Kevan is a Canadian expat who has been living and working in the Czech Republic's second largest city, Brno, since 2004. He shares his experiences in the city and tips for expats thinking about making the move. Kevan has a blog, Beyond Prague, where he paints a picture of what the Czech Republic has to offer outside of the capital city, Prague. His blog is a great resource for information about the country, spots to check out, and interesting facts and finds.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Brno, Czech Republic
Q: When did you move here?
Q: Is this your first expat experience?
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: Partly, I moved for romantic reasons, but I also moved because I needed some big changes in my life and how I was looking at it. I'm currently in customer care and social media-related work.
Living in Brno
Q: What do you enjoy most about Brno and the Czech Republic? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: I like Brno for its liveability. It's a big enough city to have all the amenities, but small enough not to be overwhelming. One of my favourite things about the Czech Republic is that it's a small country with lots of beautiful things to see, and a very well developed public transportation network to help you get to some of those things. Canada has many beautiful things to see too, but the country is so large that it takes forever and quite a bit of planning to visit many of them. It's a lot easier to take a day trip to get out of town here.
As for quality of life, I don't try to compare the Czech Republic to Canada. I would say the quality of life in the Czech Republic is very good. Medical care is accessible and of a high standard. The water is drinkable almost anywhere in the country and internet coverage is at nearly 100%. Work-life balance is also quite good for the most part as well.
Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: Nothing negative beyond the usual bureaucratic headaches of getting visas and staying legal; but you'll find those anywhere.
One of the things I miss most about Canada is having space around me. Things are smaller around Europe and there is less personal space, so finding the opportunity to get some extra space of my own from time to time is great.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: There weren't any real culture shock moments. Canada is a very multicultural place, so I grew up with people of all sorts of cultural backgrounds around me every day. I suppose the biggest adjustment I've had to make is simply having less space to myself. There is less space in Europe, so living spaces are smaller.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in the Czech Republic?
A: That's difficult to answer as I have not lived in Canada for a very long time and the cost of living has been steadily increasing in the Czech Republic. I can say for certain that the cost of public transportation is definitely lower here than anywhere I've used it in Canada. The price of a night out for a few pints in the pub is also much cheaper here than anywhere I've been in Canada.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Brno?
A: It's excellent. There are very few places in the city you can't get to easily with the public transportation system. It's also very affordable to use.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in the Czech Republic? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals in Brno you would recommend?
A: Overall, the standard of healthcare is very good. Medical staff are highly qualified, and equipment and procedures are up to contemporary standards. I've had no specifically negative experiences with the medical system here. One very positive experience I've had is that I've never had to wait long to see my GP; it was always a very long wait to see a GP when I lived in Canada.
If you are in Brno, don’t speak Czech and have an emergency medical need, your best bet would be to go to the University Hospital (Fakultní Nemocnice) in the Bohunice district in the south-west of the city.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Brno and the Czech Republic? Are there any areas in Brno expats should avoid?
A: Overall, Brno is a very safe city to live in. The biggest dangers expats may face in the country are petty crimes like pickpocketing or being taken advantage of by unscrupulous money exchangers.
Some references about Brno will warn you to stay away from an area just east of the centre that has a high Roma (gypsy) population. However, the warnings are overstated and quite a number of expats live in the area or pass through it without issue.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Brno? What different options are available for expats?
A: The standard of housing varies, as it does anywhere. However, the cost is uniformly high in relation to what you get, whether you rent or buy.
There are a number of agencies set up to help expats get housing and act as intermediaries between property owners and tenants. While many of these agencies are quite honest and have good reputations, there are others that overcharge significantly for their services.
Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Within the city itself, I don't think there is really one area to recommend over another. It really depends on the kind of neighbourhood you want to live in and what your finances allow you to do. If you're the sort of person who likes to live just a bit out of town and commute in, there are several options for you around Brno. However, the public transportation options to them may be limited.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Have you ever experienced discrimination in the Czech Republic?
