Where do I begin researching moving to Europe?
July 31, 2011 4:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm exploring the idea of moving to Europe for a year or two -- preferably to Rome or Paris, and don't know where to start my research. Pretty much all I know right now is that I loved both places when I visited, and I want to give living in one of those cities a try.

I'm at the very beginning stages and am floundering a bit. I don't know whether I want to go there for grad school or try to get a job. Can I do freelance writing work from there without getting a work visa? I don't speak Italian or French -- how much of an issue will that be? Will I be welcomed by the locals? Is it important to join an ex-pat community? I've been told going as a student is the easiest way. Any insight would be appreciated.
posted by kim in chicago to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Without knowing the language, how would you go to school there?

Maybe you should start with an extended language course, like Berlitz.
You could learn the langauge (which is VERY important),
get to know the city better, and make a plan to extend your stay.
posted by Flood at 4:43 PM on July 31, 2011

There are American universities in Rome. I haven't checked Paris yet.
posted by kim in chicago at 4:49 PM on July 31, 2011

Read David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris. Though at times exaggerated for storytelling purposes, it walks through David Lebovitz's experiences moving to Paris from the US, particularly some aspects of the attitude and culture that you might not expect (for better or worse). And it's a fun, quick read anyway.

There are English-speaking schools you could go to (The American University of Paris, etc), but you'll still need to at least get familiar with the essentials of the language. I found that most people spoke OK English in Paris, but you'll need to get the ball rolling in French first at the very bare minimum.
posted by dayintoday at 4:50 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you wealthy? That would help. As an American, in order to get a student visa, you will have to provide that you have sufficient funds to pay your tuition and living expenses for the time you plan to stay there (I had to show proof of a USD50K account balance for my two-year master's in Stockholm even though tuition is free for me as a dual citizen).

Tuition for non-science graduate programs that are taught in English will cost you €25K (for instance). There are many more MBA programs in particular that are taught in English, both in Rome and in Paris. Some American universities qualify for US federal financial aid – are you willing to take on debt? (Pretty much none of the above applies if you are a scientist pursuing a PhD, by the way.)
posted by halogen at 4:54 PM on July 31, 2011

I like this blog: Pret a Voyager, about grad life in Paris. It could be good place to find information.
posted by teststrip at 5:16 PM on July 31, 2011

I don't speak Italian or French -- how much of an issue will that be? Will I be welcomed by the locals? Is it important to join an ex-pat community?

This does not make any sense. If you don't speak the language you may be tolerated by those locals who have a good command of English and they may allow you to join some of their social gatherings. But you will find that the novelty of the guy who can't speak Italian forcing a group of Italians to speak English all night to accommodate him will wear off really fast. Even the most welcoming group will get tired of somebody who cannot be asked to learn the language of a place they profess to love...so unless you bother to learn the lingo you will have no choice but the expat community. You can get by in most expat communities without having more than the most basic grasp of your host country's languange. But at that point why would you bother to move there in the first place. If you work for a multinational and they tell you to move or get out that's a good enough reason to move and be happy with the expat community. But as you profess to love these places it's odd that it would be enough for you?

What exactly did you love about Rome and Paris anyway? Why do you think you'd like to try living there? If the words culture/way of life feature in your answer to those questions I would put it to you that you don't know either and cannot begin to understand either until you learn the languange.

Which is not to say you shouldn't go - but I'd encourage you to think a lot harder about why you want to do this.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:22 PM on July 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

I don't know quite how to word this, because it's sort of awkward and I don't want to be harsh - I think living in a different culture is awesome, good for you, and I generally positive thing for everyone, and I also don't support the idea of national borders politically... But every time I see one of these posts by an American, my first instinct is to ask them to turn it around and imagine a post by a citizen of say, Turkey or Iceland or Singapore, asking the same questions about living in America "I don't speak English or Spanish -- how much of an issue will that be? Will I be welcomed by the locals?" I don't mean that it would be answered unkindly, but that thinking about how tough it would be for that person to navigate the process and how naive their question might sound might give you a different view on your own goal.

I think koahiatamadl's answer is good, I especially agree that if you go and spend your time with other expats you are doing yourself (and the wider community you move into) a big disservice. I'd add that you'll have a hard time really researching where you're going or navigating the visa process without knowing the language. Why not spend a year saving up and taking a language course?
posted by crabintheocean at 6:00 PM on July 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's important to not join an expat community. You will not get the French or Italian experience you seek surrounding yourself with Americans, Brits and Aussies. I would suggest taking local language classes to augment classes you've already taken at home.

Please be aware that you cannot just pick up and move to Europe. It is pretty much as hard as it is to do it in reverse. You will not get an employment visa, you probably cannot legally work freelance, and you are going to have a visa issue if you are not enrolled in education. A language school, however, may qualify; it does here.

Typically the arrangement students pull off here is to enroll in a language school to be able to reside, and work freelance back in their home economy without mentioning this to the visa office. You'd be paid in US$ in the US and make transfers or ATM withdrawals to extract cash.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:25 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow. Ok then.

