Looking for info about moving to Europe.

OK, we caught the bug for Europe years ago and now we're hooked. We want to make a more permanent move to the EU. We've traveled many many times throughout Europe and now we're seriously looking into finding a job and moving. I know its not as easy as just selling our house and buying plane tickets. I already have CVs submitted, but this early in the process I did them more as a learning experience. The EU has specific restrictions and work visa requirements. I have been researching this for a while now, but it seems that there is not a great deal of info on specific experiences on the internet. I am posting here because I see lots of posters that have lived or are currently living in Europe and I'm hoping mainly for some stories and personal experiences. (work and day to day life lessons) The type of work visa I'm expecting to get is "skilled worker" since I've worked in the energy industry for many years and that is the field I'm looking for jobs. The visa requires employer sponsorship, and from what I've read can be difficult to obtain for Americans. Are European employers willing to sponsor American workers and do the necessary paperwork? What's the process? How about the moving process? Anyone out there with anything they can share to help?

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

I agree with the others that you need to start looking at expat websites. "The Local" is a British online publication for English-speaking expats that has terribly written news but usually also helpful messageboards associated with it in the various countries it runs in. In Germany, toytowngermany.com is the largest English-language expat message board. Every question under the sun has been asked there, so it's a great resource. Other countries have similar sites. One thing in general is that Western Europe has a higher cost of living than most of the U.S. - certinaly higher than Phoenix - so even if you do find a job that pays you similar to what you get now, you standard of living will likely not be the same by objective measures - most food is more expensive, rent is more expensive, houses/apartments are smaller (I don't know anyone in Germany who "works on the Economy" i.e. for a German company who can afford to rent/buy a house, for example), if you live in a city you will very often pay for parking you car, even if you're lucky enough to have a parking spot to begin with, and on and on. This isn't to make it sound bad - I have come to really love living in Europe to the point where I'm going to try to extend my stay here as long as possible - but you have to be prepared for some major lifestyle changes (for most Americans anyway) and for it being at times a very frustrating, alienating, and sometimes depressing process. Do you have a second language? While I do know Americans with specific skill sets who work for Germany companies or US companies in Germany who don't speak German, in general those jobs are hard to come by. So even if you have a bit of a background in college French or Spanish, I would base where you go off what language you speak the best/can learn the fastest. (cont)

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Because while it's possible to live somewhere and not speak the language (lord knows I do it every day) I wouldn't say it's ideal. Again, it's alienating. You have to have a lot of motivation to try to learn the culture and the language to really get the most out of your experience. Another option - the easiest, IMO - is to check out USAJobs.gov and try to get a Government job overseas. While this usually entails working for the Department of Defense or State Department, there are a LOT of perks that make it by far the smoothest, easiest way to deal with working overseas. Benefits include paid-for-moves, housing and cost-of-living allowances (quite generous ones, usually), downsides are...working for the DoD. But working in the energy industry there might be something for you. You can also check out various defense contractors who might be looking for your skillsets, although IMO the perks of being a contractor are not nearly as good as Government Service and the job is less reliable (contracts can disappear overnight). On the other hand, traditionally pay is better for contractors than for GSes, although that's changing too in this tough market.

Posted by D.D.
England
375 posts

You might get more specific answers by searching an ex-pat site than a travel website, but just briefly to get you started: Your experience with the actual move might vary greatly depending upon with whom you are employed. I would think your best bet is employment with an American company. Some American companies with offices overseas offer a fair amount of assistance with relocation. Contractors or US government employees with the military also receive relocation assistance and other assistance in the form of financial help with housing, etc. This would be quite different if you are seeking employment with a European company, and would also of course vary from country to country. The best "life lesson" I can offer is to familiarize yourself as much as you can with the laws and customs of the country in which you wish to live before going any further. Forget, for now, thoughts of how wonderful it is to visit there, and focus on things like getting a driving license and practical things of that nature that one must do when actually moving somewhere. This might help you avoid some adjustment difficulties later.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9130 posts

