Moving from the US to Europe can be advantageous for people wishing to escape the country’s ever-increasing living costs or enjoy close-to-free healthcare. In Europe, you also get abundant sightseeing opportunities and outstanding gastronomical choices.
However, the relocation process can be headache-inducing in terms of paperwork, often making you lose sight of other priorities, such as accommodation and job options. That’s why you might need to work with immigration lawyers and estate agents to help you scale the hurdles and settle quickly and easily.
First Considerations. Where Should I Move to?
The first question you’d need to ask yourself before migrating to Europe from the US is where you’ll be relocating. Europe has many options, though the one that fits you best will hinge upon various factors such as your financial possibilities and source of income, as well as your ability to communicate with locals.
Freelancers and self-employed people would be inclined to choose either Germany or Netherlands because of the lenient tax and social security requirements these countries can offer them. Both countries (especially Netherlands) are also very friendly to English speakers.
Digital nomads would most likely find countries like Estonia or Georgia more attractive due to the facilities these countries offer in terms of visa programmes catered to them.
However, the all-time favourites for a lot of expats are Portugal and Spain because of the affordable costs of living and the easier paths to residency that they offer overall. Both countries have received a fair amount of American and British immigrants during the past few years for those same reasons.
What Are the Legal Requirements?
As an American with a valid US passport, you can freely travel to all 26 Schengen Area countries. The caveat is that you can only remain there for 90 days at most without a Schengen visa.
Unless you have dual citizenship (one of them being of an EU country or one with a visa-free arrangement with the EU), you may have to apply for a permit or visa if you wish to stay longer.
For shorter visits, you’ll still have to fulfil specific prerequisites, such as having a valid travel document and enough money to cover the costs of your stay. Also, from November 2023 onwards, you’d need to apply for an ETIAS visa waiver, an electronic travel permit issued to visa-exempt nationals.
For long-term residency, you’d have to check each country’s particular requirements. Generally speaking, each one offers a plethora of work, business, study, and family visas. With that said, the allowances for each visa type will vary greatly, and some will only grant you temporal residency without the possibility of future extensions or permanent settlement options.
Going back to the first question, some countries are more accessible than others when issuing long-term visas or residency permits. Nevertheless, once you get permanent residency in one country, it will be increasingly easier to move across all EU member states without much hassle.
In any event, the best way to find out how to proceed is by seeking adequate legal advice.
Buying or Renting Property. Which is Easiest?
If you’re considering settling in Europe as an American, one of the most pressing questions you may have concerns whether to rent or buy property when in Europe.
Some people may find renting more attractive as that would not commit them to a fixed location. They also won’t need to worry about paying annual property taxes. By far, it’s the easiest accommodation alternative there is.
Tenants and landlords in most European countries will ask for proof of income or employment and a rental bond. Countries like Switzerland and Germany permit you to pay the bond in monthly instalments.
Nonetheless, renting has a proportional number of notable disadvantages, the most obvious being that you will most likely not own the property you are paying for. Also, monthly rent prices can often be far more expensive than monthly mortgage payments.
On the other hand, buying property can be more beneficial in some countries, and, what’s more, it increases your chances of obtaining permanent residency in many instances, not needing to prove your eligibility for different settlement routes.
For example, Portugal’s Golden Visa investment program is among the most straightforward permanent residency paths, meanwhile offering one of the cheapest real estate investment thresholds in all of Europe (€280,000), right after Malta (€220,000).
Malta’s case is very peculiar in that you can apply for permanent residency after renting a property for five years, though with a minimum rental price of €16,000. Moreover, you can acquire Maltese citizenship when you invest at least €700,000 in real estate and make contributions to the National Development and Social Fund as well as to a non-governmental charitable organisation.
If you’re concerned about property taxes, Estonia is arguably one of the most accessible alternatives if you’re thinking about long-term ownership, as you’ll not be paying annual taxes levied on the value of the real property (the structures or buildings) but on the value of the land. However, Estonia does not offer permanent residency to real estate investors (only temporary residency on account of business investments).