My questions were clearly naive -- and senseless, apparently. Thanks for the honesty and suggestions.
posted by kim in chicago at 6:46 PM on July 31, 2011

It's not senseless, but maybe a little naive. Really, you'll have the best experience if you embrace the concept of immersion - learn the local language, learn to use the really different washing machine, learn to shop daily if that's the local custom, etc. If you arrive with the rudiments of the language, sheer exposure and necessity will put your language skills into overdrive within 12 weeks.

The visa thing is a real bitch and I'm super sorry about that, but realistically it is often workable (or ignorable.)
posted by DarlingBri at 7:17 PM on July 31, 2011

Thanks, DarlingBri. Some of my friends and colleagues have been as discouraging as some of the comments here, and after these askmefi comments started rolling in I began to wonder why anyone would want to move there if it was as bad as all that.

Making my lifelong desire to live in Europe a reality is something I have just begun to give serious consideration, and I probably wasn't asking the right questions here. What I was really looking for is a starting point -- how to do the research to determine which country might be a better fit, for one. There is so much information out there that it would take forever to wade thru it -- I hoped someone could suggest some first steps that might be more effective than googling "living abroad in Europe."

In any event, I appreciate your advice.
posted by kim in chicago at 7:40 PM on July 31, 2011

If you're willing to work as an au pair, you can probably do that and still take classes. As a full-time student (minimum 20 hours of classroom work per week), you are allowed to work up to 20 hours a week (and full-time during vacations), provided your family in Rome will allow you enough time off to attend language school.

It's not as easy as it used to be to just show up with your tourist visa and hang out, but you can probably find ways and means to make this happen. While hanging out only with ex-pats isn't wise, there's no reason you can't research the various English-language blogs/papers/websites for these cities and glean some info there. You don't need to be fluent or bi-lingual to function in either place and I think posters are being a bit quick to stomp on your enthusiasm.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:11 PM on July 31, 2011

Thank you for the info and encouragement, Ideefixe.
posted by kim in chicago at 8:38 PM on July 31, 2011

I say this a lot -- to, uh, everyone -- but if you have an immigrant ancestor from any EU member state in the last two or three generations, you might be able to claim citizenship by descent, get a red passport, and just fly into the country of your choice for the duration of your choice.

Sounds rare, but it worked for both me and my girlfriend, in two different countries. A lot of paperwork is required -- but much less hassle than a visa. I know a good bit about this, feel free to MeFi Mail if you want some details/insight.
posted by zvs at 9:25 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think language is as big an issue as other people who posted.

I don't speak Swedish and I'm a graduate student in Sweden, where it's not much of an obstacle. I'm learning amazingly quickly with the help of textbooks and plan to hire a tutor. My cousin got an undergraduate degree at the American University in Paris – she moved there without speaking French – and a master's in Amsterdam, where she enrolled without speaking any Dutch. She is perfectly fluent in French now (not sure how her Dutch is, but I imagine at least conversational).
posted by halogen at 9:48 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, it's nothing like what kohiatamadi and crabintheocean imagine: upon enrolling in a program that is taught in English, you will be surrounded by and befriend people from all over Europe who tend to communicate, both at school and outside, in – you guessed it – English.
posted by halogen at 9:53 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

The benefit of going as a student is the student visa. Of course getting a work visa is possible, depending on your qualifications -- but in general the student visa is the most standard route. The next thing to do is choose a university. There are many where English is spoken at the Master's level.

For what it's worth, I didn't need to provide any proof of my financial background when I moved here five years ago so don't let some of the comments above dissuade you. Of course it does take money, but it isn't hard to find work on the side (although your student visa won't allow it, technically) -- especially if you can teach ESL or something similar. Many people study part-time and work part-time. If you're in no rush to finish the program and leave the EU, this seems like an interesting option for you.

Your first goal should be to choose a university or at least a country. Look at cost-of-living, quality of education, etc. Many universities facilitate ex-pat integration through all kinds of cultural programs, etc. The benefit of, for example, the Netherlands is that there is a very high level of bilingualism and nearly everyone in the cities (and in the countryside for that matter) speaks perfect English, plus the unis are great, and there is plenty of work teaching English or editing papers, etc.

I feel like the tone so far has been pretty negative, but as a US-expat who is still living in Europe, I can tell you that it isn't impossible by any means. If this is what you really want to do, I'm sure you can do it.
posted by mateuslee at 10:10 PM on July 31, 2011

Also, it's nothing like what kohiatamadi and crabintheocean imagine: upon enrolling in a program that is taught in English, you will be surrounded by and befriend people from all over Europe who tend to communicate, both at school and outside, in – you guessed it – English.

Right. That's a very specific (and no doubt awesome) experience where you are surrounded by and befriend people from all over Europe, which is not the same thing as being immersed in a regular mostly working culture of adults mostly from the country you live in.

