So - you've visited Slovakia and you're so impressed with the country that you want to settle here. Or maybe you've just graduated from university in England, and you're not ready to step into a career - a year teaching English in Slovakia looks like just the way to put off the inevitable. Or are you a foreign business person who has been transferred to Slovakia to set up a new office?
Whoever we are and for whatever reason we come to live in Slovakia, getting a residence and work permit - a 'green card' - is one of the most tedious hurdles ex-patriates have to cross.
The reason it's so tedious is that the law changes constantly, and is difficult to obey. Originally passed in the summer of 1995, the Law on the Stay of Foreign Nationals - the 'foreigners law' - requires you now to submit your application to work and reside in Slovakia to the Slovak embassy in your country of origin. Meanwhile, many of the documents you need are only obtainable in Slovakia, and everything has to be translated into Slovak by a translator recognized by Slovak courts.
But don't lose heart before you begin. Steel yourself for a long and frustrating process, and have faith you'll get a green card within about four months of application.
What you need
What you need from your home country are your university diploma and your police record (don't bother applying if it has anything on it). These both have to be translated into Slovak.
The problem is that you also need a statement of your law-abiding history from the Slovak police, a work contract from your Slovak employer, a letter from the Slovak Labour Office agreeing that you should be allowed to take the job (because your firm could not employ a Slovak to do the same work in your place), a rental contract for the place you intend to live (signed and notarized by each of the legal owners of the residence), an extract from the cadastral office (Land Registry) proving that your landlord(s) indeed own the joint, and the results of a complete medical exam which must have been done within the last three months.
As you can see, you will need help from the Slovak side to get all this arranged. According to the law, you should visit Slovakia as a tourist and take care of all the paper work, then ferry it back to your home country, submit it to the Slovak embassy, and wait patiently to be told you can come back to Slovakia and begin your life here.
In reality (thank God the police don't read English, knock wood), it's rarely done this way. When I first came to Slovakia in 1995, I had already submitted some of the necessary documents to the Slovak embassy in Ottawa, but the bulk of them I arranged in Slovakia with the help of my employer. According to the law, I was supposed to kick my heels until the police delivered my green card, but when I proposed to start work forthwith and be reimbursed when my employer was legally permitted to pay me, this was considered a fine solution to the legal dilemma that pained us all. What is more, some of what I had arranged in Canada (ie. medical exams) and had translated into Slovakia at hysterical expense, was rejected by the police, who felt it necessary that parts of me be prodded and studied that hadn't been examined at home. My stool, I remember, was particularly interesting to the authorities.
The other truth is that if you arrange your papers through an agency which takes care of these things, it is sometimes possible to mollify the demands of the law, particularly regarding the requirement that one return home in person to submit documents obtained here.
But if you're on your own, you'll have to roll with the requirements and hope you find an employer willing to help and pay you under the table. Most do - even major foreign firms, who suddenly conceive the need for a foreign expert but don't have time to wait the four months, are forced to be creative about their work arrangements with the bewildered newcomer.
And whether on your own or aided and abetted, you'll still have to pay the 4,050 Slovak crowns ($86) for a green card, as well as the various fees which each document-issuing office charges, and the 1,000 crowns you need for a visa sticker in your passport (you're right, you really do need help with all this).
It's all such a shame, because Slovakia is a fascinating place to live and work, and would attract more ex-pats if getting a green card weren't so absurdly difficult. But I suppose it could be worse - my parents, who have been trying to get residence in Costa Rica for five years, have just been told by the authorities that the police in Canada did not use enough ink while fingerprinting them, and have had to start again.
Foreign Affairs is a monthly column devoted to helping ex-pats and foreigners navigate the difficulties of living in Slovakia. If you have questions about how to get green cards, or would like contacts to agencies which could help, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org We would also like to hear of topics and problems you would like to see explored.
Next month (issue 7.12, on stands March 26):
Getting health insurance and visiting the doctor.