Expat Essentials

Expat Essentials: What you need to know country-by-country to work in Europe

(Editor’s note: See a related post today about careers at Dropbox as the cloud data storage company expands across Europe.)

At Dispatches Europe, we tell you about employment opportunities in Europe because we believe – counter-intuitively – that’s where the action is going to be.

Our reasoning is that while most European economies – with the exceptions of Germany, Ireland and Slovenia – are running on fumes, the trend lines, tech innovations and educational achievement favor countries such as the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and France. That said, European leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel have warned repeatedly there isn’t sufficient STEM and tech talent in Europe to compete with the United States. Which opens the door to Americans and other English speakers as Europe pushes to create its own Silicon Valley.

So you want to work in Europe? You have to start with the Schengen Area. “Schengen” might sound like a province somewhere deep in the Chinese interior. It’s actually the governing treaty regarding the entry, exit and visa requirements for most of the European countries you’re likely to visit, seek jobs in, be relocated to or become an expatriate resident of.


The Schengen States courtesy of Schengen Visa Info.: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.

Schengen, a town in Luxembourg, was the site of an agreement signed in 1985 by five of the 10 European Union countries that set the rules for borderless, unrestricted travel within the EU and the handling of passports and travel visas for foreign residents wishing to stay and live in Europe. That agreement, amended several times, makes it much easier for foreign workers to stick their toes in the water before committing to actually expatriating. The Schengen area now includes 26 European countries that have agreed to abolish passport inspections and any other type of border control at their common borders.

(Okay, it’s right about here you’re saying, “Wait, I thought Denmark and Austria closed their borders?” They have to some extent, as has Greece. But Schengen is still on the books … at least for the moment.)

• The EU countries governed by Schengen are: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

• The four members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland – have also signed the agreement, though they’re not part of the EU.

• The three European “micro-states” – Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican – are considered de facto parts of the agreement, because they don’t have border controls with the Schengen countries that surround them, though they haven’t officially signed the documents that make them part of Schengen.

• The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland opted out of the agreement in 2002. The U.K. said it wanted to maintain its own borders, and Ireland said it preferred preserving its free movement arrangement with the U.K. (called the “Common Travel Area”) rather than be part of Schengen. However, both countries take part in the Schengen Information System (SIS), a database of stolen cars, court proceedings and missing persons shared by police forces across Europe.

While the Schengen treaties opened up of borders within Europe, anyone wishing to get gainful employment in one of the Schengen countries must get a residence permit in the form of a visa. A work permit will be included in the visa where needed. In most cases, citizens of the U.S. (as well as those of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and Switzerland) may apply for their residence permit after entering the Schengen territory without a visa. France is the exception.

Each country still maintains its own requirements regarding foreigners who wish to visit, stay in and work in their countries. Many of those regulations are stipulated by individual “friendship treaties” the U.S. has with most of the European countries.

If you’re an American considering trying your hand in Europe, you still have some homework to do. While all the various requirements of each European country are considerable, we’ve cut your homework assignment by reviewing the rules and regulations in those countries you’re likely to be considering.


According to the Dutch American Friendship Treat (DAFT), American citizens can apply for a Dutch residence permit for self-employment in the Netherlands. Applicants can also sponsor their spouse and minor children for residence. If you already have employment, your employer will have obtained a work permit in your name.

The first DAFT residence permit is issued for a period of two years. A Dutch language test is required to apply for permanent residence or citizenship. Some of the procedures have changed. As of April 1, 2014, Americans (and most other foreign employees) coming to the Netherlands for more than three months will receive a single permit combining both a residence permit and a work permit (Gecombineerde Vergunning voor Verblijf en Arbeid, or GVVA).

Under the new procedures, instead of applying to Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) for a residence permit and making a separate application to the Netherlands Employees Insurance Agency (UWV) for a work permit, you apply only for a single permit through the IND. If you want to stay in the Netherlands for more than three months, you may have to apply for a provisional residence permit (MVV) to enter the Netherlands – and may have to take an integration exam.


France’s requirements are unusually rigorous. If you are traveling to France for employment, you must obtain a visa for that purpose before you leave the United States. It is nearly impossible to obtain or change visa status while in France.

To apply for the employment visa, contact the French Embassy in Washington (4101 Reservoir Road NW, Washington, DC 20007, (202) 944 6000), or French Consulate General offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York or San Francisco for the most current visa information. If you obtain a “long stay” visa, you may reside in France for up to 12 months without having to obtain a residence permit (carte de séjour) from the French local authorities, as long as your visa is valid.

However, you’ll have to register with the French Office of Immigration and Integration (OFII) during the first three months of your stay in France. For a long-stay visa to work in France, you’ll have to register with the OFII during the first three months of your stay in France. To do so, you have to send by registered mail to the local French immigration offices the residence form stamped by the consulate and containing your visa number, your date of entry in France or the Schengen area and your address in France; and a copy of the ID pages of your passport and of the immigration stamp received at the border.

You will then be requested to appear for an interview and medical examination, along with your passport, proof of accommodation in France, a picture ID and payment for the processing fees of 55 euros (for workers and students) or 300 euros (for visitors). A registration stamp will the be added to your passport.

The French Office of Immigration makes it very clear that the U.S. Embassy in Paris cannot intervene on behalf of private U.S. citizens with regards to obtaining visas or residency permits.


As a U.S. citizen, you may enter Germany for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa and may apply for a residence permit while in the country. You must obtain a residence permit (aufenthaltstitel) from the local Foreigners Office (ausländerbehörde) if you wish to remain in Germany for longer than three months. The rules for a residence permit require a valid passport, a couple of “biometric” photos (containing a chip with digital information about yourself), proof that you have a place to live, proof of health insurance and proof that you can support yourself.

Contact the German Embassy in Washington – or German consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York or San Francisco – to obtain the most current visa information.


If you plan to stay in Luxembourg longer than three months, you must apply for a temporary-residence permit (autorisation de séjour) before entering the country. This permit, issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, applies to students, employees, self-employed persons, interns, research workers and family members. The permit will be mailed to you. You then have 90 days to enter and must register your arrival (déclaration d’arrivée) within three weekdays at the town office (administration communale) of your future place of residence.

You must request your official residency card (titre de séjour) from the Immigration Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs within three months of your arrival.

For additional information, contact the Embassy of Luxembourg in Washington, D.C. (phone 202-265-4171 or -4172, or email [email protected]); the Luxembourg Consulate General in New York (212-888-6664, [email protected]); or the Luxembourg Consulate General in San Francisco (415-788-0816, [email protected]).


You may enter Spain for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. A temporary residence permit allows you to stay in Spain for a period of between 90 days and five years. Permanent residence permits are granted to foreigners who can prove continuous residence in Spain for five years with no irregular exits from the country. Those entering Spain who wish to stay longer than 90 days must obtain prior information about the procedures from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Employment and Social Security. They will need an official criminal records check from the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS).

To get information about other countries such as Sweden and Austria, go to the EURES Job Mobility Portal here.

NOTE: Two major events in 2015 – the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris and the influx of more than 1 million (mostly Syrian refugees )– caused some of the EU states to reimpose temporary border controls. In December, the European Commission proposed a major amendment to Schengen, expected to become law soon. It will subject EU citizens to the same checking of “papers” that non-EU nationals have always been subject to. And non-EU nationals with a Schengen visa, who generally did not have ID checks once they were traveling inside the zone, may now be subject to. (There are no “papers” anymore, of course, all the checking these days is done on international police databases.)

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