Living & Working in Prague as a Self-Employed, Non-EU Person
A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting the Zivnostensky Visa
June 2016 Update: Since originally publishing this post, we’ve gotten a tonne of emails from people who want to live and work in Europe as a non-EU citizen. The thing is, getting the visa to the Czech Republic is a bit…complicated. It’s not HARD, and it’s not IMPOSSIBLE, but it takes patience, and an ability to wade through Kafka-esque Czech bureaucracy. And if you manage to do so, it comes with great reward…the right to work as a self-employed person in Prague, one of the coolest cities in the world!
For this reason, we paid a helper to guide us through the visa process. While we don’t recommend our original helper, we do recommend using Veronika Buriánková from 4expats. We recommend Veronika because 1) we’ve met her, and really like her, 2) we have many friends who’ve used her with success, and 3) she speaks great English, meaning no “lost in translation” moments.
You can get in touch with Veronika at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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Our Personal Experience
(Skip this section if you only care about the “How To”)
So…you probably heard that we’re living in Prague. And you may have read — with intrigue, of course — about the Živnostenský list, the word for the type of working permission we got so we can legally live and work in the Czech Republic, even though one of us was no longer eligible for a working holiday visa (if you’re eligible for the Youth Mobility Visa, for the love of God choose that option) and we’re not EU passport holders.
You may have been all like: whaaaaaa….I can live in Prague? Even though I don’t have a sweet, sweet EU passport? Do tell!
We just finished the paperwork and visa process in August, and I got to say: getting a long-term visa to stay in the Czech Republic and then getting on the Živnostenský list is a bit of a doozy.
Also, let it be said: we are far from being experts. If getting on the Czech Živnostenský list was theoretical physics, and Stephen Hawking/the geeks at CERN were, like, the experts you want to consult to get your Živno (that’s what the cool kids call it), then I’d be an 8-year-old picking my nose while watching Bill Nye the Science Guy demonstrate momentum with a ping pong ball (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
So while we can’t claim to know everything, we have become relatively familiar with the process. And with that caveat out of the way, I figured it might be helpful if I put together a basic overview of how went about about moving to Prague as Canadian freelancers (also applies to Americans/Aussies/Kiwis) without EU citizenship.
Step-by-Step Guide (The “How To”)
Steps for Getting a Long-Term Visa & Živnostenský List Permission for the Czech Republic
1. Save yo’ money. Seriously, to qualify for the long-term visa, you need USD $6,000 in your bank account. That’s $6,000 per person, so if you are a couple and you’re applying together, you’ll need $12,000 USD. Loonies don’t matter over here, apparently. If you don’t have six-large, you can probably transfer money into your account from your credit card/parents/sugar daddy, proceed with step two, and then transfer it back. But you didn’t hear that from me.
2. Get proof from yo’ banker. Now that you’ve got the cash (yay – step one complete!), you need to get your bank to write a letter confirming you have the cash. Get a letter from your bank that meets the following criteria: 1) it’s on bank letterhead; 2) it states that you’re the owner of the account (if you have a joint account with someone else, the letter should only mention you; if you’re in a couple and each of you are applying for the Živnostenský list , you’ll need two letters: one per person); 3) it is signed in blue ink (not black, not purple…); 4) it is an original document (faxers and emailers need not apply); 5) it has an official bank stamp (if possible – this won’t likely be a kiss of death if your banker gives you a confused look when you ask for an official stamp); and 6) it has a business card with your banker’s name attached to it. Also — and this is super important — 7) it is an account to which you have a debit card. You’ll need to produce your debit card for this account later down the line (see step 6, below).
You’ll then need to get your bank letter translated into Czech, because this is the Czech Republic, duh…
3. Criminal Records! That sounded wrong: you need to NOT have a criminal record to move to the Czech Republic (criminals need not apply). If you’re American, you have a sweet advantage: you just sign an affidavit promising that you don’t have a record and get it notarized by a Czech notary (so you’ll have to do this once you’re already in the CR).
