The U.S. (American) Community

The U.S. (American) Community looks at the U.S. community in the Czech Republic

The U.S. (American) Community

The U.S. (American) Community looks at the U.S. community in the Czech Republic

Published 28.11.2011
Last updated 28.11.2011

For many expats, the American community is a group of friends, associates, or travelers who speak English, have a US passport, and happen to be in the Czech Republic. But is there something more coherent to this group? Is there a way to define them as we've done with other communities?

Crunching the Numbers
According to the Ministry of the Interior, as of 2011 there are 5,940 Americans with permanent or temporary residency in the Czech Republic. 3,719 of them live in Prague. The total number of residents has increased from 4,411 since 2006, when the Czech Republic entered the Schengen Zone. In addition, there are 1,278 Americans in the capital with long-term visas.

In Prague, just over a third of the American residents (1,375) live in Prague 1, 2 and 3. Prague 6 is the district with the single largest number of Americans – 706. The pattern for Americans with long-term visas is very similar, with about half in the center, while Prague 6 again had the single largest group.

Outside of Prague, the numbers thin out considerably. The next most popular region is middle Bohemia, with 541 residents, perhaps not so surprising given its proximity to Prague. The third most popular, with 407 residents, is south Moravia.

Of course, these are official numbers. A person could be registered in one address and live in another. One reason for this is to avoid dealing with the lines at immigration department offices in Prague. This comment is based on anecdotal evidence; no official records were released to us.

Also, no official estimate or comment was given by the Ministry of the Interior on the number of people living here unofficially. Since the Czech Republic joined the Schengen Zone, it is fair to assume the number of people living without a visa or residency permit has declined sharply. I would say 'disappeared', though I met an American earlier this year who claimed to still be here long-term without a visa or permit.

While the Ministry of the Interior was forthcoming with data on numbers and where people lived, the most I could get from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs was a link to a website which showed the number of foreigners employed for a particular month, but nothing concrete regarding professions.

Why Here?
I suppose every expat gets asked why they came to the Czech Republic. Toby Patton, a university English teacher, said he used to wish he had a card printed with his answer. The initial reason was a sense of adventure. “In my case, it wasn’t coming to the Czech Republic, it was just going abroad somewhere.” The Czech Republic provided him with a chance to experience life abroad. The country was, by European standards, an affordable option and is conveniently located in the center of Europe.

Mary Matz is a former teacher who now runs Opus Osm, an online magazine for classical music. Her publishing venture in some ways stems from her feelings for the place. She said, “The point of my magazine is to tell the world there’s something here and tell it from my own eyes.”

Others have come to Prague for the business opportunities. One such individual is Glen Spicker. After coming to Prague in 1991, he went on to establish a bar, a restaurant chain, a jazz club and a museum. He also noted the differences in the community and life in Prague then and now. He said, “It’s more accessible now for a broader range of people. Back then you had to be more adventurous to come here, whether you were an entrepreneur or just a slacker.”

Some people, like Karen Feldman, have entered into entirely new fields. Feldman originally studied photography, but now runs Artel Glass. Those who are familiar with her designs will know how much Feldman draws on Czech culture in her work. About living here, she said, “As a designer and a creative person, it makes your eyes more open.”

One other attraction was Prague's image, rightly or wrongly, as the left-bank of the nineties. Max Munson, proprietor of Jáma, admitted part of his early ambition with the restaurant was to be part of that. He said, “The concept was, and I know it was a very strange concept, but the concept was to open up a restaurant where we'd have poetry readings and then use money from the restaurant to pay for a literary review to pay for the best of the poetry and short fiction read at the readings.” Munson admits, however, those times and the tone of his restaurant have changed.

U.S. Embassy in Prague
U.S. Embassy in Prague

Establishing Roots
Just as the motives for coming vary, so do those for staying here. Some people gave relationships or starting a family as reasons. Sometimes, as in the case of Feldman, the reason is lifestyle.

