Live Abroad in Europe: Top 9 Things to Know as an American – Wherever you decide to live in Europe – and whatever you will be doing, life abroad is likely to be different from what you are used to in the US. Even if you’ve traveled Europe extensively, living there requires a different set of considerations.
Typically, Americans move to Europe in search of a better work-life balance, shorter working hours, reasonable vacation time, and access to all of the great travel destinations just a short flight or train ride away. It’s not impossible in some parts of Europe to enjoy a better quality of life at a relatively low cost. You can live comfortably in some countries earning just $2,000 per month. Plus, many European countries are famous for their hospitality and good quality medical care. Of course, there is also a wide range of cultures to be enjoyed, with delectable cuisines and fascinating traditions. Here we talk about some important things to think about outside of a traveler’s perspective.
Live Abroad in Europe – The Culture Shock is Real
Even if your new home shares the same language, the local culture, traditions, size, and diversity of the territories can be confusing or even overwhelming. You will experience a different way of doing things in many aspects of daily life. You’ll immerse yourself in a much different history and set of traditions and meet many interesting new people. Here are some insights into how the way of life in Europe differs from the US:
- Many stores and shops close early and on weekends
- Public transportation is much more efficient and popular than in the US
- Familiar foods and drinks may taste different
- Food portions are smaller and water is rarely free
- Farmer’s markets are much more common and offer fresh produce
Be prepared to discover that people interact differently. We recommend reading up on books and blogs that focus on the cultural norms, and behaviors to expect in your dream destination. Pay special attention to how to greet people, share a meal, prepare for local holidays, and avoid actions that may offend the locals. That way, you can gain genuine insights and ground yourself in the local culture.
Making Friends Abroad Might Take Some Time
Moving abroad, especially on your own, is always challenging. There’s always that hurdle to making the effort to meet new people in a new environment, especially when speaking a different language. It’s quite easy to get discouraged and feel alone as you navigate a new culture. Fortunately, there are tons of ways you can connect and meet people before the actual move takes place!
You can connect with fellow expats online in the city or country you wish to move to months before your move. Get started by searching for online expat communities through social platforms like Facebook and Meetup. You can ask questions and get first-hand answers on what it’s like to live in your dream destination. You may also find niche communities for Black expats, LGBTQ+, and women. Some websites also offer events and activities that you can attend on arrival and connect with people who share similar interests. These are all the different ways you can meet people and get over that hurdle of being a stranger in a new land.
The Weather is More Complex Than You Think
Most of Europe enjoys a milder climate as a result of the Atlantic Ocean’s warm Gulf Stream current. However, the weather in Europe is much more diverse, with unique attributes differentiating one region from another. You can experience multiple different climates on the same train line or highway in just a few hours.
All you need to do is make sure you choose the country that offers the best climate conditions for you. Northern Europe, especially the Scandinavian countries, has cold winters with plenty of snow and cooler summers. Western Europe, the British Isles, and most of France have mild summers and winters. Southern Europe, including Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece, enjoys Mediterranean climates, which are characterized by hot summers, mild to warm winters, and pleasant spring and autumn.
Public Healthcare is Universal and Affordable
Most European countries have advanced healthcare systems that provide excellent healthcare for all citizens and residents. In most countries, it is much more affordable than in the United States. All European Union citizens and residents enjoy guaranteed public health insurance, which they pay for through their income taxes. They don’t deal with prohibitively expensive health insurance premiums, deductibles, or copays and may not even know what these terms mean.
It’s important to remember that you won’t qualify for this public health care until you are granted resident status by registering in the country with your visa. One of the conditions of granting your visa in the first place will likely be the purchase of a traveler’s health insurance. After obtaining residency, you can still find affordable private health insurance as well.
The right healthcare depends on your visa conditions, age range, health history, and other unique circumstances. You may also find two tiers of health insurance, especially if you wish to live in a country with lots of expatriates. Usually, they already have established hospitals and clinics for expatriates as well as those for locals. That said, healthcare and clinics for expats may be better, but they are often more expensive. It is best to read the fine print and compare coverage to secure the best private health insurance for your needs.