No need to blame my imagination thanks, I went to a university that was largely international students who came to study in the city I grew up in, and while the culture around that college was cool, it was not a whole lot like life in the city beyond that.

If that works for the OP, great! I am responding mostly to halogen here, not saying this is a bad thing to do.
posted by crabintheocean at 11:28 PM on July 31, 2011

Don't let folks discourage you; so many people have done this and loved it. Where there's a will there's a way.

Regarding Rome: The Morning News had Anthony Doerr spend a writer's year here recently - his chronicles later became a book. It's one nice rendering of how it might feel.
posted by progosk at 11:32 PM on July 31, 2011

Do you want a long vacation, or do you want to possibly emigrate? Do you want to return home semi-fluent in the language and culture? How do you hope to be changed by this experience? And what precisely is attractive to you about these two particular cities?

The answers to those questions will help shape the research you need to do.

Depending on the answer to your questions above, you probably don't want to get too involved with the ex-pat community in your chosen city. Some ex-pats are very cool people, and the community can help you find appropriate resources and job tips, but many ex-pats are either just arrived (and though bewildered people are cute, hanging out with people who can't figure out how to buy a bus ticket gets old after a few months), or are folks who have stayed for a long time without learning the language or developing a real affection for the locals. Those people may have many fine qualities, but I don't think you want to bust your ass and move halfway around the world to hang out with them.

I'm not sure of the technical legality of doing freelance writing in Europe, but in practice the authorities are not going to catch and punish you. A more pressing question is that of your visa. There are three possibilities (assuming you have a US passport and don't have an EU one). One, there's the work visa, which is desirable but very hard to get. Two, there are student visas, which are easy to get if you can demonstrate that you have a ton of cash in your bank account. Three, there are tourist visas, which are only good for 90 days. Which one makes sense for you depends on your own situation and desires.

Not speaking French/Italian will be a huge deal. In Paris and Rome, even folks who learned English in school are often reluctant to use it (sort of like Americans are not likely to bust out the Spanish or French they learned in high school). It is lonely-making not to be able to talk with people and when you can't speak the native language, people often treat you like you're a child. There will be people who will be pleased to talk with you -- including young men whose desire to seduce you will be powerful enough to overcome language barriers -- but many of the locals will not be terribly interested in you until they can sit down for a good chat. If you want to go, I recommend starting a language class (Rosetta Stone, language tutoring) ASAP.

One thing you might consider, if you have the money, is taking a year-long intensive language course. That will get you a year-long visa, and and the end of it you will be pretty fluent in the language, and you'll also have a much better idea of the culture and where you might fit into it. You'll also know some people who could possibly sponsor you for a work visa. Depending on your personal interests, an internship at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization might be cheaper and worth looking into as well. Finally, you might get a CELTA or TEFL certificate in preparation for working overseas. It can still be difficult to get a real work visa in Europe, depending on your other educational qualifications (i.e. do you have a masters' degree and/or other teaching experience), but being a native speaker with a TEFL you can usually find some kind of under-the-table work.

Good luck, Kim, and feel free to memail me :)
posted by hungrytiger at 3:36 AM on August 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Thanks so much, everyone. I have had some people warn me about moving to Europe, and other people warn me about people who warn me about moving to Europe. I appreciate all the advice here, especially those who were encouraging.

progosk, I have read Anthony Doerr's book, although not until after I visited Rome. How wonderful to be invited to spend a year at the American Academy in Rome!

You have all given me much to think about. hungrytiger, thanks for the invite to email you -- I'll take you up on that offer this evening!

Many thanks,
posted by kim in chicago at 6:44 AM on August 1, 2011

You may be a bit naive, big deal. When you're 40 or 50, you'll likely be too entrenched in your mortgage, marriage, and kids to think about moving to another country. So now is the time!

When I was 20, I lived for a year in the UK volunteering for Community Service Volunteers. I was taking a year off from college, and I agreed to do 40 hours a week of work in exchange for a visa and a place to stay, as well as a stipend so small that it barely paid for each week's beer. Upon entry into the UK, I had to show proof of a big enough cash balance to not be dependent on anyone else. Maybe there's something similar to CSV for France or Italy.

I found CSV through the Center for Interim Programs, which isn't just for college students seeking a gap year. I think it was quite expensive to use their services (maybe 2k), but it was 20+ years ago, so I don't know what their deal is today.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:07 AM on August 1, 2011

There is a reddit called IWantOut which may help you in your research.

Here is their FAQ which may also be helpful.
posted by Nerro at 4:20 PM on August 1, 2011

mateuslee -- May I email you to ask a few general questions about your experiences in Europe?

Nerro -- I'm in my 40s! I'm in the unique position of not having to worry about a mortgage, marriage, or kids, which is one of the reasons I thought this would be a good time to consider living abroad for a few years. Thank you for the information and links. The reddit has been especially informative.

Many thanks to all who replied.
posted by kim in chicago at 5:50 PM on August 3, 2011

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