Help us move to Europe.
June 17, 2014 4:11 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I are finally in a position where we can seriously work towards relocating from the US to Europe (specifically Germany). Help us make this a reality.

I just finished an advanced degree and we're getting married soon, so we want to finally pursue our dream of moving to Europe for at least several years. My past attempts securing a transfer have not panned out, so we're trying to figure out both a) the most likely way to get us both over there and b) the way that will be most beneficial to us salary-wise. The options we see currently are:

1) Find a US-based company/organization looking to send someone overseas.
2) Find a German company/organization willing to hire foreigners and relocate them.
3) Advanced degrees at a German university (my partner would do the program and I would come along as spouse).

If my partner finds the new job or starts the degree program, I can work remotely at my current employer but it would probably eliminate any further upward mobility at this job. If I get the new job, my partner would have to find new work when we get to Europe.

Some relevant professional details that might be important:
-Both of us are engineers (bioengineer and mechanical engineer)
-I speak enough German not to starve to death in the streets; partner does not speak any.
-I have some professional contacts in the defense industry in Germany and here in the States that work with Germans, but these have not helped me in the past.

Given the options we've laid out and the skills that we have, what's our best option? I've heard that working for a US company overseas is preferable to working for a "native" German company (due to extra perks like housing allowances, cost of living adjustments, etc.) - is this still true? How do we present ourselves in the job search as willing and eager to relocate? Are we missing anything else?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have EU citizenship? This is helpful although from what I understand Germany is more open to sponsoring non-EU citizens than other countries.

Consider your $avings and the tax laws between the two countries. If you contribute to 401k for eg; how does that transfer?

You could consider working with a EU-based recruiter which is what we are doing now (also engineers) however the market is somewhat soft in Europe right now so you may have to plan for it taking a little longer than you'd like but be patient & keep at it.

If you can start US-based and then get a transfer then that is an option too. Good luck!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:16 PM on June 17, 2014

I'm wondering why your earlier attempts have failed. In Germany, I know from personal experience that language can be an issue. Even huge international companies seem to communicate mainly in German, as do the universities.

In the Netherlands and Scandinavia, you can get along almost everywhere in English. But maybe you might be more interested in Switzerland - particularly the Basel-area, which is very international and still has all the qualities you might be looking for in Germany.
posted by mumimor at 11:25 PM on June 17, 2014

If your partner doesn't speak any German at all, he may run into problems at his university or company. Germany still has very few English programmes (heck, even Japan seems to have more!) and while most of us Germans think they can speak English, I wouldn't count on it when things get more difficult. Especially in your field, Germans seem to be under the impression that learning languages is for the losers with no hard skills in technology etc. - my own little brother is doing a science degree and he's supposedly very smart and I'm appalled by his English. (That's not true for everyone, of course. I once took a Japanese class with a guy majoring in physics, but that's rare.)
Also, not to be discouraging, but German universities are awful. Students get almost no help from their professors, it can take ages for the administration to move and it's just generally a huge nerve-wracking pain in the butt.
Germany does have its good aspects, of course. You get a lot of paid holidays and we have really nice food.
Maybe you should try reading some blogs or books my expats? I remember an e-book titled Bumped to Berlin where an American woman writes about her experiences, and a lot of it rings pretty true. (Maybe apart from the parts where she gets her German wrong and then complains no one understands her...)

If I were you, I'd let my partner find a new job first, work remotely for my own and search for something new once you're sure you want to stay for a while.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 2:41 AM on June 18, 2014

Toytown Germany is an excellent site for expats and German English speakers. They may be able to help with chasing down employment leads.

As for routes in, the most ironclad route is always going to be EU citizenship, usually via heritage for at least one of you. This does not need to be German - if you are a citizen (or have the potential through heritage to become a citizen) of any EU (and especially Schengen) country, you can work and live there.

According to this AskMe, it seems German citizenship requires at least one German citizen as a parent, so if you have roots further back than that, you may be out of luck. However, other countries (including, I believe, Italy?) have looser rules.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:14 AM on June 18, 2014

I've heard that working for a US company overseas is preferable to working for a "native" German company

Yes and no. Working overseas on a US contract (doesn't necessarily mean the company has worldwide headquarters in the US) has advantages of housing benefits, etc., but there is also a fixed amount of time on that contract. After the contract ends, you are required to go home and/or find another expat position. It's in text, in the contract. The time you have on your contract will not be enough to get citizenship. If your goal is really to have a life there, moving as an expat gets you physical presence but it comes with severe limitations.

I've done this before (France) and it is not easy; there are probably good reasons why your previous attempts didn't pan out. It's hard, even to a country as relatively open as Germany (someone mentioned Switzerland; they are much tighter on immigration right now). I'm here through sheer luck, frankly, and I'm on a local contract with all that implies (no housing allowance, no free trip home, much lower salary).
posted by whatzit at 4:21 AM on June 18, 2014

Also: the expat contracts in sweet places like Western Europe are usually for high level positions and go to people who already have years of experience in the country. Some big companies have international rotation programs for incoming employees (Nestle and Shell come to mind) but you are not certain to get anything geographically desirable or in your preferences, and you definitely won't be staying very long.
posted by whatzit at 4:34 AM on June 18, 2014

Plus, consider whether you'd want to be paid in Euro or in Dollars.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 9:23 AM on June 18, 2014

Not all universities are similar to the one LoonyLovegood describes. I've seen graduate programs where it was no problem for someone to get a funded position despite speaking not a word of German, but it would be impossible without English. Yes, administration is slow, but especially for engineers funded positions exist.
posted by Triton at 9:54 AM on June 18, 2014

years of experience in the country company
(I only fixed it because the error totally changes the meaning)
posted by whatzit at 11:27 AM on June 18, 2014

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