-Where were you born?
In sunny and charming Lisbon, Portugal
-In which country and city are you living now?
I have been living in Ostrava, the third biggest city of Czech Republic.
-Are you living alone or with your family?
Living alone at the moment.
-How long have you been living in the Czech Republic?
I started to move to Czech Republic in November 2004, and settled here in March 2005. First I lived in a small village in the outskirts of Brno, later moved to Olomouc and in the past 2 and a half years I have been living in Ostrava.
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in the Czech Republic?
I always wanted to experience living aboard, although I was more into poshïer places like Amsterdam or London. But one day I happened to pass by Czech Republic and fell in love with the country. Mostly it was the challenge of adapting to a new country that I knew very little about, that virtually no-one seemed to understand even English and the possibility to re-invent myself that made me move here.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?
As a European Union citizen I don't need any visa or work permit here.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
There is an agreement between the European states for common medical assistance, so I just needed to fill in for the European Health Insurance Card. It wasn't difficult at all and I am entitled to have any emergency medical treatment for the same fee as any Czech citizen. For other routine assistance I go to my family doctor in Portugal when I am there.
-How do you make your living in the Czech Republic? Do you have any type of income generated?
I collaborate with a privately owned TV studio, specializing in animation and documentaries, as director and editor, although I still have some extra income from my native country as an author and scripwriter. It wasn't hard to get this job at all; I just searched on the net for studios in the Moravian region, found this one and wrote them an e-mail offering my services, even when they weren't looking for no-one. They invited me to drop by, we had a quick chat and the next day I was working with them.
-Do you speak Czech and do you think it's important to speak the local language? Please add your thoughts on local customs and whether it's important for expats to respect/observe local customs.
Well, in Czech Republic it is vital to learn the language. Even in cities like Prague or Brno, where people are more familiar with English, they are more open and friendly to me if I speak Czech with them (only cab drivers don't like it so much...).
Czech society is very tolerant and open, so it is not hard to integrate when you are willing to. There are some local customs, but they don't differ that much from other European nations, so it is not difficult to observe and respect them. Still there are a few extremes that I kind of have fun with, like for instance, Czechs are very big opportunists and quite often can be abuse your willingness to do something, but on the other hand, they are very helpful and can stop doing whatever they were doing to help you out in something. Also they tend to disrepect some basic common sense behaviours, like passing in front of you in a queue or ignoring that you are on a pedestrian crossing, but if you are showing intentions to cross on a busy highway, don't be surprised if they stop to let you go through..
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Family of course. Has for my native country, I only miss the weather and the ocean. The rest I don't miss at all. I feel better here than I did in Portugal.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I want to travel the world by train. That is my main goal and I am actually working on it. So far I have been travelling through Europe a lot and even published a couple of books on that subject in Portugal. Now I am working on my first English-language book and I would also like to start doing documentaries about this subject, so I could finance my trips and also have my income from that. Still, it would take some time, but every day I take another step in that direction.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
I always rented flats, although I am playing with the idea of buying a house in the near future. Housing costs in Czech Republic are inexpensive when compared to other EU countries, although cities like Prague, Brno and even here Ostrava are starting to get simillar prices. Still, you can rent a 3-room flat in Ostrava for 10.000Kc (around 350€) a month, already with water, electricity and central heating inlcuded, specially out of the centre.
-What is the cost of living in the Czech Republic?
Although prices fired up in the last couple of years, it is still relativelly cheap to live in Ostrava and in the whole Czech Republic, as long as you avoid tourist traps in the centre of Prague and poshy places everywhere. I could say that with 20.000Kc a month (around 700€) you can afford to have a flat, pay your bills, transportation, shop in supermarket without counting every penny, have pocket money for coffee and cigarettes, have your nights out and still treat yourself with something you want once in a while.
-What do you think about the Czechs?
I can say in general that Czechs are quite friendly and know how to be polite. Above all they are extremely helpful when they know you but they expect you to be twice more helpful when they will need you, although they would not make many remarks if you don't, but don't count on them next time...
The Czech lands have been occupied or explored by foreign nations for many years, so foreigners tend to be treated with suspicion at first, but Czechs are very curious people and when you start to hang around a certain place or area for some time, they are dying to start a conversation with you, and know more about you.
Only in the centre of Prague this might be less common, since they are saturated from tourists and expats that refuse to learn Czech, but in other areas they are also open to foreigners.
There is (a lot) more prejudice against gypsies here than foreigners, although sometimes there are people that have still some hard feelings with Russians or Germans because of the recent past and more recently with Americans (never understood why) or British (because they have the fame of coming to Czech only to look for cheap prostitutes and beer).
The other nations are more tolerated and accepted, especially the huge Vietnamese community, whose cheap clothing shops and eating bistros are quite appreciated by this money saving friendly society.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in the Czech Republic?
All countries have their positive and negative things. Although I might complain about the way some things work, there are others that are very efficient, more than in other countries so it's hard to say.
One positive thing about Ostrava in particular is the fact that being somewhat isolated from the rest of the country, it developed its own culture and identity, and that made it possible for many local writers, actors, musicians or artists to get more support not only from the local authorities but also from the public. Considering that 30% of the national television programs are produced in this city, many of them ended up being famous nationwide and even in neighbouring countries like Slovakia or Poland. But since many artists choose to live in Prague, there is very little competition in this town, so it is very easy to get exposed here.
In my case for instance, due to the lack or TV/video professionals in this town I got great working opportunities, like for example, covering a major music festival that has been taking place here every summer for the past 3 years, and had the chance to meet and interview many famous musicians like the Servian-Bosnian composer Goran Bregovic, the 2-time Academy Award winner Gustavo Santaolalla, the famous bass-player Richard Bona, the musician/actor Eugene Hutz, the famous British singer Alyson Goldfrapp or the "Madchester" legend Happy Mondays, to name only a few. This is the most positive aspect I find of living in Ostrava.
As for the country as a whole, I think the easy going life, the ecological mentality, war awareness and low criminality are good aspects.
Negative... apart form the constant train delays and some over-bureaucracy, but that fortunatelly is being reduced day by day, only the weather in winter or summer can be sometimes annoying, but their spring and autumn are just perfect. There is also a lot of corruption here, but that never affected me.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in the Czech Republic?
Keep it simple and act normal, don't show off that you are a foreigner. Let them realize it by themselves, you will get much more from that. And learn the language, it will make more than a difference.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about the Czech Republic?
www.expats.cz - not really my favorite but quite useful for expats in Prague. Expats in the rest of the Republic will have trouble to find info here, but you can always try the forum to meet other expats and have some advice.