Prague is known as one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world. Millions of tourists visit every year to admire its architecture, absorb the culture and to drink the incredible beer. Tens of thousands of expats have stayed, unable to say goodbye to the city’s picturesque magic (and the beer). So moving to Prague sans home, sans job, and sans any knowledge of the Czech language can’t be that hard, right?
On my one-way journey to Prague, I began to compile a checklist of tasks to be accomplished on my arrival, in an attempt to squash the rising fear that I was going to be homeless, jobless and friendless in a country with an utterly incomprehensible language. Checklists soothe me, and luckily this one was fairly straightforward.
Number one was to find somewhere to live. This would be a piece of cake. I had plenty of experience relocating, and my Czech boyfriend, Kuba, (for whom I began this adventure) would be able to help with everything I couldn’t do myself. I did briefly entertain a moment of panic when he suggested we might live with his mother in a little village 2 hours drive from Prague: it turns out Czech men are excessively close to their mothers. Waving him off on his way to the city every day and then wiling away the hours with his maminka while I desperately trawled the Internet for job opportunities was not quite what I had in mind. In an effort to distract him from this potentially disastrous train of thought I bombarded him with links for rental apartments in Prague and suggested he call them to set up viewings for when I got here.
As a result, upon my arrival, we left my enormous suitcase and my slightly smaller but equally overweight hand baggage in a locker at the train station and promptly embarked on our list of places to see. It was all going swimmingly so far. We loved the first place we saw on the edge of the Stromovka park in Prague 7: the real estate agent, Lucie from Happy House Rentals, spoke perfect English and was extremely helpful, and the neighbourhood is beautiful. However, as we had already set up another viewing immediately afterwards, I felt we should at least check out the second place as a formality.
We ended up wandering down a street in Albertov almost entirely blocked with construction work. The door of the building to which we were headed was propped open with a thick rubber tube and one of the glass panes in the door was missing. The ‘agent’, who turned out to be the son of the lady who owned the place, shook hands with Kuba, threw me a brief glance, and then headed inside, nimbly hurdling a broken step. On the way up in the lift Kuba asked him if he spoke English but as far as I could work out the only response was laughter. By this point my presence had yet to be acknowledged and I was squashed against the back of the miniscule lift feeling like I had definitely not been invited to this party (the missing pane and broken step also failed to get a mention). ‘Low point,’ I thought to myself, bewildered by this man’s apparent unwillingness to deal with anyone not male and his total inability to muster even so much as a greeting in English. Needless to say, we headed back across town and rented the lovely apartment from Lucie the lovely English-speaking real estate agent.
In spite of Lucie’s niceness, however, there are several things particular to renting an apartment in the Czech Republic that seemed totally to defy my Western logic. Firstly, the initial payment of the first month’s rent plus a deposit of a second month’s rent needed to be paid in cash. Apparently this is standard practice. For us, this total amounted to about 35,000 CZK. Call me modern, but carrying this amount of cash around a town known for its pickpockets seemed slightly lunatic. My suggestion that we pay with a credit card rather than bringing a suitcase filled with 1,000 CZK bills was met with a sorrowful headshake. Apart from the challenge of navigating our way around Prague with our pickpocket’s jackpot, the logistical difficulties of actually acquiring this much cash over a weekend then hit us in the form of ATM withdrawal limits. Thanks to working in America for the past 6 months, both of us have American bank accounts. In addition to this I also have a British bank account (left over from my university days) and an account at home in Belgium. Kuba also came armed with his Czech account. Despite this multitude of bank accounts, however, it still took us 3 days and several trips to the ATM to amass the necessary number of bills.
The second thing that stumped me about renting a flat in the Czech Republic was that letting agency fees are not paid by the owner, as is the case everywhere else I have come across, but by the prospective renter. This also needs to be paid in cash at the time that the lease is signed. Our fee was 10,000 CZK. We added this to one of the various envelopes of money we distributed about our bodies for the trip across Prague to sign our lease.
Somewhere to live, check! Now for furniture…
Katia is a Belgian native who studied in Scotland and went to work in America, where she met her Czech boyfriend. In September 2012 she moved to Prague to live with him and is quickly falling in love with the city as well. Her passions are travel and adventure and reading and writing about them!