Moving to France, No Job, Don't Know French, It's Happening Regardless
August 19, 2009 8:45 PM   Subscribe

Moving to France, No Job, Don't Know French, It's Happening Regardless. How do I find work in the manual labor sector? Can I go over as a "tourist" fall in love with the country and stay without coming back to the States to figure out visas and such? I will be going over there with little money (~$1500) and will need to figure out work fast.

I am tired of the US. I don't like the way our systems work, the way our government treats us, and I want to move out. I have looked at several countries but finally settled on France. I like the idea of a country that seems to encourage people to enjoy and appreciate their lives. I am sure my idealized version of France is nothing like the real thing and that I am in for a shock. I am ok with that. Any change is good and I relish the adventure.

A little about me. I am 18, live on my own, and have few ties and responsibilities here in the States, nothing that can't be worked out. I have not yet gone to college, but intend to get a degree eventually. Right now I feel like I would only be doing it because that it what is expected of me, rather than it being the best option for me right now. $80k of debt is not a way to start a life. I want to learn about the world and myself before I do something like that.

The philosophical out of the way, lets get into details. I have about three years experience in the exterior/interior painting industry. I am not exceptionally quick at it, but I work hard and produce extremely fine quality work. I have dabbled in other manual jobs too, and am fairly handy with engines, carpentry, roofing, electrical work, plumbing, and the like. I want to get a job in a similar area when I move to France. I think it will give me an excellent opportunity to work on the language, as well as being the kind of work that doesn't usually require perfect communication. I would eventually like to go to school somewhere in Europe, but for now I just want to work, be productive, live independently, and grow as a person.

How should I start going about this? After I pay for the flight, I'll have somewhere between $1000 and $2000 dollars to start me off. Chump change from what I hear, but I can hobo with the mediocre of them! I plan to take my bicycle and pare my belongings down to a duffel, give/sell my vehicles and stuff away to friends and family, get a prepaid cellphone over there, and swap my desktop for a netbook so I still have connection. I have a passport, but figure I would need a visa, however without a job or school lined up, that really just leaves tourist visas and from what I have read, those don't seem to work for what I want. I also want to head over sometime around October.

You may get the impression that I am deluding myself with my shoestring budget and short schedule. Maybe I am, but I am getting out of here regardless. My living standards can be low, and my will to work is extraordinary. As a side project while I am there, I want to commune with interesting architects and learn more about what it is I think I want to go to school for.

In summation:

My most marketable skill is house painting, how best to go about getting a similar job in France?
~$1500 starting budget (after plane ticket)
Can I head over and work on getting the proper visas and such while I am there?
I am perfectly cool with living in relative squalor for a while if that's what it takes to make this happen.

If you guys really think France is not an option, I like Norway (Pricy!) and Argentina a lot too, and I might consider somewhere like Malaysia but that might be too much of a change right now. Also, I live in Seattle, but can fly out of Pittsburgh too.
posted by jellywerker to Travel & Transportation around France (129 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
There will be loads of forms to fill out. One of those forms will ask you which French firm you will be working for. Without that, it's not happening. I would expect most other countries to be similar.
posted by sanko at 8:57 PM on August 19, 2009

They're going to turn you around at the gate.
posted by 517 at 8:58 PM on August 19, 2009 [10 favorites]

If you have any European grandparents you may be able to get a Euro passport, and that gives you a foot in the door. Otherwise you risk living there illegally.
posted by zadcat at 9:03 PM on August 19, 2009

Dude, get an attorney now so you can do it right. Otherwise, you're just going to mess it all up and end up kicked out of France. (I am not your lawyer - this is not legal advice.)

Seriously, get a lawyer right away.
posted by The World Famous at 9:07 PM on August 19, 2009

Why don't you go paint houses for a rebuilding nonprofit in New Orleans instead?

-It would actually help people
-It would be significantly cheaper, both to get there and to live there
-You don't risk getting arrested for illegal immigration and being shipped back to the US
-Some people even speak French there
posted by oinopaponton at 9:10 PM on August 19, 2009 [12 favorites]

If you're willing to go someplace entirely foreign to you (language you don't speak, culture you don't know, no friends or family), is there a reason you've ruled out the Peace Corps or some similar volunteer/humanitarian organization?
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:11 PM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

A lawyer seems far less prudent than a call to an embassy, which I intend to do as soon as I can.
posted by jellywerker at 9:11 PM on August 19, 2009

Argentina is really cool and your money will go much (5.4 times, as of press time) farther in Argentina than in Europe. Also, people who speak good english are more rare there once you get outside of BA and the main tourist cities. If I were you, I'd go down there and try to WWOOF for a while to get used to the culture and the language. That way you can save some money for when you want to try to go get a slightly more real job in a city, or your plane ticket home, which you should definitely include in your planning.

You can get all around the country dirt cheap on buses, the beef is the best in the world and is fairly cheap, and the people are very friendly.

Having written all this out, I might go do this now. It sounds fun.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:12 PM on August 19, 2009 [6 favorites]

How is calling a lawyer imprudent? It may be more expensive than calling an embassy (though marginally so). But a lawyer will a) give you reliable advice upon which you can rely and have recourse if it's bad advice, and b) be bound to confidentiality and not put you on a list of people trying to illegally immigrate.
posted by The World Famous at 9:14 PM on August 19, 2009

Instead of getting a lawyer, if I were you, I'd surf the 'net and see about hooking up with a company that helps young folks find employment in Europe. Some might be scams, so be wary, but I believe that there is a company that helps place Europeans (mostly Brits) in holiday work in Australia. Hopefully there is something similar for Europe.

Americans do not need a visa to go to France for a vacation; I think the max stay is 60 or 90 days. You could go there for a 'vacation' then try to land a job but I don't recommend that.

Instead, landing something while you're here (have you considered joining Americorps/Peacecorps?) would be best; that way you could enter the country on a work/student visa.

Good luck!
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 9:15 PM on August 19, 2009

@oinopaponton: Not interested in New Orleans. Out of the US is the goal.

@Meg_Murry: I've looked, those I've seen are too expensive or have too high of requirements (Peace Corps wants a degree these days, and "work experience" means more years than I have)
posted by jellywerker at 9:15 PM on August 19, 2009

You sound like me. Actually, exactly like me. I am 18 and I just read that France's tuition is the same for their students and international students. I think that would be the easiest way to immigrate, especially since (and this could be lost in translation, my French is OK but not perfect) their tuition ranges from free to $3,000 (up to $10,000 for business schools).
Why France, though? I love French and predict that I'd love France, so I'm not putting you down, just asking. helped me a little too, in figuring out the different visas that existed in the UK.
You can MeMail me if you want; I am actually trying to find ways to move out of the States in a few years too.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 9:16 PM on August 19, 2009

Have you considered the Peace Corps? It would get you out of the US and you'd work hard, have the opportunity to live with other cultures and learn a new language. Then when you return, I'd start with community college. You can get a degree without the huge debt. Talk to an academic counselor, there might be grants available that can help with some of your tuition.
posted by whiskeyspider at 9:17 PM on August 19, 2009

Oh yeah, and Quebec has some sort of "Quebec rates for all classes that have to do with French".. maybe France has something like that too; you should take French classes if France turns out to be where you decide to go ... I get the feeling they don't exactly like when you don't try to learn their language.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 9:18 PM on August 19, 2009

How do I find work in the manual labor sector? Can I go over as a "tourist" fall in love with the country and stay without coming back to the States to figure out visas and such?

You won't. No, you cannot. Without a visa and work permit you will be competing with illegal immigrants from Africa/Eastern Europe for illegal jobs. There is no established community of illegal Americans who want to do manual labour, so you will have no network. You won't be able to use their networks because you won't speak any of the languages they speak. Why would anybody hire you for manual labor when you're an arrogant American who will imagine themselves to have human rights, and there are desperate foreigners just trying to survive who would work for less?

You just want to get out of the States - have you thought about Canada, or Australia? Or any country that will actually give you a work permit?
posted by jacalata at 9:19 PM on August 19, 2009 [6 favorites]

You are deluding yourself with your shoestring budget and short schedule.

...among many other things. I hate pissing on your parade, because I sort of wish that starry-eyed teenagers could still make their fortunes in foreign countries after stepping off the boat with nothing but their ambitions, but it's terribly, terribly naive. Go to college. Go somewhere else in the US. Or if you want away, apply for the working holiday visa to Australia.
posted by holgate at 9:20 PM on August 19, 2009 [8 favorites]

Just fyi to other posters, I don't believe that Americorps or Peacecorps goes to France. Americorps is American, and Peacecorps is for developing countries. (I may be wrong but that's how it was last I checked).

Though I am sure Peacecorps goes to some french speaking countries that could use your help.

I admire your spirit and wish you the best, but honestly, the best way to legally be in France as a citizen is to find a firm that wants you there BEFORE you leave. That will only happen if you have skills they cannot find easily in France.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 9:23 PM on August 19, 2009

And no, you can't just enrol in a French university because you have to pass a French competency exam to get in.
posted by jacalata at 9:23 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I believe an American can stay in Canada legally for 180 days per year without paperwork, if you go the Quebec route. Might be Training France?
posted by clango at 9:26 PM on August 19, 2009

um... so ya, my previous post needed work. Americorps puts people IN America. Both programs are "American".

And "citizenship" is not even worth thinking about... a visa is what you want and that is still going to be neigh impossible given your circumstances. (sorry for double post)
posted by DetonatedManiac at 9:27 PM on August 19, 2009

If you're willing and interested in learning French (as in, here), I have a friend who makes a pretty decent living wage teaching English in the French school system. He's fluent, but he says a lot of people aren't, and they get by OK.

It may not be the most respectful way to integrate into another culture, but it's at least designed for foreigners, and a good way to get your foot in the door.
posted by puckish at 9:28 PM on August 19, 2009

I do want to learn the language, just saying I won't have much prior experience other than a few library books.

As for the lawyer option, that costs money. Too much money.

And why France? Why not France? It's cheaper than going to Norway for school, a new language is difficult regardless of which, even if it's an "easy" language. The weather stays nicer which is important for painting. Also, from what I have heard the schools are better than Argentina, though those are free too. I want to go into Engineering/Architecture eventually.

People: Peace Corps doesn't work like you think it does. This is not the sixties. No degree and only one year of work experience on the books (you learn as much under the table as you do above, that's why I said three years experience) won't do shit with them. I've looked into it before.

@jacalata: I understand you can't just walk in. Things are not equivalent and you still have to be accepted. I was hoping to work for a few years and learn my way around before I attempt to go to school wherever I go.

@holgata: I understand what you are saying, however just because it doesn't usually work doesn't mean it can't. People still walk off the boat and make fortunes.
posted by jellywerker at 9:28 PM on August 19, 2009

I value the fast discourse by the way and I wanted to add I just found out about WWOOF about three hours ago and have been looking into it.
posted by jellywerker at 9:31 PM on August 19, 2009

Seconding holgate. You're delusional.

Your lack of interest in further education is a further problem. If you really want to leave the US legally and have a decent life somewhere else, your best bet is to get a serious education and learn an internationally marketable skill. There are hundreds of thousands North African immigrants in France who will paint houses better and more cheaply than you. Your skill is worth nothing more than the quantity of physical labor you can provide, and that's a commodity. Even if you managed to stay in France as an illegal immigrant, you'd be living in constant fear of being discovered and deported back to the country you appear to hate so much, unable to use any of the social services which are a major part of the "good life" you think you see in France (you're delusional there too; it sucks as badly to be poor in Paris as it does anywhere in the US), unable to open a bank account, get a legal job, avoid being exploited by employers if they do hire you, etc. If you can't speak French, they're not likely to hire you even to exploit you, though.

