Photo of Porto, Portugal by Nick Karvounis @nickkarvounis
The pandemic and enforced seclusion has made many of us rethink where our lives are going. For some, plans to move to Europe that were once on the back-burner or a mere fantasy have become more serious.
If you’re one of those dreaming about moving to somewhere in Europe, maybe it’s time to take the next step: practical research to narrow down and choose a place to live.
Europe really is a vast continent full of countries with differing cultures, politics, taxes… and visa requirements.
(And yes, because of Brexit, you Brits will need visas too.)
I recently read “I’M OUTTA HERE! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe”, by Cepee Tabibian. In it she outlines the visa options for 16 European countries and rates cities within each one with regard to living expenses, culture, safety and more.
The EU may be a political union, but the countries within it have their individual immigration rules. Although an expat myself, reading “I’m Outta Here!” made me realise that deciding where to live in Europe isn’t just about choosing your ‘favourite’ place, but more about the chances you have of meeting the visa requirements for a country.
With that in mind, I recommend this to be a starting point for your research. Finland may be the happiest country in Europe, but if you can’t get in, what’s the point in even considering it?
Also, doing your research by visa requirements can throw up some interesting cities you may never have thought of otherwise.
So to get started I’ve listed 6 questions to ask yourself. They will help you focus in on places where you have a good chance of entering and settling in, at least for a year or two.
Q1 – What resources do I have?
I know this sounds obvious. However, if you’re serious about a new life in Europe, getting organised and knowing exactly where you stand financially is the first step.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have a job lined up before you go, you’ll need to demonstrate that you can support yourself (feed yourself, house yourself and pay for health care) for a certain amount of time.
Each country will be different. When you’ve worked out how much cash you can save up, and how much passive income you might have (eg, through renting your home), you can then look through each country’s visa requirements to see whether you meet them or not.
Cepee’s book tells you how much money is required in savings, income, or both to qualify for a visa, across 16 European countries.
Do you have any income from investments or pensions? What can you turn into cash? Premium Bonds, Bitcoin? What will you save by cancelling your outgoings, eg. for your car or cable TV?
Leave no stone unturned. Your savings and/or income will determine which countries are available to you and which ones are out of the question.
Q2 – What skills and experience can I put to use?
What if you don’t have enough resources to support yourself? Could you get a job?
Most european countries only issue work permits to those who are ‘highly skilled’. You might not see yourself as ‘highly skilled’, but another country might. The roles that meet this criterion vary from country to country.
Sectors from I.T. to the performing arts are covered. You don’t need to be a ground-breaking scientist working on a coronavirus vaccine to be allowed into Europe, but you do need skills that are in high demand. For example in Spain there is a shortage slaughterhouse workers and ham carvers.
“I’m Outta Here!” also outlines the specialist visas available across 16 countries, such as self-employed visas, start up visas and visas for remote workers (meaning you could carry on working for your existing employer for a time).
And if you don’t meet the criteria for any of the above?
If you’re a native English speaker and prepared to invest in TEFL certification, you could find a way in as an English teacher – again this depends on the country. Most English teachers are recruited from within the EU, but ‘less popular’ destinations will recruit from outside the EU.
Q3 – How will I make friends?
Moving to a small village or a house in the hills may sound idyllic, but many expats will tell you that isolation can be a serious problem – especially when you can’t speak the language of those around you.
Connectedness is one of the most important factors to happiness, wherever you live. As Cepee points out in her book, moving to a city means you can connect with like minded people much more easily.
Also, in a big city you’re less likely to get stuck with so-called ‘friends’ that you have nothing in common with except your nationality. Basically you’ll have more choice.
That’s not to say you’ll only ever make friends with expats! But when it comes to choosing a European city to live in, some communities will be easier to integrate with than others. “I’m Outta Here! gives you the low-down on that too.
Q4 – How likely am I to learn the language?
It’s fairly easy to live in some European cities without knowing much of the language. Others are more difficult.
So, be honest with yourself. Do you like learning languages, and do you mind making a fool of yourself as you bungle your attempts to string a sentence together?
Some cultures are more accepting and supporting of people learning their language than others. I’m thinking of Paris versus Madrid… two very different experiences for foreigners trying their best to converse with the locals.
Also, how much time (and money) will you have available to learn and practice? Don’t be fooled into thinking all you need to do is ‘be there and immerse yourself’. You won’t become magically fluent by assimilation (don’t ask me how I know).
Difficulty level may be a deciding factor too. German is notoriously hard, so if this is your first foreign language you could be biting off more than you can chew. Then again, if you choose to live in Berlin, you can get away with speaking English.
There are indeed some European cities you can move to quite easily without learning any of the language beforehand. However, some types of European visas may insist on a certain level. Cepee’s book covers this.
Q5 – What climate do I really want to live in?
What kind of climate would you thrive in – all year round? What climates are you prepared to bear, for the sake of enjoying the culture or other benefits?
Choice of city is just as important, if not more, than your choice of country when it comes to climate. Spain has extremely diverse weather. From dry desert heat in the south to rainy and fresh in the north. Then at city level you have Madrid, famous for its two extremes: stifling bone dry heat throughout the summer, hailstones and even snow in the winter.
Enjoying the hot, hot sun on a two-week holiday doesn’t mean you’ll love it for three long months, even if it does come with tapas.
Q6 – How often will I need or want to go back home?
Returning home may be the furthest thing from your mind when you’re planning to move abroad, but it will be necessary.
Even if you’re running away from it all and reinventing yourself, you might have weddings and funerals to attend. Or simply want to hang out with your closest friends every now and then, or celebrate their milestone birthday.
So, factoring in the ease, speed and the cost of going back home could narrow down your choice of where to live in Europe even further.
For an easy way to research your visa options and more across 16 countries in Europe, “I’m Outta Here”, by Cepee Tabibian is available here.