaver, a British expat who has moved to the Czech Republic with her partner. Mrs. Weaver who has been living there for 25 years, now works as a company director.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I was born and brought up in the UK, although my father was Austrian and my mother is half Italian… so I don’t really feel completely British, especially after living in the Czech Republic for half of my life!


Q: What made you move out of the UK?

A: I moved out of the UK (!) when I was sent to the then Czechoslovakia for work in 1990


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I decided to stay in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) when I left the company that I had gone there with to set up a business on my own .. that was in 1991


Q: How long have you been living in the Czech Republic?

A: Since 1991.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I live with my partner, who is Czech. He actually emigrated to the UK in the 80s, and we met when I was already here, and he was living happily in the UK and not really keen to come back. But, of course, he has not had to adjust to the Expat Lifestyle as he is a ‘local’… even though he says he is British!


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I have always missed home and family, and still do. The advantage I have is that the UK is only a short flight away, so I still return pretty much every month. Actually, in the early days, I think that it might have been a mistake to go back that often as it stopped me from really feeling that I lived in the CR… I used to tell people that I ‘live’ in the UK, but work in the CR….. that is how I felt at that time


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: When I first arrived in Czechoslovakia, the country was just emerging from its long period of Communism, and that took a very big toll on the people. In those days, we used to find it very difficult to work together (the Czechs had been brought up to mistrust/dislike foreigners, whilst we found it very frustrating to work with people that had a very different work ethic to us), the language was very difficult for foreigners to learn and very few Czechs spoke English, and we felt that it would be another generation before living and working together would be easy. Those of us that have lived in the CR for a long time have built lives for ourselves where we are either comfortable with the locals or live amongst them without getting too involved in their everyday lives…  expats that are still arriving, still find the locals a bit of a challenge… 


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in the Czech Republic? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: I spent my first six months in the CR living in isolation… but then, once I met one expat, it opened the doors (literally) to a pub where the few other expats met each evening, and as new expats arrived they found the pub and each other… those of us that met in those days but still live in the CR have formed very strong bonds with each other. As life became a bit more normal, the Chambers of Commerce started and other business and networking associations opened up, which enabled newcomers to the CR to meet people and build a social life. I think for new arrivals these associations still serve a useful purpose. Generally, while the younger Czechs (especially the young ladies!) like to attend the expat events, and so on, I don’t think we foreigners get very involved in regular Czech life, partly because we tend to be the ‘employers’, and they are the ‘employees’.

From my side, being involved in the business (PR) that involves meeting people on a regular basis has definitely made my life easier than it is for a lot of other expat women; if they don’t work, then I think it can be very lonely. There is still not a great amount of interaction between the expats and the locals (other than through work) so being at home with kids, as is the case with a lot of other women, can be difficult.

Generally, I would say that most expats form a social circle through mixing with other expats, who they find through work, business associations or, in many women’s case, the International Women’s Association of Prague, which does a lot of great work (and now attracts quite a few Czech women as well as foreigners).  


Q: How does the cost of living in the Czech Republic compared to your home?

A: It used to be enormously different; that is why most of us stayed in the early days when day to day life was pretty tough! Now, of course, things are changing, and the cost of restaurants, flats, hotels, shops and so on in central Prague are getting pretty expensive. 

  •  Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: On average, about 2 Euro.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: On average: Euros 10 per head.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: Can be anything up to about Euros 100 per head.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Local wine can be Euros 2 a bottle. Foreign wine anything from Euros 4 upwards. Cigarettes? About Euros 1 per pack of 20 I think.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in the Czech Republic?

