Czech bureaucracy again

Povolení k prechodnému pobytu v CR - Temporary residence in the Czech Republic that is neomezený - unlimited or forever but NOT permanent! © Ricky Yates

This week, my blog is two years old. But having written two posts last month, about all the reasons why I like living here in Prague, balanced by one dealing with my small number of dislikes, my experience earlier this week has forced me to return to a subject that I thought I had overcome and dealt with.

Back in March 2009, I wrote a post entitled ‘Dealing with Czech bureaucracy’. In it, I described our battle to obtain residency permits from the Czech Foreign Police to prove where we live, together with what I referred to as a social security number – rodné císlo – family number, both of which are essential if you want to do anything more than eat and sleep in the Czech Republic.

In May 2009, I wrote about how we had finally managed to achieve this goal even though threatened with ‘A 21st Century defenestration of Prague’! In this second post, I did point out the absurdity of the wording on the stamp put into both our passports. We have been granted Povolení k prechodnému pobytu v CR – Temporary residence in the Czech Republic. But it is neomezený – unlimited or forever. Of course it has to be unlimited because we are both EU citizens and can stay here until we die, should we choose to do so.

As I wrote then, I took this granting of ‘unlimited temporary residence’ as being part of the ongoing Czech mentality that believes that no one would ever want to actually live here permanently. Earlier this week when eating in U Topolu, we shared a table with a young Czech couple because there was no where else where we could sit. Latterly, the young lady spoke and asked where we were from. I did the usual explanation saying that I’m English, my wife is German but that we live and work here in Prague. In return, I received an expression of shock and amazement as to why on earth we should ever want to do so!

Armed with this stamp in my passport, together with my little green folded paper Potvrzení o prechodném pobytu na území – Proof of temporary residence, inside of which is my full name, date and place of birth and, most importantly, my registered address, I have been able to register my car. Also, aided by Bishop Dušan of the Old Catholic Church in the Czech Republic, a notarized copy of these documents has enabled me to be registered with the Ministry of Culture, as the person who can officially sign on behalf of my congregation. Whenever there has been a request for ID, just producing my passport and residency permit has satisfied the enquirer. That was until Monday this week.

Sybille has been on for quite some time that she would like to once more have a dog. She grew up with dogs and always had her own until her last one died, just before she went to live in Spain in 1999. Over the past two years, we have regularly walked past the stray dog and re-homing centre run by the city police, located on the other side of the Vltava River from where we live.

Recently, Sybille has been researching the website of the re-homing centre, aided by Google translate, to discover what is involved in adopting an unclaimed stray dog and giving it a new home. One thing was quite clear; you must produce ID to prove who you are and where you live. So last Monday on my day off, armed with Sybille’s German passport and Czech Residency document, we went off to the shelter for an exploratory visit.

Upon arrival, we did are usual explanation of having very little Czech but of being able to speak English, German, Spanish or French. We managed to communicate what we wanted and, upon being asked for ID, produced Sybille’s passport and residency document. The reaction was immediate. No – you can’t adopt a dog from the shelter – you only have temporary residence. Despite pointing out that it was unlimited and that we were EU citizens, the lady and her colleagues remained totally adamant. We had to have permanent, not temporary residence.

Despite being illegal under European law, the whole situation is also utterly absurd. I know of several non-EU citizens in my congregation who have been granted ‘Permanent residency,’ but for a set number of years, which is also a contradiction in terms! And the Foreign Police are not even consistent in their dealing with EU citizens. A fellow British blogger and her husband, who have recently moved to Prague and work together for the same firm, have also been to the Foreign Police to register. The husband was granted ‘Permanent residence’ – the blogging wife has been granted like us, ‘Temporary unlimited residence’.

I and several others have described this whole situation as Kafka-esque. I’ve recently bought myself a copy of ‘The Trial’ by Franz Kafka, to read and see if I can get my head around this utterly absurd mentality that I am experiencing. And rest assured, I am not going to stop until I have asserted my rights to be treated in exactly the same way as a Czech citizen, even if I leave a few strangled Czech bureaucrats along the way. Watch this space!

