ALTHOUGH MANY TRAVELERS have notions of selling their poetry in French train stations or painting sweeping sunsets, these endeavors are not likely put many Euros in your pocket. And as the US dollar has lost its grip in the world market, travelers are finding their savings aren’t carrying them as far in their European adventures.
With some research, resourcefulness and a little luck, however, you can find a job that not only pays, but also culturally enriches your travel experience.
When I left for Europe I had a return ticket to San Francisco but no plans of using it. Although a year later I find myself legally living and working in Berlin, things could have been a lot easier had I prepared to set myself up in Europe beforehand instead of spending money here sending out applications through overpriced internet cafes.
Here are several things to think about before you go:
1. Figure out how you want to work. Do you want to work short-term jobs that require little commitment, or something that would allow you to live in a certain city for an extended period of time?
2. What country do you see yourself working in?
3. If there is a specific place you’d like to work in then take a short language course?
4. Can you get a work permit for Europe before your trip?
5. Are you interested in teaching? Can you obtain a TEFL Degree? (It’s often less expensive outside Europe.)
Kinds of Work
Short-term/ Seasonal Worker
Short-term and/or seasonal work is a good bet for backpackers or those looking for the quick Euro. These jobs are cash in hand or “under the table” which is not legal in Europe, but you get paid straight-away and in cash.
One of the most popular examples is working on a farm or a vineyard. Check out placement agencies such as www.fruitfulfarms.co.uk, which offers to find you jobs if you are an EU citizen or have the necessary paperwork. They can place you in farms all over the UK, as well as other parts of Europe.
Other resources include www.pickingjobs.com, as well as online directories and classified, such as the Jobs Abroad Bulletin , the farm work section of Transitions Abroad, the Farmers Weekly Jobs, the links page on the Denmark’s Seasonal Work website, and the Family Farms Around the World site.
Summer Camp Counselor
Another option is to work in a Summer Camp. This can be really fun and rewarding if you like working with children and leading outdoor activities. It’s also a good deal since accommodation and meals are usually included.
The most popular companies that are eager to hire English speaking travelers are Super Camps , All About Visiting Earth (who is seeking camp counselors and trip leaders), PGL Tours, Eurocamp, and Action Quest.
On the other hand, if you want a more local experience, or if you’re already on the road, you can scour ESL job sites such as www.esljobsworld.com and www.teachabroad.com, which posts camp counselor gigs all over Europe. Another option is to look through the local classifieds, English language magazines (ex. The Exberliner for Berlin) or a local craigslist portal.
Working as an Au Pair is one of the most popular ways to live and work in Europe. An Au Pair refers to a young foreign person hired to do light domestic housework and caring for children in exchange for wage, room and board and the opportunity to learn the language and culture of the country.
These kinds of jobs are not hard to find as there are many European parents eager to hire English speaking workers. You could score these jobs through an Au Pair agency such as www.greataupair.com, through an international organization such as www.iapa.org or a European job database such as the Europa Pages Au Pair Centre.
Aside from listings in Transitions Abroad, check out the local English speaking newspapers, websites or city-specific craigslist site. If you’re already in the country, you could check out posts on a community bulletin board, local coffee shops and bookstores, and even by asking people you know for referrals.
Though not all jobs found locally may offer accommodation, they are significantly more lenient regarding hiring people without a work permit, and also pay in cash.
Tending a Hostel or Bar
The tourism industry is one of the best options for finding paying jobs. For short-term, you’ll most likely be paid cash in hand, most often in a hostel or a bar. For longer-term positions such as a ski instructor or a tour guide you’ll likely have to secure a work permit first.
Working in a hostel can be a sweet deal, as managers will often let you bunk in the place in exchange for work. Though much of the job may involve cleaning toilets or dealing with drunk backpackers, it’s a great way to put away some cash for your next destination.
Keep in mind that if you intend to work in the front desk or sell tour packages you’ll need at least a working knowledge of the language.
Working in bars, most likely the hostel bar, is also a great way to meet new people and score free drinks.
Another option is to contact some of the most popular hostels that accept applications for staff and bartending positions, such as St. Christopher’s Inn, whose staff is mostly made up of backpackers and has hostels in Paris, London, Berlin, Amsterdam and throughout the UK.
The most direct way to get started is to ask the your hostel manager if there are any openings available in exchange for cash in hand pay and/or a place to sleep. More often than not, hostels are eager to give travelers work. Or you can always call or email the hostels and bars ahead of time. Some of the more useful directories for European hostels are www.famoushostels.com, www.hostelguide.de and www.hostels.com.
For those comfortable in front of crowds, consider finding a job in a tour company, such as Sandeman’s New Europe Tours, which operates in London, Edinburgh, Berlin, Munich, Paris and Amsterdam.
However, please note that if you’re not an EU citizen (or a member of its partner countries), they probably won’t hire without a work permit. Be wary if they are unable to sponsor you for a permit but are still willing to hire you, as there have been many cases wherein non-EU workers have been exploited and underpaid in even some of the most reputable tour companies.
For those looking to put down some roots in Europe, there are plenty of work options available for you.
One of the most popular and lucrative yet competitive job options in Europe is Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). It’s often a great way to get to know the locals and gain deeper insight into the culture. You can either teach on a freelance basis or work for a language school.
Working as an independent freelancer means that you pound the pavement and find your own contacts. Freelancers can also join an agency which would make finding contacts a much simpler process.
Another possibility is teaching in a school. Nearly all institutions require some form of TEFL qualification. Getting yourself qualified in this field is a worthwhile investment; not only will it provide numerous career opportunities, but it will also give you a sense of security knowing that you can get a job almost anywhere in the world. Listen to this podcast for complete details.
Internships are a good choice, especially for those pursuing a specific field. Most commonly known as a “mini-job” in most parts of Europe, it’s a great way to get started. The downside is that like in the United States, many of these opportunities don’t pay.
As far as being granted a work permit: unless your skills are something they can’t get anywhere else, it’s unlikely you’ll be sponsored. There are many places specifically seeking foreign nationals to join their team however, such as in English language magazines, tour companies or website startups. Polish your resume.
One last note: be aware that exploitation of travelers or foreigners looking for work happens frequently, even from American-run companies that operate in Europe. Ask people who work there, especially foreign nationals, about the conditions and if they pay on time.
Even if you are a foreigner and/or a traveler eager to find work, remember that you have rights too. Don’t let yourself be exploited just because you’re grateful for the opportunity.
Editor’s note: Look for the author’s companion piece, “How to Get an EU Work Visa,” forthcoming at the Traveler’s Notebook.
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Michaela Lola Abrera
Michaela Lola realized at the tender age of eight that life was meant to be an adventure. Her escapades include riding the midnight train to Marrakesh, partying with the katoys in Thailand and sampling insects in China. Read more about her adventures on her blog.