Look at the average illegal immigrant worker in your American community. That's you in France, dude. And it's gonna suck.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:31 PM on August 19, 2009 [32 favorites]

Sorry, you didn't express a lack of interest in further education; you expressed a completely unrealistic interest in taking advantage of the free education you will not be entitled to use in a language you cannot speak.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:33 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I wholeheartedly support your idea of taking a leap into the great unknown and kudos to you for being bold enough to consider it. I love doing off-the-wall life-adventure stuff like this. I also think you should take heed of the comments upthread about the viability (not) of your current plan.

Here's an option.
Why not take a detour on your way to France? For example, you can get a one year working holiday visa to Australia (a place which also encourages people to live and enjoy their lives). Jobs in interior/exterior house painting are yours for the asking out here. You'll be able to save up lots of bucks. You'll also meet lots of French travellers here you can make friends and contacts with. Then when you want to leave, head on up to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef, catch a job crewing on a yacht that's heading into the South Pacific, get off at one of the french speaking tropical islands, get some french into your brain, and mosey on over to the continent with money and some great adventures already under your belt.

Good luck!
posted by Kerasia at 9:33 PM on August 19, 2009 [17 favorites]

Peace Corps wouldn't be an option for the OP. The OP would need some college and the drive to help people, It doesn't seem like the OP is interested in helping people in reviewing the OP's comment re: New Orleans.

I know the feeling of just needing to get away from it all, but I think you are going to find that your money will not get you far. Just think about the cost of taking your bike and a million other things that are going to add up. Even in your post you aren't consistent in the amount of money you'll even have. It ranges from $1,000-$2,000 and I suspect it will end up being on the lower end of the spectrum.

As holgate said, I hate pissing on your parade...
posted by pdx87 at 9:34 PM on August 19, 2009

As for the lawyer option, that costs money. Too much money.

It would likely cost well under $1000. If you don't have that much to spend on making sure you immigrate in a non-problematic way, you cannot afford to even try. Sorry.

Have you ever seen illegal immigrant workers in the United States? Day laborers that wait by the side of the road and then jump in the back of a pickup truck to go work somewhere for the day, and they all speak spanish and know each other, for example?

That's what you're contemplating doing. Except that you'll be the only illegal immigrant in your crew who is not a native speaker of a North-African language (including French). You'll be more likely to learn Ghanaian or Arabic than French. And your living conditions, on your budget and operating in the illegal immigrant worker scene, will be worse than you have ever seen in the United States.
posted by The World Famous at 9:37 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

(1) Go as a tourist.
(2) Work illegally.
(3) Find girl.
(4) Get married.
(5) Get permanent visa as spouse.
(6) Work legally.
(7) Enjoy life.
posted by rokusan at 9:39 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

this might be a bit out there, but have you considered the French Foreign Legion? You can apply for French citizenship after three years... just some food for thought.
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 9:39 PM on August 19, 2009 [12 favorites]

As a data point. when I visited Barcelona I met a Chilean who had basically done what you want to do:

He entered the country as a tourist, overstayed his visa and found work as a waiter. He stayed there until he was offered a contract then came back to Chile where he did all the necessary form-filling to return to Spain on a working visa. And now he's working there, legally.

Do I recommend to do this? Not at all. Because of people like him I got detained and harassed in almost every airport I touched when I went to Ireland last year, including Spain's. And, of course, if you get caught you can kiss goodbye any chance of staying or entering that country ever again (or at least for a long long time).

But it can be done and has been done before.
posted by Memo at 9:40 PM on August 19, 2009

$1500 won't last you long in a European country when you consider the Euro to US$ exchange rate. You could probably make it a month...maybe a month & a half without a job, and that's if you live like a hobo for some of the time. I think without speaking any French, you are going to struggle. I would either try to go to an English speaking European country or a South American or Central American country. Your money will stretch a lot further in S. or C. America. Try & hook up with other could do house-sitting. I house sat in Costa Rica for an ex-pat who wanted to travel for a few weeks and needed someone to stay in her house, which was in a semi high crime area. I also waited tables for awhile, (under the table) in Ireland, but didn't make a lot of money...but enough to pay for a shared room & beer money.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:40 PM on August 19, 2009

I picked up and randomly moved the UK at 21, so I know where you're coming from -- my answers was always "why not?" too, when people asked me why I was moving to another country.

Based on my own experience, I think you're going to have a difficult time doing this without involving higher education. My "in" to Scotland was a foreign study program with my American university, and I could only stay in the UK because I was doing a Master's while working. I only qualify for continuing visas because I have a Master's-level education. EU countries already have "open" borders to the rest of Europe, so they have plenty of access to unskilled laborers moving around the continent - I really don't think they're going to grant you a visa for a low-wage job.

As Kerasia says, I would suggest that you go to Oz first and have a blast finding your way to France, or wherever else life takes you.
posted by ukdanae at 9:46 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

A lawyer seems far less prudent than a call to an embassy, which I intend to do as soon as I can.

Here is what the French, Norwegian, Canadian, Belgian, British, and every other first-world embassy or immigration agency on this planet will tell you:

"We do not need more dirt-poor teenaged housepainters, especially ones who by their own admission are not very fast at it and do not speak even a baby-talk version of our language and so are virtually unhireable. Go and perform an anatomically impossible act, and never speak to us again."

The only way to do this will be to be an illegal, opening yourself to vast new realms of victimization at the hands of people willing to hire illegals, quite possibly law enforcement officers, and other illegals whose depths of desperation you fundamentally do not understand.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:48 PM on August 19, 2009 [19 favorites]

however just because it doesn't usually work doesn't mean it can't. People still walk off the boat and make fortunes.

France, and Europe in general, have honking big, strict, enforced immigration laws that say you're wrong. It's hard to move to Europe. They make it hard on purpose. And so they should, you have nothing to offer them. No money, no higher education, no marketable work skills, you don't even speak the language. Other countries don't care if you no longer like your government. They care if you can arrive and be a contributing member of society without taking oppurtunities away from those that already live there (which, right now, you can't). And if you do it wrong (NB: going on a tourist visa, working illegally then overstaying illegally is doing it wrong) then you can not only screw up this trip but make it so you can't go back for a long long time. I know you're young and impatient but really, it's worth taking the time to do this properly.

I'm planning to move to Europe next year. By then I'll have a PhD, a publication history, a couple of years work experience, and a big chunk of money saved and even then I might not make it over there. That's the reality of trying to emmigrate to a well protected market.
posted by shelleycat at 9:53 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Why not France?

-because unemployment for people under 25 in France (INCLUDING THOSE WITH DEGREES) is 22%. Unemployment for those under 20 in the United States is 19%, which isn't a good comparison because a smaller proportion of teenagers need work, and you would also be at less of a disadvantage compared to that group. This rate in France represents a recent decrease, whereas the current American rate is the 'highest ever'.

-because they won't give you a visa. You have nothing to offer them that some EU citizen doesn't. And 'adventurous' though it sounds, living illegally anywhere is not really a good choice. Unemployment rate for illiterate illegal teenagers is probably even higher.

-because as an American who doesn't speak any French AND is there're only going to be popular amongst political science students, and none of them have a job (they're on government support) and none of them know where to go to get an illegal labouring job either.

Seriously, why aren't you looking at countries that will let you in? Canada or Australia? Why have you given up on the idea of current study? If you're no longer looking to row at college, then what's stopping you from enrolling at a community college? Take some foreign language classes.

Just as some background: I'm a British citizen. I moved to France when I was 18, after one year of university. I had studied French for 7 years and spoke it 'roughly'. My brother lived there and was married to a local girl. I spent a month looking for work and couldn't even get a job as a cleaner or babysitter. My brother didn't know of any jobs. His family in law didn't know of any jobs. I even had a work permit. I think you seriously have absolutely no idea what it would be like.
posted by jacalata at 9:57 PM on August 19, 2009 [6 favorites]

I'm fine with helping people, just not in the US. I want out, remember? I don't hate the country, I just don't want to waste time trying to change it when I could go somewhere else that I perceive to be "better" in some way, *right now.* That's great if we reform healthcare and social security, but my generation likely won't benefit from it much, we'll still be trying to figure out how to fund the boomers.

As for "taking advantage" of certain systems, also not true. I'd like to be productive in whatever society I go to. I am not trying to freeload. And I assume you glossed over the part where I said I wanted to take some time to get a footing in a place and learn the language before I even attempted school? Jesus people, you bitter or something?

And college? Yes I want to go, but what's the rush? The more I look I just see people who have had problems with their education, and with weighted systems. Great loads of debt for mediocre jobs in fields they don't like because they went straight into uni after high school and never thought about what they really wanted. Locked down from changing things because of their debt. Falling back into shitty jobs so they can make their monthly minimum interest payments. Schools taking the kids that have money, not who are most likely to use the education. Hey, did I call some people bitter earlier? It's alright, I am too. But I am also logical about some things and don't want to be the one grain of sand that tries to stand against a tsunami. I want to be the grain of sand that makes its way into a shoe and goes places.

@ROU: Not very fast doesn't mean slow. My speed is competent and my work is above average.

@Kerasia: Australia could be interesting. I would have to look at it more.
posted by jellywerker at 9:58 PM on August 19, 2009

Also, France was the starting point, in the OP I mentioned other countries could be alright. Kerasia seemed to have noticed that.
posted by jellywerker at 10:00 PM on August 19, 2009

oh, end of that story: I never found a job. I moved to London and got a job in a bar.
posted by jacalata at 10:00 PM on August 19, 2009

IMO as someone who moved from the US to Britain at 18 for university, you should a) try getting a working holiday visa for Australia or New Zealand or b) take your money and volunteer with a service that will place you where you want to go. EU laws are really strict about this sort of thing, and without proper qualifications (you don't speak French, you don't have a degree), you may run into a chance at getting in trouble with the law. But if you volunteer for a while, that can open the door to an actual career working in nonprofit or NGOs and could, in the long term, help you get a job in France.
posted by canadia at 10:01 PM on August 19, 2009

You can get a work visa for Canada in hospitality. You don't sound qualified to serve but bussing, dishwashing and hosting are positions the local ski hill hires people from all over to fill. It's poor paying with free skiing for 4-5 months however it will get you hooked into the back packing and working vacation circuit and in a country where you could hitch hike home if you had to; and you speak the language. The contacts and expertise on how to working vacation around the world will be the key thing you'll take from this.

clango writes "I believe an American can stay in Canada legally for 180 days per year without paperwork, if you go the Quebec route. Might be Training France?"

You can't legally work on a tourist visa though.
posted by Mitheral at 10:04 PM on August 19, 2009

You generally can't immigrate to EU countries as an unskilled laborer. It can be difficult even for skilled laborers with job offers (with the exception of the UK).

Canada certainly wouldn't be any more lenient than the EU countries for your current plan. However, if you go to university in Canada, you can qualify for a post-graduate work permit. This allows you stay and work in Canada for up to 3 years or the length of your study (whichever is shorter). The nice thing about it is that you don't need a job offer to obtain this permit, so it gives you time after graduation to find a job if needed.

Obviously, the idea here is that you would pursue more skilled work than housepainting after finishing your degree. Just a thought if you are interested in living out of the US and going to university at some point.
posted by pravit at 10:04 PM on August 19, 2009

Just out of curiosity, have you done much (solo) traveling in non-English-speaking countries? Have you ever even been to France? You realize that it is not like in Moulin Rouge, yes? Take the most accessible destination--Paris. Paris is just like any other big global city. For ease of discussion, in fact, let's just say it is New York.

