Driving 102 – harder than I thought

Back at the end of January I started going to driving school and arranging to take the tests in order to get my class B (passenger) Czech driving license or řidičák.

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This process turned out to be more challenging  and took longer than I imagined.  To be clear, I understand the traffic laws here and can say with no hesitation (and many people to confirm) that I am a very good driver.  In Canada I had a car, bus and motorcycle license and worked in automotive for a decade.  I’m not a new driver by any stretch.  My Canadian license was expiring in February so I had to get things in gear.

After attending driving school, there are two parts to the process:

Written test

This takes place at the Magistrate Office in Prague 10.  This is the only office in Prague for written tests.  My school arranged the test date and time and I did not need to pay anything at this time.  When you arrive go upstairs and find your instructor, they will register you with the office and take your documents.

You will need you identification – passport or dlouhodoby pobyt (long term residence card) with appropriate stamps and address information to prove you have been here at least 180 days.  I also took my approval letter since I was still waiting for my long term residence.

Unless you have learned Czech really well, you will need a certified translator.  The questions are tricky, even for native speakers.  Likely your school will suggest or supply a translator.  My advice here is to be very careful.  My recommended translator was busy, so they suggested someone else.  This translator had little to no experience with the test and was translating word for word as we went, meaning I was not getting the context and connotation of the words.  Had I not studied a lot both in Czech and English it would have been a disaster.  Cost of the translator: 1,500Kč

What is the test like?

I arrived early on February 12th and waited for the process to start.

Surprise!  Even though I had had a vision and colour vision test at a doctor before I was allowed to attend driving school, there was a ten question colour vision test before I could start the main test.  I am colour blind.  This surprise threw me off completely and I struggled with the dot test as well as strange mathematical answers to some of the dot tests (not “what number do you see?” but “is the number “65-14, 65+14 or 76-2?”.  I did pass, but just.

The main test is 25 multiple choice questions, some text and some with pictures.  You have 30 minutes to complete it.  With the challenges around the translation I completed it with 30 seconds remaining and passed by only one point.  Some of the questions I knew already in Czech, most I had seen during my studies, but a few were entirely new.  It would be nice if extra time was given to allow for the translation slowing things down.  But a pass is a pass, no matter how slim, and I moved on.  At the end you will receive a document confirming you passed.

Driving test (round one)

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At the end of the same week I was scheduled to take the driving test.  I had the option of going to the school in Dejvická, or meeting my instructor at the Magistrate’s office and being the first to be tested. I opted for the first test which found me there at 7:15AM on February 18th waiting with a healthy fear of the unknown.  This fear, it turns out, was not unfounded.

There were a large number of driving school cars waiting in the parking lot behind the magistrate’s office.  In the past police performed the test but now it is a dedicated group of magistrates.  We waited for our tester to arrive.

There is a possibility they will ask you to do a walk around the car and identify all the mandatory safety equipment, this did not happen for me.

The test itself was from the office to the school location in Dejvická.  Here is what happened:

  • Magistrate came out and sat in the back of the car, directly behind me.
  • I said good morning in my best Czech and apologized for my poor language skills.  No response.
  • He identified himself, his badge number and title and then explained the procedure to my instructor.
  • I was instructed to leave the parking area and follow instructions.
  • We went through the city, I was careful to not exceed the speed limit in any way.
  • At one point we came to a no entry road, but I was given no instructions to turn so I slowed to a stop while waiting for instructions (my mistake was to hesitate).  In the end I made a decision and turned left before instead of entering the no entry road.
  • I was told three times to put both hands on the wheel, even though at the time I had both hands on the wheel (I was aware and very careful about this rule).
  • We went through Karlovo náměstí and then through a series of smaller streets before rejoining the main road and going to Dejvická.
  • We parked, nose in, in a normal parking spot.

I was then informed that I had failed due to not yielding to traffic on my right while going through the small streets around Karlovo náměstí.  In the Czech Republic, if you are not on a main road you have to give way to traffic from the right, a rule I am very well aware of.  There was no discussion, no debate, and I understood the magistrate when he called me špatný řidič which is Czech for bad driver.

