Monday, August 26, 2013

Mailbag: A beginner's guide to moving to another country

Another mailbag post! A friend emailed me about someone about to lose her job and stated that she was interested in moving abroad, particularly Europe. Since she has no background, I decided to give her an overview of the process. I thought it might be useful to repeat this here. There's nothing in here that I've not written about before, but I thought a recap might be a good idea for new readers.
Public Domain Image

Hi Sally (not her real name),

I hope you're doing well and I'm sorry to hear about your current troubles.

[Redacted] mentioned you want to live abroad and he asked if I could give you some advice. I've lived in the US, Japan, the UK, the Netherlands (twice) and France. I've not only been doing this for a long time, but I've also spent years researching and writing a "how to become an expat" blog at overseas-exile.com. I've also started thinking about doing day seminars on the topic in the US. The good news: with enough determination, you can move abroad. The bad news: it takes work, sometimes hard work.

If you want to live abroad, it's hard to do, but there are several general routes (I assume you're not rolling in dough, so I'm leaving some options off of this. If you have a large pile of surplus money, there are investment routes you can take, but be careful, not all are legal):
  1. Marriage/Civil Partnership
  2. Citizenship
  3. Work/residence permit or the equivalent
I assume option #1 is not open to you right now.

For option #2, citizenship, I would strongly recommend that you trace your family tree.

The reason for that is because many people don't know their family tree well and when they do research, they often find legal opportunities to move abroad that they were previously unaware of. For example, if you have an Italian ancestor dating from 1861
Duomo, Milan
Personal photo
(when Italy unified) or later, you may qualify for Italian citizenship. If you are of Jewish ancestry, many European countries have repatriation schemes for those of Jewish descent whose families were displaced in WWII.


There are other ancestry routes, but they're hard to find. The trick is to research your family tree and if you find any relatively recent ancestors from a foreign country, start focusing on that country's immigration laws (and don't rely on hearsay because these laws change frequently). Don't just start researching different country's laws at random (unless you have carefully targeted countries) because the laws tend to not be well documented and they change frequently. Plus, officials from various countries are often unaware of their country's laws, but a decent immigration lawyer (after you have a target country) can sometimes help.

So you've researched your ancestry and maybe you find that you could claim citizenship in [some economically depressed EU country] but think "but I don't want to move to [some economically depressed EU country]." That's OK. The great thing about having an EEA (European Economic Area) passport in one EEA country is that you can usually legally live and work in any EEA country. Fancy London? Another EU country's passport will probably get you there.

So do you family tree. ancestry.com is a good place to start.

However, let's assume the common case of not having anyone you can marry and not having a useful ancestor (dead ancestors are so rarely useful, the ingrates!). In that case, you're looking at the work permit/Blue Card route.

Before I explain those, it's helpful to understand immigration in general. This lets you reason better about your opportunities.

I live in Paris, France. Not only is Paris the number one tourist city on the planet, but France is the number one tourist country on the planet. As much as I would love for the word citizenship to go the way of the word slavery and see borders drop, it's not realistic. If France opened the floodgates, they'd see their social systems overwhelmed and they'd collapse (interestingly, the countries people are leaving might also collapse to due to what's called "brain drain", but that's another story).

But France does allow people to move there. The trick is to demonstrate that you will benefit the country more than you will cost the country. The best way to pull this trick off is to have a strong skill (and usually a degree) in a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine). Those are very high value jobs (from an economic standpoint). A psychology degree, on the other hand, while certainly being a worthy degree, isn't a high economic value degree and typically doesn't get you anywhere. So, in short, you have to show that you provide a positive economic value that is in short supply. Doctors, engineers, and software developers are always in short supply. Sadly, project managers and hair dressers aren't (trivia: there was an interesting time when hair dresser was on the Australian skill shortage list and thus eligible for immigration).

If you think you might have skills that can get you a work
Kalahari Desert, Botswana
Photo by Winfried Bruenken
permit, start reading my five part series on how to get a work permit. That will give you a solid strategy

for improving your résumé/CV and finding and approaching employees.

Barring being highly skilled, you may wish to read the young person's guide to moving abroadThat explains multiple ways that someone with little money, education, and few internationally marketable skills can still find ways of moving abroad. (Note: having at least a Bachelor's Degree significantly increases your opportunities). One of the most popular routes is teaching English abroad, .

Oh, and if you're the entrepreneurial type, the Netherlands has a visa for you. The UK has an entrepreneur visa too.

Finally, start reading about the European Blue Card.

The Blue Card is Europe's attempt to create a unified immigration policy to attract skilled workers. Ireland, the UK and Denmark have opted out, but for the others, if you qualify, it's much easier to get to Europe. In fact, Germany's Blue Card implementation is so generous that they government assumes that if you have a job offer with a large enough salary (usually around €45K or higher), than you must be qualified and can waltz right in. You usually have to have at least a BA for this (they make some exceptions for IT, but many German foreigner's offices seem to have missed this part of the law and it's a headache). Once in Europe with a Blue Card, you usually have to stay in the country for two or three years and then you can live and work in other EU countries (except the ones who have opted out). So if you have a BA, start making contacts in Germany and see what you can swing!

I hope that helps and gives you a start on figuring out your options. Let me know how things go!

Good luck,
Ovid