Several European Countries are Tax-Friendly to US Citizens
As long as you are a US citizen, you are always obligated to file your US income tax no matter where you live. In many cases, you will be required to file taxes for both the U.S and any country you live in. Fortunately, you can enjoy friendlier tax policies in select European countries. Research the countries offering these programs using our Expat Taxes Tool! We recommend working with trained and certified tax accountants who are familiar with U.S. tax requirements and can help you leverage the best tax situation in your new country.
Speaking Multiple Languages is Quite Common
English is universal as a travel language, but you may find that many Europeans have a decent grasp of it. While it’s sometimes necessary to learn the basics in another language before moving, the actual move to that country can often be the best way to learn all the local nuances and become comfortable in that language. Still, we recommend learning the basics beforehand by taking advantage of platforms like Babbel. With a few words and gestures, you can start getting essential information and having meaningful conversations with the locals, which is a better way to integrate faster into your new community.
Many Job Opportunities Across Europe
You don’t have to be rich or be sponsored by a company to live abroad in Europe. There are tons of visa options depending on your interests, income level, language skills, and age. You can find long-term visa options that allow you to work in-person or remotely, study, start a business, or make strategic investments. Despite the occasional economic downturns, there are plenty of job opportunities for foreigners, especially Americans.
If you wish to work in your host country, consider carefully researching the kinds of specialized skills that might entice employers in that region. In most cases, working in Europe means enjoying work-friendly employment laws with shorter working week hours and a yearly minimum of four weeks of vacation. You’ll discover opportunities to enjoy better work options, a slower-paced lifestyle, and more time to dedicate to your hobbies.
Many expats are based in European countries, maintaining a residency for most of the year while working remotely elsewhere in the world or traveling. Keep in mind that you must speak to your employer about the possibility of working remotely in a particular destination as there may be tax implications for both parties. Although many companies are open about their remote work policies, they might have specific rules about where you want to reside. For the self-employed, also consider how working remotely from that location may affect your business and clientele. For instance, some countries offering digital nomad or passive income visas may not allow remote workers to do formal business from within that host country.
Navigating the Bureaucracy Often Requires Extra Patience
The laid-back lifestyle in many parts of Europe can be amazing, but it also means that government offices may move at a slower pace. This may factor into how quickly you can get a bank account in your new country or secure the appropriate utilities. For instance, you may deal with long waiting times, due to the slow pace of the bureaucracy, especially in Southern and Eastern Europe. You’ll also need time to get to understand the plethora of bus routes and other forms of public transportation.
Apartments and Homes are Typically Smaller
One common thing to expect is that the housing space may be more compact than what you’re used to in the US, especially in older buildings. You can expect that gorgeous apartments in the big cities and close to popular sights will be more expensive. So, you need to be flexible on where you wish to live to find suitable accommodation within your budget. Remember that European cities don’t have the same suburban sprawl as American cities and public transportation is usually more frequent, even on the outskirts.
Still, we recommend taking the careful route by working with a real estate agent or rental search specialist. Also, take extra care to verify your landlord before you send any payments. Don’t forget that the right accommodation may require some additional paperwork such as providing proof of your visa, work contract, and more. Also make sure to secure local help with organizing your new home so you can avoid hidden costs and figure your way around utilities like internet, trash, electricity, and water.
Profile Yourself and Find Your Spot – Are You Ready to Live Abroad in Europe?
Starting a new life in a new country is an exciting adventure and, of course, challenging. The good news is that there are tons of European countries with many speakers of the English language, friendly locals, gorgeous scenery, and opportunities to study, work, and have loads of fun. But before you move to a new country, it is important to do your research so you’re prepared and can hit the ground running on arrival. That said, living abroad in Europe or any other place demands that you have an open mind, are deeply inquisitive about the world, and be willing to adapt to things that may be different.
Don’t forget that every country has its benefits and downsides – take the time to scope out options, plan your move and develop the appropriate budget to make your transition seamless. Navigating the intricacies of planning your move to Europe requires special care and advice from experts. Seize the advantage of our consulting services and Expat Tools to confidently prepare for any obstacles along the way!