Do you believe that you can just go to New York, get a job, find a place to live and make something for yourself in New York with just $2000, and no contacts, competing for work against illegal immigrants willing to work for nothing, eat little, and sleep in flophouses 10 to a room? If yes, do you think you can do that in another language?

Do you know how to say "Hello, my name is Jelly, and I am a housepainter looking for work. I don't have work papers, so please pay me in cash."?

Honestly, there is no way that this is going to work, no how, nope. BUT, that said, you might come back with a great story to tell--it could be an amazing bildungsroman about how you lived homeless on the Champs Élysées.

That's a street.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:06 PM on August 19, 2009 [8 favorites]

You actually have a lot of good options to do this legally and with a safety net, but (1) enrolling in college can make the process easier and (2) they take maybe 6-12 months worth of planning to implement and

First - enrolling in college: It sounds like you recently graduated from high school, but didn't enroll/apply for college. This should be your first step because being a "college student" opens a lot of doors (as opposed to "aimless wanderer" or even "gainfully employed person who isn't a student").

Just because you enroll in a college doesn't mean you have to graduate from that particular college. Just because you're taking first year classes doesn't mean you have to pick a major. And just because you apply and are accepted doesn't mean you have to actually attend - many schools allow you to defer enrollment or put a term on hold - you're still a student, just not currently attending, so you won't need to pay tuition. There may be a small fee you have to pay on re-enrollment, however.

Also if you haven't looked deeply into college admissions, don't be afraid of "average" tuition costs. I know many people who have gone to state or community schools for a year or two to save money before transferring to a more expensive school. I'm not sure about Seattle, but here in NYC, you can go to a good state school for less than $3000 a semester. Also, you might be surprised at the grants/scholarships/aid you may qualify for.

And, many schools have rolling deadlines, so you still might be able to apply for Fall 09. If not, Spring 2010 deadlines are coming up soon.

Second - the reason I suggested you apply to college is because many (though by no means all) legal routes of working abroad require that you're a college student or graduate. Sure, there will be obligations, but you sound like you can handle it. The best part is, they will get you to another country under someone's care with some guarantee of food and shelter. If you really can hustle like you think you can, you should easily be able to find a way to stay abroad once you are already there. I can think of 3 options:

- Once you're in college, you can always study abroad: you can always make contacts while abroad with the safety net of a dorm and classes, and then "take a leave of absence" for a while. (Any work you're likely to find in this case would probably be illegal).

- On the legal side, lots people do a "gap year" program of volunteer work abroad between high school and college. Also search for "volunteer abroad" in general. Some of these programs are free, but you have to pay expenses. Many, especially the ones not geared toward students, require an up front fee. Most of these programs are in 3rd world countries, so that would largely exclude your choices, but at least it would get you out of this country!

- However, I think your best bet is to find work abroad programs for students. The French embassy would probably have information on programs like this, and it is the best way you can legally meet your #1 goal: to work abroad in France. I did BUNAC for the UK after Freshman year, and I know the British Embassy had info packets on it. There are no skills required, but you do have to find your own job and place to live. I was doing boring basic secretarial work by day - it was my first office job (transitioning from retail).

These programs tend to be under a year in length, unfortunately - but a year is a good long time to figure out alternative arrangements, if you want to try to stay longer. They have a France program now too!

Good luck! I don't know why everyone is so discouraging. I very much wish I had taken a year or two off between high school and college. It is much easier to find and follow your passion when you're not already halfway down a path you didn't sign up for.
posted by lesli212 at 10:07 PM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

I did this when I was 19 with BUNAC. (My destination was London.) Just a heads up: getting sequestered in an immigration agent's office and threatened with deportation sucks. And I was legal.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:08 PM on August 19, 2009

I just remembered--a friend of mine worked for a summer waiting tables at an American-owned restaurant in France.

So, start talking to people in the States with connections to France (or wherever). An American family living abroad might need a nanny or something. Manual labor skills don't distinguish you as a potential employee for anyone in France, but being an English-speaking American might in a very few cases. I've seen occasional ads posted by American college professors spending time abroad who want to bring along an American nanny/maid/cook/secretary (and pay slave wages)--with the idea being that, sure, the pay is crap, but we're taking you with us to Paris!
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:09 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

And college? Yes I want to go, but what's the rush?

The rush is that the sooner you get to college the sooner you can acheive the goals that only college can open the door to. Once you start college, there are ways that you can use your position as a student to get to France and stay there legally.

Great loads of debt for mediocre jobs in fields they don't like because they went straight into uni after high school and never thought about what they really wanted.

Whereas your plan is to travel basically peniless to a country where you will have to work illegally with no education.

Locked down from changing things because of their debt.

You are currently locked down from changing things because of your refusal to get a college education.

Falling back into shitty jobs so they can make their monthly minimum interest payments.

Whereas your plan is to work in far worse jobs.

Schools taking the kids that have money, not who are most likely to use the education.

This is simply not true. Moreover, immigrating to France without money is a lot harder to do than going to college without money. There is no illegal immigrant need-based financial aid program. There are no Pell Grants for selling jewlery on the street in Paris while you try to scrape together enough money to stay in a hostel instead of sleeping on the street.

But I am also logical about some things and don't want to be the one grain of sand that tries to stand against a tsunami.

Immigration law and the law enforcement agencies of countries that do not recognize the same civil rights with regard to criminal prosecution that you enjoy in the United States are a pretty big tsunami to stand against - particularly when you have zero resources.

I want to be the grain of sand that makes its way into a shoe and goes places.

The name of that shoe is "Student I.D. Card."
posted by The World Famous at 10:10 PM on August 19, 2009 [10 favorites]

I did this when I was 19 with BUNAC. (My destination was London.) Just a heads up: getting sequestered in an immigration agent's office and threatened with deportation sucks. And I was legal.

Jeez, what'd you do?! I lost my passport when I was there and they didn't kick me out early. I had a friend who was an "off the books" bartender in London (which, I think is easier to do than in France) and he didn't get kicked out either. Is this a post-9/11 thing?
posted by lesli212 at 10:15 PM on August 19, 2009

It's hard to move to Europe. They make it hard on purpose.

And it's really effing hard to be a painter and decorator coming from outside the EU when pretty much every time-served, highly-skilled house painter east of the Iron Curtain has taken advantage of the single market to make decent money in western Europe. (And fair play to them.) Na ga happen.

I'm British. My dad paints houses. He wanted away when he was in his early 20s. He applied for the 'ten pound Pom' visa to Australia, decided against emigrating at the last minute, and instead spent four years painting houses on an island off the coast of France. If he'd gone down under, I wouldn't be here, but my non-existent self would have understood his motivation. That was quite a long time ago. Wanderlust is much more difficult to satisfy these days -- though, as an American, you have a pretty large space in which to wander.

I absolutely sympathise with your desire to run away and join the circus. (That's sorta kinda what it is.) My instant thirtysomething reaction ("oh, grow up") is not particularly satisfying, either to you or myself. But if you're going to head out into the big wide world to see what it offers, at least do it in a way that doesn't set off every mental alarm bell and blue light.
posted by holgate at 10:16 PM on August 19, 2009

I graduated in 08. I have previously applied to a singular college and was denied. However I realized I went about it like an idiot and got my shit together (retook SAT's, community college, working with hs counselors, etc... I can probably get in to where I applied previously, 2100 SAT, 3.08 College GPA, all my recent classes have been A's, so my curve is good, my record just shows that I was immature when I took college in high school classes) for applications for winter/spring semester/quarter. However, I've become disillusioned with college and have always wanted to live overseas. I thought now would be an excellent time to do so while I have no real obligations. My wanted to do the same thing, but caved to family and friend pressure to go to school first. He's now $40k in debt and has far too many money related problems here to even think about traveling for another decade or so.
posted by jellywerker at 10:16 PM on August 19, 2009

I spent a few years wandering around Europe, working here and there, always under the table, about 20 years ago, a couple of times. I was a few years older than you.

Even then, landing with only $2000 or so in hand would have been a bit daunting. I rarely showed up with much more, but even the first time I went, I had friends there that were willing to help me out a bit. I lived very much on the cheap, sleeping rough occasionally, spending a couple of dollars max per day on food (day-old bread and cheese, mostly), wandering, meeting people and finding work when I needed it.

Back then, it wasn't all that hard to find work under the table. But having the idea that you're going to choose the destination first and then go there and get a job? Well, it doesn't tend to work that way, in my experience. You go where the work is.

The single most important thing is meeting people, though -- it is always through friends, usually new ones, that you will be able to find work, get advice and tips, find out which places to go to and which to avoid. Resort areas are most often the best bet -- they are magnets for young people, there are bucketloads of service and construction and entertainment jobs, and if you meet the right people, you'll be able to pick up some work and find a piece of floor to crash on to keep body and soul together.

Given the way that things have gone in the past couple of decades, I wouldn't be surprised if it has gotten harder to work under the table these days, but I'm sure it's still possible.

As others have suggested, though, do your research first. Make sure that you've got at least 3 options for places to go and seek employment at any given time.

Unfortunately, though, with so little cash, I think it's very likely, as others have suggested, that if you tell the truth about your intentions when you arrive, they'll just put you back on a plane home. If you don't have a return ticket, they probably won't let you check in in the first place.

Take things a step at a time. If you are dead-set on going over to Europe, do your research. Figure out the absolute cheapest way to do things -- the Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe, now out of print I believe, was the bible at the time, but I don't know if there's anything similar these days, offline.

Don't be grandiose in your plans -- do your research, get over there, start talking to people (other travellers, mostly). Find some friends to travel and work with if you can -- there are massive numbers of people doing the wander around Europe (and often out to India and Australia) at any given time, on the cheap, busking, picking grapes (an option to investigate in France), whatever, and making friends, again, is the key to survival. Once you're there, and if you make a go of it past the first few weeks (which, pretty much, is as far as your money will take you), actually find some work, then you can start to think about things longer-term. You may get lucky with under-the-table work and get something that lasts for a while. More likely, you'll be wandering around, if you're bringing in enough money to stay, as the seasons change. But there is a network for this kind of thing -- almost a traveller underground railroad. Or at least there used to be.

If all you want to do is get out of America, then, as others have suggested, the best thing to do is to step back a few stages, though, and investigate other options that don't require money upfront, like WWOOF or volunteer work or the Peace Corps or whatever. Doing something like that now, first, will help you to make sure, and give you enough time to be sure, that living abroad longer-term is what you really want to do. After that, well, you can come back home briefly, start to make plans longer-term about going abroad, do it from a more informed perspective.

I'd also say, cliche though it, that getting a degree before too many years pass is something you may not absolutely need to have a rewarding life, but you may very much find that the lack of one deeply circumscribes your options in future, the choices you have in terms of work, and the way that officialdom treats you. Sad, given how worthless most degrees actually are, in my humble, but it is the way of things.

The last point I'd make, that others have made, is that western Europe might not be the best choice for this kind of thing -- it is expensive, it is bureaucratic, and 'freedom' doesn't ring all that much more than it does in north America, these days.

On preview: man, this was long. I hope some of it was useful.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:16 PM on August 19, 2009 [5 favorites]

Withouth wishing to rain on your parade, here's my experience:
- UK university graduate
- So eligible to work in EU (France) and have a good degree
- A-Level French (i.e. speak it roughly)
- Some savings (in Euros, more than you)

I have been spending the last month reading FUSAC (great resource), emailing friends who have worked in France, emailing my university's careers department, and submitting tons of applications to English companies who provide jobs in France.

I have nada, zip, nothing lined up. Main reasons?

