It can be pretty tricky, especially for US citizens, to make a long-term move to Europe possible. Tricky, but not impossible, so how can you move to Europe permanently?
You’ve been to Europe a few times and you’ve fallen in love with the place. Honestly, I can’t say that I blame you, as a continent, it’s pretty great. From the history and culture to the food, to the work-life balance, there’s a lot to love about living in a European nation.
Although it’s not the easiest choice, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with this guide to all the different ways you can move to Europe for good and make your expat dreams come true.
Sounds good? Great, let’s dive in and get started!
How to Move to Europe: How Long Can I Stay Without a Visa?
This is a great place to start because we all hate visa paperwork, and if you don’t need a visa to stay in Europe, it’s always a plus. For US citizens and a few other countries including Canada and Australia, there is something called the Schengen Zone, which I’ll go into in more detail in a minute.
Essentially, you can stay in any of these 26 countries, and travel within them, for up to 90 days within a 180-day period. So you can stay for 90 days in Europe without a visa.
This obviously doesn’t apply to countries outside this zone, such as the UK, which has its own visa allowances. For US citizens at the moment, you can stay for up to six months in the UK as a visitor without having to get a visa.
So, if you were being clever, you could jump between Schengen and non-Schengen countries with visa-less entry requirements and stay in Europe for much longer than the initial 90 days.
If you do this, it’s worth noting that legally you are not allowed to work with these visa-less entries. They’re designed as visitor or tourist passes, so you could be in breach of your entry terms and fined or be asked to leave if you’re discovered to be working without the proper visas and documentation.
This makes it tricky to set down roots and create a permanent move possible without getting a visa.
What is the Schengen Agreement?
Okay, so I’ve spoken a little bit about the Schengen Zone but what it actually is, where it covers, and how it works. Right, okay, so first up it’s made up of 26 countries, most nations that are in the EU (European Union) and four that aren’t in the EU at the moment.
The Schengen Zone Includes:
- Czech Republic
So, as you can see, there are some pretty major European nations in this list that you can visit as a US citizen, without a visa, for up to 90 days out of a 180-day period. After this point, you need to leave the Schengen zone for a minimum of 90 days before returning.
This is where visa-free jumping through the UK comes in. As there’s an up to 180-day visa-free stay available in the UK, you can wait out the Schengen clock there, rather than returning all the way to the US.
You can also do this in a few different European countries, including Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Ireland.
The reason that the Schengen Zone exists is so that there is freedom of movement for the residents of all these countries. This means if you’re traveling across borders, you might not be asked for your passport.
For example, if you live in Italy but you’re on the border with France, your nearest city or workplace might be over the border, so you can travel and work without borders, thanks to the Schengen Agreement.
By extension, this means you can travel as a tourist throughout this area without any additional permits.
It’s really important to understand that the 90 days isn’t per country in the Schengen Zone, it’s the total number of days in the whole area. So, you might spend a month in Italy, a month in Germany, and a month in Poland.
At that point, you need to leave the Schengen Zone altogether for at least three months. Then you can return and start the crazy tour all over again.
With all the hopping around to avoid having to get visas, it’s not super conducive to a permanent European move, unless you’re planning on border jumping and having two or more bases in Europe forever.
If you want to live a semi-nomadic existence, that’s cool, but there are visas now available for that. And then there’s the matter of money.
You cannot legally work on Schengen visas. There are a lot of remote workers or digital nomads who do a bit of freelancing while they travel and although there are not a whole lot of ways to stop that, it’s technically not allowed.
If you’re looking for a long-term solution, visas are probably going to feature somewhere in your future.
I‘ve lived abroad for many years and love helping others find work abroad and figure out their “Move Abroad Plan.” Check out my class below to get you started ASAP!
What Happens if I Overstay my Schengen Visa?
Like with any visa, overstaying your Schengen visit is not a good idea. You can incur hefty fines, be deported, or in some extreme cases, even be banned from returning to Europe. So, it’s definitely not worth taking the risk.
However, there are plenty of cases that I know of where people have overstayed by a day or two without any repercussions, and no one really noticed. This only really works if you’re leaving from a different country to the one you entered.
So, when you land initially, you’re logged into that country’s immigration system and you get stamped. It’s believed – not confirmed – that the different country’s immigration systems don’t talk to each other.
