Have Funds, Will Travel... Possibly Permanently. How?
February 2, 2018 3:00 PM   Subscribe

My family has been considering leaving the US for a while for France, Germany, Austria, or Switzerland. We wouldn't necessarily have jobs lined up, but we have language skills, in-demand high-level job skills, and a good amount of liquid dollars. What are some ways we could make this happen? Expat status is on the table.

We are in a position where we have at least $500,000 US on hand, with another $200,000 or so in investments and 401Ks or similar (no advice about the current imbalance, please, we're well aware of it and will resolve it in one way or another quickly).

Is it possible to move from the US to a Western European country for a few years without jobs lined up? Where? How? We wouldn't be looking at living in major cities, but would like to be relatively close (50-100 miles is "relatively close" in our estimation) to either a major city or a coastline.

Language skills in the family include formerly-fluent French (as in, can still read French news and mostly watch French movies without subtitles, but can't carry on a conversation anymore), somewhat-fluent Spanish (as in, can tell cab drivers in Mexico where we're going and have them assume we speak Mexican Spanish fluently), and rudimentary German (can handle simple transactions, but have had retail employees and restaurant staff switch to English when they realized we weren't fluent). We assume we'd resume French or Spanish fluency very quickly if we were in countries that spoke those languages, and we assume we'd quickly become fluent in German quickly based on previous linguistic experiences.

We have friends in Switzerland, Germany, and the UK, but no family.

It would be very unlikely we could to transfer our current jobs to any European country. It MAY be possible for my (Fortune 500 company with a significant international presence) job to be transferred to France but it's extremely unlikely. I know it's difficult but not impossible to be hired in many places without residency/EU passport and language fluency.

Job considerations aside, honestly, we're at a point in our lives where we dream of running a bed-and-breakfast somewhere in a countryside setting and just living an awful lot more simply than we do now. We don't have a written business plan or anything, but assume we have done quite a bit of research into what it takes to run a B-and-B (in the US at least).

We just don't know how and if this would be possible. Any directions you could point us in for things we'd need to learn, do, know, etc, would be helpful.

If this is a total pipedream, we'd also like to hear that. Please, feel free to dash our hopes and be brutally honest.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
As expat living in Switzerland I can tell you that running a B+B is not something that will get you a permit to live in Switzerland. For non EU passport holders permits require employer sponsorship,for a job that requires specialist skills or being married to a Swiss national.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:12 PM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

You don't seem to have a concrete plan. So my advice would be to take a bit of that money and go on an extended vacation. A month, two months. Bum around Europe and the countries you mention. Talk to people. Make appointments with financial advisors, find some corporate headhunters or relevant recruitment agencies. Ask them lots of questions. If you do want to go the B-and-B route, stay at a lot of them. Talk to the owners.

Talk to your company and ask them about you working in France or a different country - and not necessarily for them, just ask what would be required or possible for you.

You don't say how big your family is. It sounds like it's two of you. You will likely need to speak a language fluently. That doesn't get in the way, but it does mean there will be a period of time when you need to learn the language.
posted by giraffeneckbattle at 3:14 PM on February 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

Do you have university degrees?
posted by rhizome at 3:15 PM on February 2, 2018

I recently read this post about the Spanish non-lucrative visa and how it allows you to travel within the EU. I'm not sure if other countries have it too, but that may be worth researching.
posted by madonna of the unloved at 3:18 PM on February 2, 2018 [17 favorites]

Holy shit, the comments in madonna's link point out that this type of visa is available in several European countries including France and Germany. In Portugal for instance, you need to prove that you have (approx) 7000 euros per person per year to get a year-long extendable residency.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:36 PM on February 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

You can easily meet the funding requirement for a UK tier-1 entrepreneur visa - which lets you open your own business.
posted by penguinicity at 3:37 PM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

There is a US-Dutch Friendship Treaty which would allow you to start a business in the Netherlands. I would think you should easily qualify. Read the conditions here.
posted by frumiousb at 3:49 PM on February 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

Have you ever lived abroad before? It's super hard even when you're privileged: I know this from personal experience. I could have stayed in Germany but decided to return to the US, although I go back at least once a year and travel more elsewhere. I have a friend who plans to stay there forever because their privilege offers them a great lifestyle and that lifestyle is worth the many challenges. I have another friend who's kind of on the fence but doesn't have the privilege to move back. Living abroad is very different from visiting and, even when things are good, they're still often hard. However, if this is your dream, then you should totally do it!