This is one of the intersections in question, the sign is informing you to yield to traffic on your right:

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Although I know I was aware of these intersections as I went through them, there was no traffic and nobody to yield to.  I was really quite shocked at this turn of events, and then angry.  Later in the day I felt slightly better when I learned the magistrate had failed all seven students at the school that morning.  Statistically improbable.  Worse still, the next test date was not until March 3rd, and of course would cost me an extra 880Kč!

Driving test (round two)

My Canadian license was set to expire on February 25th (my birthday).  I took the opportunity before that to drive as much as possible around Prague and also away for a weekend in Žatec.  I focused on the areas and routes between the school and the magistrate office.  This made me feel better about the process and helped confirm that the assessment of me was incorrect – I actually look for traffic on my left and right even when I do have the right of way. I also took advantage of an offer from my instructor to do one more driving lesson the Sunday before the test.

I arrived at the magistrate’s office early on March 3rd, very nervous and concerned about the prospect of another bad experience.  I was pleasantly surprised:

  • The magistrate was late, he arrived at 7:45.  This pleased me as it meant more morning traffic which I actually find easier to concentrate in (and ignore the test).  He sat in the rear passenger seat so I could turn to speak to him.
  • Again I used my best Czech to great him and explain I speak very little Czech.  This time he acknowledged me. He was not friendly, but he was polite and spoke slowly so I could understand him.
  • My instructor explained my driving history and what the issue was during the last test.
  • I was instructed to drive to Dejvická via the more direct highway route using Barrandov most and the tunnels.  My instructor told me where to turn if necessary.
  • During the trip the instructor and the magistrate chatted about various things.  I just drove carefully, watching the speed limit, and keeping two hands on the wheel.
  • We arrived in Dejvická, I parked on the street and the test was over.  No issues.

After waiting for a few moments at the school (and paying the extra 880Kč) I was given documents to take to the license registration office (registr řidičů)..

What license registration office?

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This part of the process was a bit of a surprise to me.  My instructor explained to me I would need to take all the documentation to the registration office at Vyšehrad, complete a form, supply a photo and then wait for 20 days while they process it.  I was also told to wait until the next day for my test results to be entered into the system.

I decided to go to the office on the way home to get the required form to fill out and return the following day.  This was fortunate as it turned out that two trips were not necessary.  I needed:

  • Test and training document supplied by the school and stamped by the magistrate.
  • My dlouhodoby pobyt AND passport as I needed to prove I had been in the country more than 180 days.
  • A photo (available in the office next door for 125Kč).

A very helpful woman explained in careful Czech that everything was now done on the computer and I could apply immediately as she would enter it into the system.  I went off to get photos and she was nice enough to wave me back to her window to finish with me.  Spend enough time at government offices here and these small acts of cooperation and kindness are truly appreciated.  Other than a 50Kč fee to be paid when I pick up the license, there were no other fees.

I was given a small piece of paper and told to come back on March 23rd for my license. On further investigation I learned that is the maximum processing time and current processing information can be found online – 16 days at the time of this writing.

Wrapping it up!

To summarize:

  • Driving school (as noted this is pricing for Czech students) : 10,980Kč
  • Medical examination: 400Kč
  • Translator: 1,500Kč
  • First driving test: 700Kč
  • Second driving test: 880Kč
  • Photos: 125Kč
  • License fee: 50Kč

Total:  14,635Kč

Update:  it was in fact 16 days.  The day my application date appeared online, I went to pick up the license and was in and out in under five minutes.

What next?  Even before passing the second test, I had already purchased a used car – an entirely new adventure you can read about in my next post.

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Driving 101

I am a car guy, I love cars.  My first car, when I was 10 years old, was a 1973 VW Beetle.  I’ve had my license since I was 16, had many, many cars and driven more than the average number of kms both for work and pleasure.

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One of my commitments to myself in moving back to the Czech Republic was that I would get a car. Of course this means I also need a Czech driving license.  You are not able to get a Czech license on your initial six month visa, but once you have a residence permit you are not legally allowed to use your foreign license anymore. There are people who have lived here for years and still use a North American license but I am not willing to risk it.

Why is it a challenge?  Canada does not belong to the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.  This means that in order to get a license here (or anywhere in Europe) I need to go to driving school.

