Country Guides May 12, 2020

Everything You Need to Know About Living in Europe as an American

By Eva Johnson

About 800,000 Americans live in the EU. Furthermore, millions of US citizens move across the Atlantic every year, which makes living in Europe as an American one of the most sought-after options for turning over a new leaf and starting the next exciting chapter of your life.

Europe has its pros and cons when it comes to healthcare expenses, taxes, and job opportunities. But luckily, there are as many as 44 different countries in the Old Continent (of which 27 form the European Union) you can choose from depending on your budget, career goals, and language skills. If you’re not sure what to expect and what the best option is based on your particular circumstances, we’re here to shed some light on the essential things to know before embarking on this journey.

There are plenty of things to consider before relocating to the EU

Where and Why Americans Move the Most?

Moving from the United States of America to the EU, the 27-member political and economic union is usually related to employment opportunities and relationships. Most Americans decide to relocate to the UK, France, Italy, and Germany, which are the largest, most populous, and most prosperous nations in the western part of the continent.

US citizens entering Europe enjoy certain benefits – with a valid US passport, they can travel freely to 26 European Schengen countries. They are spared from applying for or obtaining a Schengen visa for a stay of up to 90 days.

If you like the Mediterranean vibe, Italy or France might be your best bets

Documents You’ll Need for Living in Europe as an American

Although US residents don’t need an EU visa for traveling, they still need to have some essential documents needed to travel abroad and enter the Union’s visa-free zone:

  • US passport – not older than ten years and valid for at least three more months beyond the intended date of departure
  • Documented evidence of their purpose of entry
  • Documents which prove that the traveler has sufficient financial means

However, since you’re planning to live in some of the European countries permanently, you’re going to need a specific long-stay visa, an appropriate residence permit, and a work permit if you’re to work there as an expat. The procedures and requirements for obtaining these documents vary strongly from state to state, so it’s best to consult with the embassy or consulate of your destination country.

For further information, you can visit the website and find out everything you’re interested in.

Besides passports, you’ll likely need a few more papers

Europe vs. the United States of America

When it comes to similarities and differences between the Old Continent and the US, it’s tricky to make any general conclusions and comparisons given the variety and the number of sovereign European nations. Still, it’s safe to say that different cultures, traditions, size and diversity of territories, languages, and even food are just some of the key distinctions between the two.

However, if you’re relocating to the EU soon in search of better living conditions, here’s what you can expect after you cross the border.

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A Quick Comparison of Taxes

Although taxes are generally higher in Europe and include VAT (value-added tax), which can reach 25%, many goods and services are still cheaper than in the United States of America. Some Americans who pay US income tax do not necessarily have to pay it in their new country, even if they live there permanently.

A more detailed comparison of taxes will highly depend on the state you’re coming from and the country where you’re planning to live. If you want to determine whether you’ll be considered a tax-paying resident in your new country, you can find out all the details by visiting the official EU website.

Consumer Products and Their Prices

Some consumer goods, such as gasoline or designer jeans, have higher prices in the EU. There are two significant reasons why gas prices are more costly in European nations, and they are:

  • Many European cars have double the gas mileage compared to American models
  • The rise of the inflation rate and expected costs rate in the future

Seasons and Climate

When it comes to climate, you should know that much of Europe enjoys a mild climate, due to the Atlantic Ocean’s warm Gulf Stream current. In the Western region, which includes the British isles, northern Spain, and most of France, the climate features both mild summers and winters.

On the other hand, southern Scandinavia has cool summers and cold winters with plenty of snow. Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia have a climate similar to western Alaska – long and cold winters, and short and cool summers. But if you’re yearning for the Mediterranean climate, there’s no better place than Greece or Italy. These two southern nations have mild to warm winters, hot summers, and pleasant autumn and spring.

Healthcare – What Are Your Options as an Expat

Most European countries provide free healthcare to their residents, which is paid through income taxes. In other words, there are no co-pays, deductibles, or health insurance premiums. Keep in mind that, in order to gain access to these benefits, you’ll likely need to become a citizen or a permanent resident. Otherwise, you can count on private health insurance. Besides, according to some studies, healthcare services in the Old Continent have better results, which is evident in the higher life expectancy of Europeans compared to Americans.

Working Hours

A large number of European nations have far more worker-friendly employment laws than the US. That being said, very few Europeans work over 40 hours a week, and some nations can boast with even shorter working week hours. With that in mind, it’s easy to conclude that Americans are more stressed and have fewer after-work hours to spend with their families and friends.

Vacation Time

If you’re moving to the EU, you’ll like the fact that people here have a yearly minimum of four weeks of vacation, which they actually use. Many of them may use it at once, while in the US, that’s hardly ever the case. So, being a citizen of the Old Continent may provide you with one great opportunity – to travel more and spend much more time with your family.

Commuting and Driving Time

Europeans drive less because public transportation is more efficient than in the US, among other factors. If you relocate to France or Germany, you have the option of commuting via trains, buses, trams, etc. And one thing is for sure – you’ll spend less time commuting than most Americans.

Less Is More – Food and Drink

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises after your relocation will be food portions. Compared to the portions in America, European meals are smaller. And not just meals, but drinks, coffees, and cakes, as well. That being said, living in the Old Continent may have a positive effect on your overall health.

The healthcare system is much better and less expensive in the EU

The Most Interesting Places for Expats

How to choose the best country to live and how to move abroad could be the most difficult questions before your relocation. There are a number of things that should be considered when crossing international borders, including the language barrier, the costs of living, and even the general friendliness of the environment.

So, before you get professional moving services, pack your household items, and throw a goodbye party, consider our list with some of the most popular countries to start from scratch:

  • Ireland – besides the fact that the Irish speak English (although with an adorable accent), the island nation offers a visa program with no age limits
  • Germany – this country can boast a good work-life balance rate and the strongest economy on the continent
  • Sweden – this generous welfare state with a strong industry and economy can provide you with excellent job opportunities, high salary, and a fantastic quality of life
  • Switzerland – The Swiss take pride in the best healthcare in the world and magnificent natural beauties
  • Greece – great beaches, plenty of sun, delicious food, and friendly people, and above all – a low cost of living
  • Czech Republic – one of the most beautiful countries on the globe, with an excellent schooling system and amazing medieval architecture
  • Italy – housing options are among the cheapest in the Old Continent
  • Portugal – high affordability, both of food and accommodation, beautiful, sandy beaches, and friendly people
Germany is one of the best EU areas for US expats

Find Your Perfect Work-Life Balance

Whether your main reason for relocating to the Old Continent is studying abroad, getting a new job, or buying real estate, and wherever you choose to go for good, you can’t go wrong. Living in Europe as an American can provide you with a high quality of life, better work options, delicious food delicacies, a slow-paced lifestyle, and more time for your hobbies, such as traveling. Which region you will pick to become your home depends on your desires, goals, and financial possibilities.

Finding the most suitable place for your future home can be a chance for professional and personal improvement, and above all, the opportunity to get to know the rich history and fantastic culture.  So, if you’re having second thoughts about your relocation, this quote by Norman Granz, American jazz musician, will definitely cheer you up and help resolve your doubts: “I find myself more at peace when I live in Europe.”

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