You seem to already know a little about this process. The exact process varies by country, but in a nutshell... you need to convince a perspective employer that you bring some unique set of skills and experience that makes you qualified for a hard-to-fill job. The employer has to be able to justify to their government why they need to hire you instead of another applicant from the Schengen Zone. So, you basically need to find some companies that need your skills and market yourself very, VERY well. It goes without saying, knowing more than one language would be very helpful. That being said, there are some career fields where a government waiver is not necessary. The exact jobs vary by country, but it's usually things like skilled health care workers, people with advanced technical degrees, and of course, professional athletes. Even though the government waiver may not be necessary, however, you would still need to obtain the proper licensing and certification. Also, consider the current economic environment. With the high unemployment rates in southern Europe, you can more or less rule out Italy, Greece, Spain or Portugal. How's your Norwegian or German? As DD noted... don't jump into this lightly. The Europe you experience on vacation is not the Europe you will most likely find yourself living in (although "Vacation Europe" will be much closer and more convenient to visit). There's an initial honeymoon period until you realize that you have to live somewhere, you need a bank account, you need to pay bills, you need to figure out who to call to make repairs, you have to book a doctor's appointment, you need your car fixed, etc. It's a completely different experience.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7976 posts

Read Tom's last paragraph a few hundred times. I've maintained homes in two countries for the last couple of decades (but work in neither and neither is in Europe). Logistically it gets really messy at both ends.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17777 posts

Mark, There's LOTS of good advice in the previous replies, but I'd like to reiterate a couple of points. First, unless you can bring a unique set of skills to a job, it's not likely that an employer in the E.U. will hire an "outsider", especially with the current economic climate and rates of unemployment there. As in the U.S. and Canada, employers have to hire locals first. Language could definitely be an issue, as you'll need to be able to interact with your colleagues or supervisors. Secondly, the bureaucracy and permits necessary to make the transition could be complicated. You'd need to start the process prior to leaving the U.S. and have enough funds to support yourself for several months in the interim. As someone else mentioned, the best chance of success might be a job with the State Department or military. At one time, I also thought it might be nice to live in Europe, but after doing some extensive research and considering all aspects of the equation, I decided that staying here and visiting Europe was the best for my situation. Which country(s) are you considering moving to? Good luck!

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Ralph makes a really good point. I wouldn't consider moving to Europe without a) a reliable job lined up and b) at least $10k-$20k in savings that you feel comfortable spending on the move, knowing you won't get most if it back. Again, we were lucky in that our situation meant our stuff was shipped here free of charge, and a hotel room was paid for while we looked for an apartment (a long and tiring process), and it still cost us a fortune in deposit and realtor's costs (and it can be very hard to avoid realtor's fees in many European countries). Moving here is rewarding, but expensive. It took us a year to pay off the debt of moving which finally meant we could afford to travel more - it's kind of depressing to move to Europe "to travel" when you can't afford to, and it's 6 months of winter staring you in the face. Lol, I could write a book about this subject.

Posted by Mark
Santa Barbara, CA, USA
144 posts

Switzerland may be an option because the Swiss unemployment rate is still low. If you are interested check for "englishforum Switzerland" that is a community of expats. You should be aware also that as an American you are obligated to file and sometimes pay US taxes in addition to local taxes. Depending on your financial situation it can be not only very complicated but costly.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9130 posts

"Switzerland may be an option because the Swiss unemployment rate is still low." But unless you already work for a Swiss multinational, Switzerland also has some of the most stringent work laws for outsiders. It is VERY difficult to get a work permit in Switzerland. Another thing to consider- are you married? Even if you get a work permit, that doesn't mean your wife will necessarily be able to get one. If she does not speak the local language, that could be an extremely socially isolating situation. I've actually seen marriages break up because the spouse could not tolerate the isolation.

Posted by Mark
Santa Barbara, CA, USA
144 posts

"But unless you already work for a Swiss multinational, Switzerland also has some of the most stringent work laws for outsiders." True you need special skills. Some people can benefit from reclaiming the citizenship of their European ancestors (Ireland, Switzerland, some Eastern European countries). I know that if you have a Swiss grandparent you can be eligible for facilitated naturalization. This is exactly what Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's kids did earlier this year.

