Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How did I get to Europe?

I should just get my own experiences out of the way because people are going to ask: I did it the hard way by building up my CV (résumé) and marketing myself. When I was gathering some paperwork the British government needed for my work permit application, one of my former colleagues asked: "why do you get to go to Europe and we don't?" I replied "I know that some of you are better computer programmers than I am, but nobody knows who you are."

And to prove I was there (I hate photos of me)
Me at Lancaster Castle
Basically, I started volunteering with The Perl Foundation, a non-profit organization which works to advance the programming language that I specialize in. I also started blogging prolifically at a major Perl Web site, answered questions online for people, and tried to always be polite and answer even the simplest questions nicely. I even started going to conferences. One thing led to another and I found my name on the cover of a book about that programming language (not linked because that's probably not why you're reading this blog). I was actually offered a position only a couple of years after I started doing this, but that was a bit of a fluke (long story and I only landed in Europe for about 3 months of 2001). It was after a few years of doing this that a serious offer came through and I moved to Nottingham, UK in 2006.

If you remember my Why you'll say "no" to moving abroad post, I talked about the things you need to do to make it easier to move to another country. When my UK employer contacted me, they really had no idea how to do this. It was a recruiter who put me in touch with them. During the phone interviews, I explained to them, at length, how to hire an overseas employee and I later sent them links on the Home Office Website explaining the process, the paperwork they would have to complete and the costs they would have to pay. I also explained that I was leaving my possessions in the US, so they wouldn't even have to pay to ship my household goods. In short, I made it as easy as possible for them to say yes and make this work. It took several months for my work permit to go through, but I made it.

Corsican Sunset
Sunset over Corsica
On a side note, I also took a road trip through Europe with a friend of mine. That's where I took this lovely picture of a Corsican sunset. If you ever have a chance to visit Corsica, I highly recommend it. It's gorgeous.

Please note that my experiences are not typical, but then, many people's experiences aren't. I knew one guy who simply bought a round trip ticket to the UK and threw away his return ticket. I was also housemates with a woman who flew to South America and kept taking under-the-counter work as she worked her way from country to country. She didn't speak Spanish or have a legal right to work, but she traveled across South America for six months doing this. You can do this, too. It's all a matter of determination and courage. There's really not much luck involved.


  1. That poses the question: what did you do with your possessions in the US? We encounter this all the time. Do we rent our house out furnished for expats from the country we want to move to? We own a house in Portland, and would like to keep it, if not just for its resource potential (right now, it could likely net us 800$/month if we were to rent it out). But the stuff... selling it all that, while possible, is tedious. And generally wasteful.

  2. @thedr9wningman: I've a friend back in the US who kindly agreed to let me keep some in his basement. Other than that, I sold almost everything I owned aside from a few items I took with me in suitcases.

    I've another friend who put her stuff in storage for a while and once she knew she was not moving back to the US, she flew back and arranged shipping for all of her goods. There are plenty of international shipping services which will help you move house. I can't recommend any since I haven't used them.

  3. Hi, I'm also an American and I've put together some links on living legally in the EU, http://tefltips.blogspot.com/2009/03/europe-for-non-eu-passport-holders.html

    Hope it helps.

  4. @Sharon: thanks for that fantastic link. Great tips!