- Lack of French
- Insufficient savings to get to France and hostel whilst finding a job
- Lack of jobs. So many people with jobs I am ideally suited for (Teach English! No French required!) just aren't hiring.

My current worst-case scenario (because I will be in France in October, job or no) is to head to a ski resort and try and find a job on the ground, and failing that WWOOF for as long as I can to get my French up to a decent standard, before hoofing it to Paris or Lyons or wherever to try and get a job which can pay the rent (rent in Paris is damn expensive, by the way).

What I'm trying to say is, I tick a fair few boxes, and have a lot of resources not available to you, and I'm having trouble. You may well be able to go over as a tourist, pick up a job and integrate, and fair play to you if you do - but it'll be bloody hard and illegal.
posted by djgh at 10:17 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, BUNAC looks like it could be what I need. I never found that while searching around, only some sketchy work in Europe sites that had fees similar to pricy college tuition.
posted by jellywerker at 10:19 PM on August 19, 2009

It was my understanding that youth unemployment is a huge problem in France. I have also read that many French youth end up stuck in long strings of temporary jobs (so that employers can withhold benefits and pay them less.)

"Unemployment among jobseekers under the age of 25 in mainland France has risen by 41.1% in the last 12 months." [1]

"More than 20% of France's 18 to 25-year-olds are unemployed - a figure double the national average of 9.6%." [2]

You might need some sort of skill to compete in a market like that, let alone be considered for a visa.

I may well be wrong, but you might want to do some looking into the job prospects there. I just recall hearing on NPR and reading in the Economist that things are pretty bad for young people seeking jobs in France. You should do your homework. I studied French in college so I have tended to keep my ear to the ground with respect to news coming out of France -- I recall the youth actually rioting in recent years because things are so grim for so many.

Why not France? That may be a big reason. You might consider other countries, or do as others have suggested and get your foot in the door through some sort of university program. It sounds like a great adventure, but I don't think you'll be able to pack your bags and go to France without any special skills or affiliations.
posted by ZeroDivides at 10:20 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would also suggest maybe looking into teaching English as a foreign language. Without a degree, you probably won't be able to go Western Europe or East Asia, but it's worth checking out the job boards at Dave's ESL Cafe and seeing if anyone is hiring high school graduates.
posted by canadia at 10:21 PM on August 19, 2009

I'm in my forties, yet I feel pretty much the same way that you do about the USA. My dream is to get to the Netherlands. At first I was going to encourage you to wait a while and save up some money, but now I'm thinking maybe you should go. You're young. Something good might happen.

I would not mess up with the visa side of things, though, because that will screw up your chances of going to a lot of places in Europe for years to come (from what I've learned). Do the paperwork. Be above board. Someone might take a shine to you and give you a nudge in the right direction.

Best of luck.
posted by rougy at 10:21 PM on August 19, 2009

He's now $40k in debt and has far too many money related problems here to even think about traveling for another decade or so.

There is no reason on earth for this. There are lots of relatively inexpensive universities in the United States where you can, with work that's nowhere near as hard as what you would have to do to make it as an illegal worker in France, support yourself and go to school debt-free. Lots of people do it.

If you're already a student currently, then start looking into student programs abroad. Keep being a student, learn to go to school cheap (it can be done), and use the resources that you have available to you.
posted by The World Famous at 10:21 PM on August 19, 2009

@stavros: long is fine, and that was helpful. As far as a degree, I plan to start no later than age 24, but possibly no earlier depending on how things go. At that age I can claim independence for financial aid and don't have to worry about the fact that my parents are very well off but still not so well off to pay for my school. 4 kids plus divorces do that to you.
posted by jellywerker at 10:24 PM on August 19, 2009

My wanted to do the same thing, but caved to family and friend pressure to go to school first. He's now $40k in debt and has far too many money related problems here to even think about traveling for another decade or so.

You seem to have a huge problem with/disdain for debt. It doesn't have to be that way. I went to a school where the sticker price was upwards of $35K for a year, yet I graduated with a total $13K in debt. My student loan payments barely make a dent in my salary. I could have paid it off already, but the interest is crazy low, and I get it back on my income taxes, so I prefer to have savings instead. Don't let your friend's dumb decisions scare you off. There are many cheap alternatives.

Also, your SATs and grades are fine. After a year in community college or the like, plus a good essay, and maybe experience abroad, you could easily be accepted to any program you want to do.
posted by lesli212 at 10:25 PM on August 19, 2009

@holgata: I understand what you are saying, however just because it doesn't usually work doesn't mean it can't. People still walk off the boat and make fortunes.

Thirding holgate. You are not as special as you think you are. This is not a Disney movie.

After college, I really, really wanted to get out of the U.S. too, and did lots and lots of research. In your case, I think the best option, would be to go to Taiwan on a tourist visa, and then start teaching private English lessons. Tourist visas expire after a few months (3? 6?), at which point you'll have to fly out and fly back in again. The reason you'll have to get a tourist visa instead of a work visa is because real jobs teaching English there require a college degree, but everything I read suggested that you can totally support yourself on private lessons. You could do this in other countries too, but my impression is that Taiwan would be easiest, in terms of money and living conditions. And you might be able to learn a little Mandarin, which journalists keep claiming is going to be useful one day.
posted by gsteff at 10:28 PM on August 19, 2009

@The World Famous: Yes and no, he could have gone to school for less, but at the time nobody helped him figure that out and he just wanted to be in school to satisfy other people. However, people coming from families that are neither dirt poor nor wealthy and who don't have a special differentiating factor often fall into this. Just using him as an example of part of the reasons I don't think school is perhaps the best option for me right now.
posted by jellywerker at 10:30 PM on August 19, 2009

As far as a degree, I plan to start no later than age 24, but possibly no earlier depending on how things go. At that age I can claim independence for financial aid

Schools grant exceptions all the time. If you can prove that you've been living on your own for at least a year - no contact, no support, etc., they will sometimes grant exceptions. I obtained one senior year, for horrendous family circumstances. I cut off all contact and could therefore not get tax returns or any info.

Sorry I keep replying so stridently. I think i'm living vicariously through you, because I think your ideas are awesome.
posted by lesli212 at 10:32 PM on August 19, 2009

@gsteff: again, just generalizing. I just want to support myself, not really trying to go grand at 18. Just looking at spending a few years overseas growing and learning.
posted by jellywerker at 10:33 PM on August 19, 2009

jellywerker, the question is not whether your friend could go to school for less. The point is that you can go to school for less and there is no reason for you to go into significant debt for undergrad.

You will have to work hard. You will have to go to a school with inexpensive tuition. You will need to have a job while you're in school. You will need to take advantage of every financial aid program available to you (of which there are more than you realize).

College is hard. But don't run away from it. It's not that hard compared to pretty much everything else in life. You don't need to learn that the hard way. But you're going to learn it the hard way if you proceed with your plan.
posted by The World Famous at 10:34 PM on August 19, 2009

BUNAC for Europe (France, UK) is only open to American students. Which you would be if you enrolled at your local community college.
posted by jacalata at 10:41 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

@Lesli212: I am not in a position to get an exception unfortunately, my circumstances are not that horrible (for better and not so better). I have worked with the financial aid counselors at several schools to figure something out and it always came back to: take out a (large) loan. And indeed, I do very much dislike debt, not that I could not handle making payments and such, it's just that it links a person to something. I like to have the knowledge in the back of my head that I can just cut ties and go do something because I don't owe anyone. I understand good debt and all that, and I realize I could probably pay off school debt relatively easily with a job in my hopefully one day career (structural engineering/architecture, the pay is pretty good even at the entry level) I have just grown up around debt horror stories and don't want it. Also, I do realize, I could be less selective with schools, but I want to go to a school that I will be happy at/enjoy/take pride in. Not necessarily Ivy or anything, but podunk party U is out.
posted by jellywerker at 10:43 PM on August 19, 2009

Also, friend = brother, I seem to have forgotten to type that.

I appreciate all the advice and perspectives so far, thank you hive. However, I need to go to sleep so I'll check back in the morning.
posted by jellywerker at 10:46 PM on August 19, 2009

podunk party U is out.

If you went to podunk party for 2 years, and then transfer to snooty mcivy university, no one has to know. It doesn't have to go on your resume, and when you go to alumni association dinners, it will be for snooty mcivy.

And if they do, they won't remember. Barack Obama is always listed as a "Columbia University Graduate" not a general studies transfer from Occidental.
posted by lesli212 at 10:48 PM on August 19, 2009

One other thing I'd add is that if you do the kind of thing I was talking about above (which is what I did, more or less, way back when), you'll be poor. Really poor, unless you get lucky. Now, there's nothing wrong with that in and of itself, even though it's a sticky issue when it's people from rich countries being poor-by-choice, of course. It's a lot easier to endure the privations when you're young, and I actually think it teaches you lessons that will help you in later life.

But if the ideas of, say, picking up damaged fruit and veggies off the ground after a market day, or cleaning toilets to get enough money to sleep in a bed that night, or whatever, are things that you aren't willing to do, then your plans might need to change.

You are not as special as you think you are. This is not a Disney movie.

This is unnecessarily harsh, I think. Maybe I was just lucky, all those times, in all those different countries, when I was younger, but being a good, friendly person, helping others as they help you, working hard and being honest and open-hearted -- well, it's all about being lucky enough to meet the right people at the right time, but these things will certainly increase the odds that you will succeed, at least in the sense of coming through the experience happy, whole, healthy and with a wealth of memories that will sustain you in your dotage.

/me speaks from the perspective of his rapidly-advancing dotage.

On preview, I disagree with The World Famous about the lawyer thing, but it is absolutely true that university seems like (and is), from the perspective of someone when they're 18, the most difficult thing you've faced in life, but in the rear-view-mirror, it was actually one hell of a lot of fun, and not nearly as daunting a hurdle as all the things that life throws at you as the years go on.

I'm very much pro-travel and also very much pro-education. Finding a smart way to do both (or even a stupid way -- hell, I did everything ass-backwards when I was young, and it all came out pretty good) would be a great result for anyone.

Oh, and as an aside: I am also very very debt-averse and always have been, and I understand that feeling that jellywerker mentions. I think it was easier to be that way in the past, though -- the way life in the west has gone, it is now exceeding difficult for young people to go through life without aquiring debt.

But (with one brief exception -- a loan I was forced to take for my last year of post-grad work and paid back in less than a year) I have managed to remain debt-free my entire life. I don't have many toys (or even a car) or a grandiose house, but I value my freedom from monetary obligation more than creature comforts, even while understand that it's difficult or even impossible for many people with less oddball paths through life (early marriage, kids, ill health, a million other things) to do the same.

Crushing debt is called 'crushing' for a reason. Dreams are fragile.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:49 PM on August 19, 2009

True, but I think I'd do comcol before PPU, due to the price and ease of transfer to a four years from a two year school as compared to a different four year school, mostly because I would probably be factoring in sports at college.

Also, maybe this post should have been titled:

"I need to work out my issues through the hive mind. Also ruminations about France!"
posted by jellywerker at 10:52 PM on August 19, 2009

@Stavros: Appreciated much, but I'd like to clarify that I am not trying to run from college, though I am a bit intimidated by it (due as much to my theories on privilege and such as to the process itself). A lot of it is a money thing, part of it is a selection (fewer arch schools than you would think) and sport thing (I love my sport, it would be hard to give up whether from a move to another country or a school without it) part of it is how I see so many people who are heading into college at my age, just wondering where the booze is and how much tail they will get in the next four (+ in most of their cases most likely) years. Also it's seeing people like my brother. I understand I won't be like him, but it's an example that hits really close to home and thus carries more weight with me regardless of all the good college stories.
posted by jellywerker at 11:00 PM on August 19, 2009

wikipedia says:

Citizens of Australia [7], Austria, Belgium, Chile, Czech Republic[8], France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea[9], Latvia, The Netherlands, New Zealand[10], Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the US are eligible for a Canadian working holiday visa, so long as they fulfil certain criteria which are specific to each country.

