For Americans: How to Move to Europe
On the 9th of November, the official Canadian immigration website broke down, apparently because of the huge number of people looking to emigrate there. Just admit it: since Donald Trump won the presidency, you’re seriously thinking about leaving the US. Ok, moving to Canada means just crossing the border: they speak English and the quality of life is high… but why not Europe? It’s warmer than Canada (in some parts). We have art, culture, good food, great wine, universal healthcare, at least 29 days of paid holidays and paid parental leave.
Even if we often refer to ourselves as Europeans, it’s better to be clear: there is no such thing as “Europe,” apart from geography. Each European country has its own language, habits, and mindset. For instance, food is great in France, Italy or Spain, and less great in the Netherlands or in Germany. European variety permits you to choose your perfect country match. And if you’re unhappy with the country you’ve picked, you can jump on a flight and in just 1 hour, you’ll move from Spain to France (flying from Barcelona to Paris costs less than a dinner and a movie in the U.S.)
How do you prepare for moving to Europe?
We put together a list of things you should do before packing up your entire life into a suitcase.
Which country should you choose?
If we consider geography, there are 44 countries (including Russia) in Europe. The first step is to narrow down your selection to 5 or 6 nations. Some countries can be more attractive simply because you won’t experience a language barrier. People in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Scandinavia usually speak good English. Other countries like Germany, Italy, France, or Spain may require you to learn the local language. Generally speaking, Europe is a bargain: you’ll get the best baguette you’ve ever had for just 80 cents and a good glass of wine is cheaper than orange juice. Compared to the U.S., we just have a different pricing model: petrol and subway are expensive, whilst foie gras, tobacco, and healthcare are affordable or even free. We know how to enjoy life 😉
FRANCE. Are you in love with sophisticated food, great wine and French kisses? France is your country. Just remember that to live there, you will need to speak not just good French but near-native French.
GERMANY. Are you an engineer who loves structure and world-class public transport? Pack immediately for Germany. You’ll still need fluent, but not near-native, German. Beer, sausage, sauerkraut, Oktoberfest and Christmas markets are some of the good things you’ll experience in Germany. Customer service and public transportation are probably the best in Europe.
SWITZERLAND. Do you like to ski? Do you work in finance and love chocolate? Switzerland! It’s quite an expensive place, so be sure you have enough savings. In Bern or Geneva, you can actually live speaking only English. The Alps are never far from you, and the ski infrastructure is world-class.
UNITED KINGDOM. Polite, classy, and cultured like Benedict Cumberbatch? Queen Elizabeth is waiting for you! Well, it seems Brits don’t always consider themselves to be a part of Europe, but remember, we are speaking about Europe from a geography standpoint. London is expensive, but everything is cool and edgy.
ITALY. Stylish, funny, know good food. If there ever were a universally-liked cuisine, it would be Italian. And what about fashion, design and being sexy? Just think about Armani, Lamborghini and Monica Bellucci.
SPAIN. Never heard about the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria? Well, Colombus, the Italian explorer, was able to discover America thanks to the Spaniards! The Spanish are generous, funny, and welcoming. Landscapes and food — Tapas! — are amazing. It’s always warm and sunny in Spain and it’s one of the European countries with the lowest costs of living.
SCANDINAVIA. Last year, Norway replaced Sweden as the №1 place to live, as measured by four key areas: income security, health, personal capability, and an enabling environment. Sweden is №2, followed by Switzerland, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Iceland. The U.S. came in at №7. On top of it all, they are all tall and blonde, technologically advanced, and speak perfect English.
IRELAND. Exuberant leprechauns hiding pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. Maybe leprechauns are just a fairytale, but Ireland is green, beautiful, and full of welcoming people and Guinness. And they seem to feel a protective love for Apple.
And there is much more. Remember? 44 countries!
If you’re an English-speaking monoglot, you may experience some trouble when dealing with bureaucracy and daily activities. Even if you move to a country where English is commonly spoken, being able to communicate with local people in their native language will help you a lot. This is not the only benefit: learning another language will make you smarter (proven by science). Start learning the language spoken in your new home before packing. If you’re looking to learn French, Spanish, German or Italian, FlashAcademy can be the perfect solution for you: it combines lessons, word games, object translation and flash cards for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners. (You can get the FlashAcademy app with a 10% discount using the code EXPATGENIUS10 on www.flashsticks.com.)