Posted by Brian
Los Angeles, California
1986 posts

Tom makes an important point. If you are able to find a job, that will be great. however, your wife will be at home (in an appartment?) with nothing to do, can she communicate in the language? does she know where to go shopping for various items? What does she do all day? It can be very difficult for the wife and for the marriage. Winters can get dark and cold.

Posted by D.D.
England
375 posts

Lest this thread is starting to sound pessimistic to you, Mark, I'd like to stress that I think moving to Europe is a wonderful idea. My family did it, as did many people who post on this site. If the problems were insurmountable there wouldn't be so many people who do it and are happy with it. It's just that it's very important to be realistic about everything involved in such a move. As stated by previous posters, it can be a very expensive and anxiety provoking experience, and can be difficult to extricate yourself quickly and easily if you are not happy with how it turns out. You stated that you are already researching, and your question posted here is a useful part of that research. I encourage you to listen to those people who have actually made such a move (posting here or on expat sites) and are specifically non active duty military. I say that not because their experiences aren't valuable, but because military members can have a different experience with such things as housing, health care, taxes, banking and bill paying, schooling for children, socialization, and many practical day to day issues (even if they live on the economy rather than on the military facility), than you would as non military, even if you are GS or government contractor. Good luck to you.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Well, the wife can always join the helpline to while away her hours...not that I'm familiar with that situation or anything...

Posted by Beatrix
Calgary
1974 posts

As I live in a city where the energy sector is the dominant industry I do meet expats on a regular basis. Some of them made an effort to join a multi-national company in their home country with the goal to eventually move to one of their offices abroad. I've met people who intentionally applied for jobs with Shell for that reason and ended up in Europe 5 years later. Or with Statoil or CGG or ... Working and vacationing in Europe are very different things. My husband does regular business trips to Europe and has no desire to move there - unless he gets a posting in Norway ;-). Spending 2-3 hours in commute in London? Having to deal with French business manners on a daily basis? Scotland can be beautiful at times but living in rainy Aberdeen 365 days of the year????

Posted by Crash
Vance, Alabama
145 posts

Mark, This has been one of the hardest things we have ever done. Over thirteen hundred people applied for these 4 jobs at a company location in the U.S. 5 interviews, travel time, over 7 months period. They sent 12 of us Americans for 110 days training here in Germany, with all of us knowing 8 people were not going to make it. Almost an hour travel time to work in the morning, 4 hours assembly line training, hour lunch, 4 to 5 hours computer and classroom instruction, almost an hour ride home, then German language and engineering classes for half a day on Saturdays. Homework at night. I never got to go anywhere or see anything. I thought my German was pretty good? No. I couldn't understand half of what was being said. I had to study like a madman just to keep up with these young kids! That being said. I made it. Ended up taking a different position with the company that will keep us here in Germany. But that leads me to the work permit interviewing and vetting process, which was incredible difficult. I almost gave up, because that was so hard, and complicated. Getting an apartment? Expensive! Just getting things like a toaster, coffee maker, tv? the cost will take your breath away. Shopping? Transferring utilities into your name? Hard.
It can be done, but you better be ready to John Wayne up to do it.

Posted by Chris
Stuttgart, BW, Germany
24 posts

There's been some really good advice here so far. I can only stress what has been said before. My wife (Sarah, above) and I ended up here as part of a USG hire and it worked out well that we were at crossroads career-wise and willing to put up with some grief in order to start over in Europe. Even with my employer paying for relocation, we still laid out between $25K and $30K in the first year that was not reimbursed. There was standard first and last months' rent, approx. $4600, realtor's fee, $3900, car registration, light fixtures and installation (they don't come with the apartment), kitchen and its installation (ditto), wardrobes (built-in closets are very rare), pet importation costs (those can get pretty steep), replacement of all the goods damaged, lost or stolen in the move, replacement of those now useless 110V electrical items, new clothing to account for a climate far different from our old one, snow tires (required by law), fees for new bank, utility activation. Then remember that your gas will now cost $8 or more dollars per gallon. Also, if you're attempting to bring over a vehicle that's not paid for, you have to obtain permission from the lender holding the title, which they very well may deny, meaning you need to source other means of transit.

