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There are many reasons why foreigners come to live and work in Slovakia. The bureaucratic obstacle course outlined below is not one of them. But all countries impose obligations on incomers. Here are some of Slovakia's, from the point of view of an EU citizen, for whom clearing the hurdles is a time-consuming if relatively straightforward affair. If you are from anywhere else, things can be more complicated.

(Source: Ľuba Lesná)

There are many reasons why foreigners come to live and work in Slovakia. The bureaucratic obstacle course outlined below is not one of them. But all countries impose obligations on incomers. Here are some of Slovakia's, from the point of view of an EU citizen, for whom clearing the hurdles is a time-consuming if relatively straightforward affair. If you are from anywhere else, things can be more complicated.

Not having a complete (or any) command of the language will put you at a disadvantage. The system's bureaucratic foibles can sometimes be bewildering to Slovaks (though they tend to be more stoical when dealing with them). If you can enlist a local friend or colleague to accompany you on any of the encounters below it will make things very much easier. Alternatively, several professional services firms can do it all for you, for a fee.

Getting started

In theory, EU citizens have the right to live and work in any other EU member-state, Slovakia included.

However, Slovakia, like most of continental Europe, requires foreigners (as it does its own citizens) to register with various state bodies in order to work.

First of all, you will need to get an ID card/residency permit from the ominously-named 'Foreigners' Police' (cudzinecká polícia), whose office is located in Petržalka.

However, to register for this you will need a 'permanent' address. Which means you need a rental contract or evidence that you own the property where you live.

The drawback to this, of course, is that if you move you will need to repeat this process (and every other step outlined below) each time. For this reason, young Slovaks often remain officially 'resident' at their family home for years in order to avoid re-registration every time they move flats or towns.

Foreigners, of course, do not have this luxury. So it's worth bearing in mind when you're renting a flat or house how you intend to work.

Even if you rent somewhere from a friend of a friend, it's worth getting them to give you something that at least resembles a rental contract, with your address on it. This is partly for your own security, but (perhaps even more importantly) so that you have something to wave at officials at propitious moments in the process.

There is then another consideration before you apply for an ID. If you're employed directly by a large company then this will probably not matter so much. However, if you're not, it may be worth considering getting what's called a živnostenský list (trade license) or just živnosť.

This can help a lot if you are working for several employers (e.g. as a freelance teacher). It's a relatively complicated decision so you should seek advice before you make it, but if you want to get a živnosť you will need a clause written into your rental contract which expressly permits you to run a business from the premises.

This isn't as unusual as it might sound - many Slovaks in ordinary full-time jobs are actually živnostníci and are contracted by the companies they work for because this is the most tax-efficient approach for both parties - so your landlord shouldn't be particularly surprised by (or reluctant to grant) your request.

ID, please

The Foreigners Police office has historically suffered from a fairly poor reputation for queue-jumping and a propensity for its employees to issue seemingly arbitrary instructions to 'come back tomorrow with another bit of paper'. One US citizen reports that he was recently required to produce a total of 21 documents before an ID was issued.

So it's best to call ahead and find out exactly what you'll need. At a minimum this will include your passport, a 3x3.5cm passport photo, your property documents with the owner’s full name and birth number (rodné číslo – all Slovaks have one; you’ll get one too with your ID) and a kolok (a payment stamp you can buy at a post office - cash is not supposed to change hands at government offices) to cover the processing fee (Sk150 at time of writing).

First impressions of the office in Bratislava, hidden in a Petržalka back-lot at Hrobákova 44, can be a little intimidating: it's a green building with barred windows and a scruffy waiting room full of nervous-looking applicants (like you).

Everyone takes a ticket and waits for their number to come up. In the meantime there is an application form to fill out. EU citizens (for whom the queue seems to move quickest) go to the office on the left.

If all goes smoothly, they will tell you to come back in a month to collect your ID.

Going into business

Next stop, if you want to work for yourself, is the trade license office (živnostenský úrad). Which one you apply to depends on the region you live in (see box for information).

Again, call ahead to find out what they'll want, then go down with all of it to fill out their forms.

Foreigners are generally required to produce a certificate of good character issued by their home country's authorities.

Many countries (e.g. the UK) are not in the habit of issuing such things, so the nearest equivalent may be a criminal record check (British-issued ones helpfully state on them 'This document does not constitute a Certificate of Good Character', but the Slovak authorities seem willing to overlook this). These can take a while to get, and need to be translated and notarized, so it's worth applying in advance. That said, it won't be valid if it's more than three months old, so don't apply too early...

Also note that unless you've been in the country (as recorded by the date on which your Slovak ID was issued) for more than 6 months you may be asked to enlist a Slovak citizen as a 'partner' for your business (which is effectively what you are setting up by this process).

You can apply for an unlimited number of licenses to cover different activities, though for some (e.g. teaching) you may need to produce relevant qualifications. It is best to get some advice and to think about what you plan to do. You will have to pay a fee (Sk100 at time of writing) in the form of a kolok for each license you apply for.

You can also apply to have your license(s) start on a future date. They are generally issued within a few days of application.

At this stage it’s also worth opening a business bank account through which you can channel your earnings and make accounting for them simpler.

The other thing you can't avoid

Armed with your ID, trading license and bank account details you then need to register with the tax authorities within 8 days of the license coming into force.

This involves a visit to your local tax office (daňový úrad; see box for information) and some more form-filling. A few days later, a grey card with your DIČ (personal tax number) will be ready for you.

Staying healthy

Everyone employed in Slovakia has to pay public health insurance (zdravotná poisťovňa) contributions, and that includes you. As with the tax office, if have a trading license you will need to register to do so within 8 days of your license becoming valid (if you don’t have a živnosť your employer will make the deductions).

