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How to Move to Europe: The Ultimate Guide

Moving to a whole new continent can be terrifying, exhilarating, and just an all-around adventure. It’s a huge step, and while it can be exciting, it does require a lot of thought, consideration, and planning. So, we’re here to help with our complete guide on how to move to Europe.

From top tips to picking a country to get around the red tape, we’re going deep to help make your expat experience as seamless as possible. Are you ready? Let’s dive in.

Deciding to Move Abroad

First things first, you need to think about whether moving abroad is really for you. We all have bad days when we think that uprooting our lives and emigrating elsewhere will solve all our problems. Often this solves nothing. 

Think about your personal reasons for wanting to move abroad. Is it to be closer to family? Is it for social care? Are you wanting a better work/life balance? All these need to be considered carefully before you go any further down this line.

Make a concrete list of must-haves, nice-to-haves, and anything that you consider a deal-breaker. If you’re not sure about where you want to move to or if moving abroad is for you at all, this is going to be a great task for you.

If you do know you want to go, do this list anyway to help narrow down your location search and prioritize your move. 

Making it Work

The next thing that you need to think about is how you’re going to make the move work. Are you eligible for certain visas? Can you transfer offices at work so that you’re walking into employment with built-in visa sponsorship? Are you on a spousal or family-based visa? 

If you’re working freelance, do you have all the paperwork, client commitments, and more to be able to get into your chosen country, set up your accommodations, and pay for all the fees that come with emigration? It’s not a cheap process.

Having a pretty concrete plan for visas and making money is an absolute must. Even if you’re staying with family or you’re moving as a student, knowing how you’re going to fund your time there or how you’re going to hit the relevant visa criteria is non-negotiable.

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!

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Options for Moving to Europe

There are a few options for moving to Europe. These options all depend on your chosen country, as some have more lenient borders than others. Routes for moving to Europe include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Skill-based work visas, if a profession or industry is in-demand,
  • Student visas,
  • Retirement visas,
  • Entrepreneur or start-up visas,
  • Remote work and freelancer visas,
  • Genealogy or family-based visas, 
  • Athletic visas,
  • Sponsored work visas.

So, there are tons of options to choose from. With remote working on the rise, a lot of people are now moving to countries that have decent remote working visas, however, they’re all different with different income requirements, lengths, and costs for multiple dependents. 

The bottom line is that you’re going to have to do your homework for the specific country that you’re planning to move to. If you’re not fussy about the location itself, you can start with lists of the best remote visas in Europe or look at colleges where the US Government will still help with tuition loans. 

How to Decide Where to Move

That brings us nicely to deciding where to move to. Ideally, it’ll be somewhere that you’ve visited a couple of times before, or have existing connections to.

Whether that’s friends, family, co-workers, or even a full office that you can transfer into, having someone or something familiar is always a bonus when you’re moving across the world.

You might otherwise be limited by language barriers, cost of living, whether you’re eligible for a visa or not, or you might just not want to live in certain countries or regions. There are a lot of factors at play here that might help you narrow down where you want to move to within Europe.

A good idea is to take another look at the reasons why you want to move to Europe and use them as guidelines for your search. If you’re looking for socialized healthcare and childcare, that might narrow your search.

If you want to be near a sunny beach all year round, Scandinavia probably isn’t for you. There are a lot of ways to narrow your search and help pinpoint which country will work for you and your lifestyle if you don’t already have a clear idea.

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If you know that you want to move to a certain country, for instance, Spain, check the different regions and cities and see what they have to offer. Make sure you can afford to live there and that it’s actually going to hit all your moving criteria before committing. 

Easiest Countries

Some European countries are inherently easier to move to as Americans than others. For example, following Brexit, the UK doesn’t have the same freedom of movement as other European nations and has started to really clamp down on expats coming into the UK.

They now operate on an Australian model where you need to have a job that’s on the in-demand list if you can’t get sponsorship for your job role. There are some other visas you can get, but they’re super specific. 

Easier countries include Portugal, Georgia, Croatia, Spain, and The Netherlands, all of which are normally pretty good for lower-income or self-employed workers as well as digital nomads. 

Tips For More Difficult Countries

We’ve mentioned that some countries are more difficult to move to, such as the UK. Just because they’re more difficult, doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily impossible, it just means that it may take more time, effort, and forethought to secure a life there. 