So if your heart is set on learning French then Quebec might be an option.

In 1992 I was finishing up my BS, I actually went to the US Federal building in West LA to get my passport the day my campus was closed due to the LA riots. Equpped with the Jobs in Japan book, I also had had a college bud go on to Japan a year before so with $4000 from a new credit line I flew off to Japan to seek my fortune and fame.

I've only spent 2 weeks in Europe in my life but somebody above mentioned something that I think is important for your situation, namely Europe has opened its borders from Lisbon to Estonia, which means vast, vast cheap labor pools are swirling around the wealthier nations.

If I were you I'd get a 2 year degree from a CC, then transfer to a state university for a proper 4 year degree, then GTFO. Having a 4 year degree is generally a gold-plated passport to any job in the first world, given the right connections.
posted by @troy at 11:02 PM on August 19, 2009

I'm going to add one more comment -- because I read your first AskMe post from the start of the year about your college admission problems, and I really really do sympathise and understand your motivation.

Unless you do this smartly, you're setting yourself up early in life to make decisions that close more doors than they open, and (to mix metaphors) end up painting yourself into a corner. You really don't want to be painting your 100,000th windowframe in your sixties, with arthritic hands and knackered knees, thinking for the 50,000th time of how you were going to be an architect. That's not to say that college (and tuition debt) don't have the capacity to close doors as well, because that happens on a regular basis. But you need your eyes on the prize, and looking at that earlier post alongside this one, I'm not sure if you've sorted that part out yet.
posted by holgate at 11:03 PM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Another option would be to join the US military. The new college benefits are pretty sweet, and the military does have a way of improving their inductees, provided you survive the process.
posted by @troy at 11:05 PM on August 19, 2009

I have a friend who's living off a $15,000/year scholarship while attending university in-state. Tuition for a year is about $6,000 maybe? So he's living off 9k/year.

Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.


Assuming you qualify for ZERO financial aide, you could move out *right now*, get a minimum wage job somewhere *right now* (It's still not impossible! And way easier in the states where you know the language!), and go to a community college *right now*. Save up a few thousand the first two years while you attend community college so you can afford to transfer to a university.

You could work yourself through college right now. $40,000 in debt? Please, go in-state. And, for the record, most Ivys want students that actually want to be in school. Though, that depends on how well you can lie in your essay. Get that diploma. Prove to the world that you can stick with something and fulfill a commitment. There are an awful lot of painters in the world.

If this is all about getting away from your family, or the life you're living now, you can do that in the states well enough.
posted by Precision at 11:30 PM on August 19, 2009

^ it's kinda tough to succeed in school working 40 hours around your schedule. I averaged 30hrs a week with two (related) on-campus jobs (put in 15 hours on the weekend nights at the student union and 15 hours sprinkled between classes where I could set my own hours). Plus after taxes that $15,000 is going to be more like $12,000 net.

Compared to that, I'd much rather do 3 years in the Navy and then get a 4 year free-ride to the college of my choice with the new GI Bill.
posted by @troy at 11:41 PM on August 19, 2009

Wow, there are more barriers than I was aware of. I did a study abroad semester in Australia and several of my friends worked under the table with no problems. It was still risky, I'm sure. But that was in a country where they knew the language, which would be key in getting to know someone well enough to arrange an "understanding", and where they already had a home and food and basics taken care of. Other people I've met on my travels in various countries have gone on open ended trips across multiple countries, stopping and working for a little while here and there to earn enough to move on. I envy their balls in terms of not having a plan or a safety net and just figuring it out as they go along. I hadn't thought of the risks in terms of legality, but it certainly seems to happen a lot.

Given some of the issues and unknowns, I wonder if you might compromise by saving up some more money here for a while and then making a long visit there first on a tourist visa to do an exploratory reality check. You could backpack around on the cheap to get the lay of the land, do some exploring of options in different areas of the country, plug into the expat community and get firsthand accounts about living and working there, get firsthand observations of work available for someone like you, and hopefully make some contacts. Coming back home, you could stay in touch with your contacts to try to line something up. If/when you got a solid line on something, you could then work on getting over there longer term to the degree it's possible, assuming you liked it the first time. Since it's uncertain how long it'll take to set something up, you could be here earning a steady income, saving, and studying French for as long as needed rather than racing against your dwindling cash reserves there, unable to communicate well.

If you want to leave the U.S., you can, but some legwork may be in order.

Pro tip: When you want advice from MeFites on how to do something, don't give your reasons why you want to do it or any background that we don't specifically need in order to answer the question. It's tempting to explain yourself fully, but is a guaranteed way to get derailed, scolded, second guessed, etc. and risk having your actual question go unanswered. People mean well and want to help, but you can get more focused results by minimizing the amount of ammunition you supply. You may find it helpful to write it all offline just to make sure you understand what you're really asking, but then port over only the essentials to AskMe.
posted by kookoobirdz at 11:58 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hooooly crap. Do you know anyone in France? Do you have any idea of where you're going to stay until this manual labor job opens up? (hint...there's about 8 kazillion immigrants in France trying to get that job...and they speak French!) By the way, any place that you are going to end up living while looking for said job isn't going to be the bestest neighborhood - speaking the language is going to be a big, big help (and may save your life). I'm sorry, but you sound like a statistic waiting to happen. Try one of the English speaking countries with less civil unrest for your big bust out, ok?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:10 AM on August 20, 2009

Did you see Bohemia Mountain's link to the French Foreign Legion?

I have no experience with them, but I clicked on his link, and it looks like this might be a way (a tough way, but still) to legally get French citizenship.

Is that something you'd be willing to do?
posted by marsha56 at 12:13 AM on August 20, 2009

In your position, I'd do Quebec first.

But, seriously, perspective: The first world is a closed shop. From time to time, I see where I could go if I decided that New Zealand had turned to shit. There's Australia, where I have free entry by dint of being a Kiwi. And Canada. Which, it turns out, has the most liberal immigration policy of any first-world nation.

And... that's it.

I'm in my thirties (young enough not to lose points in immigration schemes for age). I have approaching two decades of experience in various IT disciplines, a number of which are pretty trendy. And Canada is the only country I could simply rock into without a company sponsoring me for a work visa. Everywhere else is barred. A degree is one of the few things you can easily do while young that helps overcome those barriers; a valuable skill is another. You have neither.
posted by rodgerd at 12:48 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wow interesting question and interesting answers.

I've been living outside the United States for over a third of my adult life, and I have to side with the folks who are convinced that you don't really understand what you're getting (potentially) yourself into.

Other folks up-thread have covered the daunting logistics, and yes I believe in magic so yes, it could happen where you end up in one years time living & working in France perfectly legally.

But let's look at some of the finer points, the details.

This might be blindingly obvious, but France is a different country. And by that I mean a different culture. Folks do things differently in France, there are different behavioural norms than America, hell, even than Spain or Germany, close neighbours to France. The French are just different from Americans, as we Americans are from the British or Spanish or Dutch. Its part of the reason most of all (not all, more on that later) love France.

These cultural differences have the potential to cause someone whom has never visited before, an individual whom has probably never spent significant amounts of time with a French person - (uhhm, that would be you) - problems, potentially serious problems.

I'm in banking1, currently living and working in the UK and my field is very, very global; we bring lots of ex-pats over from lots of countries, America included. Every now then there is a blow up where someone just couldn't adapt to how things are done here. And this isn't just UK specific; it happens in every country where foreigners mingle with native born citizens.

I've done business in 28 countries, and been fortunate to live & work all over Africa and Europe, with significant amounts of time spent on the ground The Middle East as well. I have an ability to function well in dramatically different cultures, I tend to get sent places to solve problems, but I attribute this to nothing more than I'm very non judgmental and genuinely curious about everything, especially the people. When I'm in Africa or The Middle East or any other country, I keep my eyes open and mouth shut.

While at the core all people are the same, its the details that largely define our differences. There are marked differences between Americans and the French. You're presently not aware of these differences. These differences may amuse or enrage you. There is no way to tell at present. This presents a serious risk, an element of uncertainty to your proposed endeavor.

I'd suggest that you visit France first, and by that I mean get out of Paris, and experience French life in a smallish town.

Then, if you're still interested in residing abroad, this visit (and others, yes?) will help with whatever paperwork you need to undertake to get to France legally.

Don't be surprised if after spending time there you hate the place. Or you're indifferent to the idea of living in France. Seems like a large percentage of folks who spend time there are enraged by various aspects of live in France.

I've lived in France off and on over the years. Life there is an acquired taste. While I have seem Americans tourists yelling in frustration when the post office closes for lunch - generally two hours, 12PM to 2PM - I head to a nearby cafe, and chalk it all up to live in France.

C'est la vie.

1Currently on sabattical, writing my MBA dissertation and teaching finance part times
posted by Mutant at 12:49 AM on August 20, 2009 [7 favorites]

As holgate pointed out, your earlier AskMe post makes your motivations for moving to France and parts unknown much easier to understand. I've read your posts a few times, and you sound like what you're really looking for is advice on running away, from what I believe is your father's ultimatum that you join the military if you don't immediately go to college.

I think your father's ultimatum is harsh, but understandable--this is his way of getting you to move into the next part of your life, which for him, involves you moving out into the real world, getting jobs, paying rent, etc. My parents used a similar tactic--in my final weeks of high school, they asked the Navy recruiter to call me and sign me up. I declined, but my choices were clear: go to school, join the military, or keep working at the grocery store. My grandmother had saved some money for me to travel abroad, but at the time, I decided to go to community college while I figured out what I wanted to do.

For you, this part of your life, as you've already realized, involves learning about the world and yourself. Traveling abroad is an excellent way to do that, but as others have pointed out, without some planning and funding, the change and adventure you may have can be unpleasantly different from the change and adventure you want, sort of like the change and adventure of a long road trip when you run out of money and gas in the middle of the desert. If I were you, I would not be excited about running out of resources in France and being forced to ask your father for help--at that point, his military-or-school ultimatum will only get more severe.

If you're unsure about going to college because you don't know what you want to do, that's perfectly okay. Many people start out undeclared, or they change majors, or they take all their four-year prerequisite courses at a community college while they decide. I started out in architecture, but I wound up majoring in graphic design. While I was going to community college, I met a sign painter and convinced him to take me on as an apprentice--the work was hard, but the experience was invaluable and it felt like it was part of what I ultimately wanted to do.

I think you need to sit down with your father and tell him you want to go to college and you are interested in architecture, but you're not really sure, and rather than waste your time and his money, you'd like to take some time to think about your next steps, and see another part of the world. Three options for that would be the Peace Corps, teaching English abroad, or buying a Eurail Pass and spending a summer backpacking around Europe, with the agreement that when you return, you will have a plan for school.

Another possibility would be to find an architect or a draftsman who would be willing to take you on as an apprentice or office worker so you can have some real-world experience in the field that interests you--perhaps this could be an option with which your father could help; he may know of someone willing to take you on as an intern while you look for school. Still another possibility would be to take classes at community colleges in close proximity to 4-year schools with degrees in architecture. I did exactly this and while I ultimately decided not to pursue architecture, my classes and apprenticeship helped point me toward the career I now have.

