Summer vacations and Euro-tripping gap years were once a thing reserved for the country club class, but today we can see the world on practically any budget.
And that comes with its consequences.
Whereas a generation ago we dreamed of training our way from Madrid to Munich or making a two-week tour of the continent’s most gorgeous castles, today an annual vacation no longer seems like enough. Moving abroad is our new collective cultural daydream, but it’s not the unaffordable fantasy most of us write it off as.
There are more ways to move to Europe for a year or two than there are countries on the crowded continent, and among those are several realistic, affordable options for Average Jane and Joe. If you’re wondering how to move to Europe, here are four possibilities.
Move to Europe as an Au Pair
If you thought Mary Poppins had a good gig, you’ll be glad to know that most European countries have a special visa designed for you to follow in her footsteps.
Au pairs are still popular in the suburbs of Western and Southern Europe, where young ladies and lads spend a year living with a host family, helping take care of the kids, and usually helping them learn your language as well.
In exchange for part-time help around the house, you’ll usually get not only room and board, but also a weekly spending allowance that differs depending on the country and your arrangement. That means you’ll have both time and money for gallivanting about your new city or weekend tripping to explore the countryside.
Get Your Master’s Degree at an Affordable European University
One of the popular myths about pursuing a graduate degree abroad is that it’ll bury you in debt.
In truth, pursuing your Master’s or PhD at a European university will often save you thousands annually versus American universities. Some places, you can even get your degree for free.
Master’s degrees tend to last one year in many parts of Europe, and more and more programs are being offered in English. Even in countries like the Netherlands that charge hefty tuition fees for non-EU enrollees, you’ll often find generous grant and scholarship opportunities that cover your tuition and sometimes even grant a small living allowance as well.
Go get that last bit of higher education you’ve been thinking about for years. Live off savings, teach some English classes on the side, or jump on the remote work bandwagon and earn money online while deepening your knowledge of a professional field and a foreign culture.
Take a European Working Holiday
A working holiday is a particular kind of visa that allows travelers to stay longer than normally permitted by a tourist visa and engage in some part-time or temporary work along the way. It’s one of the best ways to not only replenish your bank account without ending your trip, but also to learn more about local culture by working in and interacting with a community.
Each country has its own working holiday policy and only offers the visa to citizens of specific other countries. For American citizens, Ireland is the only European country with a working holiday opportunity, but holders of Canadian and Australian passports will enjoy more opportunities to choose from.
For an exhaustive guide to which countries offer you a working holiday visa and under what conditions, check Global Goose.
Volunteer Your Way Across the Continent
You don’t have to be fresh out of high school or college to strap on a backpack and take a gap year. If you can’t stand the thought of limiting yourself to a small handful of cities or a couple of countries, consider scrapping the job offers and study schedules and volunteer your way across Europe.
Sites like Workaway and HelpX exist to connect travelers to volunteer opportunities in exchange for room and board. You can find work in a hostel in one of the best hostelling cities, work on conservation projects, spend a few weeks as a live-in language partner, or find a longer-term sustainable volunteer project to slow down and make an impact.
These four methods are easy ways to get your foot in the door for a year, but the opportunities don’t end there. After your first year as an expat flies by, you may find you’re addicted to life abroad.
Once you’re halfway through your year as an au pair, student, working traveler, or volunteering backpacker, check sites like Expatica for detailed guides to visas, work permits, and turning your long-term vacation into a lifestyle.