Since I studied in Granada, Spain, lived in La Rioja, Spain, and interned in Berlin, I got a taste of the pros and cons of living in Europe. Each opportunity was an impactful experience on my travel and career. And through each one, I learned more and more about life abroad.
These experiences were so impactful that I have been considering moving back in the future. Europe is different from the U.S., but there are also a lot of similarities too. Lately I’ve been thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of living in Europe if I were to return.
Given my own reflection,I thought it would be good to document them for you! Of course, making big decisions about living abroad is never easy. But creating a list of the pros and cons of living in Europe is a great place to start deciding what’s next.
What are the pros of living in Europe?
Good public transportation
Access to more places to get your needs met on a daily basis. As someone who does not like driving in the U.S, I envy the public transportation in Europe. But if you are thinking about moving to a big European city such as Berlin or Madrid, you can definitely count on public transportation.
European public transportation makes it easier to get to know your new home. You can find places you love and meet people when you know you have a reliable ride. And getting familiar with a new country or city makes it easier to adjust and overcome culture shock. So public transportation for the win!
Better work-life balance and vacation time
Compared to life in the U.S, Europeans have a better work-life balance culture which is a major advantage of living in Europe. Based on my three stints in Europe, I’ve found that Europeans work hard, party hard, and vacation hard.
On average, the U.S only gives employees two weeks of vacation time per year. So even with the holidays added on, it is not nearly enough time. Europe offers four to six weeks depending on the country, and at least 14 weeks paid maternity and paternity leave for parents.
Proximity to other countries to visit
If you come from the United States, you will be surprised at how easy it is to travel. However, the costs of U.S travel can get expensive fast. Since Europe is smaller and closer together, hopping over borders is much simpler and convenient.
And remember, your feasibility to hop over the borders does depend on some of your travel privileges. But geographically, Europe’s landscape makes it more travel-friendly. Thus if you want to visit multiple countries in a year, it is possible.
Ability to ride your bike
Say you don’t like to drive or take public transportation – no problem! European cities such as Berlin and Amsterdam are known for their biking culture. It integrates into their way of life, which also improves your overall health.
Providing alternatives to cars can also save you money, making it another advantage of living in Europe. Now, if you move outside the city, it may be an issue in some smaller towns. However, it is more cost-effective when you calculate the money you save on gas and car insurance.
Train travel is top tier
As an avid train traveler, I envy the accessibility of European train travel. It is easily one of the best travel advantages of living in Europe. With options like the Interrail pass, where you can ride trains in multiple countries over a set amount of days, train travel is a must.
Train traveling in Europe also provides a different type of travel experience. Due to the sophisticated system, living in Europe means having viable transportation options. Travelers and expats can fly, catch a bus, or grab a train in a reasonable timeframe to hundreds of cities.
Opportunity to learn new languages
Cultural immersion is one of the best ways to learn a new language. It is also a fundamental way to adapt and even make new friends when you go abroad. And there are pockets of multicultural communities in the U.S where you can learn new languages. However, in Europe, it is easier to immerse yourself in a new language.
What are the cons of living in Europe?
Being far away from family
One of the immense sacrifices of living abroad in Europe is being away from your loved ones. Though friends and family can visit, chances of them being in Europe often are slim. Between their own family and work responsibilities, it is difficult. And the U.S’s lackluster vacation time and PTO offers do not help.
Adjusting to a new bureaucracy
I don’t know anyone who likes bureaucracy. But no matter where you go, bureaucracy follows, and Europe has theirs as well. So, for example, you can experience bureaucracy from the government when getting the proper documentation to avoid getting deported. You can also experience bureaucracy when opening a bank account.
Bureaucracy can be frustrating as a new expat! But be patient with both yourself and the system. Though it is easier said than done, dealing with bureaucracy is part of the experience. You’ll get used to it eventually as many of the pros and cons of living in Europe on this list.
Understanding the visa process
Similar to just general bureaucracy, the visa process is one particular disadvantage of living in Europe. Of course, your situation will vary based on your citizenship. However, the amount of paperwork and possible interviews it takes to secure a visa is a process.
Some people choose to go through the visa/immigration process on their own. Others choose to hire a lawyer or service to help. To each their own, just make sure the information is accurate and up-to-date! You don’t want to be deported.
Navigating new language barriers
Even though English is widely spoken in Europe, it is not the only language spoken. French, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Danish, etc., are just a few of the many languages you can find in Europe. The possibilities to learn a new language are endless.
But that doesn’t mean it is easy to navigate. Unless you move to a country where you already speak the language, there will probably always be a language barrier at some point. There are many languages spoken that, whether you’re living or just traveling in Europe, you won’t know every language.
Distance from family and friends
Another disadvantage of living in Europe is how far it is from family and friends. Living in Europe can be a difficult adjustment without a familiar support system. They won’t be around the corner or even a state away; you all will be an ocean apart.
While you can make new friends who feel like family, that bond will take time to replicate. Likewise, building a new community abroad takes effort and patience. Though this does depend on how close you are to your family and friends, it is something to keep in mind.
Racism still exists
Anti-Blackness is global, and no place is absolved from it, including Europe. As a Black traveler, I, unfortunately, have to be conscious of racism everywhere I go. Though I don’t let it stop me from traveling, it occurs on my travels now and again.
In my experience, race conversations with some Europeans have been difficult, and others are simple. It depends on the person and their experience. Racism is probably one of the worst things about living in Europe because there is cognitive dissonance around it. While Europe is great in many ways, remember that no place is a utopia.
What to expect when living in Europe
Your expectations of living in Europe will vary based on where you are from, where you have lived previously, and what you are looking for in a new home. Each expat’s experience is different because we are all accustomed to specific amenities, ways of life, and culture and customs.
So when preparing for things you can expect when living abroad in Europe, be open-minded! Adjusting to a new place takes time. It is not going to be a magical adjustment overnight. So be gentle with yourself and know you will survive and thrive living in Europe.
How is living in Europe different from America?
These pros and cons of living in Europe come from my perspective of living in the United States. It’s where I was born and raised. So ultimately, each tip outlines how living in Europe is different from America because it’s all that I’ve known.
Overall, I think Europe and the U.S have a lot of similarities due to our intertwined histories. However, I think the best thing that Europe gets right is that balance. We do not have a lot of balance of anything in the U.S, and it is one of our (many) most significant faults.
Do I think Europe is perfectly balanced? Unfortunately, no. But the one common thread between my study abroad, teaching abroad, and intern abroad experiences in Europe was that it felt complete and balanced. I had work and school. Yet, I could also travel, work out, hang out with friends, and relax in ways I could not believe in the U.S.
So, is living in Europe better?
Ahhh, the magical question – is living in Europe better? Again, this depends on how you compare your life in Europe to your life outside of it. I will say that the traveling, work-life balance and cost of living were better for me. However, I still dealt with some racism as a Black American in Spain, and culture shock got me a little bit too.
Just remember that no country is perfect. At the time I went in my life, yes, Europe was a better fit for me, so I’m contemplating if I should go back. Things felt more accessible and more manageable for my lifestyle, despite the ups and downs.
Are you looking for more tips on moving abroad? Check out this post for 18 reasons to make a move.