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Moving to Slovakia

Slovakia, or the Slovak Republic, is a landlocked country in the very centre of Europe, bordered by Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic. In the north, the picturesque Carpathian Mountains stand guard, while a good portion of the rest of the country is covered in lush forests.

Living in Slovakia as an expat

Although a former communist state, Slovakia has transformed into an almost completely privatised, market-driven economy since it gained independence. Slovakia's relatively low cost of living and low taxes combined with a great range of outdoor pursuits and natural splendour have made it an attractive choice for expats. That said, Slovakia is still trying to shake off socio-economic problems that accompanied independence, such as corruption and cronyism.

Qualified expats will find plenty of opportunities for work in the two main driving sectors behind the country’s growing economy, namely the services sector and the manufacturing industry. Slovak is the official language of business in the country. Although English is increasingly accepted and understood in business and tourism, German is still a little more common due to Slovakia's proximity to, and former occupation by, Germany.

The price of renting or buying a home here is slowly rising, but still comparatively cheap. Expats will most likely have to reserve a sizeable portion of their paycheck for accommodation closer to the city centres. There are no restrictions on buying property for foreigners and Slovak property is largely considered a safe investment.

Slovakia has a reasonably extensive public transport system. Cities such as Bratislava are serviced by buses, trams, trolleybuses and taxis, making it easy to get around and explore. There are also international bus services to other countries, and buses that run between Bratislava and its surrounding villages and towns. Commuting by bicycle is also easy throughout city centres. Driving in Slovakia is relatively safe, with roads that are in great condition and extensive signage. The country does have a reputation for its aggressive motorists, though, and expats should drive defensively.

The country provides universal healthcare for its citizens. Residents can choose between three different healthcare companies, one of which is government-based. Although public healthcare coverage is wide, the public system is often understaffed and facilities are somewhat lacking, resulting in most expats, and even some locals, opting for private healthcare instead.

Cost of living in Slovakia

The cost of living in Slovakia is relatively low. Housing can be expensive, but food, utilities and eating out can be cheap, especially if expats know where to look. Free schooling, public healthcare and low taxes also make Slovakia highly attractive to many foreigners.

Expat families and children

Expats moving to Slovakia with a family should investigate schools thoroughly. Although free Slovak-language public education is provided, there are also a number of other options in the cities for Spanish, Hungarian, French or German speakers, as well as a handful of international-curriculum English-speaking schools. Large cities like Bratislava also have a few private schools that offer quality education.

Although not a traditional tourist destination, Slovakia has a lot to offer expats. Unspoilt natural attractions such as the Tatra and Carpathian mountain ranges, dense forests, and UNESCO-listed caves and rock formations are sure to keep hikers, skiers and nature-lovers occupied. Those with an interest in history will be able to delve into the region’s rich past, as Slovakia has one of the highest number of castles and ruins per capita in the world. In addition, there are world-famous spas built around the country's natural thermal springs.

Climate in Slovakia

The climate is continental, with a marked difference between the four seasons, especially the freezing winters and warm summers.

Ultimately, Slovakia may still be seen as something of a left-field choice for expats, but it is slowly increasing in popularity, not only for tourists and adventurers but for foreigners who decide to build a home here long term. With the low cost of living and the variety of interesting sights and experiences, expats are sure to settle easily into life in this European country.

Fast facts

Population: 5.5 million

Major religions: Catholicism and Christianity

Capital city: Bratislava (and largest city)

Legal system: Parliamentary republic

Main languages: Slovak, Hungarian, Roma  

Time: GMT+1 (GMT+2 from late March to late October)

Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. 

Currency: Euro (EUR)

International dialling code: +421

Emergency numbers: 158 (police), 150 (fire), 155 (ambulance)

Internet domain: .sk

Driving: Driving is on the right-hand side.

Pros and Cons of Moving to Slovakia

The Slovak Republic is known for its dramatic natural landscapes, historical castles and steadily growing economy. But like anywhere else, expats will find that there are pros and cons to life in Slovakia. Below are some of the ups and downs to expect when moving to this central European country.

Accommodation in Slovakia

+ PRO: Real estate is affordable

How much expats pay for housing will depend on where they would like to live.

The most expensive accommodation in Slovakia is in Bratislava – the capital – especially in the city centre around Bratislava Castle or Devin Castle.

Most Slovaks prefer to buy property, but expats usually rent at first. Either way, prices are relatively low.

Lifestyle in Slovakia

+ PRO: There are excellent shopping options

There are two types of people – those who spend their weekends browsing in shopping centres and hanging out in cafes, and those who disappear into nature after work on Fridays. Thankfully, Slovakia is not only an adventurer's paradise, but great for shopping too.

Almost every residential part of Bratislava has its own shopping centre. Since so many people work late hours, supermarkets and malls are often open in the evenings and on Sundays.

Slovak shopping centres usually provide shopping, entertainment (like movies), good restaurants and cafes, as well as banks and post offices. In winter a few of them have ice skating too.

Expats who live in Kosice Banska Bystrica in central Slovakia or Kosice in the east can easily get to shopping malls in the city centre by bus.

+ PRO: The cost of living in Slovakia is good 

The cost of living in Slovakia is favourable for expats. Prices in Bratislava are higher than in the rest of the country, but its residents have greater purchasing power.

+ PRO: There's a lot to do

There are countless activities to keep expats occupied and amused in Slovakia. There’s a lot to see in every region, from hiking or relaxing in a spa, to visiting local cultural attractions and savouring local Slovak food.

Slovakia boasts beautiful historical castles dating back to the Habsburg Empire, as well as various UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Slovak countryside features mountains for hiking, mineral springs, caves, lakes and campgrounds for nature-loving expats. There are also many spas built around hot springs for those who prefer their relaxation indoors.

+ Pro: Warm people, once you get to know them

Expats are likely to feel welcome in Slovakia, especially if they decide to stick around for a while. Slovak people may seem stand-offish at first and can be stubborn, but once they open up, they're lovely, engaging people as well as honest, hardworking and always willing to help. Locals tend to love nature and are proud of their attractions, which they're often willing to show off to newcomers. Those expats who like sport are often able to make friends with the locals through a mutual love of hockey and football.

- CON: There is some crime in Slovakia

The country is generally quite safe, but expats will still need to take precautions against crime, like not leaving their bags unattended, or cars and homes unlocked, and being wary of strangers.

- CON: Hospitality in Slovakia 

Unfortunately, Slovakia still has some way to go in terms of customer relations, and service in the hospitality industry could improve. Expats are also often charged for services that are considered added value or bonuses and that are usually free abroad.

Working in Slovakia

+ PRO: Open to new business 

Slovakia is open to new business and the government is trying to attract new investors and entrepreneurs. Locals are open to fresh ideas, and expats with a good business plan and the right strategy usually find their business grows fast. Most opportunities can be found in Bratislava and cities such as Košice and Žilina, depending on the type of activity.