Posted by Chris
Stuttgart, BW, Germany
24 posts

...Continued... Okay, so all that is pretty cringey. On the plus side, you're in Europe. We recently popped up to Berlin for a weekend to watch our favorite band play on the tarmac of Templehof airport where the Berlin Airlift took place. Last week we completed a whirlwind two week trip across Romania and the Balkans, which we would never have done had it not been a cheaper flight than from SF to Las Vegas. We're 3.5 hours on TGV from Paris. We've spent days just wandering neighborhoods in search of sights and looking for little eateries in Europe's capitals and villages. The time here has allowed us to explore at a leisurely pace and see things unavailable to people doing a once-in-a-decade trip to the Continent. Each week we socialize with friends in our expat group from around the world, sharing experiences and assistance and planning outings together. Our lives here are pretty rich and I wouldn't trade our experience for anything. If there are any specifics we can help with, don't hesitate to ask. If we don't know, we know many Europeans who could provide answers. Good luck in your journey.

Posted by Barry
San Diego, CA
587 posts

@Crash, That sounds like the job world equivalent of Survivor, the amount of people applying, the interviews, the travel and time involved, knowing some people were not going to make it, was Jeff Probst running the program? LOL

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2899 posts

My main suggestion is to network as much as you can. Let people know that you are looking for an overseas assignment. Look for opportunities to meet people working internationally in your field. Be persistent and be willing to put in some time working on assignments that will lead to an international opportunity. Consider working for a company in the U.S. with a possibility to transfer abroad in the long-term. Read expat boards (if Sweden interests you, try amerikanska.com). The website www.transitionsabroad.com has some resources that might be useful. It took me several attempts to land an international assignment. Along the way, I took a job with a company that developed software working on a project for a European client. When I took the job, there was no guarantee that I would get to go to Europe, but I was told it was a possibility. Fortunately, it panned out. I worked on that project for 16 months in the States. When we delivered the software, I moved to Sweden and worked on client site. My experience was far easier than that of many on this board. My company offered an expat package; I got relocation assistance, a furnished flat, a cost of living adjustment, tax equalization, etc. My company did the paperwork for the visa and the justification included the fact that I had specialized knowledge of their proprietary software. In general, I suspect that it is easier to justify a work visa for a company transfer than for an open market hire. After spending two years in Sweden, I transferred to the UK entity and once again, my company hired an immigration specialist to do the visa application. I spent a little over 3 years working in Europe.

Posted by Mark
Phoenix, AZ
73 posts

Wow, I am really glad I posted the question on here. Lots of great info. Part of what is driving this desire is we have friends that moved to Zurich, but now I'm finding out that their company paid for everything and helped facilitate the entire process. I hadn't even considered the problem with my wife not able to work and sitting at home.
Through my research I "knew" most of the challenges that are being pointed out above, but hearing the actual stories is truthfully quite intimidating. We're certainly not planning on moving without my having a job lined up first.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2899 posts

continued ... I do agree with many of the previous posts. Working in Europe is not the same as vacationing in Europe. The first time you have to file taxes for your residence country, the U.S., and your home state, you might think "Why did I do this to myself?" Additionally, keep in mind that most work visas only allow you to work for a particular company and a particular role. If you don't like your job or it ends, you may have no choice but to come home. Also, you say "we" so I am assuming that there is a spouse involved. You may get a work permit, but that doesn't necessarily mean that your spouse can work. Do your homework and understand what you are getting into. I think there are many non-monetary benefits and I think the opportunity to live abroad is definitely worth it.