15 comments to Czech bureaucracy again

  • You (obviously) know my feelings on this one – I am still scratching my head over the difference between (i) residency lasting for an unlimited period and (ii) permanent residency, and am also still bemused about the fact that hubby was given permission for permanent residency, rather than temporary (which I was given). It is very Kafka! Although to be honest, I find bureaucrats similar everywhere, its maybe just more a communication struggle that accentuates it here. When I got married and had to go through the palaver of changing my name, I think I experienced the best of the UK’s own bureaucratic systems. I ended up in that tricky situation where none of the UK passport agency, the bank, Wandsworth council nor Thames Water wanted to be the first to register my name change. It went on for months, and then we moved here anyway!

    I cant help feeling that the system does the Czech Republic no favours though. I have heard that a large proportion of expats just don’t bother registering cars that they own or reporting their address if/when they move, purely because the system is so confusing.

    Good luck with the dog-getting though – that’s an incentive to keep trying!

  • That’s so confusing and frustrating! You guys are definitely not running off to live elsewhere, leaving any pets behind!

    I understand the reason for not adopting pets to those who lack permanent residency is due to the number of pets who are “dumped” by their owners when it’s time to move elsewhere. You see it all the time in the classifieds on–owners needing to find homes for their pets as the family is moving out of the country. It’s very sad.

    But you and Sybille are definitely responsible pet owners and I sure hope this will be sorted out soon so you can adopt a shelter dog. Any dog or other pet who comes to your home will have an excellent and happy life!

    Have a great day,
    Sher :0)

  • Ricky

    Hi CzechingIn,
    I do know your feelings on this one, hence my link to your blog 🙂 I’m surprised you had so much hassle in the UK over changing your name following your marriage. I recall going with Sybille to the bank (HSBC) after she received a cheque made out to S Yates & on production of our marriage certificate, they took a photocopy of it, happily agreed to accept the cheque & changed their computer records forthwith.

    However we did have major hassle with the German authorities when it came to obtaining a new passport for her in her married name when we were still living in the UK. We had to take the original & two photocopies of umteem different documents to an interview at the German embassy in London & that was just to get her registered name changed in Berlin! Only then, and after three different attempts to get an acceptable passport photo, was she able to apply & obtain a new passport.

    I fear that you are right in what you say about some British expats not registering their cars here. I’ve seen several British cars around with either expired or no British road tax licence. They are therefore almost certainly driving around completely uninsured as UK insurers will not provide cover once the car has been out of the country for more than three months and Czech insurers will only insure a vehicle once it is registered here or at least on the way to being registered. See my posts &

  • Ricky

    Hi Sher,
    Thank you both for your compliments & sympathy & for leaving a comment here as well as on Facebook. Don’t worry – I will sort this one out even if I do leave a few strangled Czech bureaucrats in my wake!

  • Gordon

    Oh woe, woe, thrice woe! There`s nothing worse than an irritation on top of a disappointment. My schooling in this aspect of Czech life came when filing out the necessary form for residency at the Foreign Police Office in Nymburk. The rather nice young blond policewoman stayed to help me; and after I`d asked; “What`s this for then?” for the second time encountering yet another question that could have absolutely no relevance to my application, she replied; “Don`t look for logic, just answer.” So I took her advice, not only for my `Trvaly pobyt`which came forthwith, but ever since, and it`s always worked.
    The law here is non negotiable. If they say it`s against the law that`s it and you should tell them that they are right and you accept it. Then ask them if there is no way around it, preferably on your knees, wringing your hands, whilst telling them your wife was denied the joy of a doggy as a girl and it has always been her dream – etc. etc. They are then likely to say that; of course you can have the dog of your choice on “unlimited loan”. Don`t ask; because the reply will always be; “That wasn`t the question you asked.”