The first thing to do is to go through the different visa criteria and work out what your best and most likely route is. Do you need to find a local company to sponsor you? Do you need to be earning a lot more to reach the remote working threshold? Do you need to have a grandparent from that country? All these are potential ways in. 

Is it worth becoming a resident of a neighboring EU country and using the freedom of movement rule to work and live elsewhere? It’s a long-winded and convoluted way of moving somewhere, but if you really want to live there, it might just be worth it. 

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Cheapest Places to Live in Europe

It might come as a surprise but the lowest cost of living in the whole of Europe is actually Portugal. With plenty of beach, sunshine, and seafood, it’s definitely a favorite among expats.

Unsurprisingly, much of Western Europe and Scandinavia is super expensive, so if you’re on a tight budget, you might want to journey East. Georgia, Poland, and Bulgaria all have fairly reasonable immigration and visa restrictions while having a low cost of living.

Of course, even within expensive countries, you might find cheaper areas or regions. For example, if you’re looking at the UK, the North tends to be a lot more affordable than the South. So, if you’re really set on a particular country but you think it’s out of your price range, check out the cheaper areas of that country.

The other way to make it work is to look at the border of the country. Especially with the EU freedom of movement and Schengen rules, you may be able to live in a cheaper country, like Poland but be minutes from being in Germany, which is much more expensive and harder to move to. 

How to Make Money

Hopefully, you’ve already worked out how you’re going to make money by this stage. Financing a move across the world is not cheap, even if you’re heading to a much cheaper country. Flights alone can easily run into the high three figures, if not four figures at peak times.

Save up as much as you can before you commit to the move, and make sure you either have a job lined up when you arrive in your new home or are working remotely all the way through.

Aside from actual financial stability, you’re going to need to know all of this when you’re applying for your visa. It’ll also probably dictate where you’re going to live and what you need from your accommodation.

a jar with coins

If you’ve got an office job lined up with visa sponsorship, that’s great, but it means you need to live within commuting distance of the office and be able to either afford a place nearby or be able to manage the rail or bus costs of traveling every day.

If you work remotely or are self-employed but reliant on technology, like a freelancer, you can’t really live in the middle of the Black Forest with limited WiFi and service, no matter how beautiful it might be.

Coming over and wanting to find a customer service or hospitality role once you’re here? It’s possible but you have to be prepared for swapping over your visa while you’re in the country and make sure you have enough time to do so before it runs out. 

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If you’re coming over on your Schengen visa to find a job that’s fine, but you can’t legally work on that visa. You need your new job to sponsor a work one or be eligible for another visa that’s on offer.

Swapping over visas takes time. Red tape rushes for no one. Give yourself the most time possible and be ready if you need to leave the country and come back in a few weeks’ time.

Coming over as a family and you want to stay at home with the kids? That should be fine, but check the conditions of your other half’s work visa as the minimum earning amount will probably go up as will the proof of funds and application fees. 

Have a clear plan of how you’re going to make money and have something lined up before you apply for your visa. 

Some great European expat jobs that are normally in high demand include:

  • English teachers
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Consultants
  • Healthcare
  • Engineers

Finding Accommodation

It can be really tricky to try and find accommodation before you land in the country. That being said, some countries require you to have a place of residence within 14 days of arrival (Germany has a lot of red tape around this).

No one wants to rent or buy a place blind. Especially if you’re unfamiliar with the area, it can be really overwhelming.

If you know anyone in town, obviously ask them and see if they know of anywhere short-term until you find your bearings. It’s possible to get three-month rentals, but they’re rare – six months are much more likely. 

bricked building

If you don’t know anyone, hit up the expat forums for your area. Even if they don’t know of anywhere to rent or to buy, they’ll be able to help you out with which areas are good or bad, where the good schools are, which takeout is the best – all the essentials. These forums should also be able to help you find a good realtor or estate agent. 

Although these aren’t prerequisites in every European country, if you’re not fluent in the language or aren’t familiar with the rental or buying process in that country, paying the extra money to have someone handle it is definitely worth it. 

If you want to see the place with your own two eyes before you commit, I don’t blame you. Either contact a realtor to have a load of viewings with immediate move-in dates or no chains on the first couple of days that you’re in the country or go online and set up a load of viewings yourself. 