“I think it's a better lifestyle than in the US. The standard of living is better. The lifestyle is not all driven by work, work, work and succeeding and getting ahead. Even I, as an entrepreneur who is trying to succeed, appreciates that I'm not in the office every day until ten at night, and that my staff isn't either.”

Matz on the other hand offered a more taciturn answer. “You know, you've got to live somewhere.”

The U.S. And Them (Czechs)
Living anywhere new entails challenges. Surprisingly, bureaucracy was not a common complaint; the group I spoke with all seemed to take it in stride. A more common complaint was with service, though each said they dealt with it differently. Spicker said he could be more direct, whereas Matz said she tried to make a joke of the situation.

They also had different views about learning the local language. Spicker and Munson speak it with a degree of proficiency. Spicker even appeared on Czech TV. Yet, both said that speaking the language didn't necessarily make things easier. Feldman, on the other hand, admitted to not speaking much Czech. At the same time she has been able to engage with the culture to a significant degree.

Given that most of these people run businesses, one of their main challenges was as employers. Feldman said that techniques which worked in the states didn't work here. Munson also found that the U.S. management style was not so effective at first, so he had to resort to more old-fashioned techniques.

Something from Home
Most of the people I spoke to felt that they didn't miss much from home, and/or get their fix of American tastes from Jáma, Bohemian Bagel, or La Casa Blů. Snacks or ingredients are available from The Candy Store or from Tesco's international food section.

As for the holidays, attitudes varied. Some people went home in the past for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Others celebrated here with friends. Patton said, “Usually, when you know a lot of Americans, someone will organize a little Thanksgiving party.”

Perhaps more important than the holidays is the screening of the NFL in bringing Americans in Prague together. Munson believes there is a good reason for this. He said, “NFL brings Americans together unlike any other sport. One particular reason is that the games are on the same day at the same time.”

Of course, he acknowledges, this is only one part of the community. In fact, as this small sample shows, the community is quite diverse in both professions and their approach to life. If there is one defining characteristic it would be how individual the members of this group are.

We'd love to hear your thoughts!

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"Munson also found that the U.S. management style was not so effective at first, so he had to resort to more old-fashioned techniques."
Could you please expound on statements like these? They're terribly undescriptive.

