Can an American Live in Europe Legally?


If you’re currently thinking of permanently relocating to from the US to Europe, then there are many things that may be motivating you. Perhaps it’s the slower pace of life offered in some European countries, maybe it’s the views and the scenery offered by a particular spot, or maybe it’s the idea of free healthcare. Whatever your motivations though, the unfortunate reality is that you can’t so easily just up and leave for the Europe with a polka-dot bag thrown over one shoulder – you will need to make sure that you handle the move legally and this will involve a number of stumbling blocks and processes. It is possible to move to Europe, but it’s not going to be easy.  Here we will look at what you will need and how you can get it. If you’re lucky then you may just qualify and find that you can make your dream of living on the continent a reality.

The Trouble With Immigrating to Europe

Staying in Europe for up to 90 days (3 months) is something that anyone can do easily and that doesn’t really require any paper work. Unfortunately though, staying longer is much more difficult. To move anywhere in Europe you will need to apply for a visa/permit. Often this will need to consist of a separate residency permit and work permit. Usually you can do this by simply applying for a visa, but that’s when the problem comes – it may just be that you get rejected and there will be a lot of confusing paper work to handle.

Unfortunately, most countries in Europe are currently struggling with under-employment and stretched resources so they aren’t going to want to let anyone in who is going to exacerbate that problem and they aren’t going to make it easy. You need to be an asset to the economy of the country you are moving to, unless you have some particular claim to live there, and you are going to have to be prepared to deal with a lot of confusing paperwork.

Increasing Your Chances

The easiest way to move to Europe is through your work. If you work for a company with foreign offices in Europe, then you may find you can get transferred overseas and in this case your company should take care of applying for a work visa on your behalf and you will be considerably more likely to be accepted into the country. Alternatively, you may decide to try and find work in your desired country first by applying and then handle getting a visa with a job ‘lined up’ – though you may find this is difficult as most companies would rather hire without the hassle of having to deal with immigration documents.

If you don’t have the option of moving with work, there are still a few things that might make it easier for you and increase your chances of a successful move. For one, if you have any European relatives you may find that you’ve actually inherited their citizenship which will count greatly in your favour when you apply for a visa. Another option of course is to get married, in which case you will need to fill out a questionnaire and prove that you are living with your partner and legitimately married. If you were planning on moving for this reason anyway though, then it might just be a viable option. Finally, you can try and improve your chances by getting a good education. With a PHD or a qualification as a skilled labourer you can prove an asset to the local industry and will be more likely to get a visa – particularly if you got your qualification from a European institution and if you find out what kind of work is in demand in the country you want to live in. This may sound like a long-winded plan, but note that you’ll be able to live abroad while you get your education too (though it will cost you a lot).

Being insanely rich is also an option… Bill Gates would have no problem moving to Europe…

The Paperwork

If none of this applies to you, then you need to be ready to deal with reams of complicated paperwork only to potentially be disappointed. Hire the help of an immigration attorney if you want guidance and be sure to start collecting documents as early as possible to get a head start. Do your homework too – the immigration laws vary between European countries so what applies for the UK may not be the case in Germany etc.

Even if you manage to get a visa, it’s important to recognize that life may be difficult once you get out there. It’s important that you remember practical considerations such as where you are going to live and how you are going to afford your lifestyle and remember that living without the safety net of friends and family can be more daunting than it seems at first.

If you can manage it though and if you’re willing to take the chance, a great adventure might just wait for you across the pond…