UX designer transitioning from Brazil to Europe (Part 1): setting the stage for the relocation project

Part one of my bumpy journey, from applying to finally getting job offers in the EU during the pandemic.

Thiago Esser
6 min readSep 3, 2020


👉 Part 2 and Part 3 are already available!

It was a long time desire, to work in a different work environment from the ones I was used to in Brazil. By October of 2019, my wife and I thought this could be the perfect timing.

Since I have an EU passport and I've seen many friends moving to work in Europe — because of the tech scene, the lifestyle, etc. — we thought this could be a good place to start. But where in Europe? Germany and the Netherlands were the most appealing to us, but we were also open to other locations with good design opportunities.

I'm telling my story because I believe writing can be therapeutic, as Koji Pereira ⚡ mentioned in his text about moving from Brazil to the US. Also, because I know the power of documenting learnings (even if it's only to ourselves) and, by publishing it, helping people in the same situation. This is the best way I know to take ownership of my experience.

In this series of three parts, I give an overview of how I started applying for UX positions in the EU, kept it going during the COVID-19, and finally got job offers in July of 2020.

Getting a job abroad is a self-knowledge process

Right there at the start of my job search, I did well in the hiring process for Booking, which is well known for relocating lots of people to Amsterdam. I managed to get to the final interviews that, at the time, used to happen on-site. It was the beginning of December and people weren’t aware of what was to come.

Early on one thing struck me: to be successful I needed to learn and get better in a set of skills I couldn't take for granted. Mosty, these skills are related to what a designer needs to know to be successful. So I took this as a chance to develop myself during the whole process.

But what skills am I talking about? Telling a story. Your story.

As companies in Europe didn't know anything about my past experiences in Brazil, or the companies I worked for, they relied heavily on what I told them. As Marjolein Kassenaar — a designer who already worked both in Europe and Brazil — told me:

That's an opportunity, because they won't judge so much how well-known are the companies you have in your CV, but in the value that you added, and how well you can communicate it.

That was somehow liberating! I learned that is not only about telling what comes to your mind. Well, of course not. It's a matter of being self-aware about your past experiences, your learnings, and the impact of your work.

And what about that process at Booking? I didn't get and offer, and this was only the beginning of our project, my family's and mine.

Be prepared for a long(er) journey

How long this project will take? You might ask yourselves, as my family and I certainly did.

Once you're convinced about this thing — moving to a different part of the world — you better be prepared for a quick outcome, as it could have happened to me, or a more distant one.

I heard about designers, engineers, product managers who didn't have a clear plan of relocating, were invited to a bunch of interviews, and got hired a few weeks later. That might happen as well with you!

But if you want to be intentional about this project, it's better considering some eventual risks and managing expectations.

Related to that, two main things were decisive and crucial for me not to give up: being financially and emotionally stable. This can sound vague and especially now, months after being plunged into this crazy pandemic, pure nonsense.

But yes, if you don't have some savings or are in debt; if you're not well with yourself and the ones around you; then you should seriously consider postponing this move, as it can ruin your plan and make you never try again.

On pivoting

Before going through the "how I managed to move on during the COVID-19 outbreak and how it affected the job search" part, I want to talk about taking calculated risks.

At the end of 2019, when I was still in my full-time job, Franz Figueroa (one of my mentors), warned me that:

In basketball, the pivot is the player who has one leg firm on the ground, while the other can spin freely while he/she sets up the move. What you're doing is 'pivoting'.

I knew the term from the startup world, but anyway, for a guy like me with zero involvement with basketball or any sports, this struck me as something new and engaging.

Our pivot, at first, was keeping our safe and stable jobs — me as UX Design Manager, and my wife as a University Teacher in the Health domain— and apply to jobs available in the countries I mentioned.

At the beginning of 2020, she and I decided to "pivot harder" 😂 and left our jobs in February, freeing ourselves to move immediately this moment on, as soon as I got an offer. Our stable-foot became the savings that we've got from leaving our jobs.

Move on, stay still, or set back?

Although I was already applying and being interviewed since January 2020, things got very confusing — to say the least — when the pandemic burst, in the middle of March. It became obvious to most of the companies that this wasn't a time to hire anymore, and "hiring freeze" became two words I would start to see often.

This was the most crucial moment for the project: moving ahead with the relocation plan — with adjustments— or setting back and looking for a new job in Brazil? Staying still wasn't even considered.

There were companies that were still publishing job opportunities in Berlin, Amsterdam, Stockholm… those who haven't got disrupted entirely by the crisis. Moving on with applications was risky, but not entirely crazy.

I was confident that this could work and I got support from my wife. Needless to say that we were extremely privileged to keep this going despite all. We had each other, our daughter, our savings, our families and our friends to support us. But the decision of moving on before the uncertainty of a crisis, instead of contracting before it, proved to be of great learning.

Later on, I talked to Thatiana Mendes Gomes (IT Chapter Lead at ING), who helped to reinforce this decision based on her own personal experience:

It was 2016, Brazil was emerging from the impeachment of Dilma Roussef, and I decided to move to the Netherlands, without a guaranteed job. People told me I was crazy to do so, but I eventually got hired after twenty-something interviews in a row.

I think this relates totally to having a safe foot on the ground, whatever yours might be.

How did I actually keep going?

The following 4 months, from April to July 2020, were a series of trials and errors, going through several interviews, being rejected like lots of people. But I eventually learned something (about myself and hiring processes), and I want to share the specifics with you in the next part.

In order to keep sane when companies are dismissing people worldwide, I broke things into pieces and celebrated wins, as much as I could. Acknowledging that the processes are made of different steps, mastering each of them, and vibrating when you get further than before… that's something that makes you proud when you look back.

Keep reading the series for more details on where this eventually led me :)

This series is about my experience moving from Porto Alegre, Brazil to Berlin, Germany. I hope this text and the next one will help you, UX Designers, Product Designers, UX Researchers, UI Designers, and other roles in the tech industry to find your way relocating to Europe, or elsewhere.

Feel free to talk about your experience commenting on this text or getting in touch with me.