We all know it’s boring, takes a lot of time, and often causes frustration. Before packing, it’s helpful to gain a basic understanding of immigration laws, banking, taxes and other bureaucratic issues. And when you feel lost, just remember that you can always find a Genius on ExpatGenius ready to help you out!
VISA. The travel VISA allows you to stay in Europe for 90 days, but in some countries, you can remain longer without an additional visa. France, for instance, will allow you to apply for a one-year visa. In Austria, foreigners can apply for a job seekers visa, which allows you to live in the county for six months while you’re looking for a job. Germany has a new 6 months residence permit for qualified workers, but it’s valid only for university graduates and you can’t work while on this permit; you can only look for a job. Most countries will require you to register with the police. There isn’t any standard rule across Europe, so you should check the immigration law in the country you’ve chosen. You can find an extensive visa guide on The Savvy Backpacker. Remember to sign up for STEP, the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program: it provides up-to-date travel alerts and information, and makes sure expats are on the radar of the local embassy.
TAX SYSTEM. Don’t forget to fill all the required paperwork before leaving the U.S. to avoid double taxation and to keep your banks and investment accounts open. As soon as you get settled in Europe, apply for your personal tax ID number. The process can take a few months, but most employers will let you start working without your number as long as you’ve requested it. You will be taxed at a higher rate until your number is issued, but this will all be refunded once the proper paperwork has been processed. Be aware that to get reimbursed, you’ll need to fill in several additional forms.
BANKING. Before leaving the U.S., get in touch with your financial institution to make sure you have a backup card in case you lose your card. Banking in Europe has totally different fees and regulations than in the U.S. Most banks are only open Monday-Friday 10–4: so pick a bank and branch office near where you work or live. Consider that nearly everything aside from withdrawing money from an ATM has a fee associated with it. Ask locals about which bank has the best features before making a decision.
DRIVER’S LICENSE. According to EU regulations, a US driver’s license only qualifies as a provisional license for up to 1 year during which time you are expected to complete all written and practical driving tests required by the country in which you are residing. Once you’ve gained your new driving license, don’t expect to get a big and squared car with automatic gear. European cars are usually rounded, small, with manual gears: they’re easier to park. And maybe you won’t need your driving license at all since most European cities have excellent public transportation.
Are you looking for short-term jobs that require little commitment, or for a long- term job? If you’re looking for a short-term option, you can rely on the tourism industry: you can work as a bartender or in a hostel or as an Au Pair.
One of the most lucrative yet competitive options is Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). You need to earn a TEFL certification, and you can either teach on a freelance basis or work for a language school.
For long-term positions, you’ll likely have to secure a work permit first. You can’t apply for a work permit for yourself; an employer will have to get one on your behalf. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get an employer to get a work permit for you since they have to prove to the government that they cannot find anyone in Europe to fill the vacancy. The good news is that there are many places specifically seeking Americans to join their team, such as in English language magazines, tour companies or tech startups. You can find several English job offers on the ExpatGenius job board.
It could take time to find the perfect neighborhood. Ask locals for information about your new chosen home and start by renting a short-term place for the first 1 or 2 months. Some cities such as Paris, Dublin, and London are crowded in general: prepare to compromise on size, location, or price. Prices outside of any major urban center will drop significantly, so consider a safe suburb if you’re on a budget or aren’t planning to stay for long.
Embrace diversity: Home is wherever you arrive
Washing machines in Europe have only cold water inlets and are loaded from the front. Thanksgiving, baby showers, and bachelor(ette)’s nights are still typically American. Using numbers (e.g. 5th Avenue) to name a street is typically North American; in Europe, streets take their names from famous people, cities, or historical places/dates. You’ll find the good, the bad and the different. You’ll be challenged, amused, and surprised. Based on our experience as serial expats, it’s important to adapt to the local culture, embrace diversity, and befriend natives, but it’s just as important to stay in touch with your roots. Multiculturalism and diversity are the greatest strengths of our society. Everyone has the right to belong: our mission is that every expat will feel at HOME wherever they arrive.