I moved from India to London for a new job in Jan 2019 and have been living here ever since. I wrote about the experience right after I moved. Since then, I have gotten lots of questions from folks in the same boat about how I managed to pull it off, so I thought it’d be best to compile everything I learnt into a blog post for anyone else looking to relocate for a European job.
Whilst initially I considered moving to the US, I gave up after learning about how hard it is to get permanent residency there as an Indian citizen and focussed on (western) Europe, so this post is heavily biased towards that region.
Moving is hard and stressful as is, but moving to a completely new country is even more daunting. A lot of folks think it’s impossible and you need to be a genius to pull it off. I can assure you that that’s very much not the case and it’s very doable if you have the patience to stick through the process. Let’s dive in!
Finding a job with visa sponsorship takes research and patience
This topic is what I get almost all the questions about. It’s the hardest and often the most confusing part as it’s not very straightforward to find employers who would sponsor a visa. More so if you’re not looking to work at big tech companies. In almost all countries, you need a job if you wish to relocate.
Caveat: your entire life will be tied to your job and if you lose it for whatever reason, you may be forced to leave the country after a short period of time.
A few companies clearly mention up-front whether or not they sponsor visas. Your level can have an impact - some companies prefer to sponsor relatively senior folks than folks early in their career. Remember that visa sponsorship is a costly and cumbersome process for the company to undertake. However, most big enough startups are open to sponsoring folks at all levels. I’m not sure how Covid-19 will impact this in a remote-first world.
I looked for jobs through a variety of sites: LinkedIn, Twitter, various job boards. Going through a mutual is the quickest method by a long measure, but I cold-emailed and got in touch with folks directly too. Some governments, like the UK, also publish their database of employers who hold a valid sponsorship license, which you can sift through. It is often a very time-consuming process and I haven’t found an easier way to do it. Based on what I remember, there were significantly more options for frontend positions than backend positions. However, this might have changed now.
Edit: To gather data on employers that sponsor visas, I created a repository for folks who are having trouble finding sponsorship.
Be clear about wanting to relocate from the start
Always clarify before interviewing that you’re looking to relocate if you’re not clear whether or not your prospective employer is open to sponsoring you. It’ll be a huge waste of time for everyone involved if you go through the entire process and find out that they’re not willing to sponsor you. Explicitly state what you’re looking for in terms of relocation in one of your initial calls rather than waiting.
Having more than one option maximises your chances
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. It’s a hectic and lengthy process and you want to have multiple options. I interviewed with 5 companies across 5 different countries in order to make sure I have options in case something goes wrong somewhere.
How was the process for applying for the visa?
Once you’ve found a job, the next logical step is to apply for a visa. This varies a lot country-to-country. In the EU (except UK and Ireland), countries have their own work visas as well as something known as a Bluecard. This is an EU-wide work permit with every member country having their own rules around what is permitted and timelines for getting residency. Some employers prefer to apply for a country-specific visa despite having the option to apply for a Bluecard. 🤷♀️
The UK and Ireland have their own separate visa systems that only allow you to work in that country.
This will usually be taken care of by your employer. Typically, they’ll employ an immigration law firm that’ll take care of drafting and submitting your application, and you’ll just need to provide them with the right documents. Timelines vary a lot depending on the country and type of visa and you’ll need a lot of patience to get through this process and keep your anxiety at bay.
Clarify who is paying for what
Check with your employer about whether they’re funding your visa as they cost a lot of $$$$$. You don’t want to be stuck paying that out of pocket.
Read your contract carefully
Also read your contract to make sure you understand if there are any special terms attached to it like having to pay back some of the visa or relocation costs if you leave before X months/years.
What was the actual move like?
Once you have your visa, you’re set to actually make the move. Wooooohoooo, the hard part is over! 🎉 Depending on when you get your visa, you’ll negotiate a start date with your employer.
You’ll need some savings to kickstart your life
Have some savings you can rely on before you get your first paycheck and/or relocation bonus. If you don’t have enough savings, make sure you clarify that with your employer and ask for your bonus upfront. There’s no shame in doing that. 🤗
Ask for a relocation bonus
Negotiate a relocation bonus, especially if you’re coming from a country with a significantly weaker currency, like India, or if you’re moving somewhere with a higher cost of living. Your savings will evaporate in front of your eyes before you know it. Usually, you can use it for all sorts of costs associated with moving: shipping your stuff from back home, furnishing your new place, etc.
Your employer will usually pay for your flight to the new country and some kind of temp accommodation till you find somewhere to live. This may or may not come out of your relocation budget.
Don’t relocate on the day you’re starting your new job
Fly in before you’re due to start so that you can beat jet lag and familiarize yourself with your new home. I flew to London a couple of days before I was due to start my job because I wanted to make sure I could get used to a completely new country (and city!) for a few days beforehand.
It’s a lot of work and it took me around 4-5 months to get it all sorted from arranging interviews to finally moving. Patience is key but at times it can feel impossible. I want to stress that if you’re willing to put in the work, it’s definitely doable.
I tried to distill most of widely-applicable advice I could think of in this post. If you’ve more questions, feel free to email or DM me on Twitter and I’ll try my best to answer by augmenting this post. 😊