This is a guest post by Roy from Cruise Surfingz
If you’ve ever done a working holiday in an English-speaking country, you’ve probably had loads of fun and perhaps even met people from your home country.
There’s not much of a culture-shock and it’s fairly easy to adapt to your new environment (apart from the intense cold winter nights in Toronto, where you think an appendage or two may freeze and snap off).
Doing a working holiday in Central or Eastern Europe, is a very different experience however. There’s a much bigger cultural divide, which makes it more challenging but more interesting as well.
In 2006, I applied for a Working Holiday Visa for the Czech Republic on a whim.
My working holiday in the UK was almost up and I didn’t want to go home yet. So I looked at the list of available countries in Europe, which have an agreement with New Zealand and picked the country which sold the cheapest beer.
After some research, I decided that teaching English was the only viable option so I signed up for a one-month TEFL course in Prague. That way, I could live in Prague for a month and if I didn’t like the city, I could look for English teaching jobs elsewhere.
Turns out, I fell in love with Prague and ended up staying there for an entire year.
Working In Prague
Right after I finished my TEFL course, I foolishly took the first job that was offered to me. It was a freelance gig as a Business English teacher. I enjoyed it but it only gave me 15 hours per week which was not really enough to live on.
If you are considering working as a teacher, you’d be better off looking for a job in a school. You’ll be on salary, have paid holidays and get health insurance. Also, if you wish to extend after your working holiday visa is up, the school will most likely sponsor your work visa.
During summer holidays there are plenty of summer camps looking for native English teachers, which are lots of fun to do as well.
Another thing to consider is there are also jobs in IT, sales and marketing where they prefer native English speakers. However, these companies look for people who are already legally allowed to work in the Czech Republic, so having that working holiday visa is an advantage.
To supplement my work as an English teacher, I also worked as a webmaster for a gay porn company. (It’s a long story.)
Living In Prague
A lot has been written about Prague as a travel destination. Yes, the architecture is gorgeous, the culture is rich and the beer is delicious and cheap.
Speaking of which, it’s actually true that over here beer (per unit of measurement) is the cheapest drink you can buy in bars. Even cheaper than water. Yes, Prague is a magical place where the only thing missing are unicorns and double rainbows.
Anyway. When you’re living here, you’ll also appreciate the brilliant and inexpensive public transport network as well as the excellent medical facilities. It’s also fairly inexpensive to take the train or bus should you choose to visit nearby cities.
In recent years, Prague has developed a thriving expat community as well, supported by online communities like Expats.cz and the local Couchsurfing group.
You should note that Prague is now one of the most expensive cities to live in all of the Accession countries, as the Czech Koruna has stregthened over the last few years. So if you work remotely (ie. you earn wages in another currency, you will be better off financially somewhere else in the region.
What Else You Need To Know
1. Don’t tell employers you are on a working holiday visa. The “holiday” part confuses some of them. Just say you have a 1 year work visa.
2. Don’t bother with recruiters in this part of the world. In my experience, unless you are going for a high paying position (ie. senior management) they will be of no help to you.
3. Imported goods, especially branded items may be more expensive in the Eastern Bloc than in some parts of Western Europe, especially UK or Germany. This is probably because the local markets are smaller and there are additional middle men.
4. English teaching in this part of the world is not as lucrative as it is in Asia. You should earn enough to live comfortably but you won’t be able to save much, if anything. Eg. In Prague, English Teachers can earn about 20,000kc (USD$1,200) per month but 30-40% will go to rent if you want to live in a decent area.
5. With regards to Prague, bear in mind that beer is very cheap but eating out can be expensive from a purchasing power point of view. If you are not a beer drinker, it’s important to note that your purchasing power may be higher in Poland or Latvia, even though you may not earn as much there. Basically, if you live in Prague you can’t afford not to drink beer!
6. The cost of eating out can add up when you are on local wages. I ended up spending more than I earned, mainly because I ate out all the time. The best way to stick to a budget is to cook.
7. If you really want to embrace the culture and meet locals, it’s useful to do a 1-month intensive language course. These languages are not easy to pick up for the average native English speaker, so it’s good to have some foundation.
8. Finding a job in a smaller city is also another good way to embrace the real culture. Wages may be lower but the cost of living tends to be much lower then in the large cities.
9. It gets cold! Unless you are from Canada (or Alaska), you have will have a shock when you spend a winter here. Just remember that you need to invest in a good winter jacket and shoes, over here. Fortunately central heating is good and the public transport is excellent in these parts of the world (so you never have to walk too far).
Working Holiday Visa Agreements
As of writing, these are the current reciprocal working holiday visa agreements in Central & Eastern Europe:
What If You Aren’t Eligible For A Working Holiday Visa?
Even if you can’t get a working holiday visa, it’s still possible to find a job as an English teacher or in certain technical roles for international companies. (In fact, there’s a fairly large American expatriate community in Prague). It’s a bit more difficult as they will need to sponsor your work visa and you would definitely need to be in the country when applying.
Quite often when you do a TEFL course, the organization may be able to help you find a job. So it’s useful to do your TEFL in the country in which you want to work.
Would you like to live in Central or Eastern Europe?
More Resources for Eastern Europe:
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