What does driving school mean here?

Class “B” – theory lessons:
Regulations on vehicle operation 5 lessons
Regulations on driving and maintenance 1 lesson
Driving theory and safe driving practices 3 lessons
Basic first aid 1 lesson
Revision and practice test 1 lesson
Class “B” – driving/practice lessons
Driving – closed course 2 lessons
Driving – light traffic 5 lessons
Driving – normal traffic 12 lessons
Driving – heavy traffic/difficult driving conditions 9 lessons
Vehicle maintenance practice 2 lessons
First aid practice 4 lessons

One lesson = 45 minutes.

This is a rather large commitment!  And prices range from 10,000Kč and up.  In the end I chose a school called Amos, in Dejvická.  It was recommended by my girlfriend and they offered me the course without charging an English language supplement.  The instructor speaks as much English as I speak Czech, so although I don’t need driving lessons, I am getting Czech lessons out of this.  If you don’t have any Czech, or driving experience, spend the extra money and get an instructor who speaks English.

Medical

You will need to find a doctor to give you a medical exam before you can start at school.  This proved a challenge and in the end I found a very small clinic that did it for 400Kč.  You can download the form here.

School

We have now completed all the necessary drives around Prague.  The school also supplied me with badly translated English versions of all the pertinent regulations to study.

One grey area is that I am still waiting for my long term residence card.  I have been assured that as long as I can prove I have lived here over 185 days, and can provide my passport and address information, they will allow me to take the tests.

Sites you might find useful:

Czech online test system.  Note there are printed tests available and you can translate these as I have done.

Online intersection tests.  Again in Czech, but it will give you an idea what to expect.

What next?  

I am scheduled for a written test at the magistrates office in Vršovice.  For this I have to bring a registered translator.  Cost is 700Kč for the test (this will include the driving test fee).  The translator charges 1,500Kč.

After this, but the same week, I will have the driving test at my school in Dejvická.

Once complete, I should receive the actual license in 10 to 20 days.

Total cost will be approximately 13,200Kč.

I’ll update with more on the experience once it is all done.

 

 

Long term residence permit part three (again!)

Whew!  It has been even quieter than usual here.  I do apologize.

If you have been following, since my last post I have been waiting for my residence approval. There was a complication. At the end of December I received a nice letter stating two things:

  1. My proof of income had been rejected as it was not in Czech.  This was my fault as I took a risk sending printouts from the website rather than certified copies.  FIO was able to give me a summary of all months in one giant statement and only charged one fee. 120Kč.
  2. They wanted me to prove I made enough money not only to support myself, by also my partner. In 2012 I had applied for a partnership visa with my Czech girlfriend, after nine months of trying to provide enough information to make them happy we finally broke up and I went back to Canada just long enough to reset my Schengen clock.  Being asked to prove I could support a partner I no longer had, and that they never accepted I had, was interesting.

So, I mailed (by registered mail) my updated a bank statements as well as a notarized místopřísežné prohlášení, a document my ex signed to state we were no longer partners.

On January 11th my application number appeared on the approval spreadsheet.  I had a friend call and make an appointment for January 28th.  This means my application took from October 15th to January 11th to be approved – 89 days.

On January 28th I went back to the Chodov office for my biometrics appointment.  They took my photo and fingerprints.  They also verified my address.

One complication.  They now wanted my expired residence card from when I lived here in 2014.  This is the first time it was mentioned, no one has ever asked to see it or verify it as I was starting over again.  I offered to bring it back when I pick up my card, that seemed to satisfy them.  They issued an approval document and gave me an appointment to come back to pick up the card (as well as pay the 2,500Kč fee in kolek).

The final steps:

On February 18th I went back to the office at Chodov and picked up my shiny new dlouhodoby pobyt and paid the 2,500Kč.  I am now legal until November 2017.

The following Monday I returned to the zivnostensky office where they copied my new residence card and issued my zivno with the same expiration date as my permit.

Total cost of this entire process:  2,880Kč (primarily the actual fee for the permit)

I’m now done this lovely process until the fall of 2017.

Long term residence permit part two (again!)

Let me first apologize for how quiet it has been here lately.  I am in limbo while I wait for my residence permit, and I have also been working an awful lot the last months.

