America may be the land of opportunity, but there are opportunities to explore outside of the States as well: lots of them, in fact. If, like so many Americans, you’re tempted by a journey across the Atlantic to Europe, you might well be wondering exactly what sorts of jobs you could do there.
As you’ll discover as you plan your new life abroad, the many countries of Europe have diverse job markets and varied opportunities for foreign citizens like you. You just have to know what you’re looking for.
This article will help you get started. It’ll offer you some practical tips on how to find a job, how to get a visa, and what you need to know in order to make a success of your move abroad.
Before you get started, a word.
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Now, back to what you came here to read.
Before we get going, let’s head back to the classroom for a minute. You probably know all this, but it’s vital to get the basics right, so it’s time for a little Europe 101.
First off, Europe is not a country. It’s an entire continent, made up of many different countries: some say 44, others say a few more (countries like Russia and Turkey span both Europe and Asia). Within that set of countries, the European Union (EU) is a group with particularly close political and economic links: there are 27 member states, plus the United Kingdom, which voted to leave the EU in 2016. Many EU countries share a currency, the euro, although Europe is also home to many other currencies, from the British pound to the Turkish lire.
Every single European country has its own history, culture, system of government, and set of employment laws. They can vary hugely. The countries also have widely differing economies: some are wealthy, and some are a lot less so. And, of course, there are many different languages.
Overall, the countries of Europe are even more distinct from each other than the states of the US. So you’ll probably want to narrow your options down a little bit before you go hunting for a job.
Just like anywhere in the world, there’s no simple formula for finding a European job. It depends on who you are, what you like doing and what you’re good at, as well as where you’re going. But it’s possible to maximize your chances of finding your ideal job by thinking carefully about the following.
As explained above, one size does not fit all when it comes to choosing a new European home. Europe has it all, from the bustling internationalism of London or Berlin to the tranquility of northern Scandinavia or the Greek islands.
If you want to maximize your chances of finding work but don’t yet have a plan worked out, consider the big cities first of all. Just like in the US, that’s where you’ll find the most work opportunities, as well as the liveliest communities of expats.
At the end of this article, you’ll find a few of the most popular areas in Europe for Americans to find work. Try to get a feel for the unique character of a few different places in Europe before you make your choice: it makes a huge difference.
Also like in the US, jobs in Europe can be low-paid or high-paid, skilled or unskilled, permanent or temporary, and so on. You might well find that you’re qualified for more or less the same jobs that you could get in the US.
But there are two important differences. The first is language. If you can’t speak the language in your new home country, you’re going to limit your employment prospects: read more about this below. The second is the right to work. As a foreign citizen, you won’t have the same employment rights as a native. So you should carefully research what you are and aren’t allowed to do, long before you pack your bags.
If you just speak English but you’re keen to go to a European country other than the UK or Ireland, you’ll have more luck in some career sectors than others. Here are a few of the careers in which you might have more luck.
- Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). The classic profession for traveling English speakers is TEFL, which turns your key limitation — only speaking English — into a strength. Do a training course, and then choose your location carefully: unlike with many expat careers, it’s easier to find TEFL work in less developed areas. In big Western European cities, competition among English teachers can be fierce. In smaller towns and less prosperous countries, on the other hand, there’s still demand, and fewer native speakers to meet it.
- Tourism. Another way to turn a lack of language skills into a strength is to seek out jobs in tourism or hospitality, where English is the closest thing there is to a global language. You might be able to find work in a bar or at a resort. Any good at skiing? Maybe you can find work in the Alps. A lot of these jobs might only be short-term or seasonal, though.
- Digital nomadism. Thanks to the internet, it’s often possible to work remotely these days. Some people even maintain full-time jobs in foreign countries, working from a home office. Alternatively, you can go freelance and look for work in areas like journalism or programming, where it’s often possible to work from far away. The world is the digital nomad’s oyster.
- Any job in the UK or Ireland. One big point in favor of finding work in the UK or Ireland is that you won’t have a language barrier to worry about. So if you’re not yet decided on your location, this could be something to consider.
All of that said, if you’re serious about living abroad, you should learn the language of your new home country. Start learning properly as soon as you can. Once you reach a decent level, you might find more employment opportunities opening up fast. More than that: your quality of life will improve, too.
Whether you’re a digital nomad or a wannabe cocktail waiter, the first place to start looking for work is always the internet. But which job boards should you use?
The best advice is to keep your options open and use a variety. There are a few Europe-wide job sites out there, like Go Abroad or Eurojobs, and there’s also the JobsIn Network, which has job boards specializing in English-language jobs in many of Europe’s biggest cities. Some big international job boards like Indeed and Monster have sites specific to many European countries, too.
Industry-specific job boards, like tefl.com for English teachers, are also worth a close look, especially if you’re flexible on location. If you’re certain about your line of work, this approach could be your best bet for finding the perfect job.
Don’t underestimate the distinctness of each European country, though. As an early test of your language skills, try to find the job boards that the locals use themselves.
It might not be possible to ensure a job in advance of your move. That could simply be because employers prefer to meet you in person.
