Immigrating to Europe is tough. Despite what your grandfather tells you, ‘being American’ does not grant you express-entry into Europe, and European employers are not scrounging around for monolingual Americans.
If you’re determined to immigrate to Europe, your success will depend on your age, wealth, education level, and occupation. See the following list for legal ways to move to Europe as a US citizen.
- Apply for European citizenship by descent. Several European countries, such as Italy and Ireland, grant citizenship by “bloodright descent”. If you have a European parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, or even great-great-grandparent, you might be eligible for citizenship by descent. EU and EEA citizens can live and work freely in other EU/EEA member countries. This is the easiest way to immigrate to Europe, so I encourage all serious readers to research their ancestry before exploring the options below.
- Secure an Irish Working Holiday Visa. If you’re a full-time college student or a recent college graduate (eg. graduated within the last 12 months), you can work in Ireland for up to one year using a Working Holiday Visa. If you play your cards right, you might find an Irish employer who is willing to sponsor your work visa after the holiday visa expires.
- Work as an Au Pair. If you like taking care of children, there’s a huge demand for English-speaking Au Pairs in Europe. Just like any job, make sure you do your research. In this case, you’ll be living with your employer, so it’s important that you get along!
- Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). If English is your native language, you might be able to secure a work visa as an English teacher in Southern or Eastern Europe. The Auxiliares de Conversación program in Spain is a big hit, but there are many smaller programs as well. For more information, I recommend reading this blog.
- Apply for the German Freelance Visa. If you can prove that there is a demand in Germany for your artwork or freelancing skills, you might qualify for the German Freelance Visa. This visa can be renewed for up to three years, but some professionals may convert it to a self-employment visa if they wish to remain in Germany.
- Apply for the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty (DAFT) Visa. If you’re a remote freelancer, entrepreneur, or aspiring freelancer or entrepreneur, you can apply for the DAFT visa. This visa allows Americans to move to the Netherlands to “start a business”. As long as your business generates revenue, you can renew your permit every 2 years and eventually apply for permanent residency.
- Apply for the German Job Seeker Visa. If you have a Bachelor or Master’s degree and at least 5 years of relevant work experience, you can apply for a German Job Seeker Visa. You’ll be allowed to live in Germany for up to 6 months in search of skilled work. If you’re lucky, you’ll snag a job before your 6 months are up and be granted a Work Visa.
- Attend University in Europe. Many European graduate programs are taught in English, and some countries, like Norway and Germany, have abolished tuition fees. Attending university in your target country will allow you to learn the language and build a solid professional network. Since employers are legally required to prioritize EU and EEA citizens, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll find a job after graduation, but attending a local university will certainly improve your chances.
- Invest in a European country. Several European countries offer residency permits and citizenship to foreign investors. If you happen to have $500,000 just laying around, you might want to consider investing that money in Portugal, Malta, Spain, or another money-hungry European country. Once you become an EU citizen, you can live and work freely in all other EU and EEA member countries.
- Apply for European Jobs from the US. I’ve included this option because it’s possible, but only for a select number of people. Unless you have extensive education and work experience in an in-demand field (eg. computer science, engineering, medical science, etc.), your odds of finding an employer willing to sponsor your visa are slim. European employers are legally required to prioritize EU and EEA citizens, so most companies won’t look twice at an American CV or LinkedIn profile.
- Marry your EU/EEA Partner. It might be 2019, but immigration laws still favor married couples over long-distance and cohabiting couples. Thus, if you’re dating a European, the easiest way to move to their country (or any European country together) is by saying “I Do.”
- Move to Svalbard. Svalbard is a small archipelago between Norway and the North Pole. Despite belonging to the Kingdom of Norway, Svalbard does not share Norway’s strict immigration policies. Most people can live and work in Svalbard provided that they have a place to stay and enough money/wool to survive.
Note: While Svalbard is technically part of Europe, it’s very small and should be your last resort. I only added it for good measure, and as a reminder that immigrating to Europe is hard.
Despite the difficulty of moving to Europe as a US citizen, thousands of Americans have been successful in their pursuit. The road isn’t easy, but then again, neither is life as an immigrant.
Don’t let that stop you!