As a born-and-bred Minnesotan who spent nearly seven years living abroad (London and Stockholm, respectively), I am often asked this question by my fellow Americans after I disclose that particular bit of information:
“So why Europe? What brought you there?”
For all intents and purposes, my answer usually goes something like this:
“Well, I was finishing my master’s degree in London and I had a close friend living in Stockholm who encouraged me to apply for English writing jobs in Sweden. So, I applied for an English copywriter role I saw advertised on LinkedIn, got an offer and eventually moved.”
Although a familiar one, their aforementioned question is warranted. Why Europe? I suppose my love affair all began when I studied abroad in London for a semester during my junior year of college. In those four short months, I traveled to cities on the map I’d only dreamed of visiting, familiarized myself with the beauty of public transport, established lifelong friendships and even fell in love for the first time with a handsome Australian.
Needless to say, I caught the wanderlust bug in 2005 and much to the chagrin of my family in Minnesota, it’s still very much alive and kicking. So perhaps it’s no big surprise, then, why I chose to move back to Europe in my mid-twenties after graduating from college and spending two years in New York City.
And while I don’t claim to have all the answers, I can at least share my personal experience of moving and living overseas to impart some wisdom on how to make the move yourself:
1. Be Realistic
While it’s relatively easy to romanticize a life in Europe, I won’t lie—it can be isolating, frustrating and at times, soul-crushing. On the upside? It’s utterly life-changing, you discover an inner strength you didn’t know you had and the relationships you make are often with people from all over the world who accept the person you’ve become and appreciate you all the more for it.
That being said, if you simply want to wander and explore a particular country for a few months, a holiday visa will suit you nicely. (Most Americans can travel pretty much anywhere in Europe for up to 90 days without any hassle or questions from authorities.)
On the other hand, if you really want to immerse yourself in a culture, pay taxes and make a life for yourself in whatever city sends your heart aflutter, you’ll need to do a little extra legwork to get there. Which brings me to my next point…
2. Study First (Then Work)
When I first decided to leave the Big Apple at the ripe old age of 24, I did this with the sole intention of moving to London and staying in Europe. Even then, I knew my only realistic option if I wanted to hop the pond would be to study and complete my master’s degree.
I should mention, even pre-Brexit, that the U.K. is notoriously difficult when it comes to securing visas for an American—whether you’re studying or working full-time. That being said, it’s worth considering a master’s degree in other European countries that thankfully offer very affordable (and sometimes even free!) tuitions for foreign students. Germany, France, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland are just a few that come to mind.
In retrospect, I think it was particularly advantageous that I was already living in London when I first started to apply for jobs in Sweden. In my experience, I’ve found that European companies are much more willing to hire an American if you happen to be a two-hour flight away from their office rather than an ocean.
3. Save, Save, Save
Let’s face it: Moving anywhere these days is expensive, especially if you move abroad to pursue a higher education or work full time.
Leaving New York in 2008 and temporarily moving back in with my parents in Minnesota to save money was undoubtedly one of the best decisions I could have made in my young adult life. Even after I was accepted into my Creative Writing program in London and had filled out all the necessary paperwork for my U.K. student visa, I still had to provide written proof from my bank in the States that I had enough money to cover the entire cost of my MA program as well as approximate living expenses for nine months.
In all honesty, I wouldn’t have been able to do this if I didn’t have a little nest egg set aside. So, Mom and Dad, if I haven’t told you this before—you rock. Living rent-free all those months quite literally paid off.
(Side note: While some European companies do provide a cushy relocation package for employees that they hire from abroad, it’s not always standard procedure. They may cover your visa costs, which is substantial, but you may very well be expected to figure out your own accommodation once you move.)
4. Find Your Career Niche
While I often joke that I chose the wrong career as a writer, financially-speaking, I somehow fell into the perfect profession—English copywriting—in Europe. Who knew being a native English writer/editor was so appealing (and often times even mandatory) to companies? Back in 2011, when I was first applying to writing jobs in Stockholm, I certainly didn’t.
Although my undergrad was in journalism and I had just finished my master’s degree in creative writing (my focus was on fiction with a smattering of poetry), I had very little experience in the world of copywriting. Luckily, I was given a chance to hone my Peggy Olsen skills in Stockholm and have been lucky to call this my career ever since.
If you happen to be a fellow writer, like myself, you could very well find yourself saying “yes” to a job offer in European cities that are mostly fashion, beauty or tech-oriented. Stockholm, in particular, is teeming with opportunities for native English writers since quite a few big brands are based there—H&M, Spotify and Proctor & Gamble, to name a few. Other cities on the list for native English speakers to check out? Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, and Barcelona.
It may sound like a no-brainer but setting up email job alerts on LinkedIn or Indeed.com is a clever way to keep track of what sort of jobs are even out there for you and your expertise.
(Side note: I should clarify and mention that these career opportunities I’m referring to are not just limited to native English-speaking writers. In fact, many of these European-based companies are often looking for English-speaking creatives of all sorts—creative directors, art directors, graphic designers, UX/UI designers, even project managers, etc.)
5. Start Applying
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” This old adage may be overused but I’ve found there’s an inherent truth to it. Unless you start putting yourself out there, you’ll never know what opportunities await. Remember, rejection is a natural part of life and even if you think you’re absolutely perfect for a role (which you may very well be), you need to be prepared for the worst-case scenarios, i.e. interviewing but not making it further in the application process, radio silence from the recruiter or just a perfunctory “No, thanks” email. Never internalize it as something you’ve done wrong; rather, see it as an opportunity to grow and learn from.
So, as they say in Swedish, “Lycka till!” (Good luck.)
Erin is a freelance writer with over 7 years of creative copywriting experience. A self-professed storyteller with a serious case of wanderlust, she has a penchant for all things fashion, beauty, food, and film.