Because you have a very vague plan, I'd start on a smaller scale. Stay somewhere for a month and see how it goes. Can you take a sabbatical from your current jobs? See if you can spend a month working in exchange for room and board at a B&B (in Germany it's called a Pension as you probably know.) A lot of businesses are handed down in families and/or people spend years in university or in apprenticeships programs becoming qualified. While a place like Germany has much better income equality than the US, it's also a country built on stability and bureaucracy, i.e. change is slow and things take awhile to do. I doubt you'd be able to buy a B&B in most parts of western Europe and still have enough to live off of long-term. Real estate is super expensive and the process is complicated; even if you had the resources and permission to open the business, it'd be hard to do so without hiring people to network, do all the legal work, etc. However, if you make the right contacts, things could be possible. I'd definitely get your feet wet first before truly making the jump -- or at least have some back up plans. Friends who are German citizens have talked about how hard it is to be an entrepreneur there: they are all very successful but also have a spouse who can support them in terms of benefits. In Germany you would really need to be fluent to open your own business and it's a type of fluency that's beyond speaking the language well. There are certainly people who can do it regardless in places like Berlin but you asked for a sobering response so there you go.

Anne Ditmeyer writes wonderful pieces on what life is like as a self-employed ex-pat in Paris. She's positive but also brutally honest, which is perfect.

If your dream is to live abroad, I am positive that you can make it happen. It will just take more research and narrowing down your plan for starters. The phrase YOLO is so cheesy (and so 2012) but it's important to remember: you're working on living your dream here and that is awesome. I wish you luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 4:07 PM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Living abroad is tough as someone mentioned above. Living abroad for the first time + dealing with language issues + running your own business all at once sounds like biting off a lot. What if you tried to get jobs in your current fields with companies that’d sponsor you for work visas, spend a year or so living and working in the country, developing your language skills, getting to know people, making contacts, researching how to run a B&B in your new country, then if all is going well, take the plunge?
posted by sunflower16 at 4:41 PM on February 2, 2018

I have no input on the details but...as a European immigrant to the US, and being aquainted with Americans who have made the jump overseas, I can’t imagine this would make your life ‘simpler’. Likely, way way more complicated. Also, and I don’t want to be mean, Americans tend to vastly overestimate their own language abilities AND Europeans’ willingness to put up with their crappy 2nd language. The idea that ‘everyone is from somewhere else’ (so variations in culture and language are OK and to be expected or even welcomed) is very much an American idea. You might underestimate how grating it is to always be ‘the American’. Assimilation into European countries is hard even if you have everything lined up. As the excitement wears off, you’ll still be ‘the American’. Not necessarily bad, but hard to describe if you’ve never been through this.

I think a few months each in different locales would be perfect to narrow down an actual plan and decide on whether it’s a good idea to do a longer stint in a specific location. Could you do a sabbatical and keep your job(s) for the time being?
posted by The Toad at 4:55 PM on February 2, 2018 [22 favorites]

If you're really serious about the country, perhaps WWOOF as part of your pilot trip?
posted by 8603 at 7:14 PM on February 2, 2018

This is basically a pipe dream, unless you have no intention of working, because to get a work permit in Europe without a job lined up (which likely will require a highly specialised skill) is extremely difficult. You mention that you might be prepared to start a business (which if you are set on the move, might be your only way in), but obviously that requires a massive undertaking and investment.
posted by ryanbryan at 8:34 PM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

With the money on hand, you could just take a year or three off and travel slow for a long time.

A freelancing friend has been working and traveling full time in Europe and South America. It's economical to stay in one place for 3-6 months. In the Shenghen countries (most of western Europe) you can stay up to 90 days. In your shoes, I'd just bounce between western Europe and the UK, using long-term lodging like AirBnB/VRBO for each. You could freelance here and there online if you want to stop the hemorrhage of money, but two people living simply could easily live very well on a few thousand a month. Cheaper if you head to eastern Europe, parts of Asia, parts of South America. But with your funding, you could go a lot of places.

Then after a few years, come on back to the US and set down roots again with all sorts of travel experience.

It's such a big topic that this Ask can't possibly yield what you're looking for. It's going to take research. But you could totally do this.
posted by mochapickle at 8:55 PM on February 2, 2018

This is basically a pipe dream, unless you have no intention of working, because to get a work permit in Europe without a job lined up (which likely will require a highly specialised skill) is extremely difficult. You mention that you might be prepared to start a business (which if you are set on the move, might be your only way in), but obviously that requires a massive undertaking and investment.

Actually if you open your own business it's pretty easy in a lot of countries. You can buy an existing business too or buy into one as a part owner. I know LOTS of people in the horse world who've done just this in Germany, Ireland and Portugal and obviously other businesses are ripe for this too. Wealthy immigrants are always welcome.
posted by fshgrl at 9:35 PM on February 2, 2018

I don’t see any reason you couldn’t or shouldn’t do this, but look into US tax law for expats as part of your prep. You’ll have to continue to file US returns, and depending on your level of wealth and the kinds of investments you have, it could be a bit hairy. I would want to consult with some kind of international tax specialist if I were you.
posted by bluebird at 1:07 AM on February 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you’re interested in France you can apply for a visa de long séjour - visiteur which is one year and renewable. This will not give you working privileges. It requires you prove you have enough money to stay without working (1170,69 €/month for one person). Memail me if you want more details.
posted by newsomz at 5:40 AM on February 3, 2018

> It MAY be possible for my (Fortune 500 company with a significant international presence)
Keep the job and keep saving. With a disrupted resume it is very difficult to ever go back to a F500.