15.47.41 27.03.2017

Comment from: Published: 12:51:44 27.05.2013
@Sanan: Well put. I'm in that situation in the US. So many Americans nowaday complaining about illegal aliens (in US) and why they simply don't get a visa. Y'all know the answer now and maybe, just maybe it would be a good thing to tell your friends and families in the US, that almost exactly what you're going through in CR, happens for those foreigners trying to get legal in the US as well.
Comment from: Published: 09:21:47 29.03.2012
and @Sanan: i believe you misunderstood aSmith82's comment about expat women. i'm pretty sure s/he was referring to the fact that there are plenty of women living here who could care less about what the local women look like. for that matter, i'll add that there are plenty of guys out there who didn't necessarily come all the way to prague to look at women, either. it has nothing to do with homosexuality nor political correctness on their part.
Comment from: Published: 09:12:22 29.03.2012
so what are you looking for then, Globetrotter? how about you come up with something more profound and thought-provoking...if not in an article, then at least in your own comment.
Comment from: Published: 03:05:18 26.02.2012
A dull and predictable article on the whole, trotting out the same oft-repeated whinges like "complaining about service" or "going home for Christmas" . This article is about as thought provoking as the boring old "Museum of Communism" with the decades old Russian monster doll poster. The comments below the article are even more boring and predictable :-/ ....being an American expat myself, I'm thinking of opening a "Museum of American Capitalism" right next to the Spicker's boring Museum of Communism.
Comment from: sam Published: 03:44:42 04.12.2011
Great Article! Very interesting. I was really surprised that I wasn't alone in registering my residency in South Moravia. Any ideas on how I can locate any of the 406 other Americans registered in my region?
K(Guest) Published: 08:25:06 01.12.2011
I'm surprised that you have left out Americans who study here. There are (likely more than) several, myself included, earning our Masters degrees here, as well as a number of short-term Bachelors students who are studying abroad. As a student, my interactions with Americans outside of my program have been very limited, to the point where I was a little surprised to find out how many of us are actually living here. I also think life as a student has offered a much more inclusive experience than I experienced in the past as an English teacher abroad (not in the Czech Republic). As for Americans not being prepared for the visa process, I can attest that this year was a complicated one to be applying for visas and permits because the laws changed twice - once in January and again in May. However, not all of the embassies and consulates have updated their websites or have made the changes in practice. This has meant that the process has been made more difficult for all applicants, not only those from the USA. I, for one, began preparing over a year in advance, and have experienced a whole host of complications - Vienna's embassy seems to be a common issue (based on posts here and others I've spoken to), and living abroad previously adds paperwork - but several other expat students from outside of the USA have also gone through difficult situations this year with the new changes. In comparing our experiences with those of the students who came a year ago, it is clear that our "naivete" is not to blame, but rather the widespread and inconsistent changes which have been implemented without the kinks worked out. I am not complaining, just explaining; I am willing to do the leg work to be here, and I agree that it is reasonable to expect Americans to go through the same hassle experienced by those who try to enter the USA.
smovak(Guest) Published: 04:53:38 30.11.2011
I find that the American community here is pretty tight, at least in Prague. A lot of times it feels like a small town, there being very few degrees of seperation between Americans and those who mix with us. Is it because most of us freqent the same restaurants, bars etc and don't branch out enough? It's comforting and can sometimes even feel suffocating. You come all the way across the world to have something new, and you find yourself falling into a routine. There's a lot of support here for us though, thankfully. As a well-traveled expat, I can tell you that Czech women aren't any hotter than women anywhere else. The only difference is that they don't mind being looked at as sex objects ;)
Comment from: Sanan Published: 09:55:34 30.11.2011
I empathize with your friend's difficulties, but I don't think it's a reason to stay illegal. If anyone has ever had to deal with American immigration s/he will understand why I don't sympathize. I've witnessed American border officials at Miami International Airport literally scream and physically handle an older Czech couple because they couldn't understand what she was telling them. I also remember as a child standing at INS in Miami for hours upon hours upon hours with my grandmother, a Cuban immigrant, waiting for her to get her green card. The information that everyone needs is on the Internet, and the Czech Ministry of the Exterior has gotten very good at making it available. The introduction of CzechPoint is a great move in the right direction. I'm willing to bet a massive majority of foreigners don't know about it. The information's not going to fall in your lap and sending an email to a Czech bureau is as effective as throwing a message in a bottle out to sea. The information is out there, you just have to search for it. The situation is no better in the USA for immigrants or expats going there. My point is that Americans rarely find themselves as the one asking for entry into a country. But as more of us want to leave the US for other pastures, it's time to grow a thick skin and deal with all the BS that will be thrown your way. That's it. PS. Of course there are hot women here regardless of where they come from. Just saying that many expat men come here because of the Czech women. Any guy who denies that is gay or being politically correct.
