Working in Europe
The (current) lack of visa restrictions, similar cultures and living standards make Europe a no-brainer for graduates seeking short-term TEFL placements or longer-term graduate jobs. Just be ready for stiff competition.
This article was last updated before the Covid-19 pandemic and the end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020. It therefore does not reflect the restrictions to travel and changes to guidance brought about by the pandemic or the UK leaving the European Union. If you'd like to find out more, the foreign travel advice on GOV.UK includes information specific to every country.
Getting a job in Europe
Europe is unsurprisingly a major destination for UK graduates who start work abroad. France was the most popular country for UK graduates who finished their degrees in 2015/2016 and were working overseas six months later, followed by Spain, Germany and Ireland. These four European countries accounted for 28% of all UK 2015/2016 graduates who found jobs abroad, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
At present, the lack of visa restrictions, similar cultures and similar level of economic development make working in Europe relatively easy for UK graduates. Most European countries currently invite or require you to apply for residency status after three months of living or working there. This may make your life easier for tax purposes and give you a more solid paper history of life and work abroad.
The section on Brexit below gives some information on how rights to live and work in countries in the European Union (EU) may be affected by the UK leaving the EU, and lists some resources that will help you stay up to date with developments.
Application processes are relatively standard across Europe. Speculative applications and traditional CV and covering letter formats are widely accepted. Larger employers may have their own online application forms and assessment centres.
A grasp of the language of the country you are visiting is not always required, but is always beneficial for daily life, integrating with your colleagues and boosting your employment prospects.
If you are applying for public service roles in EU countries, or wish to work at one of the agencies and institutes that keep the EU running smoothly, you may be required to present your CV using Europass. This text-heavy, standardised format may be requested when you apply for official roles, but if you are not required to use it, we recommend writing your own CV using advice from TARGETjobs so that you have the opportunity to prioritise your strengths and experiences rather than those emphasised by Europass.
Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) offers plenty of opportunities for employment and, while it's not likely to make you rich, it is a great way to see if you fit in with the country and the people. Just remember that you'll have an easier time finding placements outside of popular capital cities or tourist destinations. See the section below on TEFL for more information.
How will Brexit affect working in Europe?
The information you'll find on this page and in the sections below are written prior to the UK leaving the EU. The UK government acknowledged in March 2018 that there is likely to be an implementation period lasting until 31 December 2020. Until that date, UK citizens will be able to live and work in the EU just as they can now.
The Rightsinfo blog is run by lawyers from London's Doughty Street Chambers and is a useful source of information and updates about how Brexit will affect free movement and employment rights.
The BBC has been maintaining a simply-worded Brexit explainer on how the situation may change regarding free movement and employment.
David Allen Green of the Financial Times has written books on the topic of Brexit and is compiling a running analysis of issues related to Brexit and legislation.
The UK government has agreed to continue funding the Erasmus+ programme, which enables students to study or undertake work experience placements across the EU, for at least the 2019–20 academic year. Check regularly for updates on the future of the programme from the Erasmus+ website.
Regardless of how Brexit takes shape, demand for the movement of talent between the UK and the rest of Europe will continue, even if a work visa or similar permission is required to make it possible.
Healthcare entitlement in Europe
UK citizens working and living abroad in any European Economic Area (EEA) country at the moment are entitled to take advantage of reciprocal healthcare agreements. This means you are entitled to public healthcare for free or at a reduced cost. You will require an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) . You can apply for an EHIC online and it is free of charge.
Please note that some countries outside of the EEA, such as Russia and Ukraine, do not have reciprocal healthcare agreements with the UK, so you will need to buy travel insurance (for shorter trips) or health insurance (for longer stays).
There is no indication so far as to how Brexit will affect healthcare for UK nationals abroad. At the time of writing, there is no official agreement between the UK and EU on the topic, but documentation released about the negotiations on citizens' rights suggest that if you are living in the EU with a valid EHIC at the time the UK leaves, you will be entitled to healthcare just as you are now. The situation for those moving to the EU after that date is still to be decided.
Finding jobs in Europe
Free movement has made it exceptionally easy for graduates from the UK to find work in Europe. UK jobs boards and the websites of newspapers such as The Guardian are all likely to list vacancies that you can apply for with a nicely tailored CV and covering letter.
Larger graduate employers in specific disciplines, such as financial services, law firms, large media companies and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) suppliers, may offer secondments or permanent positions abroad, particularly if their head office is based abroad. Many conduct business across Europe and you may be able to apply for postings abroad from home, or transfer easily. Check individual employers' websites to find out what opportunities they offer and use TARGETjobs employer hubs and the TARGETjobs international job search to research employers and vacancies.
You may also wish to take advantage of EURES (the European Employment Services). This is a network of public employment services across the EU designed to facilitate free movement. Registration and use is free, and you can use the jobseekers section to look for vacancies.
