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.
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:
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)
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:
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?
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!
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?).
I’ve mentioned one or two of these places before, but here is a non-comprehensive list of my go-to places in Prague.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Good luck and dobrou chuť!
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…
…and had time for a little trip to the lovely city of Carcassonne in France…
…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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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….
…but quickly became snow covered…
…which made for interesting hiking…
…but left me happy!
It was worth the climb to the hut, the views were amazing and the food was very good.
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!
Ah, summer in Prague! Beer gardens, walks in the park, long warm days. You’ll wish you had more time to be outside instead of teaching. Fortunately you most likely will. This applies to teachers like me who work for schools or private students and teach either in companies or privately, if you teach children in a school setting you were already expecting to have free time over the summer.
When you take TEFL training, and even when you accept a contract with a school, nobody mentions that your summers will be quieter than you expected. This is my second summer in Prague and now I know what to expect, but the first summer was a little stressful. If you are new to the ESL world be aware:
Students take vacation. This is normal and expected of course, but it leaves you with holes in your schedule and since they are all early cancellations this also means holes in your income.
Classes get cancelled for the summer. You would think this isn’t a surprise to the schools but somehow it seems to be. I thought maybe it was just my school but a random survey of other teachers confirms this. Three of my 90 minute classes took the summer off and I wasn’t informed until the day of my final class with them. Not a nice surprise! The loss of 1350Kč per week is noticeable.
Classes end. This happens at other times of the year as well, but expect it in June as it is the end of the semester. Some classes run on terms and, again, your school might not warn you in advance.
What to do to cope with this problem?
Save. Those busy winter and spring months are the time to put something away for now.
Ask your students. In the late spring I have a lesson I do that is all about travel and vacations and I have adapted it to work in most of my classes. This is a perfect time to simply ask “Hey, what vacation plans do you have? What happens to your ESL classes over the summer?”. Don’t expect your school to communicate this to you. Avoid surprises. Alternatively, ask your school – they will certainly be asking you about your summer plans so it is a perfect time to have this conversation.
Take your own vacation. If you are planning to take a break, this is a good time to do it with a minimum loss of income.
Take on substitutions. The one upside here is that summer is also when other teachers will leave – either for the summer or for good. If you are staying and can be flexible you can take on extra classes. I’ve worked hard to be on good terms with the person in my school who handles substitutions.
Try intensive courses. If your school offers intensive English programs you might be able to get involved. These will be high intensity, up to eight hours a day of teaching for anywhere from one day to a week. The benefits are a good experience and a great way to top up your earnings while not really needing to cancel many of your normal classes.
Not to worry, come September things will pick up again and you’ll look back on these quite summer months fondly.
Enjoy the summer!
If you’ve been following my blog, you know this process takes some time. The good news is that the final visit to the immigration office is quite simple. On your previous visit you were given a time and date to come back, so here we are!
Make sure you have your passport and the 2,500Kč in koleks you had to buy from the post office. If you have picked up any Czech you should be fine by yourself, the only questions were to ask for my passport, ask me my address and ask me to sign and date something.
What to do and what to expect?
- Go back to the biometrics office and take a seat – there is no need to check-in with anyone. You could also check the appointment list on the wall just to make sure you are on it.
- Arrive early! My name was called ten minutes before my appointment time.
- After my name was called I went to one of the outside offices instead of the little room where the previous meeting took place.
- A very nice woman asked for my passport and the koleks for payment. She then tested me by asking my address, scanned my left and right pointer fingers and asked me to verify my photo. Finally I signed and dated my original application form and she handed my my long-term residence card.
We are done!
Almost……if you think way back to the beginning of this process you applied for an extension on your zivnostensky list and they gave you a temporary one while your application was being processed, remember? I made two final trips to the zivno office, one for them to copy my residence card and the final one to pick up my new zivno with the same expiration date as my residence card.
And NOW we are done! Good luck!
We probably don’t look up as much as we should, especially if you live in the city your attention is very much focused on the ground, the sidewalk, traffic and other people – a constant obstacle course to get from one place to another.
Take a moment and look up. If you are lucky enough to be in a park or out of town you will see the sky. But even in the city, especially a city like Prague, look up at the buildings more. There is so much to see above street level. I live in Holešovice and in my little residential area there are architectural touches to appreciate:
The ladies on Městský Okruh Plynární add a splash of color to look at while waiting at Ortenovo náměsti tram stop.