A: Brno is a university town and there are many foreign companies that have set up offices here. As such, foreigners have become very much part of the fabric of the city in the time I've lived here.
I've never experienced any discrimination due to the fact I'm a foreigner. I've met quite a few foreigners who say they've had negative experiences and experienced prejudice from Czechs. On the other hand, I've met just as many Czechs who complain about being treated disrespectfully by foreigners.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy?
A: It wasn't too difficult once I started working. I worked as an English teacher for more than a decade. My colleagues were both Czechs and other expats and getting to know colleagues was how most of my friendships here started.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: I mix with both Czechs and expats. I don't play favourites between them. If you want to make friends with locals, just keep in mind that Czechs can be reserved around newcomers at first, so be patient and don't try to impose yourself. It's often said that the pub is the heart of Czech culture. If a Czech acquaintance invites you to the pub, definitely accept the invitation. They are opening the door to friendship and to let you into their culture.
Working in Brno
Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: The visa process was quite frustrating in the first few years I was here and there weren't really any dedicated agencies set up at the time to help foreigners with it. Like a lot of expats at the time, I depended on Czechs I knew to go with me to offices and interpret for me. I got permanent residency after living here for five years. The bureaucracy for that is more streamlined and I could deal with it to a good degree myself.
When I speak with expats today who are on visas, it seems the visa process is more streamlined now than when I was dealing with it. There are also at least two specialist agencies in Brno set up to help expats navigate their visa paperwork and represent them to the various offices.
Q: What is the economic climate in Brno like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: The economic climate in Brno is generally quite good. There are many branches of foreign companies here that use English as their official language in the office. There are also a number of Czech-based companies that serve multinational markets and use English as their official language.
If you have programming, development or other IT skills, it should not be difficult for you to find work in Brno as there are many IT companies here. There are also a number of major staffing agencies with branches in Brno: Adecco, Grafton, Hays, Manpower and Reed all have a presence in the city. There is also the jobs.cz job-seeking website, and the JobSpin employment fair that takes place twice a year.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Brno? Did you have any particularly difficult experiences adapting to local business culture?
A: The biggest difference is that the work/life balance is quite good here. Czechs take their free time very seriously. By and large, Czechs don't like to 'talk shop' in their free time.
Punctuality is important in the Czech workplace, and Czech society in general. Always make sure you're on time. Don't let too much time go by before contacting your employer or business associates if you know you'll be late.
If you want to have a business meeting with Czechs, don't bother trying to schedule for a Friday afternoon. Many Czechs start their weekends early, sometimes putting in extra hours Monday to Thursday so they can get away early on Friday afternoon.
Family and children in Brno
Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in the city?
A: Brno is a fairly green city, so there are a number of nice parks around the city where a family could go for a picnic or some play time. The reservoir on the north-east corner of the city is a very popular recreation area all year round.
For something a bit more subject oriented, the VIDA science center at the city's exhibition grounds is good for a day of very hands-on science-based fun.
Q: What are the schools like?
A: That's difficult for me to answer as I have no children. However, one common complaint I've heard from Czech and expat parents alike is that it is quite difficult to get a spot for your child in the state school system when they're first starting out. The state school system is short staffed and spots in kindergartens are quite limited.
Some expats prefer to put their children into private foreign schools. While this gives them the option to have their children educated in a language other than Czech, such schools have the reputation of being very expensive.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Brno or the Czech Republic as a whole?
A: Try not to come with too many expectations or preconceptions of what you might find here. Doing that will leave you much more open to getting to know the Czechs on their terms. If you are coming for romantic reasons, make sure you have a few other reasons of your own to be here.
While the romantic part of my reasons for being here has worked out well for me, I've seen many expats come here for love and had it not work out for them. When the romance didn't work out for them, their frustrations often couloured their view of the country and Czechs in general because they had no reasons of their own to use as a back up plan for being here.
►Interviewed in June 2021