Living Abroad During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

Prague, Czech Republic

On February 5, 2020 my boyfriend & I packed our bags and moved across the globe to Prague, Czech Republic because I was hired as an English teacher at a preschool. We lived in an Air BNB for 2 weeks while I was working, Nick was job searching, and we were apartment hunting. After those 2 weeks Nick had a job and we had our unfurnished apartment with a 1-year lease.


Less than a month later, on March 14, 2020 the Czech Republic went on a complete lockdown due to COVID-19. Everything was shut down. All stores were closed. Nick lost his job. And worst of all, our visa appointment that was scheduled for March 16, 2020 was not going to happen. Luckily, I was able to continue to get paid while teaching my students online, but overall, it was a nightmare.


For those of you who don't know, you are only allowed to stay in the EU for 90 days without a visa. And it typically takes 90 days for them to process your visa, so even our March 16 appointment was pushing it. Now, we had no idea what was going to happen. We had just put every dollar we had into our apartment's deposit and rent, we bought a couch and mattress from someone on Facebook- but really our apartment was still empty, we were broke, and everything was closed.


We were in constant communication with our visa agents about when we would be able to get another appointment to apply or if we needed to go home. But the Czech Republic government announced that they were extending the 90-day visa-free stay due to the pandemic, so our visa agents said we were safe.


The quarantine rules in the Czech Republic were pretty strict. You could only leave your apartment for work or groceries, and you could only shop after 10am to allow the elderly to get their shopping done in the morning. If a policeman stopped you, you needed to show proof of where you were headed or you would get fined. Masks were to be worn at all times in public spaces, and of course social distancing.


The hardest part for us was being in the loop of what was going on because the news was in Czech. So we'd either have to wait for an article in English to be posted or try to translate the Czech posts into English to see if the country was making progress or if we were going backwards.


Eventually my school opened back up in April and hired Nick, so we both were making money again and able to get out of the apartment which was nice. And in May, things were starting to go back to normal. Restaurants were opening up outdoor seating and you were allowed to go anywhere in the city as long as you wore a mask. We were so happy that we were starting to see signs of living this dreamy European life we dreamed of... just in time for summer.


The only problem was that there still wasn't any idea when we would be able to get our visa appointment. Again, from the day of the appointment it still takes roughly 90 days to process... so we were getting a little worried that our time would run out and we would be forced to leave.


And that's exactly what happened. It was mid-May and we were finally in a nice routine of going to work Monday-Friday, and exploring the beautiful parts of the city on the weekends. We were loving it. And then we see an article saying any foreigner that hasn't submitted their visa paperwork already needs to leave before July 2020 or they will be forced to leave.


We confirmed this information with our visa agents, and then had to make a decision. If we're going to be forced to leave anyways, should we wait and finish out the school year and pay another month's rent and bills or just leave ASAP?


We looked up flight prices and it was a lot cheaper to leave the last week of May than it was to leave the last week of June. So we decided to sell what little things we had (mattress, couch, kitchen items, books, etc.) and fly home the next week. It was a complete whirlwind.


We didn't get our visa agent fee or apartment deposit back because we broke our contract- as much as we tried to fight it since there was a PANDEMIC HAPPENING. It's hard when there's a language barrier. And the only available flight from Europe to Los Angeles was from Amsterdam. So we had to take a bus to Frankfurt, Germany, then a flight to Amsterdam, Netherlands to catch our flight back home to Los Angeles. It was a looooooong couple of travel days.


It was such a bummer to have gone through the quarantine in another country- completely alone with just Nick and I. And when we finally got through it and felt like our lives were going to be normal and experience Europe, we were forced to leave. In retrospect, this year has been crazy for everyone all around the world so no matter where we were it probably would've felt just as crazy. But it was just so hectic experiencing it across the globe from the rest of my family and friends.


Chongqing, China

Since I lived in Chongqing for a year, I have lots of friends who still live there. I was constantly video calling with them and getting their take on going through this pandemic in the country where it all started. Their quarantine was the strictest one I had heard of.


You were only allowed to leave your apartment every 3 days, and when you did, you'd go downstairs to the lobby and there would be a policeman or guard waiting there to check your temperature and check you out of the building. Then you would be escorted to the nearest grocery store to get food and come directly back.


All my friends are also English teachers, so of course the schools were closed. But, they were all teaching online and continuing to earn their regular income, which was very nice.


As strict as their quarantine was, it only lasted about 2 months and then everything opened back up like normal. By summer time all my friends were back in the classroom teaching like normal, and all stores and things were open. You were just required to wear masks everywhere.


Fast forward to now in May 2021: some of my friends have now moved to Shanghai and some have stayed in Chongqing. But regardless of what city they're in, China has not gone backwards. They haven't closed things down again or enforced another quarantine. They are all just living regular lives and loving it!


Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

In January 2021, I moved to Ho Chi Minh. This was nearly an entire year after moving abroad to Prague, yet the pandemic as we all know was still fully in effect. Back home in Los Angeles, things were still completely shut down- no restaurants, bars, clubs, schools, etc.


In order to move abroad it was pretty strict, there was only 1 flight entering HCMC from Dubai and you could only be placed on the flight if you were sponsored by a job/company. I was able to get on the flight and complete the mandatory 2-week quarantine.... and then BAM. Life was NORMAL.


I'm not even kidding, the only thing that semi-reminds me we're still in a pandemic is the occasional time that I have to wear a mask and the fact that I can't leave the country. Other than that life is completely normal here! Everything is open and it's amazing.


I will say, this is obviously very hard to compare to living in Prague when the pandemic first hit and everyone was trying to figure out how to contain it. But now that it's been around for awhile, Vietnam has a pretty good system. Here's why things are allowed to be normal:


1) Our company requires that we fill out a health declaration form every day to say how we're feeling and where we have been throughout the day. They submit this form to the government for tracking purposes.


2) If you have been (based on them actually seeing you there or the form you filled out) to a place where 1 COVID case comes out, they will knock on your door and take you to a mandatory 2-week quarantine. If it was a place like an apartment building or working office, they would just lockdown the building and have everyone quarantine inside the building without allowing them to leave.


It sounds a little crazy, but it's the only way for them to contain it and keep their numbers extremely low. It's also the reason why we're allowed to live our lives completely normally! I'm not sure when we'll be allowed to travel internationally again, but it does seem like life around the world is slowly getting better! So hopefully the rest of the world will get back to normal as well.


Overall

Each country has been handling this pandemic in a different way- no one really knows what's going on or how long this is going to last. Living abroad, especially in a place where you can't speak the language, during this time can make it even scarier. You know you're not a citizen there, so you're not going to be a top priority. And you aren't as up-to-date with information since you can't read the news articles like all the locals.


But I don't regret moving to Prague at the start of the pandemic or going through all of that. It was quite an experience, and I am thankful for it. I think no matter where you are in the world or what's going on, as long as you have people you love by your side it makes it all okay. We can get through anything together!


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