Tips for working in Europe if you’re not from the EU

By Adrian Johansen

Europe is a prime destination for tourism, welcoming more than 670 million international visitors in 2017, an 8 percent increase over the previous year, the World Tourism Organization reports. It is the world’s most visited region, and tourism dollars contributed $519 billion to the European economy in 2017 alone. 

The continent is also an attractive destination for international workers and expats. These travelers are looking for a rich work experience while being fully immersed in another culture. Expats account for 6.6 percent of the European Union’s population, according to 2012 data. Of that number, some 12.8 million are from elsewhere in the EU and 20.5 million come from international destinations. The most popular countries for EU expats are Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

European life is extremely nuanced. There are 50 distinct countries in Europe, and there are cultural and professional expectations in each country that foreign workers should be aware of. If you plan to work in Europe in the future, it makes sense to familiarize yourself with those expectations prior to arrival — especially in areas affected by geopolitical conundrums like Brexit. You should also be aware of your destination country’s political and economic climate and visa requirements. A changing political climate may have an effect on your work status and could impact your day-to-day life as well.

A Changing European Landscape

Currently, one of the biggest changes facing the EU on a political level is Brexit, the U.K.’s plan to pull out of the EU in the near future. While the Brexit plan is under fire from government officials and citizens alike, big changes are looming on the horizon in the U.K. Numerous companies have threatened to leave if Brexit does indeed happen, and the change could make it more difficult for visitors looking to work across the U.K. 

The original Brexit date was set for March 29, but that deadline has since been extended by the EU. On March 23, citizens took to the streets en masse in protest of the proposed change, calling for another public vote. In 2016, an early draft of the Brexit proposal narrowly passed in a vote of 52 percent to 48 percent.

But change doesn’t have to be negative. The world of financial technology, for example, is revolutionizing the way workers send and receive money, in Europe and across the world. Known as fintech, the industry encompasses wire transfers, ATMs, and instant overseas payments. 

Fintech and globalization are helping provide more opportunities for those looking to work abroad. Thanks to the far-reaching technology, you don’t have to worry about exchange rates when paying for food or lodging, and your employer can deposit your work checks directly into your account, giving you instant access to those funds.

Workplace Expectations Across Europe

Financial matters aren’t the only consideration for those looking to work abroad in the EU. You also have to be aware of a variety of workplace landscapes that may be very different than what you’re used to. In Spain, for example, workdays are lengthy, often stretching late into the evening due to the country’s customary siesta, a midday break that can last up to three hours. While some professional bodies have called for the implementation of a shorter siesta period as early as 2025, the siesta remains an integral part of the workday in Spain.  

Germany also has workday traditions and laws that may seem very different to expats, especially those who are used to the traditional 9-to-5, Monday through Friday work week. In Germany, workers are capped at eight hours per day, and there must be an eleven-hour break between workdays. German employers take great pride in their lively employee culture and try to cultivate a healthy work-life balance.

The job-seeking experience is also vastly different in Europe, starting with how you apply. While a resume is the go-to information source for prospective employers in North America, most European employers ask for a CV, or curriculum vitae. This document tends to be a bit more in-depth than a resume, and in some countries, including Germany, you are expected to have a professional photo in your CV packet.

Also known as a Europass, the European CV typically contains five documents

  • The CV itself
  • The Language Passport
  • The Europass Mobility
  • Certificate supplement
  • Diploma supplement

The Language Passport lists your language skills, especially those pertinent for the position and location in which you are applying. The Europass Mobility document lists any experience and work skills you acquired in another European country. This can include academic experience if you spent time abroad as a student.

Job Opportunities for Expats

Work opportunities in the EU are available for students, graduates, and non-students alike. Some of the biggest industries open to expats are hospitality, education, and healthcare, and each industry offers ample opportunity to take in new cultures while earning a paycheck. Prior to your job search, make sure that your CV is ready to go and your visa paperwork is in order, and pay any necessary fees. 

The EU hospitality industry welcomes foreign expats in a number of positions, from trained chefs to ski instructors. And as English is spoken by roughly 1.75 billion people globally, there is high demand for English teachers in Europe. The British Council estimates that, by 2020, a full 2 billion people will be speaking or learning English. This translates to a widespread need for ESL teachers throughout the EU.

Nurses are also in high demand across many parts of Europe, including France, Italy, and Ireland. These are countries which are facing shortages in part due to massive cuts to healthcare funding in recent years. Qualified nurses may be required to speak a country’s primary language before being hired, but sometimes interpreters are used. According to Duquesne University, nurses who work abroad foster a greater awareness of national health problems and develop a heightened sensitivity to underserved populations. These traits may help nurses sustain fulfilling employment long after their time working as an expat has ended.

Whether your EU working goals lie in nursing, hospitality, or elsewhere, choosing to work abroad helps make the world a little smaller and enriches your life in countless ways. By cultivating an awareness of local cultures, politics, and workplace expectations prior to your arrival, you’re likely to achieve success as a working expat.

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Adrian Johansen

Adrian Johansen is a writer in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She loves sharing information and learning from others. You can find more of her writing on Contently.

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