The EU itself is always looking for staff, predominantly in disciplines ranging from law to accountancy to business development, to work in the various institutes and agencies that keep the union running. The process is exceptionally competitive and will involve a range of psychometric tests, assessments and exercises. Use the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) to search and apply for vacancies.
If you'd like to work in the UK's closest European neighbour, you can also check out gradireland, which has the same parent company as TARGETjobs, to find vacancies from the biggest employers operating in Ireland.
Work experience, internships and exchange programmes in Europe
In addition to work experience and internships offered by individual employers across Europe, the British Council and Ecorys UK also run an Erasmus+ programme to connect UK talent with opportunities across the EU. The Erasmus+ programme allows UK university students to study abroad or undertake work experience for up to one year. The programme covers every type of institution, from local authorities to non-profits and larger private companies.
The European Commission offers traineeships in various fields to candidates that pass its rigorous application process. These paid traineeships last around five months and can take place at any EU institution, agency or related company. Travel is reimbursed. Check the European Commission website for more information.
For opportunities in Europe and beyond, international work experience programme AIESEC works to connect young people with opportunities around the world. Many of the placements are in the field of sustainable development, but there are also opportunities with start-ups and other professional posts.
If you have completed, or are due to complete, an engineering or sciences degree, IAESTE works to connect young people in STEM subjects with relevant work experience and placements around the world, as well the some opportunities to study abroad.
Volunteering in Europe
The European Voluntary Service provides listings for opportunities to volunteer both in your own country and abroad. Placements can last from two to twelve months in fields such as social inclusion, education and health. In some cases you may need to have a good grasp of a foreign language to take part.
The UK-based International Voluntary Service also connects with the European Voluntary Service to offer volunteering placements around Europe and the rest of the world.
Are UK qualifications recognised in Europe?
Qualifications should be recognised across Europe as part of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Any required conversion should be straightforward, if needed at all. You can check the official EHEA website for more information. If you have any serious problems getting qualifications recognised across the EU, you can use the SOLVIT network to help resolve your query.
Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) in Europe
Teaching English as a second language is an excellent way to dip into another culture and spend some time abroad. It is by no means a megabucks profession, but you should earn enough to cover your basic living costs and possibly some trips out to the nearest tourist destinations.
Employers will expect to see that you have completed an English teaching qualification. There are several different types available, including the Cambridge Celta (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) and the Trinity College London TESOL certificate course, commonly referred to as CertTESOL. Courses can be undertaken in as little as a month and cost around £500. There are frequently discounts or group offers so do shop around, but make sure that the course you choose is properly accredited.
Always research the location you wish to travel to before you undertake a qualification. Employers may specify which type qualification they are looking for. You may be able to get by without proficiency in a second language in many cases, but this will depend on the employer's specifications and the learners' level of English. You should also check how long you will be required to teach for; it is likely to be at least six to twelve months.
While you may have dreams of living in Paris or Rome and sampling the local culture as you stroll back and forth between lessons, you will be up against a higher number of applicants per role. Countries such as Croatia, Poland and Hungary, as well as other spots in Eastern Europe, have seen a booming demand for TEFL teachers. If you do want to try Italy, Spain, France or Germany, always be willing to consider smaller towns and villages where there may be less competition for roles.
The British Council offers English language teaching assistant roles in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. You can find out more about this scheme from the British Council website.
Working in Austria
With a strong economy, good scores in quality of life studies and a reputation for high culture, Austria is an attractive prospect for graduates. English is widely spoken, but a knowledge of German will be essential for a long-term stay. Those seeking work in construction, engineering and the sciences may have the best chance of finding employment. Working hours and conditions will be much the same as the UK.
Seasonal work is popular with those looking for short-term positions, with work at the ski chalets one of the most popular choices. This is not a holiday. You will be required to uphold high standards of customer service and may have to undertake other skilled work (such as cooking) if it is within your skill set.
Working in Belgium
Belgium is a competitive environment to find work in. Finance, professional services, insurance and banking are all booming, as are industries such as IT and technology. Belgium is at the administrative heart of the EU, and if you can get past the various psychometric tests and assessments, you may find a position there.
If you have more than one language under your belt, you are at a definite advantage. You may hear Flemish Dutch, French, German and English spoken in different locations and contexts throughout Belgium.
Working in Bulgaria
Heavy industry is Bulgaria's bread and butter, including chemicals, base metals and fossil fuels, though IT is on the rise. You can live and work in Bulgaria for up to three months before you need to apply for a residence permit.
The GOV.UK advice on travelling to Bulgaria includes a few warnings to help you protect yourself and your belongings, and is worth checking for updates.
Working in Cyprus
Cyprus has weathered the recession and begun to recover, but opportunities for UK graduates are relatively limited. Much of the available work is in the service and tourism sectors, though you may be able to find a placement teaching English as a foreign language. You can live and work in Cyprus for three months before you need to apply for a residence permit.
