An understanding of immigration laws, banking, taxes and other bureaucratic issues can be vital to a smooth transition abroad.
1. Check the immigration laws when you arrive. Some places don’t require Americans to have an additional visa to remain longer than the usual 90 day travel visa. Whether or not you need additional passport stamps, most countries will require you to register with the police. Some places charge up to $100 to issue you with a special immigration ID card. The problem is that there really isn’t any set standard or regulation on this matter, so you really should check with the local immigration, social welfare, or police department upon arrival to your new home away from home.
2. Getting your work permission extended is possible, but it is also quite difficult because of the strict regulations set forth by the EU. Your employer will need to show that your job has a specific skill set that cannot be filled by another EU citizen. In Ireland and the UK, this means copies of newspaper ads and FAS employment opportunity numbers have to be provided along with proof of your qualifications. Regardless of where you are, the application will clearly specify what is and isn’t required. Make sure that you have all your paperwork together precisely as dictated on the form before you submit.
I had my original application returned because the bank accidentally left the word “department” off the cashier’s check, so they really are strict about these things. Like all other Governmental things, the time it takes for your permission to get approved or denied will take longer than the estimated 30-60 days. If you’re getting close to the time when your student work permission will expire, try calling the Employment Department to speak to a representative directly. Sometimes if you explain your situation, they will fast track your application, but this isn’t guaranteed to work in all situations.
3. Tax systems work differently. We’re all basically assigned a Social Security number at birth in the US, but that couldn’t be further from the truth everywhere else you go. As soon as you get settled at a permanent address, even if that’s the address of the hostel or hotel where you’re planning to stay for several weeks, apply for your personal tax ID number. Things in most EU countries can take months to process because of the constant coming and going of immigrants, but most employers will let you start work without your number as long as you have filed the appropriate paperwork. You will be taxed at a higher rate until your number is issued, but this will all be refunded once the proper paper work has been processed. Be aware that this can involve filing several additional forms after your tax ID number has been issued.
4. Banking is totally different and often confusing. A lot of red tape, fees, and regulations govern what you can and cannot do, and to make matters worse, most banks are only open Monday-Friday 10-4. Try to pick a bank and branch office near where you work rather than near where you live. This way you can slip over on your lunch break should you need to take care of an urgent matter (like transferring money back home to pay off those pesky student loans). Nearly everything aside from withdrawing money from an ATM has a fee associated with it, but some banks will do away with quarterly charges if you meet certain qualifications. Ask the locals about which bank has the best features before making a decision.
5. Housing is seasonal based on the area where you plan on living. Most large cities contain a University or College, so trying to find a flat when students are returning can be impossible. Beach towns with resorts crowd with tourists during the summers, thus you should arrive up to 1 month in advance of tourist season to take advantage of the jobs and housing opportunities. Some cities such as Paris, Dublin, and London are crowded in general; prepare yourself to compromise on size, location, or price because it isn’t likely that you’ll find everything that you’re looking for in the same place. There are several useful websites, such as gumtree.com, craigslist.org, and daft.ie that can help aid your search, but be aware that most of the places listed on such sites will likely be single rooms in a shared flat or house. Prices outside of any major urban center will drop significantly, so consider a safe suburb if you’re on a budget or aren’t planning to stay for long.
6. Most cities have excellent public transportation, so having a car isn’t a necessity the way that it is stateside. According to EU regulations, a US driver’s license only qualifies as a provisional, or learning, license for up to 1 year during which time you are expected to complete all written and practical driving tests required by the country in which you are residing. This can take ages in some countries because new testing regulations have created a backlog of people waiting weeks or months to be tested. In other words, plan on taking the bus–it’s better for the environment anyhow!