This means if you’re leaving from another country, the border patrol officer will have to look at your entry stamp and manually count the 90 days out. Most border patrol officers are too busy to, first of all, find the stamp, and second of all manually count to check.
As long as you’re not overstaying by weeks or months, you should be fine, but it depends on the officer and airport and how strict they are on Schengen lengths.
So, I’ll reiterate, it’s definitely not worth the risk of overstaying your visa. If you’re getting close and can’t get back to the states, travel to the UK or Ireland where you can have some breathing space to sort out your onward travel plans.
How to Get a European Visa
Although the Schengen Zone seems to work on a borderless basis for residents and tourists who are passing through, when it comes to getting a European visa, there isn’t just one catch-all visa that you can apply for.
Each country has its own requirements, with varying degrees of difficulty to get into. Some places are much easier to move to than others, with many European nations cracking down on borders and immigration, like the US right now.
Honestly, long-term visas are hard to get and the truth is that you might not be eligible for the country that you want straight off the bat. There are often job or income requirements, proof of funds, or familial connections that you might need to have to even get your foot in the door.
In slightly better news for entrepreneurs, business owners, or freelancers, it seems like a lot of countries are seeking start-ups, new businesses, or digital nomads to help boost the economy while being fairly self-sufficient.
Again, this varies from country to country, so check way ahead of time to see if you’re eligible.
How to Move to Europe on a Permanent Basis
Okay, so let’s get into it. You want to move to Europe on a permanent basis and you’re willing to fill in whatever visa paperwork you need so that you can make it a reality. Kudos. That’s awesome.
As we’ve mentioned, every country is different with some having niche visas for industries that they’re lacking experts in. For example, there are specialist visas in the UK for engineers and scientists, as there’s a hole left in the field due in large part to Brexit.
On the flipside, in Germany there’s an Artists Permit, which is specifically for creatives, looking to boost the cultural profile of the country.
So, I’m not going to go in on every single method of moving to Europe for each and every country, because that would be the world’s longest article and it’s constantly changing. For the most up-to-date visa selection, check out your chosen country’s website.
Instead, I’m going to go through four of the most universal types of visas that allow for long-term stays. These four are prevalent in some form in pretty much every European country, so if you can hit any of these criteria, you’re in a good position to move to Europe on a permanent basis!
1. Find a Job with a European Business
So, the most common and solid way to move to another country is to get a job in a company that’ll sponsor your visa. This is super common across Europe as people want international talent in what’s fast becoming a global marketplace.
Especially if you work in an industry or job role that’s in demand in your new country, this is going to be your safest and most reliable route.
Alternatively, if you work for a business that has international offices, you can see if you can get an internal transfer to an overseas office. This way, the company isn’t losing the time, money, and expertise that they’ve invested into you over the years, and you get the flexibility to live and work in Europe in an organization that you’re already familiar with. It’s a win-win.
Finding a job that will sponsor a visa isn’t a given. It’s something that you’re going to have to find out early in the application process, and it’s definitely worth contacting a recruiter in your desired town or city to help you navigate the logistics.
You don’t want to get all the way through the application process, get the job, and then realize they’re not sponsoring visas and you legally cannot accept the job.
Another place that’s good to check out for businesses that sponsor overseas work visas is expat forums. Normally, it’s full of people who’ve been in the same situation as you, so they can share their tips for finding jobs, or may even have leads on open vacancies at their companies.
It’s also going to be super specific to the country, region, and even town that you’re looking to move to which is really important as the red tape of bureaucracy is different everywhere.
It’s important to remember that if you do change jobs once you’re in the country, you need to make sure that your new company will take over your sponsorship. It’s not just a criterion to get your foot in the door, you need to be consistently sponsored until you’ve lived there long enough for a resident’s permit, marry a citizen, or make your status in the country more permanent.
2. Go to University or College
The next way that you can move to Europe on a more permanent basis is by applying for a student visa. You can do this at any age and for most countries if you have an acceptance letter from the university, college, or school you’re going to be studying at, you’re pretty well set up.
You are probably going to have to show proof of funds so that they know you can afford your studies and can afford to live in the country for the duration of your course, which might be up to four years in some countries.
Student visas aren’t necessarily just for people who are going for full degrees. Plenty of people use a student visa to move to the country and learn their native language. This still counts and in the meantime, you can live in that country and try to find a job, and accommodation, and get your bearings before you need to convert your student visa to a working or long-term residence visa.
