Expat Essentials

Series intro: The most welcoming countries in Europe for English-speaking tech talent

Since 2017, we’ve compiled data-driven lists of the best countries and cities for expats. But things change. Along come pandemics, wars and the breakdown of international norms. And of course, the global war for tech talent.

Dispatches is dedicated to the global mobility of talent and to keeping our audience updated on where to go for the best career opportunities.

With our first Dispatches lists of the best cities and countries for expats, we looked at cost of living, prevalence of English, safety, availability of housing and whatnot. By late 2022, we’ve arrived at a moment when housing is scarce everywhere, yet the war for tech talent is out of control to the point that it is changing immigration laws

More and more European countries opening to highly skilled internationals, particularly digital nomads.

This time around we want to look at which EU countries offer an easy transition for tech talent hoping to make the move from non-European Union countries.

The supply side – why talent is emigrating:

  • Cost of living in traditional tech hubs, such as Silicon Valley, New York, Seattle, Boston, Austin and Miami in the United States is often very high.
  • The COVID pandemic created a cultural shift, accelerating the shift towards remote working cultures. Whats more, two years of working from home, lockdowns and restrictions, has many people the thirst for a different way of living – an adventure – making an international move both possible and appealing.
  • Many people looking to chase the dream on an international startup team, or move abroad as Digital Nomads.
  • European countries are in a ruthless competition, search for ways to make themselves a more appealing to global talent such as overhauling bureaucratic application systems and irrelevant CV requirements since many coders, for example, are self-taught.
  • There are so many career opportunities! In the first quarter of 2021, there were 900,000 ads for tech-related vacancies, according to CompTIA,

The demand side – what countries need

Most advanced economies including Germany, the Netherlands and France don’t have enough tech talent to stay competitive in AI, robotics, software, advanced computer chips, photonics or whatever. So, they’re creating new visas to attract talent.

We set out to analyze each of the major advanced economies are offering.

We ruled out some countries such as Hungary and Greece because they’re really not tech centers (yet), or because heir economies are so small they don’t offer that many opportunities.

Some of these are subjective and we hesitate to rank by score because countries across Europe are changing the rules every day, adding new visas for HSIs and Digital Nomads. But we need some way to evaluate the visas so you can decide which country works best for you.

So, each country will get a score, though we’re not going to rank countries first through tenth, or whatever. We will just include the previous scores with each new country we post over the rest of 2022.

BENCHMARKS (Maximum score possible is 700)

Wages, based on the average wage for a software developer in the United States at about $98,000, according to Glassdoor. 100 points.

For example, average tech salaries in Paris, the central hub of the French tech sector where 54.1 percent of start ups are based) are about 55,200 euros annually.

However, a direct comparison is impossible because workers in Europe get far more benefits and time off. But which offer more competitive salaries for a range of tech jobs, including senior and management roles? How do these wages stack up against the average salaries in those countries? How do they compare to other tech hot spots?

English in the workplace: About 90 percent of workplaces use English as the first language in the U.S. 100 points

Dedicated visa for tech talent? 100 points for each country that has them.

Are international schools available? 100 points for each country with multiple schools.

Sophistication of the tech scene based on number of Unicorns in 2021. 100 points

Ease of migration/availability of special work visas for highly skilled internationals. Of course for those from the EU, no visa, residence or work permit required. But for those from outside the EU, a straight forward, quick process is a plus. Luckily many countries have special fast track visas or permits especially for highly skilled workers, and some countries have even created specialised versions of these visas for those working in tech. 100 points

Using those data points, we decided to profile these countries first:

Switzerland

The average pay for a software developer is the equivalent of about $105,000 per year, so roughly five percent higher than in the U.S.

About 45 percent of population are fluent in English, though the percentage is much higher in the German-speaking cantons including Zurich. Moreover, English is increasingly the lingua franca in the corporate setting as well as in academia, at about 20 percent in the German-speaking areas.

Geneva, Zurich and Basel have multiple international schools.

Switzerland, which has surfeit of talent, currently is in the process of making it easier for companies to hire foreign talent.

Finland

About 70 percent of Finns are fluent in english.

Finland just introduced the Find Your Finnish Future campaign

Finnish companies are breaking new ground in 5G, 6G, AI, robotics, mobile, industrial IoT and many other fields. And we have one of the world’s leading ICT and gaming-sectors. So lots of opportunities for HSIs.

Sweden

Sweden just introduced a temporary residence permit, good for up to nine months for certain highly qualified people who wish to stay in the country to look for work or start a business here.

Sweden has produced a number of tech successes including Skype and Klarna

35 unicorns as of early 2022.

Yes, Stockholm is crazy, but Malmo is also a tech startup

Germany

Germany would be No. 1 but gets dinged because only about 60 percent of Germans speak English and German still dominates in the C-suites, even at global companies. But it gets bonus points for being the largest economy in Europe and one of the most innovative, of course.

It gets points for its new IT visa

Netherlands

The Netherlands makes the cut based on two companies – ASML and NXP. ASML makes the most advanced photolithography machines in the world, necessary for making computer chips, and NXP supplies chips to multiple industries including the auto industry. Neither company can find enough talent and recruit globally. And there are many more tech companies that are growing rapidly

The predominance of English is such that most universities have classes only in English, and English is the business language. Almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks fluent English with the exception of maybe farmers in really rural areas.

The Netherlands is speeding up the visa process and lowering the fees, and the process of getting a visa now takes about a month. 

To get a visa, employees have to obtain “highly skilled migrant” status. One of the requirements is that they should have a “recognised sponsor”, which the hiring company has to have already applied for and obtained. To help businesses, the government reduced the fees for companies to become recognised sponsors – especially for those with fewer than 50 employees.

We’ll have a detailed and updated profile of each country, then a final list with complete rankings that will include Tier 2 economies such as Austria, Portugal and Italy.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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