Though slightly faded you will find this couple on U Uranie, look way up!
Right across the street at V háji and U Uranie there is a story to be told.
Even the unassuming buildings on U pruhonu have some people watching over you.
Next time you go for a walk, take a moment to stop and expand your horizons.
It’s been almost two months since I started teaching in Prague. A bumpy ride with a lot of ups and downs. There are a few things I wish I had known coming into this either for good or for bad.
What do my days look like?
Long and broken. I could easily fill my mornings many times over, everyone wants morning classes and if they can’t get them they settle for evening classes. Many of my days start at 0730 and end at 1900 with large time gaps in the middle. I spend nearly as much time commuting as I do teaching, you learn quickly to choose your courses wisely and not to let schools push you into taking a class that doubles your commute time. I know every shortcut in every metro I use and I know which end of the train to get on so that I am in front of the rush getting off at my stop.
How much do I teach?
Summer months are a little quiet which is a good thing for a new teacher. I am teaching about nineteen blocks per week (forty-five minutes is a block but my lessons are usually either one hour or ninety minutes). Most of my classes are individuals with some small groups here and there. My focus is business so mostly I am at companies throughout Prague but I do have private students as well and they focus on conversation and error correction.
What are the lows?
Native English speakers are desired as teachers, but we are disposable. There is a constant supply of new teachers arriving and constant stream of people leaving. Some of my students have had multiple teachers in a year. Often the students can’t tell me the names of previous teachers.
Teaching in businesses you learn that there are always other priorities. A great group lesson plan for your class of five is not so exciting when only one student comes that day. Cell phones ring during every class or people pause to check email. People are late, you learn to start the clock when the lesson starts and wait for people to arrive, constantly adjusting how you will pull off the lesson with less time than you anticipated.
Communication breakdown. Schools will text you last minute to cancel, or often not at all and you sit waiting for a student that will never arrive. Classes are added last minute on Friday at 1600 but cancelled Monday at 1000 because someone forgot someone was on vacation for the week.
It is a solitary job, most of my day is spent alone commuting or waiting. Yes you teach people but it is not the same as having a co-worker to talk to or go for a break or a nice lunch with.
What are the highs?
Many of my students are fantastic people with interesting stories and thoughts, people I would never meet under normal circumstances and who certainly would never share their lives with me like they do. You get to hear about someones passion for a hobby, how much they loved the last trip they took and what a day at work is like for them.
Successes are common, it is extremely gratifying to see the lights come on when someone understands something.
You are free to come and go, accept classes or not and ultimately no one expects forever from you. I often see people in offices, sitting in cubicles and dressed for work and stressed out and think how much more peaceful my day is!
People Want To Learn. Without fail all of my students are interested in what I have to say, they want to be corrected and want to improve. I might be a disposable but I have the choice to try to be good at what I do and make sure they remember my name when I go.
On April 22, 2013 I applied for my visa and on May 22 I had the all important email telling me I had been approved and my visa was ready for pickup in Vienna! Not bad timing! This also meant that regardless of when I actually picked up the visa my clock had now started and I had a visa until November 21, 2013.
The final piece of this puzzle is health insurance, you will need to take proof of insurance with you when you pick up your visa. Requirements can be found here. Keep in mind that if the insurance was not issued in the Czech Republic you will need to have the policy documents translated and this could be costly and time consuming.
I researched my options and decided to use Slavia. They have a policy designed for foreigners and it perfectly meets the requirements for the visa. There are some odd things in the requirements including things like coverage even if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs when you are injured – not a common thing to find in health coverage.
EDIT: When returning in 2015 I found the health insurance situation had changed, I ended up using Czechinsure.com, and spoke with Simon Morton. The process was easier, was in English, and was only 7,500kc for 12 months through a better company than Slavia.
Your insurance must cover the entire term of your visa so I purchased six months at a cost of 4,380Kc. Buying it online saved me 20% but you can also get 10% off if you go ask in person. IMPORTANT: You will need the original documents as well as proof of payment – in my case as soon as I completed the online purchase I had a friend call and arrange for me to pick up my documents.
You won’t need an appointment to pick up your visa but it will have to be during opening hours which means being in Vienna early in the day – I took the Student Agency night bus down and came back the same day. Ten minutes at the Embassy and I had a nice shiny new visa in my passport!
Of course this is not over yet, next up registering with the Foreign Police and finalizing your zivno…