  • bibax

    I think the difference between the “temporary residence (even if unlimited)” and “permanent residence” is quite essential. The permanent residence is exclusive. You cannot have more that one permanent residence. You become a member of the local community. With the temporary residence (even unlimited) you are merely a random passer-by.

    According to the law #491/2001 (about the municipal elections) you need the permanent residence (trvalý pobyt) if you want to vote in the municipal election. You can be even elected as a member of the municipal council. The first step to it is to obtain the permanent residence which is not automatic (unlike temporary residence). Generally it lasts 5 years.

    The permanent residence is an intermediate stage to the full Czech citizenship.

    However I agree that there is a lot of bureaucracy in the Czech land.

  • Jan Rovny

    Dear Ricky,

    sorry to hear about yet another Foreign Police related frustration. Since you know my critical views on immigration rules in the Czech Republic well, I will actually say a few words in the Czech system’s defense. I have lived in five countries (all highly developed, liberal democracies), and — since my wife is American — I know the Czech system from a foreigner’s point of view.

    All of my bureaucratic experiences did not particularly dwarf the Czech Republic. Its — occasionally obscure and, in the case you mention, absurd — rules and procedures are not strikingly different from say trying to get health insurance in Canada or a mobile phone contract in the U.S. For two countries — Belgium and Germany — the comparison with the Czech case is rather favourable to the latter. Getting a work permit (already having a work contract) in Germany was far more Kafkaesque than getting my wife’s residency in Prague. In Belgium, I received my official papers with one year’s delay, as my original work contract was expiring and being re-newed. My ‘new’ papers were thus valid for a few days.

    I suppose the conclusion is that bureaucracy is always Kafkaesque, and tends to be particularly so for uncommon procedures (such as getting residency permits, which concern a minuscule portion of the population) or for people who do not master the language, culture and custom.

    I hope you can help a dog without having to prove your permanent allegiance to the Czech Republic soon 😉

    With many greetings,

  • Ricky

    Many thanks for your sympathy & for your advice, drawn from personal experience, as how to deal with the absurdities of Czech bureaucracy. However, I do not accept that ‘the law here is non negotiable’. The Czech Republic has been a member state of the EU for nearly 7 years and has reaped enormous economic and other benefits as a result. But with membership of the EU also comes the responsibility of implementing and upholding EU law. This includes the requirement to treat citizens of other EU member states in exactly the same way as their own citizens, NOT as second class citizens.

  • Ricky

    Hi bibax,
    Unlike the other people who have commented on this post, I don’t know you personally though I believe you are Czech. As a Czech, you will know that a great number of Czechs, particularly younger ones, live at an address which is totally different to their permanent registered address. They are registered as living in their parents or grandparents home somewhere in the Bohemian countryside when, in reality, they live in a flat in the suburbs of Prague. And the reason that most people don’t change their registered permanent address? Because there is too much bureaucratic hassle to do so!

    I do not want, nor do I claim to have, more than one permanent residence. The place where I live permanently is the flat in Prague 6 that came as part of my job. It is the total inability of the Czech authorities to recognise that reality that is the problem. As I pointed out in my original post in March 2009,
    they believe that every foreigner must have a ‘permanent residence’ beyond the boundaries of the Czech Republic. Let me quote one paragraph of that post.

    “However, one question revealed a ridiculous assumption lying behind the whole of this registration process. What is your permanent address? We both immediately gave the address of our flat here in Prague. “Oh no!”, said Andrea, ” You can’t put that down”. “What is your permanent address in the UK or in Germany?” “But we don’t have an address in the UK or in Germany – we live here now and will do so for the next eight or so years. This is our home”. Whilst Andrea could see the logic of our answer, in order to gain a residency permit in the Czech Republic, you have to be able to give a permanent address outside of the country. EU law says we can reside here until we die. Czech bureaucracy still thinks that no foreign citizen will ever do so – they all must have a permanent home outside of the country!”