aSmith82(Guest) Published: 06:39:44 29.11.2011
I have to agree with Kishiwa, but it isn't only cost and corrupt employers and disorganisation that hinder the process of being legal. Case in point: an American friend of mine went to Vienna to file for her visa, after having everything in order from her employer. She had emailed the Czech Embassy there several times, asking if she needed X,Y and Z...instead of answering her specific questions and answering them in a timely fashion, they waited until after she'd sent her fourth email, IMPLORING them for an answer, before she travelled all the way to Vienna...and they only replied with a link to their website. Upon arrival to the embassy, sure that all of her ducks were in a row, they immediately denied her application, because they required an affidavit stating her clear criminal record from Singapore, where she had previously worked and lived. Oops! Didn't see that coming. After returning to Prague, disheartened, she contacted the embassy in Singapore, again and again. Unfortunately for her, no one there can be bothered to do her the favor of sending her the affidavit. The result? No possibility of being legal in the Czech Republic. So for some people who have been lucky enough to have come into the hands of honest employers, it may be easy to utter a big "So what?" For many others, who don't necessarily fit "hot women" into the equation of living here, (as it turns out, there are many heterosexual female expats living here, too) and who are dealing with employers who are looking out for their own pocketbooks, it's not so easy. I never realised before I made some American friends, how difficult it can be for them. Many of them feel helpless and at the mercy of a bureaucracy that answers emails at their leisure, and generally lacks any sense of urgency. I admire and respect my American friends here for all they have to go through.
BenTennison16(Guest) Published: 05:59:56 29.11.2011
6,000 americans? heh... more like 16,000 at least. I also used to know about a couple of dozen illegal US citizens myself. Either way its not that many its like 1 in 1000 so no big deal. However, the unofficial figures put the number of illegal immigrants from Ukraine as high as 300,000 !! or vietnam 150,000 (double the 'official' numbers)...and as 'kishwa' said: WHo can blame them? The burocracy in Czech is ridiculous. It took me SOOO long to become a naturalised citizen over there.
Comment from: Sanan Published: 10:15:12 28.11.2011
@jakubcovag The site is for English speakers, but this particular article was written focused on American expats. The founder/owner of Expats is actually from the UK, and most of his staff are Czech. @kishiwa I'll agree with you that the process became FUBAR once the Czech Republic required applicants to apply at an embassy outside of the Czech Republic, blaming the visa process as being "tedious, time consuming, and expensive" gets a big "So what?" The visa process for ANY country is tedious, time consuming and expensive. Americans aren't used to being on the other side of the immigration desk, but if you want to live and work here you need to get legal status. As for employers not filling out work permits, it's been my experience that if they can't fill the position with local talent they will certainly go through the process of filling out work permits. I'm not saying bureaucracy doesn't play a role, but for many Americans their incredible naivety about how things work here and lack of a certain savoir faire don't help. If they want to play the game they've gotta learn the rules. @Culinaria Nice plug for the business :)
Comment from: jakubcovag Published: 05:33:12 28.11.2011
I look forward to the next article on the statistics on other (non-American) expats living here. Or is this strictly a website for Americans?
kishiwa(Guest) Published: 04:52:32 28.11.2011
nicely written, but i think most of us know that the number of americans here is far greater than what's been printed in this article, because illegal immigrants aren't exactly making their presence known from the rooftops. personally, i know more americans here who aren't legal, than who are. the reason is simply bureaucracy--the visa process is tedious, time consuming, and expensive. language barriers and inexcusable disorganization on the part of employers as well as government offices AND the fact that the requirements are always changing--make it nearly impossible to be legal here. corruption is another factor, as many employers would rather evade the costs of sponsoring employees for their work permit and subsequent visa, and have no problem employing americans illegally. and since many americans don't necessarily plan to stay here for long anyway, many don't see the point in spending the time, money, and going through the nightmarish process of becoming legal. and who can blame them?
Comment from: Published: 03:23:42 28.11.2011
you forgot to mention Culinaria Praha which served and still serves the American community with imports since 7 years
Comment from: Sanan Published: 01:16:45 28.11.2011
I moved from Miami, Florida to Prague 11 years ago and the same holds true today as it did back then... Prague is simply a fantastic place to call home. Once you learn how to get around the different bureaus and learn to speak the language, you learn to go with the flow. Sometimes I crave a hamburger, but luckily for me so do most Czechs, so there are many places to get a great burger whenever and where ever and you don't have to pay TGIF or Hard Rock prices to get one either. I think it's fair to say that an American in Prague is no longer such an enigma. The fact is once you've visited here, it's clear why people stay... and it's not all just excellent cheap beer and hot women... although it does fit a little into the equation. A solitary walk home to Flora from the city centre after a night of entertainment reminds me why it's great to be here. By the way, to say that Max and Glen speak Czech "with of proficiency" is an understatement. I've never met Glen, but Max speaks Czech nearly like a native, as do I.