The business/professional Chambers (such as the Association of Real Estate Offices or the Czech Beer and Malt Association) may or (usually) may not be compulsory Associations – groups that businesses in the specific fields are required to join. Regardless, they´re great resources whether you have a business in a specific field or just want to find some information. Should you own a real estate agency, or want information on real estate agencies (standards and practices in the Czech Republic, etc.), you know where to turn.
I´ll focus mostly on the Country-specific Chambers here in Prague – Chambers that work to promote trade not only between countries, but also between their own members. The Chambers (such as AmCham – the American Chamber of Commerce) can be of assistance to anyone, regardless of field of business or nationality. A Czech business with no connection to Canada, for example, would be free to join the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (and thus create a solid connection.)
The biggest question, however, is what exactly do the Chambers do – how do they promote trade, and what can be gained by joining them? How can the Chambers help expats and their businesses?
To receive support from the Chambers, you will likely have to become a member. Most Chambers have yearly membership fees with two options: a price for businesses and a (usually considerably lower) price for individuals. Many times, someone from a business will use an individual membership to find out first-hand what a Chamber can offer before bringing their corporation into the Chamber.
So, once you´re a member, what can you expect? The larger a Chamber is, the more they can provide. Large Chambers will have numerous events, seminars, lectures, etc., that will focus on improving business in the Czech Republic. Chambers can also be powerful lobby groups that act on behalf of their members – again, the larger a Chamber is, the more likely that they will be able to successfully affect changes in the government. Subscriptions to business periodicals and other benefits can be expected, as well as any specific help or advice a Chamber can offer to its members.
But one of the greatest benefits of the Chambers, in my opinion, is the social aspect – something that any Chamber, large or small, can offer. Through benefits, parties, and other events, Chamber members will meet and discuss. As members of a specific Chamber are likely to have something in common, business contacts can be made with a wide range of people in a wide range of businesses. For someone in a specific field, the people and businesses are likely to be from fields that they may not usually have the chance to encounter. At the very least, the business contacts that are made through a Chamber cocktail party are likely to turn out to be of more importance than the business contacts one may make at any bar or club in Prague.
Most large countries, of course, will have a representative Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic (likely in Prague). Here´s a few of the larger, perhaps more helpful ones for English-speaking expats:
Canadian Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic (www.gocanada.cz)
American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic (www.amcham.cz)
British Chamber of Commerce Czech Republic (www.britcham.cz)
Australian Trade Commission
I spoke with Peter Formanek, President of the Canadian Chamber in the Czech Republic, who was able to give me plenty of information on the Canadian Chamber as well as Chambers of Commerce in general. The Canadian Chamber was founded in 1997, and with about 170 members, is one of the more mid-range Chambers in the Czech Republic. An individual membership in the Canadian Chamber is 3500 CZK annually, with corporate membership ranging from 6500 CZK to 60000 CZK (determined by the annual sales of the corporation). Though the Chamber may not be able to provide as high a level of events as some of the larger Chambers, it is one of the more lively Chambers, with about 4 events per month. The Canadian Chamber may also have a more personal atmosphere than some of the larger Chambers, with a lot of business generated through individual contacts.
The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) is one of the largest Chambers in Prague, with more than 420 members. The budget for the American Chamber is about ten times the budget of the Canadian Chamber (and considerably higher than most other Chambers as well), and therefore can provide a wealth of seminars, fundraisers, and other events. The American Chamber has three levels of membership: small business/entrepreneur for 15000 CZK annually, Standard Corporate for 45000 CZK annually, and Corporate Patron for 150000 CZK for two years. Given its size, the American Chamber is one of the more successful advocate groups, along with promoting economic development among its members.
Also deserving mention is the British Chamber: with over 330 members, it´s one of the largest Chambers after the American Chamber. The British Chamber offers Associate Membership for foreign businesses (85 EUR annually), individual membership (6000 CZK annually), a reduced Corporate Rate for businesses with a workforce lower than 500 (12200 CZK annually) and a Full Corporate membership for companies whose workforce exceeds 500 (45000 CZK annually).
Chambers of Commerce for a wide variety of countries can be found in Prague. All that´s needed to join is a desire to improve your business relationships and meet people of similar mind (and a certain amount of money, of course).
Special thanks to Peter Formanek, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Prague, for his help with this article, and also to Renata Paceltova of the American Chamber of Commerce, for her assistance.