Once you’re there, find out if there’s a job center you can visit, or you might have luck “pounding the pavement:” you could pay local language schools, bars or hotels a personal visit to ask about employment prospects.
Employment laws are different in every country, and the countries of Europe are no exception. As a US citizen, you won’t have the same rights as a citizen of the European country you want to move to. But exactly what rights you will have, and what sort of documentation you’ll need, varies from place to place. You might find you don’t need to get a visa before traveling, but don’t take it as read.
In Germany, for example, US citizens are allowed to enter the country without a visa and apply for a work permit once they’re there.¹ But if you want to work or live in Norway for more than 90 days, you’ll need a residence permit, which you should apply for via Norway’s US embassy or consulate.²
The key thing to remember is this: as an American citizen, you don’t automatically have the right to work in Europe. You’ll have to apply for that right via whatever system your chosen country has in place.
Here are some more words of advice for your European adventure.
It’s true that English is the most widely spoken language in the world. You’ll find many English speakers in any big European city. But that doesn’t mean you should rely on it: forcing people to speak a foreign language to you isn’t a great way to make friends — or to find a job. What’s more, outside of major cities, plenty of people don’t speak any English at all. You’ll be amazed at how many more doors open for you when you can speak the right language.
Think there’s a lot of paperwork in the US? You might be unpleasantly surprised by your new place of residence. Some European countries require a lot of official documentation, citizen registration numbers, tax ID numbers, VAT numbers, registration at various offices, and so on and so forth. Just roll with it. It’s easier in the long run.
Good news: you’ll probably get more annual vacation time than you would in the US. Bad news: you might have to give your employer several months’ notice before you can leave. There could be plenty of differences between European work contracts and their American equivalents, so try not to act too surprised.
Of course it depends on your job, but generally speaking, work has a different feel to it in Europe than it does in the US. Americans work famously long hours, so you might have a shorter working week — but don’t be fooled into thinking that means you can be less productive: it’s all about efficiency.
You can also expect a more relaxed lunch hour, with staff often leaving their desks or even going out for a real break. In some European countries, especially around the Mediterranean, lunch breaks can last for several hours.
Whichever country you pick, you’ll need to open a bank account there. How do you do that? Well, the process differs — a surprising amount. Check out some more specific information about opening a bank account in your new home country, whether it’s Germany, the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, or wherever else.
One of the reasons it’s crucial to get a new bank account is that international transfer fees can be seriously expensive, as well as time-consuming. It’s well worth researching the best way to transfer some of your US dollars into Europe without paying more than you have to. TransferWise can help: it lets you send money at the mid-market rate, which means you don’t have to pay the hidden markup that comes with most international transfers: the one low fee you pay is clearly stated upfront. You could get your money sent abroad for a price up to 8x cheaper than you’d get with a bank.
Even better, a borderless account with TransferWise gives you virtual account details in several currencies — including euros — so that you can receive money into a euro account even before you’re set up with a full local bank account. It’s the ideal solution for expats who are just starting out.
So, then. Where should you go? Really it’s down to you, what you like, what work you want to do and so on. But here are a few of the places in Europe with the most Americans living there, to get you started.
- Germany. Home to a significant number of US citizens, Germany boasts a truly global city in Berlin, and many other spectacular places to live like Munich, Hamburg and Cologne. It’s a very wealthy country, so it might be harder to find work here than in some other European countries. But don’t let that put you off: there are still plenty of opportunities.
- The UK. Some time in the UK might be “just the ticket,” as they say, if you’re keen to keep speaking English all the time. London is home to the biggest variety of jobs, but there are wonderful cities all across the country, from Edinburgh to Birmingham to Cardiff. There’s some gorgeous countryside too.
- France. If you want to move to France, you’ll certainly need to get the hang of speaking French: don’t think you’ll be able to get by just with English. But it’s worth the effort to live in this gloriously cultured country. Paris is the best bet for jobs, but if you’re planning on teaching English, you could try your luck somewhere smaller.
- Italy. Another beautiful and unique country, Italy is the perfect destination for lovers of sun-soaked, three-hour lunch breaks, which, let’s face it, is pretty much everyone. It’s not all about the capital, Rome, although it has much to recommend it: also consider fashion mecca Milan, or Naples if you feel like heading further south.
- Spain. Madrid and Barcelona are totally different from each other, yet both cities are equally captivating. Then again, so are other Spanish cities like Seville and Valencia. If you’re keen to tap into the tourism market, Barcelona might be worth a try, or other coastal destinations. For other jobs, Madrid is calling your name.
- The Nordic countries. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland make up the Nordic countries, often called Scandinavia. They’re well known for their high quality of life, although — as beer drinkers quickly discover — it comes at a cost. Locals tend to speak immaculate English and of course the scenery of cities like Stockholm and Helsinki is stunning, as are the more remote parts of the region.
Wherever you choose, good luck in getting yourself set up in your new home. Don’t forget to try and deal with your international finances in the cheapest way possible, and that TransferWise might be able to help.
And, of course, try to see as much of this amazing continent as you can.
All sources last checked 9 May 2019
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