Working in the Czech Republic
With cities like Prague still boasting slightly lower living costs than other European capitals and offering a laid-back liberal atmosphere, the Czech Republic is an attractive place to work both literally, with its gothic spires, and for young people trying to make their money go further. English is relatively widely spoken and you will hear the occasional German conversation as well as those in native Czech.
The country provides manufacturing for a variety of products that are exported around the EU, including cars, pharmaceuticals and fast-moving consumer goods.
Working in Denmark
Home to the bicycle capital of Copenhagen, Denmark is rated highly for quality of life, public services and overall population happiness. The country is famous for its export of foods, such as meat (don't forget Danish bacon), fish and dairy products. Denmark, like much of Europe, is facing a shortage of engineering and technical expertise and maintains a list of professions that are in demand, which currently includes engineering, medicine, IT, education and academia.
Employers will tend to prefer Danish candidates to those from abroad, but the unemployment rate is low and meeting one of the skills shortage professions should make it easier to find a job. The level of English language education across Scandinavia is exceptionally high, but fluency in Danish will improve your chances of getting hired. If you intend to stay more than three months in the country, you will need to apply for a registration certificate.
Working in Finland
High standards of living and a strong focus on equality are two characteristics that make Finland an ideal place to live and work. Be prepared for light, even at night, from the end of May until the beginning of August in the north, which can be a shock to the body clock. The forest industry and the associated manufacture of paper and wood products accounts for 20 per cent of the country's exports. However, IT is a rapid growth area.
Those with a background in the sciences and medicine may have an easier time getting hired, as will engineers. It may be easier to apply for jobs from within the country. You don't need a visa to go to Finland, but you are required to register for a residence permit with the police if you stay longer than three months.
Working in France
France competes with the UK for international companies and talent, with major car manufacturers, aerospace companies and financial services firms leading the charge. It is not completely impossible to get by without a grasp of the language, but a good working knowledge of French will make life immeasurably easier for day-to-day life and employment.
Those seeking holiday work or short-term posts are likely to find opportunities in France. Tourism is booming, and campsites, ski resorts and bars will look for temporary help in high seasons. You may apply for resident status if you wish to formalise the terms of your stay in the country.
- find out more about working in France
Working in Germany
Germany has a robust economy and low unemployment rates. Engineering, technology, the sciences and manufacture are the biggest, most efficient, sectors. English is widely spoken as a second language, but fluency in German will be a huge bonus when job hunting and looking to fit in with friends and colleagues. Long-term workers in the country will need to obtain a certificate of residence using proof of employment and a rental contract.
- find out more about working in Germany
Working in Greece
If you're keen to work in Greece, your best option may be to apply for vacancies with multinational companies that have offices there and seek a transfer. The country's economy, which continues to be troubled, revolves primarily around agriculture and food production, and the logistics, transport, storage and retail of related products. Some knowledge of Greek will be very helpful to those looking for long-term skilled employment.
Greece's white sand beaches, islands and numerous historical monuments make it an attractive destination for holidaymakers, and the tourism industry may have openings for casual work. You don't need a visa to travel to Greece, but you will need to apply for a residence permit if you wish to stay longer than three months.
Working in Ireland
The Celtic tiger may have faltered in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, but the Irish economy has built itself back to strength in recent years. Agriculture, pharmaceuticals and chemicals remain core industries, with further opportunities in IT and technology as well as business development and financial services. UK graduates are free to move to Ireland and work without restriction, but should expect fierce competition from local talent.
Working in Italy
Italy was hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis and unemployment among young people is still very high, at around 30% for the 15–24 age group. Engineering, car manufacture, textiles, fashion and food remain core industries. Contacts and connections play a very important part in gaining employment. English may be used for business, but you'll need fluent Italian to work in most sectors. You can travel and stay in Italy visa-free, but for long-term work, you will need to apply for a residence permit.
Working in Latvia
Employment opportunities in Latvia are centred on the capital city of Riga. The economy is steadily growing and graduates with a degree in IT or a technical discipline are in demand, as are those with knowledge of business development and communications. If the job role specifies that only English is required, you are in with a chance of being hired, but speaking Latvian will be essential for many jobs, along with a knowledge of Russian in some cases.
You can travel to Latvia without a visa but will need to apply for a residence permit after 90 days if you intend to stay.
Working in Lithuania
Lithuania has a high level of demand for TEFL teachers, but fluent Lithuanian is likely to be essential if you wish to work in other sectors. Russian and Polish are also widely spoken. Textiles, agriculture, clothing and other manufacturing are key industries. You can live and work in Lithuania for up to three months before you need to apply for residency.
