25 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Europe

25 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Europe

If you’re living in the United States, the idea of moving to Europe may be appealing, but it also comes with a lot of unknowns. New experiences, cultural immersion, and personal growth are all seemingly on the horizon with a big move.

Whether you’re moving for work, education, or simply seeking a change of scenery, you may be approaching your journey with excitement and nerves. As someone who has moved abroad twice in my life, I’ve found that there are tons of things I wish I had known before moving to Europe.

I want to give the disclaimer that many of the things on this list may be a generalization and don’t apply to every single European country or individual person.

1. Different work cultures

I left the States in the summer of 2022 burnt out from my teaching position, yet still feeling like I wasn’t working enough. If I spent a weekend relaxing or enjoying myself, the work I wasn’t getting done was always in the back of my mind.

My experience in Italy has been far from that, and Europe, in general, has a much more relaxed idea of work. In August, most small restaurants and corner stores shut down for Ferragosto, a one-day public holiday that seems to last the entire month. This is also true in other countries in Southern Europe. 

Work is approached with a much more relaxed. People work a lot less in Europe on average per week, and they also get a lot more Paid Time Off, including tons of time for maternity/paternity leave, etc.

Though wages are generally lower when compared to wages in the states, Europeans sacrifice that with what some would call living. If the “rise and grind” mindset exists here, it’s an exception rather than the rule.

On top of this, government social spending is much higher in countries throughout Europe. This means that perhaps workers in Europe feel they have something to fall back on, giving them more power compared to workers in the US.

What does this mean for you? A switch of mindset — from running around, getting a lot done in a day, and expecting the same from others, to slowing down, enjoying more of your day and not expecting things to get done very fast. 

2. Seasonal eating

One thing you’ll have to get used to is the grocery stores. You won’t have access to every single ingredient all year round. Most European countries and supermarkets rely on fresh, seasonal produce. So, it’s better for you to visit grocery stores and plan recipes based on what is available rather than having a complicated recipe that needs specific ingredients.

One other tip when you visit the grocery store is to always be sure to weigh your produce before you go to the checkout line. You won’t want to get to the front of the line only to be told in a language you probably don’t understand that you need to weigh it and stick on a barcode yourself.

3. Multiple trips to the grocery store

Most people in Europe make daily trips to the grocery store or local markets to purchase food for each evening. You’ll also find that fresh products like meat don’t last as long in the fridge as in the States.

Don’t expect to go to Costco and pick up a week’s worth of items in one trip. Most apartments are small, too, so large amounts of food won’t fit in the refrigerators, either.

What does this mean for you? You may have to let go of old buying habits, such as filling up a shopping cart to the brim in one trip. Allow time for multiple trips to the grocery stores in a week, buying smaller quantities each time. 

4. Credit cards aren’t a big thing

Europeans have a different outlook on debt, so credit cards aren’t really a thing here. You can apply for a credit card back home, but you may find it tricky to get your card when you’re abroad.

However, especially since Covid-19, paying by card is very common in Europe. I had trouble at grocery stores in the Netherlands that wouldn’t accept my credit card, but restaurants and other venues would. This was also an exception, and I haven’t had issues anywhere else.

You’ll also find that some countries lean more towards cash, like Germany, but overall, if you have a solid credit card from the US, you’ll be good to go.

5. Heavy bureaucracy

I’m from New Orleans, a place not necessarily known for smooth operation for government entities. But moving to Italy has almost made me miss waiting in those lines outside of the DMV at 7AM.

You’ll find you spend a lot of time waiting in lines, getting directions to print up such-and-such documents, and having to repeat the process again the next day because you’re at the wrong place. 

There’s tons of content online of people who buy apartments or villas in small towns throughout Europe and fix them up. Though the content they show you are usually glamorous rebuilds and tremendous progress, they don’t show you the nitty-gritty of getting simple things done.

Plumbing, electric lines, rebuilds, and other construction projects take permits, hiring the right people, and time. The people in those videos either spend a ton of time on this process or hire expensive assistants to do it for them.

The takeaways: Expect that most processes that involve the government, public institutions and administrative agencies are complicated and often unclear. Arm yourself with lots of patience and resilience. 

6. Being authorized to work in one country doesn’t mean you can work in all EU countries

First of all, you need to make sure you have the proper work visas to live in the country before going there. I know some people pack a backpack full of their essentials and believe they can get work once they’re in a country for a few weeks, and that could work for some. But you want your visa situation squared away, especially in countries with long and complicated bureaucracies.

Secondly, having authorization in one country doesn’t mean you can move to another one inside the EU. Be sure to check local laws to see how long you can spend in other countries if you’re planning to bounce around.