What I would not do is jump on a plane to France or parts unknown without adequate planning, funding, or a support network--what you need right now is your father's support in you choosing your path, and if you run away without planning or funding to a country where you don't speak the language, you may very well prove to him that you are incapable of choosing your own path and he will step in to choose it for you by closing off options except the ones he thinks are appropriate.

None of this is meant to sound overly harsh or critical or your ideas--in fact, you sound a lot like me when I was eighteen. Here's a woman who convinced a company to fund her globetrotting while she blogs about it; this fellow asked National Geographic for a camera and walked across America with nothing but a backpack and funding from odd jobs. Many other people have similar stories. As stavros mentioned, you very well may have the adventure of a lifetime--you're young, and the older you get, the life-adventures like the one of which you dream become harder to realize. Ultimately my advice to you is this: Plan ahead, discuss your plans with your father, and make your own decisions--the failure to plan ahead and discuss your plans with your father will result in fewer opportunities for making your own decisions.

Good luck. Please feel free to Mefi-mail me if you have questions, and let us know what you decide to do.
posted by mattdidthat at 12:50 AM on August 20, 2009 [5 favorites]

BUNAC for Europe (France, UK) is only open to American students. Which you would be if you enrolled at your local community college.

YES, this. I have even heard of people enrolling for the requisite 8(?) credits, applying for and getting the BUNAC visa, then dropping the classes and getting their money back. This was about 8 years ago though the checks may now be more thorough.

I think this is your best option. Work legally, learn the language, get to know people...and once your visa expires, it's up to you whether you stay or go.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 12:55 AM on August 20, 2009

Wow. Sorry, but you are living in la-la land. If you try this, the best case scenario is that you get turned around at the airport (when they realise you have no money with which to support yourself nor buy a ticket home), the worst case scenario is that you end up dead (after getting hired by someone unscrupulous enough to want to hire you, when they could hire someone legally and with recourse if they mistreat them). The chance of you 'walking off the boat and making a fortune' this way are non-zero, but close enough to that it makes no difference.

I moved to France legally last year with significantly more money and skills than you and it sucked. SUCKED.

If you're desperate to get out of the U.S. now, go to Quebec and get a job and learn French, or go wwoofing or couchsurfing for a couple of months somewhere nearby.

If you wait a little while and save some money (i.e. not waste the money you've already saved) you could:

Get a working holiday to somewhere like Australia (you will need to prove you have sufficient funds to tide yourself over til you get a job)

Move to France and take enough French classes to qualify for a student visa which will allow you to work (Campus Langues, in the 19th arrondissement of Paris caters cheaply for people doing this)

Move to France as an au pair if you have experience in childcare.

Good luck.
posted by Emilyisnow at 1:23 AM on August 20, 2009

I don't think you care about the debt, you just don't want to take on responsibility. In the long run the invisible debt you're going to rack up from menial painting jobs at immigrant wages is going to put you way behind the person with 80K of debt and a bachelors degree.

If you're going to be irresponsible and take risks, you need to go all out.

What you should really do is start a business. Start a business and begin the process of building credit. It can be anything as long as it's registered with your state. Watch the credit card offers fly in. Within a year or two you'll have at least $10-20,000 line of credit.

Use this credit to get yourself established wherever you want. It's not important that you intend to pay it back, just make sure you can make the minimum payments to continue surviving. It's VERY important if you do this that you use the credit only to support survival. You need to be ready for the credit cushion to be removed from under you at any time, meaning you can't afford to be comfortable if only the credit is supporting you.

Be aware that you could end up sacrificing the next 20 years of your life living in near poverty. Your wages can probably be tapped to pay back the debt. You will not be able to get a cell phone, car or house at a good rate, if at all. On the upside my understanding is that thanks to the fair credit reporting act, after 7 1/2 years your obligation to these debts will be severely limited. I think they can still try to collect from you but it doesn't show up on your credit report. Do your own research though, I'm not sure about that last bit of info.

People will tell you it's immoral, irresponsible and just plain stupid but that's for you to decide. Could you wake up a year after this splurging in France with a serious girlfriend and more mature outlook on life? Sure. There could be a million things; unexpected pregnancy, deportation, medical issues, extreme poverty, to name a few.

BUT, if your goal is to be in France or some other country, as an immigrant, with money to get by and no interest in listening to conventional wisdom, this is one way to do it. A lot of the fun in life is coming as close to death as possible while escaping with all your limbs. At best you have 80 years of life left on this planet, go be stupid. At least it will be a cool story.
posted by laptolain at 3:45 AM on August 20, 2009

Also, like a lot of people said, I think you're underestimating how big the USA is. Why don't you try moving to a different big US city, NYC for example, where you can live legally, speak the language and be able to easily find work. Anyone can survive in NYC, thriving is the hard part...
posted by laptolain at 3:55 AM on August 20, 2009

I don't think you understand what you'd be getting into.

I'm French/living in France.

Coming in the country to work legally is already PRETTY DAMN HARD even for high demand, highly skilled foreign workers (the process to obtain a work visa takes usually up to a year - that is if you do everything right and are able to speed up the process)

Working if you don't have a permit, in a field (house painting) which is already crowded, with some people desperate for work (google "real estate crisis") that speak french, know the EU regulations, ... I would be very surprised if you ever found a job.

And don't imagine you'll be able to live in Paris either. You'll have to shoot for a less expensive area, but the further you are from cities, the less non french speakers you'll find

If you really want to do this, take more time to:
- learn french
- find an education course so you can come as a student
- work french/american connections as others mentionned upthread.

So France is not, in my opinion, a great place to do what you describe.

If you really want to do this, I'd suggest pick a place in central europe (say bulgaria) where living is less expensive, and the informal job market is much larger (but I wouldn't know about security there)

Also understand that your embassy won't necessarily pay for you plane ticket back if things do not turn the way you expect it
posted by motdiem2 at 4:55 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Now, if I were your mom, I'd thunk you on the noggin and tell you to go to school or join the military (in a non-combat field). You don't seem to want to listen to anyone who's not agreeing with you, and you are getting some good advice, and for that reason alone I don't expect this to end well.

But. I can totally sympathize, empathize, even now, the idea is pretty exciting. So here's my two cents, if I were in your shoes and going to do this, here's what I'd do.

Work a year and save more money. Yeah, it sucks, but you simply need more money. And when you go, buy a round trip ticket so you at least can get home if everything goes to crap.

Get this book: Work Your Way Around The World and use the information in it. It's good. It won't help you work legally, because that's pretty much impossible. But there's a lot of helpful stuff there.

If I had my heart set on France, I'd set up, in advance, an au pair situation where I got room and board in return for part time childcare; I'd use my spare time to explore and learn the language and make friends and contacts.

And keep a diary. No matter how long you stay, it'll be an amazing experience.
posted by lemniskate at 5:15 AM on August 20, 2009

If I were you I would go, but I wouldn't think of it as moving to France. I would think of it as an open-ended backpacking trip to France. Big difference. Because if you're gonna go and try to get a job, you'll end up blowing through that little nest egg of yours waaaay before you expect to and will come home waaaay earlier than you thought.

I think it's great for you to travel before heading off to college, but get in that mindset instead--it's travel. By all means look for work while you're there, something under the table that will pay for your daily expenses and perhaps allow you to save some. But you will be a tourist. Be in the mindset of one.
posted by zardoz at 6:16 AM on August 20, 2009

I suggested New Orleans way upthread because it sounded to me like what you need is a good dose of reality, and after reading all the way down here I still feel exactly the same.

I'm not sure what your deal with wanting to leave America is, but I can guess. What you seem to want is a romantic way to escape the fact that growing up is hard. You won't find that in France (which, by the way, is a very large and by no means monolithic place) or New Orleans, but in New Orleans at least you would have the basic tools you'd need to get by.

More importantly, I think that both the lessons you need to learn and the opportunities you want will be far easier to come by in New Orleans. Seeing the Lower 9th Ward last fall-- in 2008, three years after Katrina-- literally revolutionized the way I see and think about the United States. All of my friends and family who have visited the city in the past few years feel the same. I thought I understood my country before that trip, and only after driving through the miles of land totally empty except for concrete steps where houses used to be and seeing houses still standing with the incredibly morbid marks used by rescue workers, THREE YEARS after they were painted, could I understand how much this country needs people who love it, now more than ever. What New Orleans especially needs is young, energetic, able-bodied people. Your experience with house-painting and ambitions for architecture would be worth so much more than you can imagine there.

Another reason New Orleans could be a great fit for you is that because of the remaining infrastructure gaps, it's the closest thing we have in this country to the old Wild West. I'm certain that you could start up a business after a few years making contacts, and maybe you could make those millions you want. There's a very large transient young volunteer/Americorps member population, which makes for a unique youth culture. And on top of all that, New Orleans is still a beautiful and fascinating place.

Seriously. Think about it. If you're at all serious about making a drastic change like this in your life actually work and not go down in flames spectacularly, I can't think of a better option.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:26 AM on August 20, 2009 [9 favorites]


I may be the only person on Metafilter who says go for it. I wish I had. I love France, I love speaking French, I expect I'll go every ten years for a couple of weeks. I do regret this. I could have been a climbing bum in Chamonix. Or Yosemite. Is there surfing in Bordeaux?

I do think you're better off doing the Grand Tour instead of committing to France right away, getting the around the world trip ticket, a sketchbook and a backpack. Live as a hobo but make sure you stay clean. You'll find enough work to eat. It's not a race. Go see the world's great buildings, sleep in a yurt, draw them and write about it.

You might want to boost your hobo skill set and bank account in this country first. Hitching and working all over the west isn't that hard. If you can do it on the East Coast, that might be good preparation for western Europe.

I feel like most of the commentators must have gone from high school, to college, to graduate school, to professional careers with nary a misstep. If you're not ready to go to college, that's OK. I have no doubt that you'll go to college and do well at it. France is as good a place as any to go to college and better than most.

I happen to like the Pimsleur language CDs, FYI. Practice your french on the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker and every Quebecois you meet, and that nice exchange student. There is no excuse for not speaking any French by the time you get there.
posted by mearls at 6:32 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Just reading through your responses suggests you have a serious problem considering the actual pros and cons (mostly cons!) involved. Seconding "You don't seem to want to listen to anyone who's not agreeing with you."

Also, if you didn't intend for your question to be specifically about France, you might have avoided phrases like these:

Moving to France ... It's Happening

finally settled on France

when I move to France

posted by Jaltcoh at 6:52 AM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

However, I've become disillusioned with college and have always wanted to live overseas.

Let me guess, you've never traveled anywhere. Well, let me tell you a little secret: its all the same in Europe as in the US. There are slums, there are corrupt police, there are race problems, there is crime, there is random murder, there is exploitation, there is the international capitalism you seem to hate, there is everything the US has except its easier to find a job in the US.

I wouldnt wish spending time in a hovel in a French slum with no language skills and no money on my worst enemy, but I really think you should go, not because I think you'll be successful, but because it sounds like its the only thing that will put some sense into you. If you think the US is the worst place in the world and that the European economies and politics are superior then its time for you to do some growing up and see how the same everything is. I think a few weeks broke in an Algerian-French slum will be equivalent to a masters in International Relations with a minor in anthropology. Or at least it will temper the childish uber-cynical view you have of the US.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:56 AM on August 20, 2009 [8 favorites]

Since you don't seem to want to listen to any actual sense, I think you should go to France and try to make a go of it. You will discover for yourself what many people in this thread have already told you, and at the end of it you can probably get your folks back home to send you money for a ticket back (a luxury not available to the illegal workers you seem to think you can be like). You'll learn a lot.
posted by agent99 at 7:08 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Well I did something like you what you want to do, but it took several years of doing and trying various things. (And now I'm here in France, I'm not 100% I want to stay, but that's the irony of life for you.) So, I would say that it is possible - no matter how unrealistic it may seem to you or other naysayers out there.

