This month, it’ll be 10 months since we arrived in Prague hoping to get the freelance visa, and we’re well on our way to our second beer garden season in this city. Prague beer garden season is pretty much the best thing ever, so we’re feeling good.
Having been here almost a year, we are in the final stages of getting our long-term residency to the Czech Republic, and with that, we’ve gotten quite a few questions, and also learned a thing or three. I figured I’d write a little summary post of how we did it, in case you want to do it too, or are just visa curious.
Before I go any further, this is really the Part II post. If you’re looking for Part I, Getting on the Czech Živnostenský list, you’re in the wrong spot. So just head on over there, and we’ll wait for you here.
The Different Types of Visa
First of all, a lot of people don’t know about the Czech Republic’s ‘freelance visa’ – the freelance visa in Germany seems to be pretty well-known among the digital nomad/travel set and the Spanish non-lucrative visa seems to be on the rise, but the Czech visa still seems like a well-kept secret.
We’re on the “freelance visa,” but it’s not a visa per se: it’s a long-term resident visa + registration of a sole proprietorship business as a freelancer.
Here are the different types of living visas, just to keep all the terminology straight.
- Tourist visa (this is the 90-day/180-day Schengen stamp, if you’re from a country that has the Schengen visa exemption, such as Canada)
- Long-stay visa (6 months)
- Long-term resident visa (renewable for 6 months to up to 2 years at a time, depending on your insurance)
- Permanent resident (after a minimum 5 cumulative years in steps 2 to 3, with some other requirements too)
Our long-stay visa expired at the end of January, and we are in the homestretch of getting our long-term resident visa. We’ve followed “step” 1 through 3 chronologically, and as far as I know — at least as a freelancer — you have to do the long-stay visa before you get the long-term resident visa. Step 2 is basically a test, during which you have to prove that you can make enough income to warrant Step 3.
* There is also the Youth Mobility visa / Working Holiday visa, which if you qualify (by virtue of being young of years and from a country that has an agreement with the Czech Republic) makes things way easier for a year.
So…What About Working?
We are both self-employed, and have a business in the Czech Republic that is basically a sole proprietorship. Again, if you’re just starting out, then best to go read this post about how we got our long-stay visa and permission to work. But basically, you get a living visa (see the 4 types above), and then you apply separately to register your business. By virtue of having a business, you can work for yourself and have clients.
Long-Term Residency Visa as a Non-EU Citizen
So first of all: the requirements. One of the reasons there isn’t a tonne of info on the Internet about this is that the rules are constantly changing. When we went to apply in early January (we had to make an appointment at the Ministry, and then show up in-person with all our documents), we thought we had everything we needed, until the nice young man at the office informed us that they had – surprise – changed the rules on January 1. So then we were given 30 days to submit our missing documents. Below is what we needed.
Proof of income: The government wants to see that you’re making a minimum of 15,000 Kč per month, per person, if you are a single or unmarried couple, or a minimum of 20,000 Kč per month as a married couple. If you want to be counted as a married couple, check with the government that they’ll accept you as such before you base all your decisions on that.
So what constitutes proof of income? That actually depends on WHEN your initial 6-month visa expires, but for most people (and for us) it meant official (stamped & signed by the bank) monthly banks statements showing monthly deposits into our Czech bank accounts equalling or exceeding the minimum income requirement for your situation AND client invoices that we had issued, matching the deposits into our bank accounts.
So basically, if I had a deposit for 158 Kč, I also needed an invoice to a legitimate client that was for 158 Kč, and then all of my deposits and all of my invoices had to meet the minimum income requirement. Because I have foreign and Czech clients, this means my foreign clients have to pay me directly into my Czech bank account. I’ve been told deposits from PayPal won’t cut it, so I have my overseas clients pay me via UKForex into my account.
Also, you need to have more than 1 client (a minimum of 2). It’s unclear to me if you need to have at least 2 clients paying you every month, or if you need a total of 2 or more clients over the course of that first 6-month visa. I’ve never gotten a clear answer, but it doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast super strict rule.
If you’re applying for your visa around tax time, then the government may choose to put your application on hold until you’ve filed your taxes.
Proof of accommodation: This is the same as in getting your initial 6-month long-stay visa. It’s your lease agreement with your landlord. (If you’re wondering where you should stay in Prague, check out our Prague Neighbourhood Guide post!)
Proof of insurance: Again, this is the same as the long-stay visa. It needs to cover you for the entire Schengen Zone for as long as the visa you’re requesting, and cannot include stupidity-based exclusions.
Proof That You’ve Paid Your Social Security Tax: Part of the deal with the Freelancer Visa (as it’s commonly referred to) is that you need to pay a monthly social tax of 1800 Kč. If you have even 1 Kč owing to the social tax office, you will not be able to renew your visa. To prove you’re up-to-date, the Social Tax office will issue a document that says as much, which you submit with your application.
Photos: Standard passport photos will do, and you can get them in photo booths in metro stations around Prague.
There are two different scenarios (that I can think of) that could change what you need, depending on the specifics of your situation.
1. The time of year when your initial long-stay visa expires can make it easier to get all the necessary paperwork together.
Tax-time in the Czech Republic lasts from March through May, March being the earliest you can file and May being when all the paperwork is complete. If your 6-month, long-stay visa expires around tax time, there’s a good chance the government will just put your visa extension on hold until they see your tax return. This can actually be a good thing, as it means you don’t have to go through the exercise of preparing all your invoices and bank statements to prove you meet the income requirements. You just file your taxes, get your paperwork showing your taxable income, and bam – that’s all the proof you need.
We applied for our visa in January and ended up getting approved at the beginning of March without the tax return, but we’ve heard of people on similar timelines as us being put on hold until May. It seems like it just depends on who is reviewing your application.
