A little list with a dose of European reality
If you’re a U.S. citizen thinking of moving to Prague, or anywhere in the Czech Republic, you will have seen thousands of inspiring beauty shots and read dozens of articles about moving and being an expat. It’s all true; it’s a beautiful location and a great place to call home. However, there are a few things that none of the expat articles mention that present challenges, especially if you’re past that stage in life where a backpack and a passport are your only possessions. If you plan to move permanently, invest in property or a business, and manage your finances well, there are a few things to prepare, and prepare for, before you go.
Many of your documents will need to have an apostille authentication from the Secretary of State where the document was issued. The apostille certifies that the signatures on your document are authentic. If you are claiming to be married, your original marriage license will need the apostille. If you are claiming a university degree, the original diploma will need the apostille.
Go to the specific State’s Secretary of State website and find the apostille instructions. While it’s new to you, they do it all the time. It is unnerving sending your original documents away; be sure to use a trackable mailing option. Do this early, as it can take weeks to receive the documents back. And of course, there is a fee.
A word about your documents and records: European paper sizes are different than U.S. paper sizes. So, the file you put together for all your U.S. docs is going to be just a little too small to file your European papers.
Prepare yourself to essentially give up your U.S. credit score. That number you’ve tried so hard to maintain and used for big purchases, getting jobs, and decent interest rates means nothing in Czechia. You will prove your worth by the amount of money you have in the bank and your job. That’s it.
You’ll also find that credit cards are not used much in Czechia. People use their debit cards for nearly everything, but not credit cards. It’s different for Americans, but the upside is that there is no credit card bill at the end of the month. You just have to live within your means.
You’ll pay for everything in Czech korunas, or crowns. Exchanging your U.S. dollars (USD) for Czech korunas (czk) can be as simple or as smart as you want it. If you have money you’re transferring to a Czech bank, consider this option: when you open your Czech bank account, open two accounts: one as a czk account and one as a USD account. Just transfer a moderate amount to the czk account to get started.
Then, you can transfer USD from your U.S. bank into your USD Czech account anytime without worrying if you’re getting a good exchange rate. Then, watch the exchange rates and when it’s favorable to exchange more of your dollars for korunas, your banker will help you move the money from the USD to the czk account. Depending on the amount, you can make hundreds of dollars by converting when the time is right.
Keep a U.S. address! You will need it for many things, for signing up with the foreign police to applying for Social Security abroad. This can be a family member’s address, or your own if you’re keeping a home in the U.S. And, keep your American credit card tied to that address, and have the bills go there. If you need to prove your U.S. address, the bill will do that. You can call and pay your bill by phone.
If you are buying property or just receiving mail, you’ll use three identifiers for your address in Prague. One is the house number of the building, generally in order down the street, like in the U.S. The second is another house number that represents the order of when the building was registered with the government. This number does not fall in any kind of order except in government files. The third system is the neighborhood, or district, like Vinohrady or Stare Mesto. Your postal code is based on the neighborhood.
Finally, get used to a different system for how the floors of a building are numbered. In the U.S., each of floors are numbered from one on up. In Czechia, the first floor is called the ground floor, then each floor is numbered starting with one. So, a building with four floors will be ground, one, two, three.
Making phone calls and sending texts using your U.S. number is quite expensive in Czechia. So, you’ll want to get a local number. However, once you change to the new number, there is no way for you to authorize any purchases on your U.S. credit card. Your card will try to send a verification code to the U.S. phone number tied to your credit card, but you won’t receive it because you’ve changed your number. The U.S. card will not allow you to have a European phone number. So, get your bank account in place and tie your debit card to your new number and use that instead of your credit card in Europe.
There are a few ways to communicate without using your expensive Czech phone number.
TextNow – For $5 a year, this app gives you a U.S. phone number in the state you choose. You can then call, text, receive calls, and voice mail with family and friends in the U.S. with no additional charges.
Facebook Messenger – If your contacts use Facebook Messenger, you can call and receive calls for free.
What’sApp – Allows group chats, texts, and phone calls, and is used widely in Europe.
If you are moving with a pet, get ready for some real documentation. Start more than six months ahead of your move, as your pet may need documented vaccinations at intervals starting at six months. Go to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel/ for the definitive requirements. Schedule an appointment with a vet who has prepared the docs for international travel before. Factor into your plans that several of the required steps must take place within the 10 days preceding travel (including weekends), and this includes your vet sending paperwork to your state’s USDA office and them returning it. And, there are fees. Once you are settled in Czechia, take all the paperwork and stamped docs from your arrival at the airport to the vet and they will issue an EU pet passport.
Get as much of your prescribed medication as possible to get you started in Czechia. You will probably need refills before you’re set up with the government or private insurance. You will need original paper prescriptions from your doctor, or the actual bottles with the name, dose, dates, etc.
Consider your investment and savings strategies and how you’ll manage these once you’re in Czechia. Aisa is a great resource for examining your options and mapping out an individualized plan from the very beginning. You’ll want to work with a company who is actively managing money in the unprecedented environment we’re facing now. It’s just one more step to make sure your move allows you the life you’re dreaming of.
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