*&$# this, I’m moving to Europe!
Is the grass greener on this side?
More than once in my mid-20’s, I told myself…. *&$# this, I’m outta here.
And not in a teenage-angsty I’m gonna run away and never come back! kinda-way, but a WTF is my life going to be like if I stay here? kinda way. I know I am not alone in this regard.
For most people, this is nothing but a knee-jerk reaction to yet another unbelievable news headline. When you see your vacation allotment for the next year. When you look at your latest hospital bill or student loan balance. When you realize that working your ass off isn’t going to give you a better life.
But for others, it’s more than that; an idea that slowly takes root as these moments pile up.
As someone who moved from the US to Europe (Czech Republic), after many $%#& this moments, I’m here to tell you just a bit about what it was like and what my experience has become 2 years later. This article is not necessarily meant to convince you to move but to understand other possibilities for how a society can function.
Can you work here?
International companies do business in English, so finding a job at a big company without speaking the local language is not typically a problem. Of course, it always helps to have a good background/experience, and being hired depends highly on your interview skills. Local jobs and smaller companies typically do business in the local language.
Getting a visa can be time-consuming (a few-month process) but not challenging. With 813,000 visa applications submitted in 2019, the country is now adding a few barriers of entry to curb the number of applicants; adding basic culture and language tests to visa requirements in upcoming years.
The unemployment rate in the Czech Republic is 3.7% as of August 2020, up from 2.3% in April 2020, due to the coronavirus. During the country’s quarantine, where leaving your home only for necessities was allowed, the government pushed to keep people employed; for businesses closed by the quarantine, the state paid 80% of those peoples’ wages. In other situations, for example where demand for a businesses’ product/service was limited, they paid up to 60% of their salary. For self-employed people, they paid between 30–80% of their wages. They did not send people to a slow, faulty unemployment process; they kept people employed and paid their salaries.
For those who seek a life apart from the corporate world, this country is very entrepreneur-friendly. For me, the priority was to leave corporate life in the US and have my own business, and I found teaching English as a way to do that. This is a great way to start if you don’t know what you want to do. Find a teaching school, meet some like-minded people, and decide where you want to teach. You don’t have to teach kids at school; you can teach individuals or small groups in companies. This networking can help you find a job later on if you don’t want to stick with teaching.
It’s not hard to realize that there isn’t much work-life balance in the US. Current Czech law mandates four weeks of vacation, and in addition 5 days of sick/personal leave, while five weeks is standard.
Take a 2-week vacation in August to ride a train around Europe; drink wine in the south of France, wander down Las Ramblas in Barcelona, rave all night at a club in Berlin, or rent an entire villa in Tuscany. A typical Czech might go to Croatia to visit the sea for a week in the summer, as the country’s closest large body of water.
Another week might be spent skiing in the Austrian Alps in February. Another two weeks to travel to Cambodia or Vietnam in April. These are all typical holidays that Czechs take.
Having time off is very motivating and gives you something to look forward to. It’s fantastic for mental health. American businesses seem to just shrug their shoulders at this. Earn your vacation.
The USA recently ranked 34th out of 35 OECD countries (only Mexico was ranked worse) for best places to raise a family. Out of 41 OECD countries the U.S. is the only one that lacks paid parental leave.
Upon moving to the Czech Republic, I was pleasantly surprised to read about the system of maternity and parental leave here.
If you are an employed woman who gets pregnant, you can take up to four years off, after which you may return to your original position, all the while receiving a monthly allowance.
The first 28 weeks are considered “maternity leave” in which you receive about 70% of your salary. After that, you can choose the duration of your “parental leave”, ranging from two to four years. The amount of financial support you receive depends on the duration of your leave… to put it roughly, you’ll receive about 500 dollars/month for a two-year leave and 340 dollars/month for a three-year leave. Fathers may also take over the leave seven weeks after childbirth. Considering that the Czech Republic is about 42% cheaper to live than the US, this isn’t bad.
If you’re an employed expat who gets pregnant, as long as you have paid health insurance premiums up to 270 days before you start maternity leave, you may receive these benefits. Freelance expats may also receive this allowance, given that they have paid health insurance premiums up to 180 days before the start of maternity leave.
It’s common to see women pushing strollers all over town throughout the week. US social systems do not encourage spending such time with your newborn child, rather creating a need to quit your job or chuck them into expensive daycare.
With over 45,000 foreign students in the country and over 1000 degree programs taught in English, the vibe is international. The cost of living ranges from about 350–750 euros (415–890 dollars) per month, for lodging, food, transportation, and beer. By law, classes in the Czech language at public and state universities are free for all citizens of all nationalities.
To get a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Technical University of Liberec, you pay about 4000 USD/year, for a total of 12,000 USD for your degree. In other words, the cost of an entire Bachelor’s Degree costs less than one semester of in-state tuition at a school in the US.
Your tuition dollars go for education, not extravagant dining halls or other administrative bloat. Needless to say, the tens of thousands of dollars you save over the course of four years goes a long way.
Ok, but taxes must be higher, right!? Paying for all those expensive socialist programs?
Tax residents of the Czech Republic pay a flat tax of 15%. Considering social taxes and health insurance contributions, the effective tax rate is around 20% of the gross wage. As this is being written, the country is preparing to cut this number down to 15% of the gross wage, as opposed to the 15% of the “super-gross wage” (gross wage + social/health insurance contributions).
Compared to my income working at a corporate job in the United States, living in Detroit, Michigan, and considering my 401k contributions, my effective tax rate was about 26%.
But what about rich people? Isn’t it hard to get rich here? If you make over 48x the average salary, you pay an additional 7%.
Czech citizens also don’t have to deal with the hassle of filing tax returns, costing American people $5.1 billion dollars every year. Employers handle this for employed people; only self-employed people must organize their own filing of taxes, and they pay a maximum of 9% of their income.
Last but not least, there are two countries in the world that require citizens to pay taxes even while residing outside their native country. Eritrea, which imposes a 2% tax on all citizens to fund its dictatorial government, in power since the country’s independence in 1993, and the United States of America.
It’s not hard to realize that the social systems in Europe make the US look like a country club. When I tell people how much vacation I had while living in the US, or how much college costs, people have to pick their jaw up from off the floor.
It’s ironic that all the things that people typically like most about the US are found here. The Czech Republic has freedom of speech, religion, and the press, as well as democracy. You can own guns, even concealed carry for self-defense. The difference is that here, people don’t have to live to work.
The US is an expensive brand and its winner-take-all economy doesn’t make it the best country in the world for most people. Reversing this course doesn’t require replacing capitalism with socialism; how about starting with some social programs? I didn’t even cover healthcare in this article, which might be the single most damaging and depressing social system in the US. Telling someone with cancer to just figure it out is depraved.
The people who founded the USA left Great Britain because they were being taxed without being represented. They started a revolution based on how they were taxed. What do you think they would say about the current state of the nation? Would they agree that the ultra-rich and corporations should get tax breaks while the public funds the endless defense spending of the country? Now that we are boiled frogs, a revolution based on taxes alone is not likely.
Even though I live in the Czech Republic, it still pains me to see what’s going on in the United States. Having this experience has opened my eyes as to how a society can function that doesn’t have to be one extreme or the other. And that gives me just the slightest bit of hope.
Nathan Adlam is the author of Avocado Toast and Other Millennial Insights, expected to be released in Fall 2020.