Part one of the process can be found here.  I will make this entry as concise as possible.

What happened since my last entry:

  • Social service tax clearance letter came in the mail about two weeks after I applied for it.
  • I applied for my zivnostensky extension at the office in Prague 7.  They speak English, it was short and painless – I needed my passport, my existing zivnostensky and that was it.  The extension is valid for six months.  It was ready in one week.  Cost 100Kč.
  • Income tax clearance letter was completed, I received a phone call to pick it up at the tax office in Prague 7 (not the same office I applied for it at, but conveniently the same building and the same day my zivnostensky approval was ready).

Moral of the story: next time I will go back to the original offices I used for both social service and income tax as that is where I ended up in the end.

  • Housing document (doklad ubytovani).  My landlord was nice enough to give me an open one and even met me at the Czech Point to have it notarized.  Cost 30Kč.
  • Bank records.  I went to my bank, Fio, and was informed that official copies of my bank statement are now 100Kč per page.  I took a calculated risk and printed them at home.  I then printed every invoice I have on file and attached them to the appropriate months.
  • Completed application form from the Ministry of Interior website.
  • Finally, I made copies of everything.

The Appointment:

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My six month visa was set to expire on November 4th, so I made the appointment for October 15th to allow a couple of weeks yet have as much proof of income as I could.  As noted before, I don’t recommend the first appointment as you can’t get near the door.

At the office in Chodov there are two floors, when I made the appointment they said to go to the first floor.  After waiting, my name did not come up in the list on computer, so I went back to the main floor and found myself on that list.  Then we (my Czech friend and I) waited.  And waited. It was about one hour past my appointment time when my number finally came up.

What happens at the appointment?

The took all of the paperwork, copied my passport, copied my proof of health insurance and health card.  I had already purchased an additional two years health insurance from my original provider.

The appointment took one hour.

There was one complication.  They were very reluctant to accept my proof of income based on invoices and bank statements but instead wanted my 2014 tax return.  This is normal procedure when renewing a two year residence to another two year, but not when applying for the first two year permit.  I am in a grey area due to being here in 2014 and therefore having a tax return.  Unfortunately my tax return doesn’t show enough income to support my application, so I convinced them to also take my bank statements.  Details on current income requirements can be found here.

There is no cost to apply for the permit, only once it is approved will you need to pay.

At the end of the appointment they gave me a letter proving I had applied and listed a reference number.  If they required something from me it would be listed on this letter, but I had nothing outstanding.  This letter (or a copy) must be carried with you as it proves you are legally in the country.  Although I asked for a bridge visa (a visa to let you leave and re-enter the country during processing) they refused to issue one until after my initial visa had expired.

What now?

I wait.  As of this writing it has been seven weeks.  Every Monday you need to check the MOI website and search for yourself on the spreadsheet they publish.

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The countdown begins, long term residence permit (again)

I was approved for my six month visa on May 4th, and although I didn’t pick it up until May 15th it expires 6 months from the date of approval  That is November 4th.  A little over six weeks from now.  The appointment for the long term residence or, dlouhodoby pobyt, has to be at least 14 days before the visa expires.  What this means is I realized last week I need to get moving!

These next posts will be a summary, if you want detailed information start back in November 2013 when I did this the first time. If you are new to the idea of moving to the Czech Republic you need to get a six month visa to start and can find details here.

You can find a list of official requirements as well as the application form on the Ministry of Interior website.

Step one:  try to achieve a calm state of mind.  There is some bureaucracy you will need to work through to pull this off, and it makes the initial six month visa and the trip to an embassy seem like a much nicer way to spend time.

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Six weeks out:

Make an appointment at the appropriate Ministry of Interior office.  In Prague they now have a central number for appointments and they will tell you where to go and when.  If your Czech isn’t good (and I admit mine is still very poor) it is best to have a friend call.  They will need your:

  • passport number
  • date of birth
  • full name
  • visa number
  • visa expiration date
  • home address (this determines what office to go to)

They’ll give you an appointment data and time, in my case I asked for a specific one.