A: Go to one of the big, international banks that are used to dealing with foreigners. There are several in Prague, but only one or two outside. Ceska Sporitelna (Austrian) has branches throughout the country and has a strong expat history... Unicredit is Italian and also has several branches.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: Right now, EU residents do not need a visa or a work permit to travel or stay in the CR. Before the CR joined the EU, the bureaucracy was very difficult and time-consuming (yet another reason why UK expats are so against the UK coming out of the EU!!). Americans and Canadians have to go through a fairly strict procedure for both visas and work permits which, the Czechs say, is a reciprocity for what the Czechs have to do to visit or work in the US or Canada.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Czech Republic is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: Healthcare is available to all and is very good. Many expats prefer to go to the foreign run clinics such as the Canadian Medical Centre, mainly, I think, because English is their language, but the doctors are no different to those that work in the local health centres. If you have private insurance, then these foreign health clinics are very useful but expensive if you have to pay for yourself. The local clinics, surgeries and hospitals are good (the Czech Republic is famous for its medical research, and doctors’ training) but very much a ‘no frills’ experience.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in your home or Czech Republic? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: I used to have private UK health insurance (BUPA) which was very expensive, and when I came to make a biggish claim I had a huge battle with them as they didn’t want to pay it. I decided, after that, that if I saved the money that I spent on private health insurance to pay for myself if anything was needed, I was probably better off! As an employee of a Czech company (which I am, even though it is my own company) I have Czech health insurance, which means that I can go to any doctor/clinic or hospital and pay just one Euro (approximately) for treatment.


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to the Czech Republic? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: I didn’t really have a packing experience. I started off living in a hospital out of a suitcase, then in a furnished flat that was half suitcase and half bits and pieces that I gradually brought from the UK. When the time came for me to buy an apartment, I started with a few bits of furniture bought locally, a few bits shipped over, and then built it up with various things brought from all over the place!

Now, however, there are some seriously good, international movers such as Graebel in town, so for international people shipping their lives to (or from) the CR, these companies will make life very easy.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: It is a bit different now to how it was when I arrived; every day was a challenge! No telephone lines (50 international lines in the whole country meant that it was nearly impossible to phone home!), no computers or other technology, a very difficult language to learn, and locals that didn’t like foreigners! That’s just for starters…! Now, probably, it is the language that most people find challenging, plus finding good people to work for them if they are in business.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in the Czech Republic?

A: Positives: lots. The location, which means that we can travel to pretty much any country within just a few hours’ drive or an hour’s flight. The climate (different to how it was now!), with fairly mild winters and warm summers, with very little in between. The cost of living (much lower than the UK or elsewhere in Europe), the ability to walk everywhere in Prague rather than having to drive to work/socially.

Negatives: the people are not easy to get on with. The language is very difficult. If you are in business, the corruption is still dreadful. And, still, the pollution is quite bad, which means that many of us suffer from more colds and bronchial troubles than we might at home.  


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: Prague is a wonderful city in itself, and days can be spent wandering around looking at the architecture, going to concerts, museums, great restaurants and clubs. For sports people like me, anything is possible – skiing within an hour’s drive, tennis at incredible clubs with lots of well-known players, running in the parks… for newcomers, Prague is just a like a village, and it is easy to find other like-minded people nowadays; go to one of the many business networking events, Irish pubs, etc. and you will find other expats who are all very friendly.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: I am already spending quite a lot of my time in Spain and, of course, visiting the UK on a regular basis. I think that once you have been a long-term expat it is very difficult to stop, so I kind of think that we will end our days spending some of our time in Spain (where we now have a house and where we used to go for the sunny winters, when Prague was much colder!!!), some in Prague (where we hope to continue working until we drop) and some in the UK, which is still ‘home’.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the Czech Republic?

A: Most of what I have said above. Find some other expats as a starting point (unless you are here to work) otherwise, it can be very lonely. Don’t get too down if you can’t learn the language – most expats arrive and spend hours trying and very few manage to get past a basic knowledge. Nowadays it is not so necessary; most Czechs in Prague speak better English than we can ever speak Czech! Find out about life here by asking expats that have been here for ages, rather than Czechs that will see it very differently. Aim to go to Prague rather than anywhere else.. the rest of the country is still very underdeveloped, and being a foreigner in one of the country towns would take some stamina.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about the Czech Republic?

A: Only mine!! Actually, I don’t really know of any others. I am sure there are many.