It might seem like an intense welcome to your new home country, but the quicker you set these up and find a place, the quicker you can move in and start getting properly settled. Booking an Airbnb or hotel room temporarily while you find a place is good for like a week, but it gets old fast and you don’t feel like you can relax and settle in. 

Depending on the country, there are plenty of different websites that you can use to find accommodations. Again, expat forums will have the best ones, but if you Google the area followed by house or apartment rentals, you’ll be able to find your way with no problem.

Prepare for Red Tape

Who doesn’t love all the paperwork that comes with moving house? Well, moving continents is a whole other ballgame. For one, there’s the language barrier.

There’s also a cultural barrier. In a lot of European countries, they have certain ways of doing things that have been exactly the same for decades. It might not make sense anymore, but they’re not about to change the system now.

From arriving in the country to visa approval to registering your residence to getting a bank account, it can feel like an uphill battle. Even little things, like getting a phone contract in your new home country are a trial. You need an in-country bank account for that, which needs an address and you have to register your new address before you can do anything else. 

It makes it difficult and expensive to deal with realtors when you’re on a US phone and data plan, right? It’s backward, but honestly you just kind of have to suck it up and deal with it. Every country has its bureaucratic quirks and some are worse than others. 

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If you can speak the language at least conversationally, if not fluently, it makes a huge difference. If you can’t get up to that standard before you move, try and find a local that’ll help you out. It might be a new neighbor or co-worker that can help you with all that red tape.

Quality of Life

Talking of language barriers and cultural shocks, prepare to have a lot more free time and a higher quality of life overall. After working crazy hours with no vacations, the standard 32-hour weeks in France and the legally obligated holiday amount will feel crazy to you.

Take up a new hobby, brush up on your language skills, and spend more time with your new family and friends. You’ll have more time on your hands to explore your new home and actually be working to live, rather than living to work.

Obviously, this is not a given and does depend on your industry, but on the whole, compared to the US, the quality of life in Europe is better. It’s a huge reason why so many expats move out here every year.

Remember to Do Your Taxes

Okay, and I cannot stress this point enough, remember to fill out your US tax return every year. As a US citizen, it doesn’t matter that you don’t live in the US or don’t work for a US company, you have to fill in your tax return. The IRS doesn’t play. 

As an expat you do have a slightly longer window to get your return in – there’s a two-month extension for any US citizen who lives overseas. Also, you might have heard about the tax benefits of living in certain places, you will get them, but you need to do your tax return first and then you’ll receive the perk. 

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Final Tips 

Okay so there’s a lot in this guide, but it’s a big move, you need to know what you’re getting into! To finish off, here are a few final tips for moving to Europe.

  • Languages

If you’re moving to a place on a semi-permanent or permanent basis and you don’t speak the language, start learning it. You need to be able to communicate with your co-workers, friends, neighbors, and with all the officials that’ll get you set up in the country.

Although English levels are pretty good across many European nations, it is not a given and certain places will just flat-out refuse to speak English, even if they know how. Learn the language of the place you’re going to be moving to, it just makes sense.

  • Packing

Weigh up whether it’s going to be cheaper and more convenient to buy more hold luggage and bring your belongings with you versus shipping your stuff separately. Also, if it’s not sentimental, one-of-a-kind, or whatever, you can get rid of it or sell it in the US and buy a replacement in Europe. We have stores, it’s fine. 

Normally, bringing stuff with you is cheaper, but if it’s breakable or big and bulky, shipping is going to be the best way – it’s not going to be cheap though!

  • Visit

If you have the time and money, visit the place you’re going to be living in before you move. This is good for a few reasons. Not everywhere looks like it’s a photo. Not all regions of a country are the same, even from one town to the next. Living somewhere is very different from going on holiday.

Just because you’ve visited Catania in Sicily on vacation and loved it, doesn’t mean that you’re going to love living in Taormina, just down the road. It’s a completely different vibe. I loved visiting Rome, but do I want to live there? Not really.

We’re looking for different things when we travel versus when we want to settle down, so really keep that in mind and visit your new home area beforehand if you can. 

  • Get excited

Despite moving to be one of the most stressful experiences you can have in life, this is an exciting new chapter and one that you should be looking forward to. Take a moment in between stacks of paperwork and scrolling through apartment rentals to really get excited about moving.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the admin and problem-solving, but this is an amazing thing you’re about to do, and it’s important to remember that and keep it front and center in your mind!     

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