If you’re moving to an EU country from outside the European Economic Area, you’ll find that having a job waiting for you makes things easier when it comes to visa applications. That’s still decided within the EU on a country-by-country basis. France will require you to apply for the visa and residency permit that matches the length of your pre-agreed contract with your employer if you’re moving there to work, for instance.
If you’re moving from within the EU, though, things are different. You have the right to remain in your new country automatically – but finding a job there won’t necessarily be easy. And there’s another group of people who don’t often get a look-in in guides of this kind, who have the right to remain in their new country, but don’t have any kind of employment set up. That’s the husbands and wives of employed immigrants. So if your partner has a job all set to go in Berlin or Madrid and you’re packing your bags and wondering what you’re going to do when you get there, this guide is for you too!
After all, it’s quite likely that when you move abroad with your partner, you’ll have to downshift or even drop your own career for a while. That might be for the duration of the move – or it might be for a couple of years, while the family finds its feet in your new country.
After that period, you’ll find yourself looking around your new country for employment opportunities. Unlike your partner you haven’t come across with a job to land in. And you’re up against the fact that in many countries, there’s an unspoken rule: we hire natives first. Who can blame them? But it still leaves the new arrival out in the cold, until you develop a strategy to get around it.
Self Employed in Europe
One option is to become self-employed. It’s often easier to find people who will deal with you direct for your skills, knowledge and expertise, than to find business owners or HR managers who will give you a job – especially over the heads of natives. Being self-employed comes with its own trials, depending on the country you’re resident in and the sector you go into. People classed as ‘artisans’ in France, for instance, will find themselves in an inexplicably high tax bracket compared to other self-employed people. But by and large, it’s not beyond anyone with management-level skills to become self-employed.
First, figure out what you have to offer. What do you love? What do you know? These questions would apply to any career advice – but remember, in your new country, you’re already a rarity. If you’ve been conscientious and learned the language in your new country, you can look for translation work, either translating documents or interpreting. There’s always plenty of this kind of work available. Other talents or interests might signpost the way forward – in a world where people make six figures on YouTube anything’s possible, so if you have a passion for restoring classic cars, historical reenactment, 80s fashion, French New Wave cinema or 1920s prints, look at what you can do to turn that into an income stream.
Not everyone wants to be self-employed. Even if you have the skills, discipline and motivation, many of us get much more from our careers than something to do and financial recompense for doing it. If you’ve moved to another country with your partner, you might want to step back into your old career or return to working life, with its opportunities for socialisation and integrating into life in your new country. For many of us, that’s actually the most important part of work!
With that in mind, then, how should you approach the workplace in your new country? It depends where you are, but often the cards will be stacked against you because you’re not a native and jobs are scarce. Think of it as another question on the hirer’s mind: you always have to complete applications, write CVs and attend interviews thinking of the answer to the unspoken question, ‘why should I hire you?’ Now you have to answer the question, ‘why should I hire you instead of Sven/Jean-Marie/Francisco/Rolf/etc?’ Go back over your CV with that in mind. You stand out already – you’re the overseas candidate.
What can you do so your skills and experience make you stand out in a good way? Some professionals make their living inducting other professionals into the job markets of their new countries. Money spent here might be a sound investment; so might volunteer work in your sector, or attending open events where you’ll get the chance to network. If your skills are scientific or medical, there are options for conversion to German qualifications, for instance, or to have your overseas qualifications recognised – but again, there are hoops to jump through. In the case of Germany, recognition is often tied to a job offer from a German institution!
If you’re looking at reentering the academic system, you might find that your qualifications aren’t automatically recognised. There’s no EU-wide system of automatic recognition, so it’s done country by country. You might find your qualifications formally recognised but downgraded, making you have to study at a lower level than you’re qualified for in your home country even if you’re from the EU.
For those who are ready to apply for jobs, two major hurdles remain: work culture, and what we could cal ‘CV culture.’ For instance, if you’re from the USA, you’re probably used to a CV that’s quite tightly focussed on work and education, with some extracurricular material in there to speak to your personal qualities. In Germany, though, a CV isn’t complete without a recent picture and a few words about your family, as well as disclosure of your marital status and the number of children you have. Being unprepared for this kind of difference will mean your CV will be automatically rejected. Get it right and your foreign-ness might start to look like a virtue in the eyes of potential employers.
Having made your CV acceptable and been invited to interview, be prepared for surprises. In some countries work starts at 7 and then finishes at 2PM, only to recommence at 4 or 5 for several more hours. If you show up at a Swedish office at 4PM on Friday in a suit and tie, there will be no-one there to explain to you that in their work culture, every day is dress-down day. They will all have gone home at 2PM to get ready to spend the weekend away.
In Spain, agreement in business deals is easily reached – commitment to a timeframe and specific deliverables is not so smoothly arrived at. That’s not an individual being evasive, it’s the normal mode of doing business. In Sweden, by contrast, yes means yes – and 10AM means 9:55. Being late is seriously rude there, but Italians might not even notice a couple of minutes here or there, and being concerned about it yourself won’t mark you out as professional, jut strange.
Thorough research of your new country’s work culture by talking online or in person to other ex-pats and taking nothing for granted is the best way to avoid making faux pas, but you will make some: be prepared to laugh them off with good grace.