It’s also worth noting that you can actually work on many student visas. For example, on a UK student visa, you can work up to 20 hours a week to help supplement your income.
As a lot of university courses have low contact hours or can be taken on a part-time basis, this makes it a lot more affordable to live and work in the UK without having a sponsored work visa.
Again, this varies from country to country, but on completion of your studies, you can often convert your student visa into either a graduate visa, which is sort of an extension that allows you to work more full-time hours, or apply for a residence permit. Most of the longer-term residence permits require you to have lived in the country for a minimum amount of years that are normally covered by the length of a college course.
So, whether you want to get a degree, learn a language, or do a Master’s or Ph.D., the student visas that are offered across Europe also serve as an amazing gateway visa to more permanent residencies.
3. Family Connections
In a lot of countries, family connections and genealogy count for a lot. Whether you have an Irish grandparent, can trace some kind of Italian heritage, or have a family member living in your desired country that can vouch for you, having a blood connection to a European country is like having a golden ticket.
Some countries have visas for heritage purposes, while some allow you to apply directly for citizenship or dual citizenship. If you do this, it does mean that you’ll never have to apply for a visa and be able to vote and live as a full citizen in your new country.
If you are renouncing your US citizenship, think long and hard about it. If you have family members still in the US, it may be more difficult to visit them, depending on where you’re moving to, or if you have a business, there might be hefty tax implications.
If your family connections lie within the EU, you’ve kind of hit the jackpot there. Say you have an Irish grandparent, you can apply for citizenship or dual citizenship and get an Irish passport. This passport allows you freedom of movement, including living and working in any of the other EU member states.
So, even if you don’t want to live in Ireland, it could be a great way to live in any number of countries that are within the European Union.
When Brexit happened in the UK, this is exactly what a lot of people did to keep their free and easy access to the EU. Get checking that family tree and see where you can move to without having to keep re-upping your visas!
4. Get Married
Our final standard visa of the four is a classic, and one that’s used around the world. If you’re married to a European citizen, you may be eligible for a spousal visa.
Depending on the country that you’re wanting to move to you might have to meet other criteria like being able to speak a basic amount of the language, or you might have to be married for a certain period of time before being granted the visa. This is primarily to avoid the “Green Card” style weddings.
In some countries there are also visa allowances or spousal loopholes for long-term but unmarried partners, or if you have a child with a European citizen.
Essentially you’re piggybacking off their citizenship, and it’s they who will ultimately be vouching for your ability to live in that country and not be a burden to the state. Romantic, huh?
How to Travel Around Europe for Over a Year Without a Visa
Okay, so if you want to travel around Europe for over a year without a visa, you’re going to have to play the system a little bit. I’ve spoken about border jumping a little bit, but I’ll dive into some more detail and scenarios here.
The most popular way is to have your 90 days in the Schengen region and then head to the UK for up to six months at a time. Why this way around? So, after your 90 days are up in the Schengen, you have to leave for at least another 90 days before returning.
With US citizens having a visa-less entry for up to six months at a time, you can jump in between the two systems indefinitely.
Outside of the Schengen Zone, as a US citizen, you can stay for the following amount of time:
- Ireland has visa-free entry for tourism or business stays of up to 90 days
- Romania says you can stay without a visa for up to 90 days in any 180-day period
- Cyprus for a stay of up to 90 days
- Bulgaria says you can stay without a visa for up to 90 days in any 180-day period
- Croatia says you can stay without a visa for up to 90 days in any 180-day period
- Georgia for a stay of 1 year.
These are all places you can bounce around while you’re waiting for your 90-day Schengen-free period to be up.
If you’re planning on traveling around Europe without a visa for a year or longer, it’s going to take some planning and forethought so that you don’t overstay your visa, or end up having to leave before the 90-day gap is over.
That’s why the UK is such a popular post-Schengen option for US citizens, as the stay allowance is twice as long as the Schengen gap.
If you only want to stay in one non-Schengen European country in your gap period, you need to time your flights and return to the zone to a tee so that you don’t overstay your 90 days in, say, Ireland, but aren’t too early to be allowed back into France.
Even if you need a buffer weekend in the UK or Croatia to make sure, it’s worth giving yourself that breathing space.
How to Travel Around Europe for Over a Year as a Digital Nomad
With remote working now growing exponentially, a ton of European countries are offering digital nomad or remote working visas.
