Welcome to the Expat Interview Series! I’ve reached out to expats in different countries to hear why people might choose to move abroad, and how they do it. If you want to know more about moving to a particular country this is the place. Check out the archive of Expat Interviews for more!
Prague is such a fairytale city! I visited Prague at Christmas a few years ago, which made it even more so, and it’s always been one of those places I’d love to return to. At one point I actually considered moving there to teach English, so I was really excited to interview Ronan O’Shea who did just that! Check out his story and advice on the costs of living in Prague which is super useful for anyone thinking of moving there, or even just travelling.
Tell us about yourself
I now live in London (where I was born) but between 2011 and 2014 I lived in the Czech capital, Prague. Before I moved there, I had always been interested in travel and had done a brief Erasmus in Italy, where I was tutored by the novelist Tim Parks. After that, I travelled around the Balkans, which made me want to see other parts of Europe.
Since leaving Prague, I’ve worked as a journalist in my home city, trying to do as much travel writing as possible.
What made you decide to move to Prague?
I moved there when I was 24 for a few reasons. Firstly, I was struggling to find a job after completing my masters, which shouldn’t have been much of a surprise given that my masters was in creative writing.
That, and the fact that I wanted to write fiction, inspired me to move to Prague and become a TEFL teacher. Naively, I thought the job would give me enough free time to do plenty of writing. I quickly learned that teaching was very hard work and I was a perfectionist when it came to planning lessons. However, I learned a lot and met a lot of nice people, including other expat teachers and my students.
Tell me about the cost of living in Prague
One of the great things about Prague is that the cost of living really is quite fair and low. As a teacher, I always moaned about my low wages but looking back, while I didn’t earn enough to save and the work was precarious (lessons often got cancelled) it was always more than enough to pay rent, buy groceries and have a little fun too.
My Czech students always said renting in Prague was expensive and it is, compared to other Czech cities. But if you look at it proportionately, it’s really cheap. On average, my rental costs per month were around £200-£250, only a quarter or a fifth of my monthly income depending on how much teaching I was doing. Compared to London, where many people pay more than half their salary in rent, it was really affordable and I never had to worry too much about rent, except in the early months when I was building up classes.
If there was one problem with renting it’s that a lot of landlords want cash in hand, and it’s hard to get around that. It’s a problem in the country because it’s a way of avoiding tax, but it’s just the norm. I lived in three flats and that was the case in two of them. That said, both the landlords were nice people and always fixed things when there was a problem (eventually). But it’s an issue that needs addressing nationally.
Transport is another extremely affordable expense. You can buy day passes, monthly passes, quarterly passes and yearly passes. I usually went for quarterly to save the hassle of topping up and it costs £51. That includes all trams, trains, and buses. But you can also buy a year pass for £126 or a month pass for £19. If you know you’re going to be living in Prague for a year, the quarterly or yearly are the best value.
You don’t have to validate your pass each time you use public transport either, but you must always carry it with you because there are a lot of plain clothes transport inspectors and they can order you to present your pass.
One of the most affordable expenses in Prague was eating out. Going to a normal restaurant really never cost more than £10-15. Actually, shopping in supermarkets wasn’t much cheaper than at home so sometimes, if you bought all the ingredients for a good meal, it was about the same as going out to dinner. While it’s usually less healthy, you could easily eat at a normal Czech restaurant two to three times a week without thinking that you were splurging.
As for other every day items, beer is famously cheaper than water. A pint is around £1 in Prague, even now in 2017, though this obviously varies by venue. It’s also really good quality.
When it comes to cost of living, there are a few things that are more expensive in the Czech Republic than the UK, like toiletries. You don’t get two for one offers as much as at home (which I think is a good thing), while clothes and electronics were also fairly expensive. But when it comes to day to day living, it’s really affordable.
How did you find the job seeking process?
I’m not very good at online job searches so it was hard at first. However, because I trained as a TEFL teacher, I’d met a few language school reps. I initially got a job at the school where I trained, but then moved to another school called James Cook Languages where I worked for three years. Towards the end of my time in the city, I did more private lessons and they paid much better; but they require a lot of self-marketing which I wasn’t so good at back then.
Do you need a visa to live in Prague?
Not for EU residents, but US expats (I knew many) did, and it’s not an easy process. It can be quite expensive and you have to travel to Berlin, Vienna or Bratislava to apply (naturally, there is no Czech embassy in Prague). Many combine this with an opportunity to see these cities, but I remember my friends being quite stressed about it.
What’s the social scene like? How easy is it to make friends?
Prague has an amazing social scene. The pubs and clubs are nothing like those in the UK and America and for a young person in Europe it’s a breath of fresh air. You can go to great beer gardens like Riegrovy Sady or Letna, or unique clubs like Cross Club, which looks like the inside of a clock (you have to see it to understand).
But it’s not all about drinking beer and partying (though that is great fun); Prague has the best café culture of any city I’ve ever been to and I spent hours writing and working in many different places, especially Kaaba.
Some of the more centrally located clubs and bars are more expensive and expats and tourists can be ripped off, but if you do a little research and had literally just a couple of streets off the main tourist hotspots, the prices drop significantly.
It is a little tricky to make friends with Czechs. This isn’t because they are unfriendly, rather that they already have strong friendship groups. I think this is the same everywhere. My housemate is French but says she’s struggled to make non-French friends in England because everyone she meets already has an established social circle.
I was lucky because I made lots of friends who were also teachers, but I think if you live in Prague and work in a different industry, you’ll have to work that little bit harder to find new mates.
What’s the best thing about living in Prague as an expat?
It is just a really laid-back, relaxed place. There are much fewer chain bars and restaurants and the city has so much character. When you go to festivals and events the prices don’t suddenly become prohibitively expensive and it was just amazing to be able to relax about having fun and not see all your money draining away.
What’s the hardest thing about moving to Prague?
The language is very difficult. I only ever became conversational and not that great at Czech, and I was there for three and a half years. Also, over time you begin to notice nuanced differences in culture that can be quite striking. However, overall it was a fantastic experience.
How is your new home different from your old one?
Prague is completely different to London. It is much smaller and easier to get around. In fact, you get so used to the small size that a fifteen minute journey can seem too much!
Culturally, I think it is a lot more laid back. You can take your dog into pubs and people seem less worried and stressed. Also, there are never any huge crowds, which looking back, was a blessing.
If we had just one day in Prague what should we not miss?
It’s hard to say. Everyone usually marks out the castle and Charles Bridge as the big hotspots, but they do get very crowded. My advice would be to go to Petrin hill (which is near both) and enjoy the views, or even head up to one of the beer garden parks (Letna or Riegrovy Sady) and just enjoy the stunning views of the red-roofed apartment blocks, the opera house and other sights.
Can you share your best local/insider tip about where you live?
Bit of a boring one, but if you’re going to live in the Czech Republic, you might want to get a Zivnostensky Listek (Business Licence). Some companies will insist you have it though, and it’s not always necessary depending on your type of work or your length of stay. Do a little research though, because it can be a lengthy process which involves going to state offices. It’s good if you can take a Czech friend who would be willing to help you, but of course, that’s may be easier said than done!
It’s a good idea, however, to get in touch with people who already live there and ask questions before you arrive. There is a Facebook group called Expats in Prague, and other similar groups online.
If you could give one piece of advice to people looking to live in Prague what would it be?
Enjoy it. Unless you settle there permanently, it’s unlikely you’ll ever live in a city as beautiful, affordable or relaxed as Prague. Try to get out and see other parts of the country too, because there are some really beautiful little towns dotted all over the country.