The only thing is, you should make sure that it is what you want. Take a month-long (or as long as you can) trip to France, travel around as much as you can afford to. See how it really feels to you. Living somewhere and being a tourist are very different things, but at least you will get a feel for what it's really like. As an American with a valid passport, you can stay for up to 90 days without a visa. Once here, you can ask around about what prospects you have. That will give you a much, much better idea of what you should do, and more importantly whether you really want to go through all the legal hoops, experience hardships, and what have you to achieve your dream. Maybe you will decide that the U.S. isn't so bad after all. Maybe you'll find out that what you want is to just move away from your parents. Who knows? You're still young and you have lots of time to find out.

One thing I always ask myself when faced with a difficult situation that could go well or horribly wrong is, "What's the worst that could happen?" Ask yourself that, and think on whether you can face that. If you think you can, then go for it - chances are that things will be better than that worst case scenario. But you'll never find out unless you give it a try. You don't want to be 10/20/30 years older, and think "what if...".

Good luck!
posted by thread_makimaki at 7:22 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I suppose there's no point adding to what many sensible people have said up above, because your ears are shut to common sense. Which is normal, you're 18 after all, but you're still in for a big shock and a hard row to hoe when you try to put this cockamamie plan into practice. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for experimenting and striking out when you're young and not locked into responsibilities, but use at least a tiny bit of sense and do it with at least a nod to practicality. What you have in mind will not work. Furthermore, it might fail in a way that will deprive you of further possibilities that would have given you a much more enjoyable life. You might even get yourself injured or killed, if you cross the kind of desperate types others have mentioned, who need the illegal work much more than you do. Life is not a movie. Please try to take in what we're saying and rethink your ideas about how to change your life and stick it to your dad (if that's part of what's going on).

> If you went to podunk party for 2 years, and then transfer to snooty mcivy university, no one has to know. It doesn't have to go on your resume, and when you go to alumni association dinners, it will be for snooty mcivy.

And if they do, they won't remember. Barack Obama is always listed as a "Columbia University Graduate" not a general studies transfer from Occidental.

Occidental is not "podunk party" for chrissake, it's a superb college (from which I happened to graduate).

posted by languagehat at 7:31 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

I feel like most of the commentators must have gone from high school, to college, to graduate school, to professional careers with nary a misstep.

Hey, it's really, really not about that. It's about the fact that the specific thing he wants to do (move to France as a US citizen and make a living under the table) will be nigh-on impossible for him to actually do. IF he managed to get across the border (unlikely, French immigration will very probably take one look at his new passport, bicycle, one way ticket cheery demeanour and put him straight back on the plane) he's competing in an essentially borderless European working market that has a) lots of legal immigrants doing the jobs he can do and b) untold millions of illegal immigrants. On top of a 25% unemployment rate.

One of the few things I regret in marrying an American girl (through a horrendously expensive and invasive visa process) is how deeply I've come to understand the essential immobility of nearly all of the world's citizens, especially between and into First World countries. I used to treasure the notion of living whereever you wanted and making a new life somewhere on the other side of the world. But the simple truth is, in the First World, you can't just pick up and move somewhere anymore, and if you do you'll be absolutely living on the margins of society, burning money fast and at risk of deportation constantly. Which will likely get you a 10 year travel ban to anywhere in the EU.

As noted upthread, there are a myriad of ways to test the waters, get a feel for different countries, have adventures and do the learning and growing the OP wants to do. Many of them end in (legal) emigration, which is no picnic even if you're jumping through all the right governmental hoops, but infinitely better than being shackled and escorted onto a plane back home.

This really isn't a bunch of old fuddy-duddies pooh-poohing the aspirations of callow youth. Quite the opposite. Many MeFites will heartily advocate for getting out in the world, doing some good and learning new things. But getting on a plane with some cash and a bicycle and expecting to be able to find a job in France (or any other EU country) is daft, and will end in deportation or worse.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:58 AM on August 20, 2009 [10 favorites]

If you try to go to France (England, Ireland, Italy, anywhere really) with a one-way ticket, you will not get in.

Anything else about your plan doesn't even matter.

One-way ticket is a big red flag. Open-ended return is a different kind of ticket, which is very expensive, which people use when they can afford to go traveling about the country and aren't sure what airport they'll be leaving from. Or from which country.

But the point is - you can't even do the first step of your plan, which is get INTO the country.

This holds true for pretty much any 1st world country. If you do not have enough money to support yourself (and they will ask for bank information), you will be spending that $1000 extra money on a ticket home.

So...look into South America and see if the rules are different there for some country like Colombia where it's super cheap to live.
posted by sio42 at 9:24 AM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

Sent you a MeMail.
posted by mdonley at 10:33 AM on August 20, 2009

see if the rules are different there for some country like Colombia

FYI, I am in Colombia right now for work. On my way in they required me to show evidence I had return ticket.

Colombia doesn't want America's castoffs either.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:14 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

I feel like most of the commentators must have gone from high school, to college, to graduate school, to professional careers with nary a misstep.

Not hardly. I dropped out of college and moved to London (where I had spent my high school years) in the 80s when I could get a 6 month student work permit (through CIEE, as I recall, and I set it up before I dropped out). I was poor and unskilled, trying to make it as a musician. I washed dishes and the like for much of the time, lived in a nasty council flat rented out to transients by an elderly alcoholic, had to step over the prone addicts passed out in the stairwells to get to my flat.

I was never so happy to see the lights of New York through an airplane window as at the end of that excursion. I have *been* a poor young person trying to escape what I used to think was the banality of an American life, doing manual labor and living hand to mouth in a European capital. When I tell the OP he's delusional, I know whereof I speak.

Mind you, this was 20+ years ago, when it was easier to do.

The old adage comes to mind. The grass is always greener somewhere else when you're poor or alienated or whatever, and especially when you're young. Since then, I've seen a lot of places and built a career that could in fact get me to another country legally with some effort. And I'm a severe critic of American politics and culture in many ways. I still love my country and really can't imagine living anywhere else would be "better" in toto, just different.

The idea that it's possible to be happier in France or Norway than the US is wishful thinking. Some things are better in some countries than in others. But if your miserable in the US because you have no education, don't make much money, and are without a direction in life, there's no real reason to believe that will change in Marseille or Bergen.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:23 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

if *you're* miserable, sorry
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:24 AM on August 20, 2009

Here's some good practice to do before you head off to be an illegal unskilled worker in Europe (or anywhere else): go to wherever in your area the illegal day workers congregate every day looking for work and join them! Find work, find people to live with, move in with them, do this for a few months. It won't be exactly the same as doing this abroad, because here you are actually legal and won't be deported, plus you speak the (employers') language, but it will be similar in terms of wages, working conditions, and, most importantly, the difficulty of actually getting any work given that you are not a part of the community in question (most likely Mexican or Central American here, Eastern European, North African, or African in France).

But really, your best bet for getting out and seeing the world is earning some more money and then going and backpacking for as long as you can on the money you've saved. See the world, learn things . . . you can do it. Take advantage of your most important asset: US citizenship, which allows you to cross borders at will as a tourist without visas.
posted by agent99 at 11:56 AM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

I had the I-have-to-get-out-of-the-US bug and moved to Europe ... but I spoke enough of the local language (german) to talk on the phone, and I had a BS in a scientific field and 8 years of work history. All of this was crucial. If you want to get out then you have to think a little long term, and that's going to mean sacrificing something now.

The expats that I know of here are all in the following categories:
(a) randomly have citizenship through family or circumstance
(b) have a job offer in a field that a local citizen cannot fill
(c) or (related) use the fact that they speak english natively

Since (a) and (b) are out for you, if the single thing you want to do is to emigrate to Europe and you don't have a education in a high tech or big business field, then IMO the biggest asset you have is being a native english speaker. That's just not enough to get a job in Western Europe however (afaik), you have to actually know how to teach.

This you can learn through experience, and what's more it would be outside of the US, and help people. However it probably won't pay well, you probably won't get to choose where, and it won't be in Europe. But you're young and in a few years you could be in a position to do it. (also there are many countries outside of France where French is spoken)
posted by cotterpin at 12:41 PM on August 20, 2009

Disneyland Paris is looking for painters.
posted by kudzu at 1:11 PM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

also, you can apply from the US, in English and they offer housing for Euro 230 a month, all included. link
posted by kudzu at 1:20 PM on August 20, 2009

Hah! Brilliant!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:59 PM on August 20, 2009

If you do go, by all means send us an update in MetaTalk.
posted by zardoz at 2:39 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I feel like most of the commentators must have gone from high school, to college, to graduate school, to professional careers with nary a misstep.

No, not at all. I dropped out of university, worked on farms, bummed around unemployed, started at bottom-of-the-rung jobs and clawed my way up the IT tree over time. Being unable to speak the language, never mind literacy, is a bit of a pre-requisite for that career path, as is not having all sorts of difficult onversations with employers about not being legally employable.
posted by rodgerd at 3:59 PM on August 20, 2009

kudzu ftw
posted by @troy at 4:12 PM on August 20, 2009

I'll put in a strong vote for WWOOF (willing Workers on Organic Farms) and HelpExchange. Spend a few weeks each in different parts of France, working for room and board (legal on a tourist visa), making connections with people there, and learning French.
posted by mkuhnell at 6:34 PM on August 20, 2009

You've put some sense into me, dream shattering though it may be. I am looking into my legal options now, which range from extended hobo tourism and then school back in the US (tied for top choice along with teaching), selecting a cheaper/easier country (South America or Southeast Asia), study abroad, BUNAC, and getting certified to teach English and then getting into a teaching program that works overseas.

I still very much want to experience other countries, and while many of my original opinions are unchanged, I'd like to do it in a way that won't have me banned from traveling certain countries for years and/or land me in prison.

Really though people, this was a crushing experience. Not what I wanted to hear at all unfortunately. Yeah, I'm naive, I get it, but still, harsh Metafilter, harsh. But you guys did show me some good legal options and I appreciate it.
posted by jellywerker at 7:01 PM on August 20, 2009

kudzu, of course! I looked into them for myself.
posted by djgh at 9:42 PM on August 20, 2009

Hey jellywerker, try not to consider your dream "shattered"--indeed, most of the folks in this thread have either traveled--or wish they could travel--through Europe unburdened by debt or major responsibility, and equipped with nothing but a backpack and youth. Your idea is fantastic, the adventure would be amazing, and I absolutely think you should find a way to make it happen. Your idea reminds me of this fellow, who spent a year walking across China.

However, I also think you should use wisdom and planning to make it happen--take the time to research the places you want to visit, learn some getting-around language, file the proper papers, and save up enough money so you can stay as long as possible. Most of the "harsh Metafilter" answers were in response to your idea of jumping on a plane before you'd made contingency plans, learned to speak the language, or saved enough money, the lack of which would bring a much harsher end to your dream than anything written here.

Again, please don't consider your dream shattered or give up on it. Find a way to make it happen, but do so wisely. This thread has a lot of good advice, and you sound as though you're already working towards that goal. Good luck, take lots of pictures, keep a journal, and please set up a blog before you go so we can follow you on the trip many of us can only dream of taking.
posted by mattdidthat at 2:22 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding mattdidthat, try to think of MeFi like an older sibling (composed of thousands of people) who have done the things you're interested in doing and are giving you good advice, not (another) scolding parental figure.

