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You’ve bought the guidebooks, watched the travel shows, and you may have even started to pack your bags.
Now all you need is a way to obtain income during your trip to Europe.
Be forewarned: finding legal employment in another country isn’t easy. However, with a generally robust European economy and tight labor markets throughout the Western world, getting a job now is probably easier than it has been in years.
The number one hurdle to overcome when looking for work overseas is red tape. All European Union countries require a foreign workers to obtain a work permit. Most countries won’t grant you a permit unless you have already secured employment. The catch-22 is, most employers don’t consider you unless you have a work permit.
As with most bureaucracy, there’s a way around this problem that doesn’t involve bribery. Probably the easiest way to go abroad is through sponsored programs like Council, BUNAC, or similar programs. Geared towards students and recent graduates, these programs offer, for a fee, a work permit for a limited amount of time. Since it’s up to the applicant to find a job once in the country, most of the participants participate in low-paying jobs in the service sector. It’s not as bad as it sounds — jobs in cafes, pubs, and restaurants usually are more down to earth and culturally valuable than higher-paid office or technical employment.
Though these programs usually charge a fee, it’s generally well worth it. BUNAC, for example, has allowed thousands of U.S. students to experience English life, and the program has garnered mostly positive reviews. If you find a program you might be interested in, always ask the sponsors or contact person if you can talk with people who have previously been through the program.
If you’re not a student, don’t fret. Special visas can be granted to skilled workers. High-tech employees are in demand right now, of course, but any unusual or highly-valued skill could be your ticket to Europe. Another route is to try to get on with a multinational corporation here in the U.S. That’s a risk, however, as you’re gambling on rising through the ranks to that overseas position. Also, freelance writers, photographers, artists and other creative types can generally live and work in foreign countries without permits.
In Western Europe, immigration and work rules are strict but clear, and if you do your homework you’ll always know where you stand. If you’re planning a move into the former Soviet bloc, however, the rules about foreign workers can get more ambiguous. The upside to this is that developing nations are generally more receptive to outside workers — especially if you plan to teach English.
It’s a good idea to check the homepage of the country you’re visiting for more information about visa and work permit requirements. The internet can give you up-to-date information on rules that may be changing. Because of a need for high-tech workers, for example, the British government is proposing relaxed standards for foreign workers. And because such proposals usually wind their way through committees and legislatures with little fanfare here in the U.S., it’s best to check frequently so you can conduct the right job hunt at the right time.
If you’re ready to take the next step and actively look for employment, you should pick a date somewhere down the road (at least a few months from now, but preferably 6 months to a year) by which time you’ll move to your target country, job or no job. Now you need to become as forthcoming as possible about your move. Mention it at dinner parties, to the local shopkeeper, and to all of your friends and relatives. You’ll be surprised at the number of people who visited or worked in your target country, or know someone who did, or know someone who knows someone who did. It’s these contacts that will help you find employers willing to take you on.
Having friends in your target country is also a bonus. Have them save job ads or point you in the right direction as to where to find job resources on the Internet.
You’ll also find several specialty publications, books, and web sites devoted to expatriates and other wandering souls. Perhaps the most important of these is Transitions Abroad publishing. They’re the publishers of Transitions Abroad magazine, a very helpful primer on realizing your dream of living overseas. Each issue has a theme, and working abroad is the subject of the September/October issue. Back issues can be ordered, but always beware outdated information.
Transitions Abroad also publishes Work Abroad, a comprehensive directory of print and online resources. The book is updated frequently and is probably the best and most comprehensive resource of its type.
Once you hit your target date, make the move, job or no job. Of course it’s always better to secure employment before you leave, but often, the only way to find a job is by knocking on doors and making phone calls once you arrive at your new home. Think carefully before you try to work illegally or are offered a black-market job. If caught, you can be kicked out of the country with a black mark on your passport. Also, you won’t have as much protection under the law if you work illegally, and, just as in the U.S., there are unscrupulous employers who will take advantage of illegal aliens.
Searching for work overseas and jumping through all the required legal hoops can be frustrating at times, but few who make a serious effort at it fail. Study hard, network, and be tenacious, and you’ll soon find yourself living in a new, exciting, foreign culture.