If you’re not a citizen of a country in the European Union, you probably already know that you need special legal permission to work in Europe. Commonly referred to as a “work visa”, it usually is a small card with your picture on it. But the form doesn’t matter. What “having a work visa” in Europe really means, is that you have three key rights that a tourist visa won’t allow: to work a job in that specific country, earn a salary for that work and stay in the country longer than the 90 days a tourist visa allows. It means living and working in Europe as seamlessly as you would be doing at home.
To get a work visa, the type of work matters. People who want to do lower-skilled work or bartend might have to work under the table, because European countries just don’t want to allow legal outside access to these labor markets. Some might tell you then that your only legal work option is to teach English.
However, that’s not true. If you can land what you and I would consider a 9-to-5 or “professional” type job, then you might just have your ticket to living and working in Europe. I know, because I’m an American who has worked in Marketing, based solely in Europe, for the past eight years. So now I’m here to give you hope of doing the same.
As if getting a professional job on another continent wasn’t already hard enough, if you haven’t gone through the work visa process previously you might find it’s confusing at best, seemingly insurmountable at worst. Maybe you’re just ignoring the whole thing entirely. “Can someone just tell me in plain English what is the deal with work visas, and what to do?!” Most definitely, new friend. Let me give you the rundown of the three most important things you need to know about getting a work visa to do a professional job in Europe.
1. First comes the job, and only then comes the work visa.
I’ve heard a lot of people say, “It seems like a Catch-22. I need to get a work visa to get a job, but I have to get a job to get a work visa”. That is just not the case. If a potential employer says they can’t hire you unless you already have a work visa, it usually means they just aren’t up for doing extra paperwork to hire someone from outside the EU.
How do I know? Because to get a work visa, you need to have a concrete job offer. The job offer from a company comes first, and then the work visa is just the legal validation you can take up that offer. It means your job will meet the work visa conditions that the country has set.
You cannot even apply for a work visa until you have a firm job offer. Not only that, your work visa is usually tied to that specific job only; if you switch jobs or companies, you have to reapply for a new one. So again, it is just not feasible to get a work visa first, job second. A jobseeking visa, maybe, is available in some countries like Germany and Austria. But once you get the job offer, to be able to start working you will apply for that work visa. Sorry, no way around it!
So now that you’re in the know of how it really works, I would definitely recommend you be fully focused on finding and getting the best possible job offer that you can get. But wait, wait don’t stop reading.
The job offer is by far the most important piece of the work visa puzzle, because the better the job offer, the more likely it is that it meets all of the country’s work visa requirements.
And on that note, there’s something else you need to know…
2. Every country in Europe has different work visa requirements.
Rules, requirements, conditions, whatever you call them. Each country in Europe gets to decide what hoops you and your employer have to jump through to get you a work visa so you can work in their hood.
I repeat, there is no common work visa policy across the region. Don’t get deterred by someone stating that the economy in “Europe” or the laws in “Europe” make it impossible to work there. Some countries make it easier for you, some make it hard. There’s a wide variety of rules across the continent.
Do you have a country you are dead set on? Or maybe a few you are interested in? You might want to check out their work visa requirements to see what you are up against.
You might be surprised how easily some countries will hand over a work visa to you. Denmark, for example, has the easiest rules by far. All you have to do is get a job over a certain salary (that’s not unreasonable at all if you get a professional job) and you can live and work there.
Some countries though do make it seem like if you can’t split the atom, you’ll have a tough time getting a work visa. But insiders know this last fact that I’ll share with you today…
3. Impossible-looking work visa requirements can appear scarier than they actually are.
You might come across work visa rules that sound something along the lines of: “The employer needs to prove that they could not fill the position with a suitable candidate from the EU.” And so you feel defeated, because of course they can find another business or marketing or finance or whatever person in Europe.
But the thing is, your European employer can go through some extra motions necessary to appease the authorities to try to get you in. While there are no guarantees of course, many non-EU citizens “slip through the cracks” so to speak in this way. Your company can for example post the job advert, accept applications, but at the end of the day reject them all and really make a case why you’re the best. In situations like these, you just gotta go for it. What do you have to lose?
Which brings us full circle back to point number one. You need that firm, make that SUPER FIRM, job offer from an employer that thinks the world of you - and isn’t afraid to shout it loud. If they’re only lukewarm, then they’ll just give you the ol’ “you need a work visa to work here” line. But hey…at least now you can call them out on it!
Really go for that job in Europe, and the rest might just fall so neatly into place you’ll wonder what the whole big deal about work visas was anyway.
And if you’re really going for that job (Europe or bust!) and want personal guidance and even more detailed information on how, make sure to sign up for my free insider’s guide "How best & where exactly to find a job in Europe”, on my blog You, Me, Europe. Looking forward to connect!
Article credit: Rapha helps ambitious, awesome fellow Americans achieve their dream to live and work in Europe. Whatever country you’re interested in she can help you crack the code how, having gotten jobs herself in France and Denmark (and working, studying and traveling in many more!). For actionable tips and personal guidance, make sure to go to her blog You, Me, Europe.