The number of foreigners studying and working in the Czech Republic has been steadily increasing in recent years. While in the past, foreign professionals were mainly attracted to the Czech capital, nowadays, many of them prefer to settle in Brno, the second largest city in the country. The Moravian capital attracts foreign professionals not only by growing career and educational opportunities but also by its good climate, relatively low cost of living, and plenty of cultural facilities.
One of the organizations helping English-speaking foreigners to navigate their life abroad is the Brno Expat City Centre, which was established more than a decade ago. What kind of services do they provide? And what kind of help is most needed? I discussed these questions with Marie Lungová, but we started by talking about a major event, called the Brno Expat City Days, due to start next Monday: “Brno Expat City Days are an opportunity for Brno expats, the English speaking foreign professionals and their family members, to discover what their new life in Brno has to offer. “The idea was to present a comprehensive showcase of all the prospective employers we usually work with and all the expat-friendly services we usually recommend, as well as cultural institutions and leisure time so people can get an idea of what their new life in Brno can look like.” The event is organised by the Brno Expat Centre, which was established with the aim of helping foreigners living and working in the city. Can you tell us more about your organisation?
“Brno as a city has been trying for a long time to be attractive to foreigners and to attract foreign talents, which means not only trying to get them over here, but also to welcome them and make them stay, help them to enjoy their new life over here. The Brno Expat Centre has been a part of this mission for the last ten years.
“To put it shortly our mission is to help expats make a new life in Brno. We usually say that we have two tasks. The first one is to help expats overcome the challenges they face in their new life in Brno. But it certainly doesn’t mean we do it for them, we actually try to emancipate them.
“The second part of our mission is that we try to create an open environment in Brno that would enable foreigners to take an active part in the life of the city; to bring their own contribution by establishing business, from sole traders to establishing companies employing local people.”
What kind of challenges do foreigners in Brno encounter? What kind of requests do you receive?
“You can easily imagine this by picturing yourself moving to a new place, where you need to find a flat and a new doctor. If you have kids you need to find a school for them. You need to set up a phone number and a bank account and so on. And now imagine sorting all this out in a language you don’t understand.
“And not only that; you also have some obligations. You have to sort out your residence permit. So at the start of the expat journey, as we call it, we help soften this landing.
“But that’s not all. Sometimes we also have enquiries from expats who have been living in Brno for the past eight, nine years and they still come back to us because they face new challenges. They are starting a family, they are getting married, or they lost their job and are looking for a new one. Even with these sort of questions, we can provide help.”
Would you say Brno is a foreigner-friendly city and what attracts people to stay there?
“We certainly try to make it as foreigner-friendly as possible. I think there are two main factors in play. The first one is that Brno has been trying for a long time to be an international city, so there are public policies attracting and welcoming expats. Many of them are actually put into practice, like for example funding and supporting the Brno Expat Centre for the last ten years.
“Another main factor is that Brno as a city is small enough for the foreign community here to be organised in one or two places. It means that once a newcomer finds at least one of the pubs, it is very easy to connect to their peers and to find the relevant information. So not only policies make Brno expats welcoming, but also organically, the Brno foreign community is very welcoming to new members.”
Have you got any data about how many foreign professionals are currently living in Brno and which countries do they mostly come from?
“According to the Czech Labour Office, about 40 percent of foreigners living in Brno work in highly qualified positions, like managers, technicians, so I think that gives us around 20,000 foreign professionals working and living in Brno right now.
“When it comes to their countries of origin, most of them are from European countries. The top four are the British, the Greeks, the Italians and the Romanians, but many of them are from outside of Europe as well, and here we are talking about India, US, Brazil and Russia.
We started by talking about a major event that you organize annually, although the past two years were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. And that’s the Brno Expat Fair. Can you tell us more about the event?
“As you mentioned, we haven’t been able to hold our Brno Expat Fair for two years in a row. This spring, we once again faced the decision of either cancelling or postponing the event. We decided to go with the third option and change the format of the event, so that we will still showcase what Brno has to offer but in a way that will keep people safe.
“That’s how we came up with the Brno Expat City Days. The event consists of two parts. The first part is a city game. We call it Brno is My Playground. It’s a trail that will lead you through the city and ask you many questions that will test your knowledge of Brno. If you score enough points you can also win one of the many generous prizes from our sponsors and partners.
“And then there is the second part, the open air Living in Brno Exhibition. It takes place in one of the squares in Brno, Moravské náměstí. It’s an exhibition of all the prospective employers, expat family services, cultural institutions, sports facilities and other leisure opportunities. It’s done in open air so that we minimize people’s contact.”