Working in the Netherlands
Many large companies have headquarters in the Netherlands, which is an attractive base for international businesses. You may need to take on a temporary role to start with, or sign up for a one-year contract before an offer of permanent employment is made. Alternatively, you could apply to a multinational company from the UK and then seek a transfer to the Netherlands.
English is a widely spoken second language, but fluency in Dutch is ideal. Agriculture and engineering are key industries, with skills shortages in the sciences, engineering, medicine and teaching. You can travel to the Netherlands without extra documentation, but you will need to register with your local municipality for work purposes.
Working in Norway
Norway has a high standard of living and excellent education, so you'll be up against stiff competition when looking for work. You may find part-time or seasonal work in manufacturing or tourism, but you'll require a fluency in Norwegian for long-term or permanent roles in skilled work. Much of Norway's economy revolves around oil, chemicals, shipping and engineering, as well as fisheries and forestry.
Norway is not a member of the EU, but it is within the European Economic Area (EEA). British nationals are free to enter Norway for up to six months to look for work and must register on arrival if they are planning to reside in the country.
- find out more about working in Norway
Working in Poland
Poland's economy has been growing steadily since the 1990s. The service industries account for much of the jobs market, followed by industrial manufacture and agriculture. UK graduates are likely to need to be able to make job applications in Polish. As with most EU countries, you may travel and stay in Poland for up to three months before you will need to register for residence at the local administrative office.
Working in Portugal
Portugal was hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis and unemployment remains high. Tourism is a key industry, so there may be short-term or seasonal vacancies for graduates considering a working holiday. For long-term or skilled positions fluency in Portuguese is required. Manufacturing and construction are the largest industries, along with food processing and forestry. You do not require a residency permit to live and work in Portugal, but you will be required to register with the government in order to get paid by an employer.
Working in Romania
Romania has begun to blossom as a place for multinational businesses to set up shop. Many European businesses use Romania as a base for machinery manufacture, food processing and textile production. Fluent Romanian is normally required, but some job specifications may state that it is not essential and English is sufficient. IT skills, sales experience and knowledge of business development are increasingly important. You can stay in Romania for up to three months before you need to apply for registration with the immigration office.
Working in Russia
Russia straddles Asia and Europe without wholly belonging to either. Tourist visas for Russia are hard to obtain, and you may require external help from an agency. Work visas are also difficult to secure, though this is likely to be more straightforward for a short-term placement to teach English than for longer-term employment.
You are almost certain to need fluent Russian to work in Russia, though English is used for business. There is strong competition for graduate jobs from Russian graduates, so if you really want to work in the country you may be best off applying to a multinational from the UK and requesting a transfer or secondment.
Important industries include oil and gas, chemicals, metals, forestry, manufacturing, defence, technology and financial services. Check the Russian embassy website for visa information.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommends being aware of the possibility of anti-British sentiment when travelling in Russia, given the current heightened political tensions between the UK and Russia. You can check the latest advice on travelling to Russia on the GOV.UK website.
Working in Spain
The 2008 financial crisis hit Spain hard and unemployment remains higher than in much of Western Europe, particularly among young people. It will be tough for UK graduates to compete with the pool of Spanish talent. Fluency in Spanish is almost essential outside of larger cities, but those seeking short-term placements to teach English as a second language may be able to get away without.
Spain mainly exports machine tools, metals, chemicals, textiles, pharmaceuticals and farm produce. IT and technology is a growth area, particularly in places like Madrid, and tourism generates a huge amount of revenue for the economy.
UK citizens are free to live and work in Spain. If staying for longer than three months you will be required to register with the police in your local area.
- find out more about working in Spain
Working in Sweden
Sweden offers the high standards of living and excellent public services that are characteristic of its Scandinavian neighbours. It is a thriving centre for business, with a relatively plentiful supply of skilled vacancies and a high percentage of women in executive positions. Fluent Swedish will boost your employment prospects, but English is widely spoken.
Consulting, pharmaceuticals, IT and the sciences are all key industries. When applying for jobs, you will be expected to have relevant work experience as well as a suitable qualification. It may be easier to apply to a multinational company from the UK and seek a transfer. You can live and work in Sweden without a visa, but you may be required to register with the Swedish authorities for tax purposes or in case of financial distress.
- find out more about working in Sweden
Working in Switzerland
Switzerland, which is not a member of either the EU or the European Economic Area (EEA), is home to a number of huge multinational companies and regularly seeks skilled labour in fields such as engineering, tech and finance. When working for any company you will almost certainly be expected to speak another language, commonly French or German (or its local dialect Switzerdeutsch). It may be easier to join a major company in the UK and seek a transfer or secondment.
Switzerland offers a good quality of life, but is also known for the high cost of living. You can live and work in Switzerland for up to three months before you need to apply for a residence permit. You will require documentation from your employer to prove your intent to reside and work long term.
- find out more about working in Switzerland