Many people visit a European city on vacation and are amazed at just how different it is to their homeland. Good healthcare, a safe place to raise children, old traditional values, free spirited thinking and what seems to be a generally higher quality of life are just some of the attractions? So - how to emigrate to Europe?
The European Union
The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 27 countries. Most, but not all, of them using a single currency called the Euro. Most, but not all, of them also allow freedom of movement between member states without passing through any passport controls.
Perhaps most importantly, if you become a citizen of any EU country then you can not only live in that country but also in any EU country too. In years gone by, the US passport has been the top of most people's wanted lists. These days, the EU passport is giving it a good run for its money.
Citizenship and other rights such as "permanent residency" generally arise depending on how long you have been resident in a country, as well as other conditions.
Citizenship of a specific EU country gives you the right to permanently live and work there. You also have the right to live and work in any other EU country.
You are not forced to get citizenship of any country. If you prefer, you can claim permanent residence instead. This allows you to stay in that single country for as long as you want but if you are a non-EU citizen then you won't have any automatic rights to live and work in any other EU countries.
If you take up citizenship of a country in the EU then you need to check the laws of that country and of your home country to see if dual nationality is permitted. If it is not, then you may be required to renounce your original nationality.
By the way, if you are a citizen then you get a passport. Sometimes these two terms are used interchangeably because they often mean effectively the same thing, from a legal and immigration perspective.
Getting Your Foot In The Door - Your First EU Country
If you intend to get an EU passport because you may want to live in several European countries over the next few years then it is essential to get your foot in the door and land in your first EU country and then work on what it takes to get citizenship.
Of course, if you only ever want to live in a single European country, then you may have no interest in getting citizenship/an EU passport. In this case, you may simply want to look to get into the country and eventually obtain permant residency so you can stay there as long as you want.
You might think that this strategy of going directly to your first country of preference is also the best strategy for getting citizenship. As you will soon see, you may want to go elsewhere first if it means that you can more quickly gain the freedom of an EU passport.
Applying Directly From Your Home Country
Emigrating overseas to a country where you don't already have an automatic right to work or live means you have a limited number of channels to pursue. Here are the most popular ones:
- Seeking relocation with an existing company. This tends to work only with large global companies and only if they have a culture that is supportive of employee relocation within the company.
- Looking for an overseas job via the internet. This is possible but few are able to pull it off successfully.
- Going on vacation and looking for work. If you don't already have a visa or some other proof that you can work there then nobody will look at you. Do not expect to be "sponsored". I've never heard of this happening in the EU.
- Points systems for skilled workers. The most widely known such systems are those in Canada and Australia. These do exist to a lesser extent in the EU and but are usually reserved for specific occupations. If you're interested then you should check governmental websites for more details.
- Become a student in that country. This is one of the best methods for gaining permanent residency or citizenship. As a student, you automatically receive a visa to stay (and often to work too). Even if your course finishes before you qualify for permanent residency/citizenship, you can immediately start another course directly after.
- Ancestry. Can you claim to have ancestors from an EU country? This is often enough to claim citizenship.
- Claim asylum. Many EU countries are notoriously "soft" on asylum seekers. Despite the fact that the vast majority of asylum seekers are not genuine, almost all of them are permitted to stay, often because it simply took so long to process the case.
- Get married. Sham marriages for the purpose of immigration are clearly illegal. A genuine marriage will reduce the time it takes to obtain citizenship. Normally, there is a nominal waiting period (e.g. 2 years) to deter sham marriages.
- Reciprocal arrangements. Some countries operate reciprocal arrangements that allow citizens to live and work depending on a set of conditions. For example, you may need of a specific age or you may need to agree to invest a minimum amount in a business.
- Investing in the country. Although I described this earlier, it is worthy of mentioning on its own. Most countries, regardless of reciprocal arrangements, allow overseas citizens to live and work there if they agree to invest a minimum amount in a business that hires local workers. This amount is usually quite high and you will need several hundred thousand Euros minimum, if not more.
Which EU Countries Are The Easiest To Get Into?
Belgium is by far the country where you can most quickly obtain national citizenship (and therefore EU citizenship/an EU passport). You need live there for only three years before you can apply.
This is the reason why Manchester United use Royal Antwerp as a feeder club. Young African players are brought over to play and develop in Antwerp and after the three years are up they can now freely live and work (play!) wherever they want in the EU.
Another good candidate country is the United Kingdom. As an English speaking country, it is naturally one of the most popular destinations in the world for immigrants as it is far easier to live and integrate there while you are waiting to receive your citizenship. Compared to countries like the United States, it is also notoriously lax for enforcing immigration controls.
If you cannot obtain work relocation to the UK then I recommend becoming a student there. The UK has a long history and a vast network of higher education institutions. They receive only a nominal amount of funding from home students and will likely welcome you with open arms if you are coming from overseas.
You need only live in the UK for five years to obtain citizenship and therefore qualify for an EU passport. Five years may sound a lot but it is a minimal investment of your time if you are taking a long term view. Living in the UK also appears to be an experience enjoyed by most immigrants. Finally, consider that in some EU countries you are required to stay for six years and possibly longer in order to obtain citizenship.
Just Do It!
There are many people who talk about emigrating abroad and most are defeatist and believe it is "too hard".
The truth is that anyone can emigrate if they focus on their goal. If you really want it then you'll find that it's not as hard as people make out.
Know your options, choose one and plan accordingly. There is no reason why anyone cannot emigrate to the EU if they want to.