Thinking of escaping to Europe for a year? Don’t worry, I’ve created a little checklist of all the things you’ll want to think about before you commit and how you can move to Europe for a year. Are you ready? Let’s dive in.
Sometimes we want to live abroad but don’t want to cut all ties and make it a permanent shift. With a whole host of different visas and agreements in place all around Europe, it’s pretty easy to move to Europe for a year without too much hassle.
That being said, uprooting your life and moving to a different continent is a huge leap and needs some careful consideration.
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Location, Location, Location
So, the first thing that you’ve got to think about is where you actually want to live while you’re in Europe. It’s a big place with a ton of options to consider. Each country has its own vibe, culture, and unique selling points.
Even within each country, you’ve got a load of different cities, towns, and rural areas that you might want to live in.
You can also choose a couple of places that you want to live over the course of the year. There’s a lot of freedom of movement within Europe, so you might want to spend four months in one place and then move on.
Depending on your visa situation, your working situation, or your budget, this might be a genuine option for you.
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The next thing to look at is your budget. It’s not always the most fun part of planning a year abroad, but it is sadly necessary. Your budget is going to determine whether you need to work while you’re out in Europe for a year or whether you can take a more touristy, relaxed approach.
It’s also going to determine where in Europe you can live. Places like Scandinavia are inherently more expensive to live and work in, so if you’re looking for somewhere that has a fairly low cost of living so your money goes further, this is not going to be an option.
On the whole, Eastern Europe is cheaper than Western Europe with the exception of Portugal and some parts of Spain.
Work or Pleasure?
Once you’ve outlined your budget for the year, you’ll be able to see pretty easily if you need to work or not. If you need to work, that’s when you really need to have a look at visas, which I’ll go into further in this article.
If you’re planning on moving to Europe for a year as a tourist, it’ll need some planning to get around the maximum visa-less stay limits, but it’s certainly possible.
The Schengen Zone
If you’re not going to be working while you’re in Europe, or you’re not going to be working the whole time, as a US citizen, you can travel around the 26 countries in the Schengen zone without a visa for 90 days out of a 180-day period.
The main thing to remember with Schengen visas is that legally speaking you cannot work.
Of course, if you’re a remote worker or self-employed, it is difficult to track, but technically you shouldn’t be working without a work visa, which is specific to each country.
The other thing is that you need to leave the Schengen zone for at least 90 days before re-entering it, once your original 90-day period is up.
Practically, you could spend 90 days in France, but on that 90th day, you need to get out of the Schengen zone for at least three months.
There are plenty of countries outside the Schengen in Europe that have 90-day maximum visa-less stays, including Croatia, Ireland, and Cyprus, and if you want a longer stay, the UK has six-month visa-less stays for US citizens.
If you’re going to work in Europe for a year, or if you want to stay in one country for the full year, you’re going to need a visa. There are a ton of different visas, and each country has different entry criteria.
Most countries offer sponsored work visas, familial visas, student visas, or retirement visas.
These are pretty standard and you’ll need to provide proof of income, references, and in some cases an existing job or university offer.
The other route you can go down is the remote working visas. These digital nomad visas are cropping up all over the place and range from one year to five depending on the country.
You normally have to meet minimum monthly income requirements and this is basically to prove that you can afford to support yourself overseas.
The minimum requirements normally reflect the cost of living, so for instance, Portugal’s digital nomad visa is way more affordable than say Germany’s.
Language Learning with Memrise
If you’re moving to another country where the native language isn’t English or one that you can already speak, you need to learn at least the basics.
It doesn’t matter if many Europeans are bi or trilingual, if you’re planning on living in Europe for any length of time, you need to be able to speak some of the language.
I highly recommend using Memrise to start learning. I seriously love using Memrise to learn useful phrases quickly (instead of “The duck is yellow” like Duolingo!).
The phrases I have learned on Memrise have stuck with me for years, so I can’t recommend it enough for language learning.
If nothing else, learning a language will help you get around the red tape when you’re trying to find accommodation, register for residency, or pay your bills.
It’s super difficult to try and sort all of that out if you can’t communicate with the people in charge.
Also, some visas are contingent on speaking a basic level of the native language. For instance, the German spousal visa says that you need to prove an A1 level of German.
Aside from it being a good skill to have, not knowing the language might affect your chances of getting a visa. So don’t put it off!
Accommodation (or Stay for Free!)
Next up, you need to find somewhere to live. This is again going to depend on your budget and your plan, but it’s something you really have to think about.
If you’re low on budget, you can move to Europe for a year on a Workaway program or as an Au Pair.
This normally means that your job includes accommodation as a standard. It also means that you don’t have to worry about having to go through the hassle of trying to find accommodation overseas.
If your job doesn’t include accommodation, you can stay in hostels or Airbnbs while you find a place to live. A great place to look is on the expat forums and Facebook pages.
Even if you’re not looking for a permanent move, other expats will know the best websites for realtors to get you on the right path.
One thing to check is the length of the accommodation contract. Many European accommodation contracts are either six months or a year.
It’s very rare to get a three-month contract, so if you’re bouncing around places as part of the Schengen visa-less travel, you might want to stay in a hostel or find a cheap studio on Airbnb.
If you’re traveling with a friend or loved one, this obviously becomes a lot more cost-effective and your options open up a bit.
Red Tape and Paperwork
With such a big move, there’s often a lot of paperwork and red tape. When you’re staying in a new place for a year, you have to start doing things by the book.
This means registering with local council offices, going through the various stages of bureaucracy, and inevitably getting frustrated by the process.
Again, the expat forums are a goldmine when it comes to dealing with the red tape. They’ve been there and done it, so they’ll know all the workarounds and the best way of sorting everything out.
It’s an annoying reality of moving overseas for the year, but once it’s sorted in the first month or so, you don’t really have to worry about it again!
Where to Next?
Finally, you need to have a plan for what’s next. Are you heading back to the US? Are you going to try and stay longer in Europe? Or are you heading further overseas to Asia?
When it comes to living overseas, you need to think ahead, at least a little bit. That’s because visas take time to process. If you’re going to extend your visa, that takes time.
Make sure you know exactly when your visa is due to run out and make sure that you’re out of the country on that date or before. You definitely don’t want to overstay your visa, not only could you get kicked out of the country, but you also might not be allowed to return.
It’s not really worth the risk. Make a note of that date in your diary, and ensure your next flight or train is booked well before it.
Ready to Move to Europe for a Year?
All in all, moving to Europe for a year is a great idea. There are plenty of ways to do it and with the sheer amount of countries in Europe, you can experience so much culture, history, and beauty all in one place.
Once you’re in Europe, traveling around is so easy that you can easily tick off a few places on your bucket list while experiencing living in a completely different place.
It’s a wonderful experience that’ll change you and give you so many amazing memories!