If you’re Canadian, you need to get a police record
Czech check at the Canadian embassy in Prague. It takes about a week, as well as several frustrating hours of your time and 900 Kč per person (~ CAD $46). Once you’ve got your official Canadian criminal record check, you then have to get it apostilled by the Czech foreign ministry. This costs 600Kč, but the foreign ministry DOESN’T ACTUALLY ACCEPT MONEY. Yep – no cash; no credit. So you have to go to the FREAKING POST OFFICE, buy an official stamp-like thingy which is used as currency instead of actual currency, and then get it apostilled.
I’m not going to lie: Geoff got kind of frustrated at this stage.
UPDATE 2017: The Canadian embassy in Prague no longer provides criminal record checks, due to a change from the RCMP requiring finger printing. If you’re Canadian, get your criminal record check in Canada before you leave. While it’s possible to get one from overseas, it’s expensive and very time consuming. As we haven’t done this (get a criminal record check overseas using the new process), we can’t give you much info or answer questions on it. So save yourself the hassle and get it at home!
4. Paperwork from a Landlord. Next, you need to find accommodation in the Czech Republic, and your landlord needs sign two separate documents: 1) some sort of proof of accommodation (basically, a contract) and 2) a signed business address document. Let’s deal with each of these separately.
- Notarized Proof of Accommodation is needed for your long-stay visa, not your Živnostenský list permission. As your first long-term visa for the Czech Republic will be for 6-months, you need a contract for a minimum of 8-months. It must be signed by the owner of the flat, and if there is more than one registered owner (i.e. a married couple owns the flat together), you need signatures from all of them. Housing co-ops, where everyone in the owner owns a small piece of the whole, are pretty common in the Czech Republic, so you’ll need to make sure the place you’re looking at isn’t a co-op, as you’ll never be able to get everyone’s signature. Once the owner(s) has signed it, they’ll need to get it notarized.
- Signed Business Address. Being on the Živnostenský list basically means you have a sole-proprietorship which you’ll run from home. Because you’re running a business from your flat, you’ll need to get your landlord to sign off on that. This doesn’t need to be notarized, but the address needs to match your proof of accommodation document. Some landlords can be a bit testy about foreigners running businesses out of their flats, so you need to find a landlord who understands the Živnostenský list process, otherwise it will be a huge hassle. There is a Facebook group for finding accommodation in Prague, but beware: accommodation scams are rampant in Prague. The best thing to do before signing a lease is to be sure the “landlord” you’re dealing with is actually the owner, and not an owner’s representative. If you work with a visa agency, they can run a title search for you to reduce the chance of getting scammed at this stage of the game.
(UPDATE from Veronika: Your business address doesn’t actually have to match your residential address, but you must have a business address in the Czech Republic. You can apparently rent virtual business addresses for this purpose).
5. Get on the preliminary Živnostenský list. If you’ve made it this far, congrats. Take a breath and chillax, maybe have a pilsner, because you’re well on your way. Now you have to register at the Živnostenský list office for a preliminary Živno*, or something like that. It’s a big of a strange little cycle: They won’t actually give you the Živno until you have your long-stay visa, but the long-stay visa people won’t give you the visa until you’re on the preliminary Živnostenský list.
When you apply for the Živnostenský list, you have to choose the “categories” in which you want to work. If a category (say: web design) isn’t listed on your Živno, then you won’t be legally able to do web design.
The advice we got was this: register for only one job category when you apply, and choose the category you think you can find clients in the most easily. For us, this was teaching English. If you want to do other work, wait until you’re ready to pick up your final Živnostenský list permission (Step 10 – below) and add more categories then.
*At this point, it’s worth mentioning we hired an agency to help us with all this. It may have been possible to do it without the agency, but we most certainly would have needed a Czech speaker and a helluv a lot of patience.
6. Make an appointment for the long-stay visa. Once you’re on the preliminary Živnostenský list, you need to set about getting a long-stay visa. You have to do this at a Czech embassy from outside the Czech Republic. Most people go to the Czech embassy in Bratislava, Berlin, or Vienna. We went to Berlin.