    I regret that we gave into this stupid assumption and put down the address in England where we had lived previously as our ‘permanent address’, even though the house doesn’t belong to us and is now occupied by my successor as Rector of my former group of parishes. The further absurdity is that no one ever checked up to see if the answer both my wife & I gave, was true!!!

    Finally, I have no desire to become a Czech citizen. But what I do want is EU law to be applied which allows for the free movement of citizens and labour between member states and all citizens of EU states to be treated equally!

  • Ricky

    Hi Jan,
    Thank you for your sympathy regarding our latest problem with the bureaucracy of the Czech Foreign Police. However, I do understand that bureaucratic problems of this nature are not confined to the Czech Republic. See my reply above to the comment by CzechingIn, about the hassle we had in the UK trying to get a new German passport for Sybille in her married name.

    I’m not sure whether the previous problems you had with the Belgian & German authorities happened before or after the Czech Republic became an EU member. My chief point, which I’ve reiterated in several replies here, is for the correct application of EU law.

  • Jan Rovny

    Dear Ricky,

    Most of my bizarre bureaucratic experiences were caused by the inefficiency of the offices concerned. The Belgian case occurred under my Canadian identity, so it had no EU-national dimension. But in beautiful Belgium, bureaucratic disfunction is expected. As the Belgians say: C’est comme ca! C’etait toujours comme ca.

    The German case was connected to the fact that under the German (and Austrian) exceptional provision to the Accession Treaties, Czechs (and all other East-EU citizens) need to apply for a work permit (until May 1st 2011). The problem was that no one in the 5 different (large) office buildings knew how I should obtain a work permit, or who was responsible for issuing one. The unexpected disfunction shook my positive German stereotypes.

    From our experience too, it seems that German bureaucrats are very concerned about marriages. Allison had a very hard time changing her address in Berlin because she could not produce a marriage certificate in German or English! The US passport with her new married name was somehow not sufficient to convince them that her name had indeed changed…

    Anyway, I could really write a novel on the strange things that bureaucrats require — the last thing happened only a few hours ago: A German air ticket website through which I booked a ticket e-mailed me that my fully functional credit card ‘could not be verified’. They proceeded to demand that, *in order to ensure my protection*, I e-mail them a photocopy of my credit card and passport (!!!). I will certainly feel very safe when my passport and visa card number float around various servers in the same e-mail… I seriously wonder about their sanity.

    But if I did write that novel, no one would read it, they have enough bureaucratic disfunction in their own lives as it is.

    I wish you a bureaucracy-free day!

  • Ricky, congratulations on your blog being two years old! That is a wonderful achievement. You have created real community with it too as evidenced by the number of comments. Bravo!

    The issue of Czechs and their capacity for making ‘just plain folks’ feel criminal for wanting to live there exhausts me. I wish you well.

  • Ricky

    Thank you for answering my query about your previous bureaucratic experiences in both Belgium & Germany. I was unaware of the exceptional provision given to Germany & Austria under the Accession Treaties of 2004 when the Czech Republic & nine other countries joined the EU. But like you, I’m most surprised that the efficient Germans didn’t know which office issued the work permits.

    As I said previously, crazy bureaucracy is not confined to the Czech Republic. But the way the whole system here treats those it calls ‘foreigners’, ranges from sheer ignorance to utter rudeness. I too long for unlimited bureaucracy-free days in the future. 🙂

  • Ricky

    Many thanks for the congratulations. As for the ‘real community…..evidenced by the number of comments’, thank you for being one of my most faithful commenters over the whole period of time.

    As expressed in my answers to other commenters above, I find myself in 100% agreement with your second paragraph.

  • ALI

    I would like to offer to try to make sense of this situation, although I have to say that it may not be “legally” correct.
    As you said correctly, the word neobmezeny translates as unlimited. However in this concept I think it should be understood as “not specified”.The fact that you obtained temporary residence probably implies to the Czech officials that you do not intend to stay in CR forever because you have another permanent residence outside CR.I believe that native speaker would understand the word neobmezeny in the right context however, it must be confusing for those who don’t speak Czech as first language.