7. Parking and driving are difficult

You don’t totally realize how car-cenetric the US is until you live abroad. European streets were mostly designed to work for horse and buggy, not two way streets with large SUVs. You’ll find that the roads are narrow, twisty, and quite scary.

On top of that, if you live in a busy neighborhood, you may struggle to find parking. Our friends have told us horror stories about circling their neighborhood for hours looking for open spots or waiting for someone to leave.

You’ll find some parking lots in some towns, or you can also look for apartments with car parking included. But these options will come at premium prices.

8. Vehicle-related taxes are expensive

Let’s start with taxes on gasoline. The US has a federal tax of 18.3 cents per gallon of regular fuel, while individual states charge anywhere from 77.9 cents in California to 17.47 cents in Missouri. So even in the most expensive state, you’re charged less than $1 a gallon.

The EU alone charges $1.55 per gallon, and in Italy, the most expensive country in Europe, gas taxes can rise to as much as $3.69 a gallon. You can expect to pay at least $7 a gallon total when paying at the pump.

Some of this may sound bad at first, but you may be surprised at how little it affects people. First of all, the distances are much shorter (you aren’t driving from California to Florida). Secondly, and more importantly, cars are much smaller and more practical. They get much better gas mileage and are easier to navigate the narrow European streets.

9. No central AC or heating

My two-bedroom apartment was just remodeled before I moved in, with modern appliances, including a dishwasher! Despite this, the apartment relies on two AC units and four gas heaters attached to the walls.

You won’t be able to set a temperature and forget about the AC. Most of the year, I’m either a bit cold and need a sweater or a bit hot and need a fan. You’ll have to get used to being a bit uncomfortable in your own home.

The good news, though, is that you won’t be blasted with freezing cold AC or hot, dry air at work or in restaurants like you’d find in the US.

10. No driers

For the most part, Europeans hang their clothes, either on their balconies or outside their window, to air dry. Perhaps it’s the small size of the apartments or homes in Europe or the more attitude of energy-conservation in the EU, but it will be rare to find a dryer in apartments. However, you can purchase one if you wish. 

11. Taxes are included

Restaurants, grocery stores, clothing stores, and more all include taxes in the prices of the items they sell. That means what you see on the price tag is what you will pay. It’s amazingly refreshing to get your check and not have to worry about tips and taxes on top of the cost.

Of course, other potential fees, like cover or service charges, go to the staff. But this is usually a €2 or €3 charge, and you’ll be aware of the charges on the menu.

12. Unfurnished is quite unfurnished

When you’re searching for an apartment in Europe, make sure to read carefully what the apartment offers. Some places are listed as “unfurnished,” and in the US, you’d still expect necessary appliances like washing machines and refrigerators.

But you’ll find that there are different levels of “unfurnished” that you’ll need to be on the lookout for. Make sure you pay attention to exactly what comes in the apartment on the apartment listings and in the contract you sign.

13. Look for apartments early

The process of renting an apartment may be complicated. If it’s anything like my experience in Rome, you’ll reach out to tons of places and get very little response. I messaged around 30 places I saw on websites like Idealista, Spotahome, and Subito, and only heard back from two.

On top of this, each country has its own rules for apartments. In Italy, we had to pay the realtor 10% of our first year’s rent. Luckily, our contract is a 4/3, which means it’s good for four years, and we can extend it for an additional three. We can opt out of the contract at any time if we give three months’ notice. We don’t have to pay again for the contract length.

Some of the fancier, expat-specific realtor companies have contracts with landlords that renew every year, forcing their tenants to pay the 10% realtor fee every year. Be sure to look over your contract and ask the company for the details before signing anything.

14. Cost of living is low, but is it affordable?

If you look at the cost of living in Italy or other southern European countries, you’ll want to pack up all your things and move immediately. But you have to consider the wages in the country. Is it really that affordable for you?

Looking blindly at food, transportation, and housing costs without understanding the context is perhaps a dangerous move. Before signing a lease, packing all your things, and moving to Europe, make sure you have your income plans in line.

15. Know where you can find help

There are so many things you can lose track of or simply not think of when you move to another continent. 

Do you know the phone number to call in an emergency?

Do you know where the closest hospital is?

Do you know where the US embassy is?

Do you know how to book a dentist appointment?

Do you know how to ask for a specific haircut? 

There are so many things you should think about that can easily slip your mind. Find a resource with useful information, whether through friends, your employer, or online groups.

16. You won’t be “waited on” 

For many European countries, you won’t experience an American style of waiting tables. You’ll be greeted and sat, your order will be taken and delivered, and you’ll get up and pay.

Servers rarely check in on you during each course, which can be quite refreshing. Though this may not be what you’re used to, it isn’t because you’re a foreigner. It’s just a different approach to service. Their philosophy is to offer the customer privacy to enjoy their meal. 