Basically, our agency made an appointment for us, and we showed up with the above paperwork, some photos and the debit card for the bank account with our USD $6000. We had an interview, during which they asked us about our flat, our qualifications for the jobs we proposed to do in the Czech Republic (teach English), our plan for finding work (networking, our roommates, using the career services from the school we did our Cert. TESOL through), our expected earnings per month (more than 14,000 Kč and less than 21,000 Kč per month is the sweet spot they want to hear) , and our understanding of the Živnostenský list requirements (have more than one client; pay the monthly social tax; file taxes in March). During the interview, you want to focus only on clients and work within the job category you listed on your preliminary Živnostenský list permission.
After the interview, we paid our visa fee (~ €100 per person), and were told to come back in one month to 6 weeks to pick up our visas.
7. Wait for your visa and buy insurance. To actually pick-up your visa, you need to show proof of insurance for the duration of the visa. The insurance must be valid for all Schengen states and cannot have exclusions related to your own stupidity (i.e. drugs, alcohol). Our insurance cost us around 3,500 Kč per person for 7 months and there are places all over Prague where you can buy foreigner insurance.
8. Return to the Same Czech Embassy, and pick up your visa. Take your proof of insurance. Make an appointment before you go. This step is pretty self explanatory.
9. Register at the Foreign Police. This is one of two STEPS OF DOOM. You’re so close to the finish line, and yet there’s a real chance the foreign police will make you cry. We were not brought to tears, which I consider a huge success.
You need to go to the foreign police (Olsanska 2, Praha 3) within 3 days of arriving back in the Czech Republic after collecting your visa, and get a stamp. When you get to the office, go to the info window and tell them why you’re there. Ideally you’ll have a letter (in Czech) explaining what you need or a Czech speaker to help. Then take a number and wait. When you get called into the room, just shut up and give the policeman what he wants (passport with visa, receipt for your insurance and all insurance documents) and pray that nothing goes wrong. With any luck, you’ll walk out with a fancy stamp!
10. Take your fancy foreign police stamp to the Živno office. I have no idea what happens at this stage, because our agency took care of it. But this is the other possible step of doom. Presumably, there are unicorns sitting at computers typing up work permits. But not friendly unicorns. It’s the only logical explanation. If you don’t have an agency doing this for you, then for the love of God take a Czech speaker.
11. Wait two weeks, then pick up your Živno. Congratulations. You are now legal to work in the Czech Republic. That was easy, right?
UPDATE: You don’t need to wait two weeks…apparently it’s only a one-week wait.
12. Take care of additional paperwork and requirements. You’ll need to get a social security number, and arrange to pay a social tax of about 1,800 Kč per person per month. You’ll also need to file taxes in March and maintain organized invoices, which you’ll need when you try to renew your visa and Živnostenský list permission in 6 months (you can renew for up to 2 years at a time).
Breakdown of the Hard Costs to Get our Long-Stay Visa and Živnostenský List Permission
- Criminal Record Checks: 900 Kč per person (~ USD $41)
- Criminal Record Apostille: 600 Kč per person (~ USD $28)
- Živno Fee: 1,000 Kč (~ USD $46)
- Long-Stay Visa Fee (at the Czech Embassy in Berlin): €100 per person (~ USD $127)
Additional Expenses You Should Prepare For:
- Money in our bank: USD $6,000 per person (not really a cost, but you have to have the money).
- Travel to and from a Czech embassy: Obviously, this varies. The cheapest option is probably a day-trip to Bratislava.
- Insurance: It varies, but ours was 3,500 Kč per person for 7 months (~ USD $161), which I consider a wash, as we’d have to be paying for travel insurance anyway, and $23 per month is pretty reasonable.
- Agency fee: This varies hugely depending on who you go with. If you can find a Czech speaker who’s willing to help for a small fee, that’s probably the most economical option! We wouldn’t recommend our original visa agency, but nor will I drag their name through the mud. We DO recommend Veronika from 4expats. You can email her at email@example.com
And there you have it. Certainly not a comprehensive guide, but it’s a good start to the process if you’re interested in moving to Prague as a non-EU freelancer.
Interested in Part II: How we got long term residency in Prague?
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