People were very direct in this thread because really, it's better that you get a realistic appraisal of what's possible and what's actively harmful to your future than figure out in realtime when you get cuffed by the Gendarmes in an immigration raid.

Seriously, good luck with it all, don't worry too much about your Dad's expectations, earn some cash and then go and see the world. I recommend the Boots n' All Travel Community as a great place to research your destinations, commiserate with other travelbugs about the necessary slog to get the cash to do things and plan meetings with people all over the world.

Keep going for it, and enjoy yourself, and don't 'settle down' if you don't want to because someone tells you it's the right thing to do. Do, however, do you research and keep your eyes and ears open when you travel abroad. The world isn't full of Hemingway-era open borders and laissez-faire expat life anymore, but there's still plenty of adventure to be had. And if you're ever passing through London, come to a meetup.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:29 AM on August 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

Aye. Keep saying yes. Don't be afraid, but don't be stupid. Live large and free while you can, because the time comes too quickly when you can't, and if you don't, you'll regret it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:54 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Please don't consider your dream shattered! Delaying your move to Europe (or elsewhere) until you have a more workable plan doesn't mean it can't/won't happen! I think people were reacting harshly because it sounded like you were on the verge of buying tickets ("moving to France, no job, don't know French, it's happening regardless"), and they were rushing to tell you to pause and think about it first, before you went and did something that could leave you broke on another continent, in prison, banned from France/the EU for a while, etc. We, or our friends, or friends-of-friends, have made these mistakes so that you don't have to.

Most of us have travelled, or moved abroad, or done something broadly similar, and I think we all hope you can do it too - we just want you to be able to do it safely and in a way that will be a lot less stressful.

(Another small note on the education front: have you looked at scholarships? Some are based on absolute academic achievement, but there are plenty of great scholarships and grants you can get for writing essays, pursuing specific hobbies, being from some ethnic group, etc. If I were you, I would consider perhaps going to community college for a year or two, racking up good grades, learning French, moving out of your parents' house and saving money to become officially financially independent, and looking up scholarship and grant info. I'd then transfer to a university I liked, join their crew team, and get over to Europe on a school-sponsored program. Not that you have to do things this way, of course, but there really truly are ways to get a good education without being $40k in debt - or, depending on how much financial aid you get, how many scholarships you dig up, and how much money, you can save, without being in debt at all.)
posted by ubersturm at 7:51 AM on August 21, 2009

I went overseas as a student from the local community college when I was 19. It was the best way to do it- I didn't run up huge debts (though I did run up some, because I only worked a few hours a week). The study abroad program was ... less than rigorous, so I had plenty of time to hang out and experience the country. Most importantly, having a student ID got me

1) more discounts than you could shake a stick at (Seriously. Don't use the US as an example- everyone else treats their students better.)
2) a safety net/ support infrastructure
3) contracts for future trips
4) a lot more sympathetic interest from the locals (worth gold)

I recommend doing it sooner rather than later, because in some countries age 27 is the cut-off for student-hood.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:29 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

sorry- CONTACTS for future trips (not contracts, though perhaps those as well.)
posted by small_ruminant at 2:04 PM on August 21, 2009

Does living far away from home while taking community college classes online sound too complicated? I was considering something like that...back when I was.
Did anyone ask yet if you can claim EU citizenship through ancestry?
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 12:34 AM on August 22, 2009

Just go man, hop aboard the Dirtiest internationally registered cargo ship leaving NYC -- many of the best companies that offer this are indeed French. Head east and good god save your airfare money, you're crazy to think you'll get into France without a return flight, no school, no relatives or convincing reason to stay "indefinitely" anyway. Do this because you're ready to leave like you say you are, and be ready to suffer a little on the seas, to be uncomfortable and alone, facing the turmoil compounded by desire of a different life, and just when you think you've made the biggest mistake of your life, you'll show up somewhere where; with a little bit of wit and a little bit of wisdom, you'll be able to find your way off the boat and attempt sustenance on the port itself. It may be France, but likely the UK or any western European country, this is good as you'll have the advantage of being able to communicate for a time in your native tongue before you make your next daring leap into not only a foreign land but also now stuck trying to convey your purpose as foreigner with no grasp of the language as well.

I applaud your gusto, but it must expand because without some further dares towards the insane i don't think you'll be able to make it.

For practice, you may want to go over in your mind how you'll react when you are found out, not only by local police forces, but immigration cartels that spend all their working hours relieving refugees from the freedom they so desire. The world is brutal, most countries cannot officially take kindly to the attitude you're portraying so you must either be willing to subvert their standards, avoiding detection altogether or get a little more realistic with your expectations as far as the type of plan you plan to execute and the ease in which it will be carried out both monetarily and spiritually.

posted by phylum sinter at 5:23 PM on August 24, 2009

Not sure why everyone here is so negative. This is a great dream and there's no reason not to try it. Jelly wants adventure, not comfort! I admire you and I think it's cruel that people are telling you things like you need a PhD to make this work. Wtf?

I haven't done this myself but I've met lots of people who did.

How about this for a plan:

- Talk to everyone you know about this move and ask if they have any connections in France. (Your community college profs, parents' friends, high school teachers, aunts and uncles, family friends, former employers, etc. -- keep brainstorming.) Among the 50 or so adults you probably know, you can probably get at least 3 - 4 contacts in France. Try to find someone who will let you stay for a couple of days on their couch. If not:
- Go online to backpackers forums and make friends with people. Someone may invite you to visit. If not:
- Use to connect with people and find a place.
- Buy a ticket to France, with an ongoing ticket to a nearby non-Schengen country (Turkey, Eastern Europe, North Africa, etc.) right before the tourist visa expires. (Reserve enough money to buy a plane ticket back to the US from this non-Schengen country.)
- Go to France
- Live very cheaply while there.
- Try to pick up work with (English-speaking) people you meet on -- cleaning houses, running errands, babysitting, filing, handyman work, etc. Be personable and on-time and helpful. You can probably pick up enough work to eat.
- While in France, try to look for more permanent work. Maybe someone needs an office assistant. Maybe someone needs an au pair. Once you get into the social networks of English-speaking expats, there's probably something you can do for them.
- Before your visa expires, go to the non-Schengen country.
- If you have some kind of job set up, buy a ticket back to France and go do it. If you don't, check your budget and hang out in the other country for a few weeks (until your tourist visa or your money expire) and then fly back to the US. If you find some other adventure (perhaps a job in another country? a girlfriend?), go enjoy!

And don't listen to these close-minded people. The worst case is you spend a few months having an adventure, run through your money, and then go back to go to school in the US.

DO NOT under any circumstances join the military. If you want a free life, you will HATE the military. It will beat the happiness out of you. It's a great place for certain types of people, but it's not for you. Do not let your parents pressure you. You will have a great, happy life full of adventures! Get started!
posted by metametababe at 11:27 AM on September 19, 2009

Not sure why everyone here is so negative.

It's not negativity. It's experience of having dealt with actual immigration authorities. If the poster follows your 'advice', they'll be back on a plane to the US with a ten year travel ban so fast it'll make their head spin. Flagged as bloody awful advice.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:09 PM on September 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

And don't listen to these close-minded people. The worst case is you spend a few months having an adventure, run through your money, and then go back to go to school in the US.

And another thing, many of the posters here have spent many years moving around the world, dealing with immigration authorities and, shock horror, are actually citizens of EU countries. Many have even legally emigrated to EU countries. Far from close-minded, they actually know what they're talking about. And the 'worst case' is the OP gets deported and travel banned, or even worse actually gets into France, not speaking any French and tries to work illegally in one of the largest illegal labour pools in the world.

So before you insult the experience, intelligence and openmindedness of posters around here, it's best to know what the fuck you're talking about.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:16 PM on September 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I haven't done this myself but I've met lots of people who did.
How about you go first?

To the OP: if someone gives you advice that starts with "I haven't done this myself, but...." and then continues to pile on the "probablies..."

Someone may invite you to visit
You can probably pick up enough work to eat.
there's probably something you can do for them

You should probably not listen.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 6:44 PM on September 19, 2009

Hey, how do you guys know that I am not a citizen of an EU country? Or that I do not have close friends that have done this?

I don't think it's a crazy suggestion to say that this guy might benefit from actually living his dream before he gets a PhD. (!)

If it doesn't work out, he can just go home. Spending a few months working at personal service jobs (if he can find them) or couchsurfing (if he can't), is not going to get him a travel ban. He's an 18 year old that wants an adventure. As long as he reserves enough money for a ticket home, he's at least guaranteed to get that.
posted by metametababe at 12:44 AM on October 5, 2009

"Spending a few months working at personal service jobs (if he can find them) or couchsurfing (if he can't), is not going to get him a travel ban."

Working illegally will most certainly get him a travel ban.

I'm a long term American ex-pat who has seen folks try this before, and either been denied reentry to the UK when they temporarily exited England to "reactivate" their tourist visa, or been caught then deported. None can return to the UK for periods ranging from one to ten years.

One gal I know stayed on here (London) illegally for almost one year while working for cash off the books in a pub (the kind of service job you're recommending), and not only was deported but also HMS Revenue forced her to repay funds she'd earned while working in England illegally. She also had to pay taxes due on her illegal wages. Big mess, took almost three months to completely clear up and for much of that time she was detained.

While she had a large group of friends here in London (unlike OP by the way), none of us could do much to help her as she broke the law. She seemed to think she has some natural right to enter and work illegally in the UK (my theory is she followed bad advise) and got herself a Solicitor to fight deportation, which only served to royally (pun not intended) piss of the immigration folks here.

So now she's banned from entering the UK for ten years.

Just look at it this way: there is a recession on (maybe ending but most folks wouldn't agree with the official data).

France's unemployment rate is at a ten year high.. In other parts of Europe (e.g., Spain) unofficial unemployment rates are well over 20%.

Locals who were born and bred there don't want to compete with an illegal immigrant for work - its as simple as that and this has indeed become a political issue, with each party trying to out do the other for being hard on illegals.

Bad time to be working illegally in countries. Not that there ever is a good time, but when a recession is on it's the worst possible time.
posted by Mutant at 1:08 AM on October 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

Working without a proper visa is a really bad idea.

Could you scratch your travel itch in Mexico instead? Closer, cheaper, easier to get around (or so I've heard).

Then, get a four-year degree from a state university. You don't need 80K to do so. With a college degree you'll find a number of countries (although not EU ones) will hire you to teach English.

Fact is, EU countries are simply not the ex-pat havens for Americans they were in the 1960's. You can't even teach English any more because a British person will be hired before you.
posted by bardic at 8:27 PM on November 26, 2009

American-who-lives-in-Europe here:

Sorry to jump on the bandwagon, but they are unlikely to even let you on the plane from America to France if you don't have a return ticket and/or a work-residency permit.

Entering the Schengen zone now seems to require this (I've had to buy a ticket out of the Schengen zone at the gate at RDU before they would even issue me a boarding pass--not because I was illegal, but simply because all of my papers were in another language).

Another problem with overstaying your tourist visa (if you somehow manage to get in--which I too believe is unlikely) is that it won't just be France which issues a persona non grata, but the entire schegen zone (IANAL--just what I heard), but being banned from Europe would pretty much suck from a cultural point of view.

If you want in, you're going to have to buy a return ticket (I guess refundable in your case) and have a hotel address or address of a friend immigration can call to get in.

Now I am a little bit older than you so a bit more cautious...

but I really do believe this is unrealistic.

From your current budget I'd say Asia would be more realistic as you could probably get a job teaching English even without any qualifications (PM me if you want any advice on this route).

Good luck
posted by FunGus at 4:02 PM on March 21, 2010

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