How Americans can work, study or take a sabbatical in Europe
Based on a record number of searches for how to leave the US, American workers appear to be looking for a change of scene, and Europe is calling. More than three million Americans currently live and work in Europe, which comprises the 27 member states of the European Union (EU) and 26 states within the Schengen Area.
With estimates that 22% of the American workforce will be working remotely by 2025, the number of American workers heading east could increase. Three in four Americans have a positive experience of living and working in a new country, and the transition (however temporarily) to Europe is relatively easy. Find out why a spell in the Old Continent can reinvigorate your career, where to go, and how to take care of the paperwork.
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The advantages of working in Europe
The US tops the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) rankings for the number of hours worked and trails the EU regarding work-life balance.
Although the average American worker puts in 34.6 hours per week (well within the EU limit of 48 hours/week), corporate America in particular demands long hours with no legal entitlement to paid vacation (compared to 4 weeks in the EU).
In addition, a spell in Europe offers the chance to consolidate the budget with a lower cost of living, significantly lower healthcare costs, and a slimmed-down sales tax regime. There are exceptions, of course. A sabbatical in Switzerland or transfer to the tech hub of Ireland might not supplement your savings, but if you choose one of the cheaper places to live in Europe such as Spain or Portugal, your money will go further.
Finally, there's the opportunity to develop language skills and cultural exposure, experience an alternative working culture, and nurture personal as well as professional development in the continent’s historic cities.
Choose from these working abroad options
You don’t have to go all-in on Europe. For many, up to a year of expat life in the EU is enough to reset and refresh professionally. Consider these options:
Multinational transfer on foreign assignment. There are more than 135,450 multinational groups operating in the EU as of 2020, and there’s a good chance your company has a presence in the EU. Talk to Human Resources about opportunities for an overseas transfer, whether it’s for a short three-month spell or a full year.
Take a sabbatical. Many European countries offer a digital nomad visa if you want to take a year out and earn a living as a consultant, freelancer or remote worker. Beware, however, that the EU job market is shrinking overall. The most promising growth areas are in STEM, healthcare, business and legal, whereas opportunities are harder to come by in sales and office support roles.
Study in Europe. If this year is finally the time to obtain your Master’s degree or complete a language course, some of the best places to study abroad are in Europe, and the costs can be much lower than in the US. Again, ask your HR department about skill-building opportunities that'll ultimately enhance your career. Possibilities range from summer language courses at participating universities to fully accredited postgraduate programs or diplomas that can earn credits for college back home.
Most popular European countries for Americans
Whilst the EU presents a coherent political and economic block, there’s tremendous cultural and linguistic diversity between member states. Your choice of destination will be influenced by the following:
Language: English is widely spoken across much of Europe, but only the United Kingdom (which isn't in the EU), Malta and Ireland have English as the official language.
Business opportunities: The main financial and business powerhouses are in the UK, Switzerland, France and Germany, while tech has a home in Ireland. These are the countries where you’ll find the main clusters of multinationals, many of which offer competitive salaries.
Cost of living: If the goal is just to soak up the culture and spend as little as possible, Spain and Portugal deliver, as do central European countries such as Hungary and Poland. By contrast, your budget will be strained in the Nordic or northern European countries where accommodation and taxes tend to be high.
Visas and taxes
Americans don't need an employment visa to enter Europe but will need to apply for a work permit within three months of arrival. That means you can attend meetings and interviews for up to 90 days on a standard tourist visa.
If you’re being posted to Europe on behalf of a US multinational, however, the typical process is for the sponsoring company to apply for a residence permit in the relevant member state. As a consultant, trainee, or specialist, you're eligible for an “intra-corporate transferee” (ICT) permit. You have to be with your company for at least three months, and the permit is valid for a maximum of three years (one for trainees).
For highly qualified individuals who have been in their post for at least a year and meet the minimum salary threshold applied by each country, the European Blue Card allows you to work and live in any EU state. The scheme excludes Denmark, Ireland, and Switzerland, however.
US citizens must file their worldwide income with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If you’re being paid directly by a US employer, there’s not much more to do, although it’s important to check that your EU host has a tax treaty with the US so you’re not liable for double taxation.
Your personal liability will depend on the level of your overseas earnings and residency status. For a deeper dive into what to expect, take a look at our blog on working abroad and how it affects tax residency.
Wherever you choose to go in Europe, you’ll be leaving the US dollar behind. That means you’re at risk of losing out on fees and rates with every transfer. When you need to transfer your savings, pay tax on your worldwide income back to the US, or send money home, CurrencyFair offers you the support, speed and great exchange rates that allow you to save on international money transfers.
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This information is correct as of August 2022. This information is not to be relied on in making a decision with regard to an investment. We strongly recommend that you obtain independent financial advice before making any form of investment or significant financial transaction. This article is purely for general information purposes. Photo by Babak Habibi on Unsplash.
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