Photo: Shutterstock/Ross Helen

How to Get an EU Work Permit

by Michaela Lola Abrera May 28, 2008
Acquiring a work permit in Europe comes down to doing your homework and plenty of paperwork. Don’t sweat it; just get it done.

I HIGHTAILED IT TO EUROPE and found a job that was willing to sponsor my work permit. The first few months however, I was working “black,” which meant that I could not get paid because my work and residency in the country had not yet been approved.

I was approaching the end of my legal stay in Europe (wherein citizens of the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK are allowed to travel for six-months within the continent and three-months in one of the Schengen states.) It was unnerving.

Getting a work permit was the constant topic of conversion amongst the expatriate crowd in Berlin. From exchanging visa horror stories to grand schemes of getting away with overstaying, we all shared the nightmare of being escorted to the Polish border by the immigration authorities.

Some contemplated proposing marriage to random Europeans, others gave up and returned to their home country, and then there were those who simply buckled down and dealt with the paperwork.

Acquiring a work permit in Europe is a challenge. It will make you feel like you’re perpetually banging your head against a wall, as you’ll often find that you can’t be granted a work permit without a job, but at the same time, most companies won’t hire you without this document.

Therefore, it’s important that you do your research and find the best kind of job for you. Check the companion piece to this article, last week’s How To Find Paying Work While Traveling in Europe.

You can also find out about the specific work and visa options and requirements by checking out the website Anywork, Anywhere and the Do it Yourself Expat site.

Key Aspects of a Work Permit

1) A work permit is a non-transferable legal document that allows a non-citizen to work in the country for a specific company.

2) Technically, it is illegal to enter the country to look for work without a permit. To get a permit, you must have a valid job offer.

3) The company that hires you must be able to prove that it has made an earnest effort to fill the position with an EU citizen. This is often the reason why foreigners have many opportunities in the TEFL field, but very few legal options within the service industry.

Applying from Home

You can save yourself a lot of stress and anxiety by applying for a permit before you leave for Europe. This document is country specific and not applicable for the entire continent. The first step is to find a job that is willing to sponsor your application for a work permit.

Ideally, it will be the company that will be applying on your behalf. However, if they are unable (or unwilling) to deal with all the paperwork, you can also go through an immigration agency, such as

Remember to obtain the necessary documents from your home consulate, as well as check the employment regulations of the country in which you intend to work. A good resource is Yahoo’s directory of embassies and consulates all over the world.

Working Holiday

If you’re a commonwealth citizen between the ages of 17 to 30, and planning on working in the UK, you can apply for the Working Holidaymakers Scheme, which is valid for up to two years. This visa is issued under the presupposition that your main purpose for being in UK is for a holiday and work is an incidental aspect of your stay.

If you will be traveling as a student, you can ask your host institution if they can arrange for temporary work permits for specific countries. An excellent service is the British Universities North America Club or BUNAC which offers assistance regarding work and study programs in Ireland and the UK.

Residence/Work Permit
One of the most important steps is to register with the local district police within the first seven days of your arrival in the country.

Getting a work permit if you are already in Europe is a difficult yet not impossible feat. If you plan on living and working in a specific city for the long-haul, bear in mind that the work and residence permit are tied together.

One of the most important steps is to register with the local district police within the first seven days of your arrival in the country. If you’ve already found a flat, have your flatmate or landlord write a letter to the authorities stating your rental agreement and the duration of your residence.

The next step is to open a bank account in the country and bring along the accompanying bank statement showing that you would have enough funds to support yourself (amount varies depending on the country). If most of your funds have gone towards beer or train tickets, you can also ask your parents to write you a letter of support which states that they would be willing to support you financially.

Most European countries also require that you have health insurance. It is important to make sure that the country where you’ll be living accepts coverage from your specific insurance provider. Another option is to get a student, travel or public insurance plan from companies like International Student Insurance or Swiss Care.

It is also important to note that most companies in Europe are required to provide public health insurance for their employees.

Once you’ve accomplished all these necessary steps, you can then head over to the city labor office (along with your passport, legal documents, diploma, work contract) where they will review your case which can be approved immediately or take up to three months.

If you can’t speak the language, bring a friend who can serve as a translator, as people in the labor office either don’t speak any English or will refuse to do so. Once it goes through, you’ll be charged a small fee and can live and work in the country for up to a year. Please note however, that the permit is bound to the company that hires you and cannot be used for a job elsewhere.

Though its tempting to skip the mountain of paperwork that comes with getting an EU work permit, it is lot less difficult than being deported (you pay for the flight back), being banned from the country and paying the hefty fine.

Of course there are other options to getting this sought-after document, such as putting up your own business, applying for a freelance work permit, getting a dual citizenship if your parent or grandparents were born in the EU, or putting ads out for marriage (its been known to happen), but these options entail their own issues and mountains of red-tape.

I’ve met many people in my travels through Europe who were intent on avoiding the legalities of acquiring a permit, but unfortunately, many of them either ran out of money or had gotten in trouble with the immigration authorities. If long-term work in Europe is your goal, there really isn’t any getting around a work permit.

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