Posted by Jeff
Taunusstein, Germany
233 posts

Tough time to be looking for a voluntary change in employment. I would imagine your background would have to be pretty special for someone to hire you into an expat position. It is as everyone has said not a year round vacation here. You will learn "life lessons" just as well in Phoenix as a location in Europe. I will probably spend close to 11 years here before I must return to the states and I need to be more accomodating than I am right now, when I go home for good. I'll bet most foreign European residents on this list enjoy life here when they are not busy with the day to day mundane aspects of living here. Come to Europe and live if it will enhance your professional experience but don't come just to have an "experience".

Posted by Beatrix
Calgary
1974 posts

Please do consider the situation your spouse might find herself in. My husband works for a multi-national company with a head quarter in Paris. It's quite likely there'll be an international posting in the future for us. So I am currently working to expand my business as a translator. I am self-employed and can do it anywhere in the world as everything is done online. But I do know quite a few families who moved to Canada from Germany and ended up leaving much earlier than planned because the spouse was not happy at all with her situation. Not only is it a question of getting the work permit but often professional credentials and degrees are not accepted.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9130 posts

"Not only is it a question of getting the work permit but often professional credentials and degrees are not accepted." Because this is something I have personal experience with... It's not so much that degrees and credentials are not accepted, it's that, depending on your field, you may have to apply for equivalency recognition. This can be a pretty drawn out and involved process that involves submitting A LOT of paperwork, but it's not an insurmountable obstacle.

Posted by Beatrix
Calgary
1974 posts

Tom, it really depends on the field as to how the process will work for you. For most trades people it's not too difficult. Computer and business/banking jobs fairly easy, engineering difficult (but not unsurmountable) - and for teachers and especially medical professionals it's a nightmare ... oh, and lawyers can pretty much forget about it unless you create your own niche e.g. servicing other expats with specific legal needs

Posted by Kathy
Germany, Germany
800 posts

Have to completely concur with everything previously posted. Companies are looking for a basic requirement of fluency in English, French and German (plus local language of country you are moving to if not one of those I just mentioned). Off the top of my head, other companies to look at (I'm sure you already know most of these): Bosch, United Nations, NATO, StatoilHydro, Rosneft, Eni, Siemens, BP, Total, and of course, Shell.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

I actually know a lot of people from all around the world here in Stuttgart who work for Bosch, Siemens, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and most of them do not speak German, just English and maybe another native language (many of them are from India). While I think it's important to learn the local language for a variety of reasons depending on the job and your skill set it is possible to work in Europe without speaking the language, although I'm told by people in these jobs they often want to become fluent because they think it would make their jobs a lot easier. Most of these people however, are engineers with advanced degrees and established work histories. My impression is to get hired by a German company from abroad you really need to have a specific, in-demand skill set.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2176 posts

Mark, Immigration regimes vary across countries. Some, like UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Finland, make it easier for high-skilled workers to move in. Others make the whole process very difficult. In almost every case, you need some job contract set up to start the process of a working visa. Nothing precludes you coming as a tourist, searching for a job within the 90-day Schengen limit, and then going through the visa application process. The process is more or less streamlined depending on the country, but usually it is up to the company to start the application with the government of the country they are located in. In all cases, the whole visa processing will be done while you are in US. You can't just convert a tourist stay into an employment visa while in Europe in all but very few cases. So you'd need to go back to US and wait for documents to be processed. In some countries that takes just a few weeks, in others, might take a few months! Among non-Europeans, Americans have one of the easiest times applying to jobs. They are not subject to special provisions targeted at high-risk countries and officials of their consulates in US are usually much more friendly than, say, in Africa or parts of Asia. But you do need to find a job offer first.

Posted by Kathleen
Bolton
88 posts

Think hard about what you are planning. Living in a foreign country is vastly different to vacationing in a foreign country. I have a sister who lives on an island. We visit her in the summer quite a lot. Trying to convince people that the island in the winter is desolate, cold, not heavily populated and lonely is hard. Most people see vacation spots as a great place to live because they are on vacation and not living a normal day to day schedule. What you think is fabulous about Europe on your vacations is NOT going to be fabulous once you are no longer a tourist and are actually one of the "locals". Good luck in whatever you decide.