17. Healthcare isn’t free… for you 

For most European countries, healthcare is something everyone has access to through government policies. But depending on your citizenship, you probably won’t have instant access to health services in every country.

Of course, doctors won’t leave you bleeding outside the hospital. If you do have an emergency or need routine health help, you’ll have access to healthcare. But you’ll be charged outside of their system, which is often quite expensive (but not as expensive as American healthcare).

Before moving, you’ll want to have a healthcare plan. Some companies offer international plans that will cover your health needs, or you can work this out with your employers.

18. Make friends early and often

Wherever you find yourself, try your best to make friends as early as possible. Even if you don’t particularly like the people you’ve connected with, the connections you make have the potential to open up more and more opportunities for other new friends. 

If you can, making local friends is an amazing way to see your new home from the eyes of an insider. This may be easier in certain countries. But even if you make friends with other expats, at least you’ll have someone to help you guide through your transition.

19. Know your banking situation

This is potentially one of the most complicated issues you’ll have to deal with, and one that potentially wastes a lot of money. Some places will suggest you request Euros from your bank at home, but even in these situations, the conversion rate your bank gives you may not reflect the actual market.

We use Charles Schwab online banking (no, unfortunately, I don’t have a sponsorship from them). We find it the most convenient way to keep our American bank account without complicated fees and hidden charges.

In fact, you can withdraw from any ATM from anywhere in the world without the bank charging you, and they’ll even reimburse you for the ATM fees.

Be on the lookout, though, for ATMs from EuroNet. These ATMs are scams. They often charge a huge percentage of a “conversion rate,” often up to 15% of what you’re withdrawing. 

If you’re moving to a European country for a job, your best bet is to open a bank account. Hopefully your employer can help you with this. You’ll be able to set up rent, electricity, phone bill, and other payment much easier once you have a bank account from a company in the country itself.

20. Be patient and give yourself lots of leeway

Whether it’s bus, tax, train, or a ride from your friend, you’ll often find yourself waiting. And waiting. And waiting…

You’ll have to get used to either being late or giving yourself a lot of leeway in arriving somewhere. Sometimes, the bus will come immediately and you’ll get there super early. More often than not, you’ll sweat at the bus stop for 30 minutes, thinking you should’ve left earlier, and still end up a bit late despite your best efforts.

People are understanding, and in a lot of countries (especially Italy), being on time is rare. Don’t sweat it!

21. FOMO is real… but others will be jealous of your lifestyle

There’s no doubt that you’ll miss things at home. Birthday parties, game nights, weddings, even just Sunday barbecues with friends are all going to happen without you. 

At the same time, though, you’ll be experiencing a completely new and exciting place on your own. Your friends at home will look at your social media photos and feel like they’re missing out, too. 

It’s natural to feel sad leaving things behind, but it’s also important to remember all the fun things you’re experiencing.

22. Learn to accept cultural differences

No cappuccinos in the afternoons. Don’t leave your home without covering your neck. Strict rules about how food is prepared.

Though these cultural differences can be frustrating, they’re there for a reason. Ask a friend about why they do things that way. Usually, it’s a tradition passed down from generation to generation and has some cultural significance.

Despite this, you can still order a cappuccino in the afternoon in Italy. Just expect some chuckles or dirty looks.

23. Pack light

Before moving to Europe, my wife and I had to downsize considerably. We followed the pandemic trend of buying tons of kitchen gadgets and home accessories that we’d use once or twice and store away somewhere deep in our home.

Europeans approach consumerism through a completely different lens. For the most part, if they buy something, it’s because they need it. On top of that, they have tons of local markets that sell everything you need.

Pack a suitcase or two and leave things that you’re questioning whether you’ll need it or not behind. If you do end up needing it, you can always buy it when you get here.

24. Pet friendly, but expect to dodge dog poop

Lots of countries throughout the EU are dog friendly. In Italy, you’ll find dogs in neighborhood cafes, restaurants, on the bus, at supermarkets, and at clothing stores. 

The downside to this, though, is the odd trend of leaving behind dog poop everywhere. Keep an eye out where you step!

25. Getting out of your comfort zone

As a self-diagnosed introvert, I know how easy it is to get outside my comfort zone. Added to that to idea of communicating with someone in your non-native language, and it gets really easy to avoid doing everyday things.

The more you get out of your comfort zone, the easier it is to get out of your comfort zone, if that makes sense. You’ll find people are much less harsh to language learners compared to people in the States. 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll sweat through some awkward conversations when things go wrong, but these situations only last a few minutes. Once they’re through, you’ll move on.

The post 25 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Europe appeared first on My Dolce Casa.

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