How to Work and Travel in Europe
Do you find yourself scrap-booking pages of the National Geographic, wishing you were a part of the La Tomatina festival in Spain or perhaps Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love? You’re clearly infected with the travel bug and suffering hallucinations of moving to Europe to soak in a culture that’s highly glamorized by Hollywood.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a textbook on moving abroad. However, as someone who worked and lived in Europe and Asia, I can share an insight or two.
First thing’s first, moving to Europe is nothing like they portray in movies. Yes, you get to learn the European way of life and travel to world-class destinations at a fraction of the costs in North America. However, it is also an emotional rollercoaster. There will be moments of unspeakable happiness, but also periods of anxiety due to the lack of security. An experience abroad is one that will challenge you in unimaginable ways. To see if you have the stomach for it, answer the below questions:
Could you bear being away from family for long periods of time?
Could you give up your usual entertainments? Like your favourite cuisine or hobbies?
Could you accept certain ideals that you have previously considered outrageous? (E.g. dating, religious views, socializing, etc.)
Are you prepared to become someone different?
Personally, I have never regretted my decision to move abroad. I knew I wanted to live in Europe for a year after graduation so I dropped my plans of becoming a handsomely paid accountant in Toronto and moved to Budapest. I have never looked back since. While away from home, I was constantly divided between old and new values, but these challenges shaped me into who I was meant to become.
For the brave hearts, please carry on reading!
Common Concerns Of Moving Abroad
Do I need to speak the local language to survive?
Language barrier is the number one reason that people chicken out of a move. When browsing online forums, I often come across comments such as ‘You can’t get a job in Germany without knowing German.’ Perhaps this was the case decades ago but nowadays, you can be a competitive candidate in Europe speaking just English. As a matter of fact, I’m almost certain that in most international city, there is a considerable number of expats who don’t know a word of the local language. Obviously we want to aspire to be greater than this but don’t let your lack of linguistic skills prevent you from the adventure of a lifetime. As well, I find multinational companies and medium-sized startups quite keen in employing foreigners, as they celebrate diversity.
How do you find a job in Europe?
I’ve met a lot of globetrotters through my travels and here is a list of the three most popular choices in employment in Europe.
1. Work Abroad Programs
The fast track to moving to Europe is enrolling in a government-recognized program, which provides you with assistance in job searching, finding housing and a support network. I strongly recommend this option if you’re going abroad for the first time. Some of these organizations allow you to arrange work ahead of your travels and others after arrival. I have worked with SWAP and AIESEC in the past, which were both great experiences.
2. Teach English
By far the most popular option for Anglophones, teaching English is a well-paid job that is also easy to come by. A quick Google search should turn up a multitude of options in every major city in Europe. Be sure to thoroughly research every company you apply to, English teachers are normally quite vocal about both good and bad employers.
3. Working Holiday
For those who are more targeted in their job search and simply need authorization to work, the working holiday visa is a good option. This visa is a short-term residence permits granted to young people of certain nationalities to work and travel in a country in Europe. The application process is very simple and does not require an employment offer in order to be considered. Here is the list of countries for Canadians where the visa is available.
Occasionally, you might hear of people financing their trip through unconventional jobs such as tour guiding, working in hostels and freelancing. This kind of work could be very profitable but it isn’t for first timers abroad.
How do you settle yourself in?
Again, I recommend becoming a part of a work abroad program that can provide you with support before and after your arrival. However, if you’ve managed the paperwork and job searching on your own (good for you!), the rest should be a breeze. First of all, you don’t need to pre-arrange anything before your trip, even if that might seem as neurotic as hell. Truthfully, there is little you can do until you touch down in your new town. However, things work faster on this side of the world. You can get set up in your new home in less than two weeks on average.
The good thing about Europe is that most cities are used to hosting exchange students from the Erasmus Program (an EU initiative that single-handedly facilitates studying abroad in the region). This means, landowners are familiar with leasing their apartment on a short-term basis. This type of accommodation, referred to as ‘flat shares’ are mostly furnished, housing at least three tenants, who are likely also internationals. Be mindful though, living in a flat share can entail parties on Mondays, family dinners and potential long lasting friendships that continue way beyond your intern frugalhood. As well, you should find no trouble opening bank accounts and getting a local number, which are very fluid processes due to the quick flow of people throughout the EU.
So what are you waiting for?
You probably have many more inhibitions that I haven’t addressed, but your gut is the best voice to listen to. It is most likely saying…
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