> Job considerations aside, honestly, we're at a point in our lives where we dream of running a
> bed-and-breakfast somewhere in a countryside setting and just living an awful lot more simply
> than we do now.
This may be possible but I don't recommend it. Also reminds me of a Hackernews post about a guy who started a cafe (and went bankrupt). "Hey, running a cafe is like a never ending party, wouldn't this be cool?" Running an B&B is a business. Business is seldom easy.

Why countries like Germany, Switzerland etc.? Getting a residency in Europe should be doable. Look into investment options in the baltics, this can likely give you a schengen visa for comparable little money. Germany is also not so difficult (PN me for questions).

> If this is a total pipedream
Your post makes me think that you are not satisfied with your current live. The solution (move to Europe, open a B&B) does not sound thought out well.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 10:19 AM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

You say "family" what are the ages of the children? Because I can tell you that complicates things BIG TIME. I don't know about France or Austria but Germany is an ENORMOUS with a million capital letters CHALLENGE. In many ways it is a very open place, but in a lot of others it is EXTREMELY difficult and its definitely not something that I would put my family through. Switzerland is notorious for being extremely xenophobic to ANY foreigner whatsoever. You have no rights whatsoever as a foreign worker, when your job is done- YOU are done. Buhbye. Many people come to Germany and love it to bits and stay, and get great at german and love it so much- but I'm not sure you would know if you were that type of person until you had enough time under your belt.
posted by catspajammies at 11:42 AM on February 3, 2018

Yup, school is mandatory in Germany and there’s zero flexibility; especially not for non-native speakers. You could likely circumvent this by paying for a private school, this severely limits your location search though. There is no option to ‘oh, we’ll just homeschool for a year...’. Kids are ‘schulpflichtig’ as soon as they’re not tourists anymore. That’s just an added glitch and likely avoidable in a different location (you can homeschool in France and Austria), just something to keep in mind.
posted by The Toad at 2:32 PM on February 3, 2018

From the OP:
Family in our case is is two adults in their 40s, with child at just-about-to-start-kindergarten age. Timeline is in the next year or three.

We want and welcome challenges. We are not thinking we'll retire to a life of ease, we're just looking for a challenge that may no longer involve our current roles in the US tech industry. We do not want to run down our savings and then come back to the US when we're broke. We're comfortable with taking a significant income hit, but we both want to work. We are not looking to live off our savings. We're looking to leverage our situation to facilitate a lifestyle change.

I've looked into options with my company and it would not be possible for me to transfer my current position anywhere but Japan or China (but it'd be unlikely I could do that, given I don't speak the required languages). We are also not interested in moving to Japan or China.

Adults in this family speak French and Spanish at former-fluency levels and expect to regain total fluency in a matter of months after re-immersion, and are extremely motivated and capable of continuing towards fluency in German.

Adults in this family are exhausted from tech careers (having climbed to upper management levels in engineering) an a very expensive US city, but would not be opposed to continuing tech-oriented if situation changed.

Just traveling for a few years is not what we want. We've travelled quite a bit as a family over the past few years while our child was still pre-K, and are considering moving somewhere outside the US for at least a few years, and would love to get our kid immersed in education in another country for at least a few years. Kid has had exposure to some amount of French and Spanish since birth.

We have experiences running a few types of businesses in the US, and we have friend and acquaintances in the hospitality industry in the US and in various EU countries that we could tap for advice or to help run a new venture.

We are aware of and have friends who are dealing with or have dealt with the expat tax issues and do not need advice on that front, as well as access to attorneys well-versed in these issues. We understand about paperwork and international issues.

We are really hoping to find help in figuring out what country and what specific areas we could be looking at, or for someone to say "There is no way for a US family at your financial level to move to a European country for a few years."
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 6:58 PM on February 3, 2018

I think the best way to try and achieve what you want would be for one of you to start joining expat facebook groups in cities you are curious about, and asking questions and getting a feel for what the challenges are and then applying for jobs, maybe try to connect to people in the big companies. Could you attend trainings or conferences? I think that's the only way you wouldn't put your future retirement at a big risk. I would try to speak with other expats who have children in the local school system as well and make sure it was something you felt would be a good fit.
posted by catspajammies at 9:54 PM on February 3, 2018

Does it have to be Europe? New Zealand has been actively courting people (especially techies) to move there for work, and while Australia's immigration system is a pain in the ass (in my experience) it'll probably be way easier for you as you're American and have a lot of money.
posted by divabat at 1:02 AM on February 4, 2018

Personally, I think it's entirely possible. I would lean toward Spain. They are a bit more relaxed about visas, and it''s a friendly, beautiful and diverse country. Much less expensive than France or Italy.

It will take a lot of advance research and planning, but it's doable.
posted by mkuhnell at 2:40 PM on February 4, 2018

« Older No Default Browser Please!   |   North of Boston - what did I just see? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.