2. Whether you’re married/family, and are counting your income together.
Geoff and I count our income together, because that’s what makes sense for us. According to the Czech government, we need to make a minimum total of 20,000 Kč per month as a family for us to have our visa renewed. If you’re not counting your income as a family, then the “safe” number that people have told us is 15,000 Kč per month, per person.
I mentioned above that it’s worth confirming that they’ll accept you as a couple if that’s what you want to do. If your marriage certificate isn’t “apostilled” there is a chance they won’t accept it. That said, ours was not, and they accepted us.
If you are counted as a married couple, and you have separate bank accounts, then you need to have 2 full sets of signed, stamped bank statements. So for my application, I need my own bank statements and Geoff’s, and for Geoff’s application, he needed his bank statements and mine. That way, it’s really clear how much money you have coming in as a unit.
Changing Rules & Potential Snafus
As I mentioned above, we went to our visa appointment thinking we had everything we need, and were told the rules had changed. This apparently happens a lot, so it’s important to be patient. Here are 2 changes that have happened recently, that I know of.
1. We were originally told — by multiple people — that we didn’t need invoices to back up our bank account deposits for the visa. In the very recent past, the deposits alone were enough to prove income. This led to a situation that a lot of people supposedly took advantage of, where they didn’t actually earn 15,000 Kč per month, they just cycled a minimum of 15,000 Kč through their bank account (withdraw it one day, deposit it back into the account a few days later), and that was good enough. In our experience, that loophole is closed.
2. The other seemingly recent change is looking at total income vs. taxable income. This only applies if your tax return is your proof of income (rather than bank statements + invoices). My understanding of the way taxes for self-employed freelancers work is that you can either write-off 60% of your total income, and then pay 15% tax on the remaining 40% of your earnings, OR you can save all your receipts for legitimate business expenses, use all those write offs, and pay tax on whatever is left.
Obviously, option 1 is way easier, and likely more advantageous for most freelancers who don’t have capital-intensive businesses. So most people go with option 1, which hasn’t been a problem in the past.
However, we recently have heard quite a few instances of long-term residents being denied their visa renewal, because the government has changed how they look at income. Before, they looked at your total income. Now, they look at your taxable income for the “proof of minimum income” burden.
The key is to work with an accountant who understands this, and doesn’t give you so many awesome write-offs that you no longer meet the minimum income requirement (based on the income you pay tax on). So for Geoff and I, the ideal is to pay tax on 20,000 Kč per month (min. req) x 12 months, and write-off any income we earn above and beyond that. Before this change, we could have theoretically paid tax on 0.4 x (20,000 x 12). It will be interesting to see if this change sticks.
A Few More Things
We’ve heard the foreign police do conduct random checks at the address you list on your accommodation documents, so it’s important to be honest, but also to list your name on the mailbox, apartment buzzer, etc. It seems these checks happen around the time you’re applying for the visa.
The whole bank statements/invoices proof of income thing really only applies to your first visa extension request, because in future years you’ll have tax returns to use as proof of income.
Our long-stay visa expired at the end of January, and we still don’t have our long-term residency visa (although we were approved the fist week of March…so it’s coming soon). As long as your application is in, you’re still legal to stay in the Czech Republic, and you can keep working as long as your business license is up to date. If you need to travel during this ‘no mans land’, you can get a bridging visa.
There are a few final steps we need to do, such as fingerprinting for our biometric card. I’ll report back once that’s all wrapped up.
For the Love of God, Don’t Try to do this by Yourself
It’s worth noting that we hired help for all of this. In the points above where I casually suggest you do things like get proof from the Social Tax office that you’re paying your tax, I don’t actually mean do it yourself. Unless you speak Czech and have the patience of Ghandi and iron will of a prison bars, just don’t.
In the above steps, we: got our photos, made sure we paid our social fee every month (direct debit from our bank account), asked our landlord to sign the docs, bought insurance, prepared our invoices, got our bank to sign and stamp the bank statements, and showed up at the appointment that was made for us.
Now that we’ve been approved, we have to go back to the Ministry to get fingerprinted for our biometric card.
Disclaimer Time & Recommendations for a Visa Expert to Help
This is really all just my own personal experience and knowledge, but I’m in no way an expert, so if you choose to take any of this advice, it’s at your own risk. Plus, as I noted, things change all the time here. If you’re serious about moving to the Czech Republic and getting the “freelancer visa” then it’s worth getting in touch with an expert.
*We recommend using Veronika Buriánková from 4expats for help with the visa process. We did the research, and have talked to a few people (including good friends) who’ve used Veronika to help them get the Živnostenský list Czech freelance visa successfully. We also met up with Veronika (we had ice creamy coffees, which is always a good sign!), and she’s really cool and nice, and speaks awesome English. So if you decide to go ahead with this whole thing, you may want to get in touch with her at [email protected]
*Note that if you use that email address to get in touch with Veronika, you’ll pay the same price and we’ll get a referral fee. If you’re like, damn those Wandertooths and their damn referral fees, that’s cool too: you can get in touch with her via her website, and never mention anything about us, and you’ll still get awesome service and we won’t get a fee. Either way, you pay the same.
*We didn’t actually use Veronika. We used 2 other agencies: for the first visa, the agent we used sucked and I would recommend them to my worst enemy, but I think they’re out of business now anyway. For the long-term residency, we used someone else who was great, but she is super busy, and was kind of bombarded by requests for free advice when we put her name up here, so we decided Veronika is a better person to recommend, because she has the bandwidth for new clients right now. Also, our friend Dan used her (a Canadian), and our friends Leanne and Coran (Aussies) used Veronika before deciding not to complete the process. Plus, a lot of friends of friends have used Veronika. So there you have it!
* Content updated September 2015