Most of them last a year and have minimum income requirements, but once you’ve passed them you’re free to live and work in that country for a year without any kind of work sponsorship or family connections.
You can of course jump from a nomad visa to a nomad visa. For example, Portugal and Spain both have pretty low-income requirements, so you could spend a year in Portugal, and then spend a year living and working in Spain.
However, with most of these visas, you’ll need to return to your home country and apply from there.
There are some countries that are offering extensions to digital nomad visas, such as Hungary, Greece, and Malta. Although the initial term is still up to one year, they stipulate that you can extend for another year for Hungary, an extra two for Greece, and three years for Malta.
If you can work from anywhere or work for yourself, these digital nomad visas are often less complicated to apply for than standard work visas and allow you to live and work in Europe long-term.
Easiest Countries to Move to for US Citizens
Fortunately, some European countries are easier to move to than others. As with any big move, there are a lot of red tapes to get around, especially for US citizens versus other European citizens. So, here are some of the easier places in Europe to move to as a US citizen.
Spain has long been friendly towards expats and there are plenty of people who emigrate to its gorgeous towns, cities, and beaches every year.
With an extendable digital nomad visa recently announced, a two-year residence permit available for those who can provide ample funds, and plenty of language teaching programs available to either study or teach in, there are plenty of routes to entry.
The residence permit can be extended up to seven years once you have it and you can apply for permanent residency after living continuously in Spain for five years.
Traditionally, Scandinavia is expensive and inaccessible to expats, but the Baltic country of Estonia, just over the water from Finland is fast becoming a hub for tech, startups, and remote workers. Surrounded by lakes, forests, and mountains, as well as historic cities, it’s a paradise for outdoorsy types.
If you want to move to Estonia you need to be either working, studying, or self-employed. If this is the case, you can apply for a D-Visa which lasts a year. Once you’re in Estonia, you can get a residence permit that lasts longer than a year.
This is normally contingent on your studies or working contract being extended.
Often overlooked by travelers or just passed through on the way to France, the UK, or the Netherlands, Belgium is a beautiful country filled with history, waffles, and delicious beer.
As somewhere with one of the highest quality of life indexes in Europe and with many people speaking English, it’s no wonder that expats are looking to move here. Not to mention the fantastic travel links across Western Europe – so many weekends away!
Belgium categorizes longer-term stays into two categories: immigrant visas and non-immigrant visas. Non-immigrant visas are designed for temporary stays of a couple of months or years. The kinds of people who apply for these are normally au pairs, temp workers, or students.
If you’re wanting to stay on a more permanent basis, you need to apply for an immigrant visa which is for full-time employees, self-employed people, or entrepreneurs.
The golden shores of Portugal have long been popular among expats with great surf, amazing food, and one of the lowest costs of living in the whole of Europe. If you’ve got a serious chunk of change to invest in, you can get a golden visa by buying property in Portugal.
The property has to be worth a certain amount, but after that, you can get residency five years after the visa was issued, provided you’ve spent just 35 days in Portugal. It’s a solid retirement scheme as it sets you up nicely for a life in the sun.
On the younger, less expensive end of things, Portugal has tons of digital nomad communities and workspaces drawing remote workers from all over the world to come and work in paradise. It also has one of the lowest income requirements of any of the digital nomad visas that have been announced, so it’s super accessible.
Looking for somewhere with a cool east-meets-west cultural vibe, a ton of history, and low taxes? Georgia is putting itself on the map as an expat hub and a great place to remote work. This is large because you can live and work in Georgia without a visa for up to 365 days, which is the longest visa-free allowance in the whole of Europe.
If you’re looking to move on a permanent basis, you can apply for a residence permit if you have a job, study, is married to a citizen, or invest $300,000. After five years you can apply for citizenship, or if you’re married to a Georgian citizen, you can apply for citizenship after just two years.
Planning Now to Move to Europe?
So, there are a ton of ways that you can move to Europe on a permanent basis, depending on the country that you’d like to settle down in. Whether you want to live nomadically around Europe without a visa for a while or want to dive right in and get a work visa and get on the permanent residency track, there are plenty of options open to you as US citizens.
Whichever path you decide to take, moving abroad for any length of time is a big deal and a huge jump, so take your time and really think about the choice before you commit. If you’re set on moving, what are you waiting for? It’s going to be one of the best decisions you ever make!