Apply for your social service tax clearance letter.  You’ve been paying your 1943Kč every month and now you need to prove it.  Find the appropriate office to go to, which in theory is based on your account number.  For some reason even though I went to the appropriate one I was told I had to go back to where I originally set up my social service account.  I muddled through this in Czech and got a document listing all my payments to date (they issue this on the spot) as well as applied for a bezdlužnost which will take about four weeks and be sent to your home address.  On the application form I had to the list reason for application and I put povolení k pobytu (residence permit).  Cost:  0Kč.

Apply for your income tax clearance letter.  Even though you likely weren’t working here the year before (or in most cases not even living here) you need a clearance letter to show you owe no taxes.  You will need to go the appropriate finanční úřad (financial office).  There seems to be some confusion, but I went to the one based on my residence address.  You will need 100Kč for payment, get it in kolek from the post office as usual.  This will take about four weeks as well and will be mailed.  Cost: 100Kč.

Next stop živnostenský list extension.

Vegetarian in Prague?

I find that Czech friends and foreigners alike are often surprised that I can survive here as a vegetarian.  “How do you manage to feed yourself?  Czech food is so meat-centric?”.  Quite well really!  Certainly within Prague it is no problem at all, though in smaller towns and villages eating out often involves smažený sýr (fried cheese) or risotto.  I’m vegetarian, not vegan, but I don’t eat meat or fish (which is really meat, isn’t it?).

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I’ve mentioned one or two of these places before, but here is a non-comprehensive list of my go-to places in Prague.

Restaurants:

Govinda.

Yes, this is the same Govinda you find all over the place in Europe – the Hare Krishna group that runs vegetarian restaurants, usually with set menus.  95Kč will get you the small menu plate which always includes soup, some sort of salad (rice or bean), rice or bulgur with vegetables and sauce,  There are three locations in Prague.  One very near Palladium mall in the centre, one in Prague 8 and the newest one, which appears to be a separate business, in Prague 5 across the street from Smíchovské nádraží.  I’m partial to the one in Prague 5 as I find the food is fresher plus you get tea or juice included with your meal.

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Loving Hut

These vegan buffets can be found all over Prague, including in the food courts at Nový Smíchov and Galerie Butovice malls.  It is amazing how busy they are.  Food is sold by the 100 grams, usually between 19 and 22Kč, though if you come after 8pm it is usually discounted by up to 50%.  It’s a little expensive if you need a big meal, but as a small meal on the go it is perfect.

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Maitrea or Lehka Hlava

For somewhere a little nicer, this is a great option.  These restaurants are somehow related but have a different menu.  Maitrea has a fantastic cozy lower floor eating area.  Reservations are recommended on busy nights.  The food is all original, well prepared with some “re-engineered” Czech specialties such as goulash or svíčková.

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Polévkárna v Plavecké

Polévka is Czech for soup and is a good option in many cafes and restaurants.  This small restaurant near na plavka specializes in soups and always has some vegetarian options on the board.  Economical and including bread with every bowl of soup.  Be warned, it is very small and very busy at lunch time.

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Indian by Nature

For a change of taste I sometimes go for the all you can eat Indian buffet at Indian by Nature. There are several locations in Prague but I am partial to the one near Hradčanská, the food seems fresher and the service friendlier.  125Kč gets you all you can eat, there are veggie and meat options was well as salad and naan.  Drinks are extra of course.

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There are many, many other restaurants.  Some I’ve forgotten and other great ones I have yet to experience.  Happy Cow will help you locate new places to try!

Grocery Shopping:

Here again there are many good options.  Specialty store such as Country Life and Rozmaryna are great for a good selection of organic and bio products.  Every weekend there are farmer’s markets all over town including my favourite at Na Plavka.  Don’t forget the six day a week year-round market in Holesovice, found in the Vietnamese market area at the Pražská tržnice tram stop. It is less touristy and has a great selection of fresh local produce.

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Good luck and dobrou chuť!

Moved? Change of address on your initial six month visa.

Last month I moved to a new flat, which means I needed to change my address with the Ministry of Interior / Foreign Police.  If you recall, after arriving back from an embassy with your shiny new visa it is necessary to go and register and have your address stamped into your passport. You have 30 days to change your address if you move.  The good news is you can make an appointment to do this and if you live in Prague or Central Bohemia they now have one central number to do this.  I would recommend having a Czech friend call and make an appointment for you.  They will need your information including name, date of birth, passport number and new address location – there are different offices based on what district of Prague you live in.

