“Prague is like the wild west; you can do anything here.”
No, my seasoned expat friend wasn’t talking about delving into Prague’s seedy drug scene, or its “dark” underbelly — though he could have been. (Things were a tad…grittier a decade ago.)
He wasn’t talking about pulling a Butch Cassidy and robbing a tram driver. Prague is a notoriously safe city, and Czechia routinely ranks in the Top 10 safest countries in the world. (Though some of the best hospody (pubs) in Prague do have that saloon feel.)
Rather, my friend was talking about the sheer possibilities available to you in Prague.
I sipped my tea and digested his assessment of my newly adopted city. “Possibilities are great,” I told him, “but at this moment, what I need are a visa and a paycheck. Not necessarily in that order.”
“That’s exactly why we’re getting you a Živno.” he said.
More on the Živno in a sec.
The land of opportunity
I would come to find that he was right—Prague is a land of opportunity, if you’re willing to hustle and if you come with fresh ideas. In contrast to the U.S., where it would seem comically stupid to open up a cafe within 10 miles of a Starbucks, there are new, independent businesses popping up everywhere in Prague, originating from humble, inexpensive origins like food trucks kitchens, home offices, co-working spaces and apartment building cellars.
Turnover can be rapid, but the cost of entry is a lot lower here than back in the U.S. It’s easy to try a few things to see what sticks and what you enjoy doing. A good idea, well-executed, can go far in this city.
Walking the streets of Prague sometimes feels like watching the past four decades of Western development squeeze into a time lapse video, unfurling new and delightful cuisines, products, technologies and services right before my eyes.
The Živnostensky List (the “Živno”)
I think one of the secrets to this rapid transformation in Prague is the Živno, or the trade license.
When you are officially registered on the Živnostensky list, you are able to legally do business as a self-employed person. The registry is not only for expats, Czechs register for it as well if they would like to work as an “entrepreneur”.
In 7 years, I’ve never been an “employee”. I’ve only had a Živno or a trade license. Even when I’ve worked for companies or schools, they’ve hired me as a freelancer on my Živno. This has left me more freedom and time to pursue other streams of income that develop into businesses.
When you apply for the Živno, you can list up to 80 trades (though it’s more practical to choose 3-5) that you are then legally allowed to work in. If you decide to pick up a new trade later on, you can always apply to amend your Živno. Some more specialized trades (beyond the 80) require proof of a license or qualification from your home country.
Having a Živno in Prague is a bit like working in the gig economy, which has its upsides and downsides. But after working in corporate America for years, where I felt handcuffed to my chair 40+ hours per week, I realized that freedom is extremely important to me. (As is the ability to try something new without the risk of quitting my one source income to move jobs and try something else.)
The Živno gives you the freedom to try new things. Like most English-speaking expats, I started earning a living in Prague by teaching English, but then rapidly found other ways to start supplementing my income with side hustles and even started some profitable businesses on the side.
In fact, most language schools will only hire you on a Živno. This was a blessing in disguise for me, as it enabled me to work part time for two language schools when I arrived, one of which I loved and one I decidedly did not. Because I was technically a freelancer, I was free to quit that second job with shorter notice, and most importantly my visa was not attached to that job. More on that in a bit.
What jobs have I done on a Živno?
I’ve taught English (both at schools and privately, in person and online)
Managed real estate
Managed a visa company
Created and sold video courses
Run a fingerprinting business
Created and sold social media marketing videos
All legally and all on my Živno.
A bonus for Non-EU citizens
When you apply for a visa to live in the Czech republic, you must state a purpose for being here. I go over those purposes in this post.
If you apply with the purpose of employment, you must have a company willing to sponsor you and that is highly unlikely, unless you have a pre-existing relationship with that firm. On the other hand, if you apply with the purpose of “business” (that is, you’ll register for the Živnostensky List) all you have to do is turn in some paperwork to an office in Prague, and bam!—you’re an entrepreneur!
The added bonus is that the legality of your visa is not attached to your job. So if you quit or get fired or simply want to try something new, the Živno allows you that freedom, without affecting the status of your visa.
The responsibilities of a Živno holder
As an entrepreneur, you’ll be responsible for your own health insurance and your social security insurance, and for sending monthly invoices to your “clients” whether they be large companies or private individuals. We go over that in our Dream Prague Visa Course, and show you how to set everything up to run like clockwork.
One of the scariest things about moving to a new country is finding work, but the Živno allows you to get your visa and then work your way into full-time income very quickly after you arrive.