How to Get a European Work Visa
“Rapha, your turn, why don’t you introduce yourself?”
I rubbed my eyes. Nope, could still only get them half open. Rubbed again quickly. Even though it was only a virtual phone-in meeting I could feel the stage fright adrenaline coursing through my veins. I was about to utter the inaugural words of my professional career in my very first meeting ever. At 3am. In my pajamas.
You might now be expecting me to write, “The alarm clock jolted me awake – relief! It was just a nightmare.” But no, this was the actual start of my career in Europe. You see, my French work visa was still being processed and I had to stay in the USA until it was ready. While my new recruit European peers all started September 1st, I finally made it over almost two months later. French bureaucracy doesn’t care much about first career impressions.
Now, I don’t know about your bosses, but my European ones go around worrying about hitting their personal target Q4 numbers much more than the economy of their country as a whole.
If you want to build your career working in Europe and you’re not a European citizen, jobs and work visas go hand in hand. Most aspiring European job seekers know this. But, from the questions I regularly get asked about how I got my jobs and visas, I know that there are a bunch of myths to be busted and finer points to demystify about them.
The chicken or the egg? The job offer or the work visa?
If there’s one thing you remember from this article, make it this: the job offer comes first. When you have a job offer in Europe, only then can you apply for a work visa. And if this job offer, conditions, and any additional paperwork submitted match the country’s specific work visa requirements, then you get the work visa in hand. Literally, it is like a driver’s license shaped card.
The work visa is just confirmation that you can do that job there. There are a few schemes where you can apply for a job seekers visa if you have the right skills, but that will also convert to a work visa when you have a job offer. If a potential employer turns you down saying it’s because you don’t have a work visa, it is just a nice way to let you down. Or, they truly don’t want to even attempt the paperwork no matter how great you are. Because the general rule in Europe is, you cannot get a work visa before you have a job offer.
People stress over, “How can I get a European country to sponsor me?” But I’d advise to stop thinking about it like that. It’s really about you getting a job, being the person the company in Europe truly wants to hire based on your skills and potential. Then, yes, assuming the job is within the rules, and perhaps after extra maneuvering and stress, the country will then hopefully give its okay in the form of a work visa. Nobody is sponsoring you; you’re the one adding value to a company and just need a government stamp of approval.
The rules are different for each country, too–some easier, some harder, some near impossible looking. But all the jobs I’ve had have fallen under the rules whether France’s or Denmark’s and I was given a visa with no problem (even in France, it was no problem–just very delayed!).
So, how do you get a job offer in Europe then? Is it possible from the USA?
You might take comfort in knowing that I managed to get my first job in Europe as a total random American 22 year old, applying ice cold to a job advertisement I saw on a European job portal sitting in my dorm room in South Carolina.
Running a bit late one morning, I had just enough time to make it clear across campus for my class. About halfway there, my phone rings. A British voice asks for me, and I’m so confused (and still power walking). It was a company I applied to! Right then and there we had a phone interview, and I guess it went well because later that day I got an email inviting me to a next-round interview in London. What I applied for was a European program, which would put you in a country branch that was interested in your skills. When that London interview went well, they offered me a job in Paris, France. I didn’t actually meet my French bosses face to face before my first day, though!
So while some people might think you have to be internally transferred to Europe, that’s not necessarily true. You can keep your eye on European job boards for an opportunity that fits you, and of course, be sure to work any contacts.
But isn’t the economy bad there? Don’t they give preference to locals and it’s impossible to get a work visa?
There are a few pieces of advice I have for this one. First, keep in that mind different countries have different rules. In Denmark for example, you just have to get a job above a certain salary and that’s it–no questions asked, here’s your work visa, buh-bye. I was able to achieve this salary level at my entry-level job so it’s not too outrageous either.
Other countries might have harder looking restrictions that mention local preference, but honestly people still manage to slip through. Again, if you have a solid job offer with a boss who is willing to stand behind you, do extra paperwork and prove that you are the best, you might have a chance too. You’ll never know though if you don’t go for that job. My secret was totally forgetting about those scary European work visa laws, and just focusing on proving why I would be a great hire.
If you’re worried about the macro conditions like the economy, well I’d look at it another way. We’ve established that you need a job offer to even attempt getting a work visa. To get a job offer, you need a future boss to want to hire you. Now, I don’t know about your bosses, but my European ones go around worrying about hitting their personal target Q4 numbers much more than the economy of their country as a whole. What I mean is, you just need one boss who thinks that you can solve her unique problems–one opportunity to be in your favor, and not the whole economy!
Personally, my bosses wanted to hear about what I could do for them, not my immigration status. You need to win one battle, not the war. You can’t do anything about the economy, anyway, so why fret over something you can’t control? What you can control is how great of a job candidate you are.
There are a lot of intimidating perceived barriers to getting a job in Europe, but you really only have two options: put the blinders on and go for it, or stop your dream to work in Europe in its tracks because you’ve convinced yourself it’s totally out of your hands.
I like to tell people to stop rejecting their own European work visa applications before they even apply to any jobs. Some European boss walking around right now on a cobblestone street might really need what you have to offer. It’d be a shame if you never met.
Top Photo By Dennis Jarvis