You will need to take your passport as well as a housing document – either your original signed lease (in Czech) OR a notarized confirmation of housing.  See details here, but remember these documents most be in the name of and signed by the actual owner of the flat and good for at least the duration of your visa.  They will check the owner in the building registry.

My appointment was for one week later at the lovely office in Chodov…..

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Which is, honestly, not my favourite place on the planet.  It is always very busy with lots of stressed clients and equally overworked employees.  Come early.  Bring patience.  What I learned this trip is that if you have an appointment you can go straight to the first floor, but what was not so obvious is that you need to go to the machine, find yourself on the list of people and then it will print you a number.  You may need to scroll ahead quite some ways if you are early.

The good news is I was in an out in 30 minutes, no drama, my limited Czech was enough and I am now 100% legal again.

Reflections on teaching, take two – how to get ahead

If you have been following my blog you might have read my reflections on teaching after my first year here in Prague.  I’ve now been back for three months.  It’s been a little quiet on my blog, but traffic shows people are still dropping by to get information.

Now that I have my own flat again…

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…and had time for a little trip to the lovely city of Carcassonne in France…

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…I have a chance to update you on what it is like coming back.

So, what have I learned?  Strangely, if I had to give ONE piece of advice to ESL teachers who have been working for a couple of years I’d say:  Quit.  Then start over.

Now, this may seem like strange advice, but it is not so different from the way people have to leapfrog from company to company to move up the corporate ladder.

What has changed?

Value of experience – time:

After returning I very slowly took on new classes to try to build a good schedule.  I quickly found that most people want someone with a couple of years experience.  This puts you at the top of the list, and gives you the opportunity to pick and choose the classes more than the first time around.  The result?  My week now looks like this:

Monday:  16:00 to 21:00

Tuesday:  08:00 to 09:30 and 17:30 to 21:00

Wednesday: 08:00 to 20:00 with very few breaks

Thursday:  08:00 to 12:30 and again from 18:30 to 21:00

Friday: 09:30 to 10:30

This compact schedule allows me plenty of spare time to lesson plan as well as extended weekends to travel without huge opportunity cost.  I am averaging around 21 hours (not teaching hours which are 45 minutes) per week, and could easily take more if I wanted to.

Value of experience – money:

When I left Prague in the fall of 2014, my best rate was 350Kc per hour (60 minutes) and most classes were still at 300Kc per hour.  Since I have been back many of my classes are at 375Kc per hour or better, all the way up to 500Kc per hour.  This may not sound like much but 300 to 375 represents a 25% increase in pay.  Factor this by my average hours and, allowing for cancellations, that equals 28,000 to 31,000Kc per month.  A much better wage that I was making last time around.

Value of experience – variety:

Where in 2014 I was working for two schools and a handful of private students, in June 2015 I sent out 10 different invoices.  These ranged from schools (one large and two small ones) to direct to companies as well as individual students.  On top of this I still maintain four individual students who pay by cash.  Not only does this give me more control over what course to take, it gives me the security of being able to drop a class or contract and not starve to death.

The variety also makes teaching more interesting.  Currently my students include IT professionals, accountants, homemakers and students.  I teach mostly as close to home as possible including skype lessons to students in Poland and Germany. I also spend one day per week in another Czech city where I can work the entire day as well as take my own Czech classes.

Bottom line:

Even if you don’t intend to leave Prague and return like I did, it might be an idea to drop classes that are not profitable or enjoyable so that you can make room for the good stuff.

The quick and easy visa process, part three – it all comes together.

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Back to Vienna: This is the third and final instalment in my “second time around” Czech long term residence visa process.  If you’ve just stumbled upon my site and you are doing your first visa I recommend you start here with the more detailed posts from 2013.  If you just want the summery start back at part one. I had my first visa appointment in Vienna on April 7th, 2015 and got the email saying I was approved on May 6th. That’s one month less a day for approval and well ahead of the expiry of my 90 day entry on May 20th.  Whew!  As I was busy with other things I didn’t go to pick the visa up until May 15th and did the normal midnight Student Agency bus to Vienna.  Cost 979kc plus €4.40 for the Bahn.  **Actually, I didn’t take the Bahn both ways – instead I walked the 11+ kms from Stadion to the Embassy since I arrived at 4:30 am and didn’t need to be there until 8:30. You see interesting things on the streets at 6:00 am, including cool old cars.

