18 March 2014

Getting a Czech driving license the honest way

The very interesting Corruption Perceptions Index ranks the Czech Republic as one of the most corrupt in central and western Europe.

So, when it became clear that I would need a Czech drivers' license, I did a bit of internet research to see if buying the license was possible.

Smalls helpfully demonstrating the '10 and 2' position
Number one rule of corruption in Europe: if you have to ask the internet about how to do bribery and corruption, you're doing it wrong. So, it was off to proper driving lessons for me so that I could fulfil the required 28 hours of driving before taking the test.

'I know very good translator,' said my driver instructor when it came time for me to take the theory test. 'Very good. Maybe you have problem. Maybe he help.'

Aha, I thought. Here is my chance to make use of the 118th most corrupt system in the world.

Alas, the Very Good Translator fell ill the day before my test and the replacement (after a flurry of desperate phone calls) turned out to be a Very Proper Translator, who sent me a very direct email stating that he would only translate. Answering the questions for me would be not only wrong, but also illegal.

After a tense night of memorising the Czech highway code, I passed with only two small errors.

I don't mean to brag, but I would like to point out that this was in spite of having a translator who kept using the phrase 'making known your intentions' instead of the more usual 'signalling' or 'using your blinker' on some of the key questions.

So, then it was on to the practical test, which went swimmingly (more or less) up until the very end when I was instructed to parallel park. It did not go well, and involved both my driving instructor and the invigilator tutting in unison and finally inspired the invigilator to sigh, in English, 'Pani, not on the grass.'

Somehow, I passed, and my driving instructor seemed as surprised as me, so I think that rules out him slipping the invigilator a small incentive.

Which brings us to the other students who were also taking the practical test. One informed me that many of the foreigners he knew had merely paid a little extra and had received their Czech licenses without even having to leave their living rooms. ('Oh really? They should put this information on the internet!')

Another Egyptian student failed his drive, so he patiently waited for three hours until the invigilator had finished with all the examinations and then went to have a chat with him. The whole driving school full of test-takers and instructors waited. The Egyptian student exited the invigilator's room and rescheduled his practical test for the next month.

Which brings us back to the issue of corruption in the Czech Republic. I have no doubt that it does exist here, but I have to say I certainly haven't been benefiting from it.


  1. I can't imagine how it worked with your translator ... he was there with you and only translate the questions and answers for you? If so, Im really surprised it worked because you could be very easily blamed for cheating even though you translator was so honest :)
    Anyway, congratulation :)

  2. It was a little strange - I had my own computer away from the other test-takers and apparently it was monitored with a camera and mic to reduce cheating. I can't say I'd like to ever do it again! :)

  3. It's obvious that you've never suffered from corruption yourself. Can you imagine that you may appear arrogant or unjust to those who already suffered from corruption and, unlike you, had no choice? I'm sure you didn't mean it like that. So please think again and try to be honest next time. Otherwise you'll end up helping the wrong people.

    1. Hi Jerico, thanks for commenting. In case it wasn't clear, I got my license without any cheating. My point with this post was that a lot of people think the Czech Republic is a corrupt system. For those of us who are expats and used to our own culture's approach to these sorts of things, it's sometimes difficult to know how to navigate the system. From my cultural background, I would expect to do everything above board and that what the laws or rules say I should do is exactly what must be done. The Egyptian who was taking the test clearly came from a different cultural expectation. I was thinking to myself how difficult it is to know what is appropriate/expected with things like bribery in a foreign culture when I was writing this post. I hope it came through in my writing.

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    3. Hi Expatová! Thanks for writing so honestly about your feeling of insecurity. I have gone through this feeling many times myself. I have often been confronted with corruption and nepotism in my life and I was not always as steady as I should have been. Not giving in to - or even exposing corruption - usually results in immediate disadvantages to yourself. It's not the easy road but it's the right one. Nowadays I'm convinced it's worth to pay the price and to stick to your convictions even if it's difficult sometimes. I can assure you that those who grew up in a corrupt system and try to do the right thing feel exactly as insecure as you do - independently of their "culture". This is not something cultural, it's simply human. Those who try to tell you that Czech "culture" is corrupt and that you should adapt to corruption are usually those who directly benefit from criminal behavior. So don't let yourself be deceived by such cultural relativism.