There are five insurers: two state-owned and three privately owned. You can choose to join any one of them. The difference between them? Not much, from what I can gather.

When I phoned them up to ask how foreigners could enquire about their services, those that spoke any English at all seemed slightly bemused that anyone would want to know. A local health insurance think-tank, the Health Policy Institute, recently rated private insurer Dôvera top and state insurer VšZP bottom. But the consensus among Slovaks seems to be that they're all pretty much the same.

If you have specific health requirements, then it is obviously worth checking that your needs will be catered for. If you don't, then my advice is to join the one that makes your life easiest (i.e. do they speak your language, are they helpful or obstructive?). They will tell you how much you have to pay (a monthly minimum of Sk1,134 for people who are on a živnosť, at time of writing). The amount is reviewed in June of the year after you register, based on how much you earn.

Unless you know you're going to need medical treatment, this is a box-ticking exercise: at the end of the year you'll need to be able to show the tax people proof that you've paid your statutory health insurance contributions. And if you get hit by a bus in the meantime, you will probably end up in the same hospital no matter who you're insured with.

Nearly there

Everyone also needs to register for and pay social insurance contributions (to cover pension and unemployment benefits), but this can be done as late as June of the calendar year after you start working. Your previous year’s živnosť income is used as the basis for payments, which can be significant, and even higher than your tax dues.

Got everything? Congratulations! You are now (more or less) qualified to work in Slovakia. All you need now is a job...

DISCLAIMER: The description above is provided as an overview and is not intended to be comprehensive. SPEX cannot be held liable for any actions taken or arrangements entered into on the basis of the information presented herein. For financial or tax-planning advice please consult a professional financial adviser.

Settling in: some tips

There's quite a lot of paper involved in all this. In theory some of it can be done electronically, but unless you're a Slovak-language scholar, hard-copies and face-to-face contact are probably still the way to go.

The bureaucrat is a capricious beast: you won't need photocopies most of the time, but the one time you don't have any, is of course precisely when they will be demanded. So take (multiple) copies of everything.

It's a cliché, but avoid Fridays if possible - officials can occasionally go AWOL as the weekend nears.

One more time
- Find somewhere to live and get a rental contract (or property ownership papers) with your address on it.

- If you want to work for yourself get a clause inserted in your rental contract saying you can run a business from home.

- Contact the Foreigners' Police to find out what documents you need to get a residency permit. Go there early with said documents (don't forget to get the payment stamps (kolky) from the post office) and take a ticket; wait till your number comes up; leave the paperwork with a bored-looking policeman. With luck, your residency permit/ID will be ready in a month.

- If you want to get a trade license (živnostenský list), you will need your ID plus various other documents including a certificate of good character/criminal record check. Remember to apply for this well in advance in order to allow your home country's bureaucratic wheels time to turn (you will also need to get a notarized translation.)

- Open a business bank account.

- Within 8 days of your trade license coming into effect you must register at the tax office. This basically involves filling out yet more forms. A few days later they will give you a grey card with your tax number (DIČ).

- Within the same time limit you must also sign on at a health insurer to make statutory monthly health insurance contributions.

- You are also obliged to pay social insurance contributions, but you don’t actually need to register or start paying dues until the calendar year after you start working. Expect your dues to be about the same as your taxes. Combined, you will likely end up paying about 25% of your gross income in taxes and social insurance, so don’t go spending your whole salary before you find out how much you have to give back!
- Now have a drink: you've earned it.

Some useful numbers

Foreigners’ Police (Cudzinecká polícia)
Hrobákova 44, Petržalka, Bratislava
EU citizens tel: +421 (0)961 036-871
Non-EU citizens tel: +421 (0)961 036-866 or (0)961 036-867
Opening hours:
Mon 07:30-12:00, 13:00-15:00
Wed 07:30-12:00, 13:00-17:30
Fri 07:30-12:00

Trade license office (Živnostenský úrad)
Information (in Slovak only): http://www.civil.gov.sk/p09/p09.shtm
Office addresses and opening hours (in Slovak only): http://www.civil.gov.sk/p18/p18-04.shtm

Tax office (Daňový úrad)
Tel: + 421 (0)48 439-3372
Information (some in English): www.drsr.sk
Office addresses and opening hours (in Slovak only): click on the ‘Daňová správa’ link and then the list of regions on the left.

Health insurance (Zdravotné poistenie)

Union zdravotná poisťovňa (private)
Tel: 0800 003 333
Information (in Slovak only): www.unionzp.sk
Note: Union also has a commercial insurance division (red logo) which often operates from the same offices as their health insurance division (green logo); confusingly, both sell health insurance. Be careful you don't end up buying the wrong sort: to make statutory health insurance contributions (if you choose Union) you need to sign up with the (green) health insurance division.

Dôvera zdravotná poisťovňa (private)
Tel: 0800 150 150
Information (in Slovak only): www.dovera.sk

Apollo zdravotná poisťovňa (private)
Tel: 0800 120 004
Information (in Slovak only): www.apollo.sk

Všeobecná zdravotná poisťovňa (state-owned)
Tel: 0850 003 003
Information (some in English): www.vszp.sk
This site features a relatively clear explanation of your obligations (click on the English link on the right-hand side of the homepage)

Spoločná zdravotná poisťovňa (state-owned)
Tel: 0850 311 443
Information (in Slovak only): www.szp.sk

Social insurance (Sociálna poisťovňa – also the name of the state organization which administers the system)

Information (in Slovak only): www.socpoist.sk

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