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Once at the Embassy I handed in my passport, health insurance documents (including proof of payment) and waited about 20 minutes for it to be processed.  When it was done they gave it back to me along with instructions to check in with the Foreign Police within three days of entering the Czech Republic. So, back to Stadion, back on Student Agency and back to Prague by 17:00.

Back in Prague: Visa in hand there were still four things that needed to be wrapped up:

Živnostenský List finalization: I visited the office where they copied my passport and visa and told me to come back next week.  The zivno is active as of now, even if I don’t have a copy yet. Cost: nothing, as it was paid for last time.

Social Service Tax registration: I also dropped by the social service tax office, they gave me forms to fill out and told me to come back when I had my actual Živnostenský document.  **A Czech person is helpful here.** Cost: nothing (but it will be 1943Kc per month)

Income Tax registration: The income tax office is in the same building as the zivnostensky office.  All that was needed was a change of address as my account is still active. Cost: nothing.

Foreign Police registration:  Ah.  The foreign Police. Take a Czech friend with you.  And a snack.  And some patience.  There were about 200 people in the building and it took about three hours to get in.  When you arrive take a number for “tourist registration” and fill out the two forms the reception will give you. Cost: nothing

Elapsed time: If you are keeping score, the total time from start to finish – from the time I arrived and started applying for things to the time I had a visa in my passport and was legal to work – March 9th to May 18th or 71 days.  Keep in mind I could have taken a slightly earlier appointment in Berlin and/or gone to pick up my visa one week earlier if I wanted to shave some time off this.

Costs:

My total cost from start to finish for the Živnostenský, criminal record checks, visa and travel was 8,350kc (which is about $415 Canadian or €305).

The High Tatras (Vysoké Tatry)…

I’m a big fan of getting out of Prague to go hiking whenever possible, so when my small hiking group decided to go to the High Tatras in Slovakia I was the first to sign up.  I’m glad I did!

We travelled from Prague to Poprad on the Student Agency Leo Express train.  It was comfortable and quick – about seven hours each way.  The service on the train was excellent with great food and snacks at even better prices.  To top it off the cost was only about 700Kc return for comfort class.

After arriving in Poprad we took the Tatra Electric Railway through the foothills to our accommodations in Štrbské Pleso.  Even from the train platform we could tell it was going to be a nice trip!

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After 45 minutes on the train we arrived in the mountains, Štrbské Pleso is a nice little mountain village which was quite quiet in May.  It is hard not to notice the mountains everywhere.

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After finding our accommodations (a very cozy tourist hotel for only 20 euros per person per night) we wandered around and then had a fantastic dinner at Furkotka (where we ended up eating every night!).  Even from our rooms the view was still nice.

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The next morning dawned cold (4 degrees) but clear and sunny.  After a breakfast in our rooms we headed back to the train to head towards the start of our hike at  Starý Smokovec.  From here we headed up into the hills and valleys on our way to our destination at nearly 2000m – Zbojnícka chata.  The trip started out in the trees and along the rivers….

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…but quickly became snow covered…

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…which made for interesting hiking…

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…but left me happy!

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It was worth the climb to the hut, the views were amazing and the food was very good.

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The 22+ kms and elevation gain left us all a little worn out, so after a long day we returned by train to our village, had another nice meal and retired for the night.

Day two dawned wet and cloudy, but we headed out for a long traverse hike which started in Štrbské Pleso. The wet weather made for poor photos, and some of us were feeling the pain from the day before.  In the end part of the group carried on to Chata pod Soliskom at over 1800 metres, while others, myself included, opted for a more leisurely stroll and time chilling at a nice cafe.

The following morning we took the train directly from Štrbské Pleso to Štrba, a much shorter and straight downhill ride, and were able to catch our Student Agency train from there.

I’ll be back, that I know for certain!  It was great to be back in the mountains again!

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