Every month expatriates arrive in Slovakia to make this central European country their new home. Though reasons for relocation may be different, the challenges each person must handle are quite similar: they must arrange housing, become legal residents and legal employees, enrol their children in an appropriate school and determine where to buy basics such as groceries and where to obtain necessary services, all the while overcoming culture shock and settling into a new environment.
Finding a place to live
The quality and choice of various kinds of residences is improving in Slovakia, mainly in Bratislava. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of rental houses suitable for the needs of many expats. Expats may pay a relatively high rent on a house with a good location – but the standard of the house might be lower than expected or desired. The most effective way to find a suitable residence is to contact a real estate agency with a good reputation, such as a member of the National Association of Real Estate Agents, or to use the services of a relocation agency. Real estate agents usually charge a fee of one month’s rent while relocation agencies usually charge a fixed fee.
Standard conditions for a rental lease usually include: a minimum one-year lease; one month’s rent as a security deposit; and 3 months’ notice of termination with possibly an early-out ‘diplomatic clause’. Utilities are usually handled separately from rent, with the landlord having the obligation to prepare a settlement of utilities each year. In majority of the rentals, the utilities stay in the landlord’s name, except for TV and internet services. Most houses are rented unfurnished but smaller apartments are usually fully furnished. Persons coming from outside the EU who bring their own furniture to Slovakia should remember to sign a lease for at least two years or they will need to pay a duty on their furniture.
Becoming legal in Slovakia
Arranging immigration and residency issues should be the first item on the to-do list of each foreigner – even before arriving in Slovakia. While the procedures for citizens of EEA (European Economic Area) countries have been simplified in recent years, those coming from non-EEA countries have a more challenging task of legalising their stay and work. There are two primary Slovak offices that foreigners must deal with: the Labour Office and the Alien Police (as well as perhaps the Embassy of the Slovak Republic in their home country before they depart).
For citizens of EEA countries, their employer must provide a simple notification to the Labour Office – this is required regardless of whether the EEA national has signed an employment contract with a Slovak employer or is assigned to work in Slovakia for a short period of time by a foreign employer. EEA citizens are also advised to register with the Alien Police, which is a fairly simple procedure. An EEA citizen will be provided a five-year residency permit as soon as appropriate documentation is submitted. An EEA citizen will receive an identity card that is usually issued within 30 days. The ID card is useful when dealing with banks, mobile operators and many other institutions that require documentation that a foreigner has legal permission to reside in Slovakia.
For those arriving from outside EEA countries, the procedure to obtain either a work or a residency permit is exponentially more difficult and might take three to seven months. Before obtaining a residency permit non-EEA nationals should always keep an eye on the number of days they have spent in the Schengen area since the limit is 90 days during the last six month period.
To work legally in Slovakia, both a work and a residence permit are required. Those with family members in Slovakia should apply for a Residence Permit for Family Reunification purposes. Work permits are issued by the Labour Office and an application is processed within 30 days from the day an application is submitted along with the supporting documentation. The permit is issued for up to two years.
Residence permit applications are submitted to the Alien Police after arrival in Slovakia or if a visa is required to enter Slovakia the application must be submitted to the Slovak embassy in one’s home country. The Alien Police have 90 days to decide upon the application. The police are entitled to check on the applicant’s accommodation and employing company in Slovakia and will most likely do so.
The Alien Police will accept only original documents which are currently valid: a document is originally signed and stamped on the day of its submission to the Alien Police office or to the Slovak embassy only if it is not older than 90 days and is translated by a court-certified translator into Slovak.
Documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates and criminal records must have an Apostille or be super-legalised, depending on the country of origin of the particular document. Vital documents have no expiration date and the 90-day rule does not apply to them. For example, if a child’s birth certificate was issued in Canada it would have to be super-legalised. If a person is a citizen of Canada but also resided in Denmark, he or she will be required to provide an Apostille with his or her criminal record in Denmark and a super-legalised criminal record from Canada.
Documentation regarding criminal records must be provided for all countries in which a foreigner resided in the last three years and the procedure in some countries to obtain a criminal records document can take up to 12 weeks.
In July 2011 Slovakia introduced legislation pertaining to the EU Blue Card but the requirements of the Labour Office for documentation and its processing time are similar to the issuance of normal work permits, with the difference being the processing time allowed to the Foreigners and Alien Police, which must decide on a Blue Card application within 30 days from its submission.
Coping with life in a new country
Nearly everyone moving to a new country is likely to experience at least some symptoms of culture shock – which often resembles symptoms of depression such as being tired all the time, not eating well or eating too much, being obsessed with cleanliness, being irritated with everything and so forth. Mostly, these symptoms pass quickly. For expats who are working, culture shock is often much reduced and it is non-working spouses or partners who experience it more. The best way of coping is to meet new people, to take Slovak language lessons or to seek other kinds of interaction that help create new social relationships.
To find new friends the rule commonly is that an individual must reach out to the Slovak or the international community. The work environment naturally creates these social contacts. Families with children often find new contacts at international schools. Managers and business people can network at events of chambers of commerce or social events of similar organisations. For women, the International Women’s Club can be a helpful forum to find new friends since its activities include morning coffees, various playgroups, hobbies, and so forth. Regular meetings of expats organised by groups such as InterNations and Bratislava Expat Meetup are a rather new opportunities to meet other expats.
The following are the websites for the American Chamber of Commerce in Slovakia, the International Women’s Club and the two previously mentioned ex-pat orga-nisations: www.amcham.sk; www.iwc.sk; www.meetup. com/Bratislava-Expat- Meetup-Group/
Schools, doctors and other essentials
There are only a few international schools in Slovakia and most of them are in Bratislava. There are British, American, French and German schools where most expats enrol their children. Many kindergartens offer programmes in English.
It is advisable to find a doctor upon arrival and there are doctors who speak English and even a few who make house calls. At hospital emergency rooms one needs to be prepared for the situation that the on-duty doctors may not speak English. There is only one emergency room in Bratislava for children: the Children’s Hospital in Kramáre. Patients need their ID card, health insurance card and cash. Those with insurance are charged only smaller administration fees. Only foreigners with permanent residency or an employment contract can purchase Slovak health insurance. Otherwise, one must purchase international insurance or local commercial insurance.
Public transportation in Bratislava is widely-used and reliable. Traffic jams in Bratislava are not as bad as in other European capitals. It is much cheaper to call a taxi than hailing a taxi parked at stands in cities. There is zero tolerance for alcohol when driving. Traffic police in Slovakia regularly stop cars to check documents and administer alcohol tests. Being stopped by the police does not necessarily mean that one has committed an offence. Foreigners must also make sure they park their cars in legal parking areas since cars with foreign license plates get towed away fastest.
Any foreigner can open a bank account in Slovakia but it is much easier to get a credit or debit card if one has residency in Slovakia. Citizens of non-EU countries might be requested by the bank to fill in a questionnaire regarding the origin of their funds due to new legislation to prevent money laundering. This also applies to getting a cell phone account or arranging for an internet connection, which might take up to 30 days to be installed. Broadband connections are available in most areas of Slovakia.
By Jakub Demáček and Ivona Demáčková, managers of Relocation, s.r.o – a Slovak company providing comprehensive relocation services and support to international families in the areas of Bratislava, Trnava, Trenčín, Žilina and Košice.
25. Apr 2012 at 0:00 | Jakub Demáček & Ivona Demáčková