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Wednesday, 26 February 2014 13:45

Working Overseas: Doing the continental

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Are we making the most of the right to live and work wherever we please within the EU?
Kate Hilpern reports.

If the trend for TV programmes about relocating abroad is anything to go by, there must be a flood of Brits upping sticks for the Continent. The reality is, however, that just two per cent of Europeans work in an EU country other than their country of origin.

Yet working in Europe has never been easier. As nationals of an EU country, we have the right to work in any other member state without a work permit. And with 2006 designated as the European Year of Workers' Mobility - to increase the dynamism of the European labour market - advisers are falling over themselves to provide assistance.

Michael McDadd, an adviser for Eures (European Employment Services), is one of them. "People often have a lot of questions about moving overseas, such as whether their skills will count for as much, whether their children will get good education or whether they'll have to pay more tax," he says.

Eures helps by providing online advice, hosting seminars and putting people in touch with advisers. "The service people call on us for the most is matching CVs with vacancies in other countries," he says.

Other means of finding work in Europe include vacancies advertised on the internet, using recruitment agencies and applying directly to companies. "Areas such as engineering are suffering serious skills shortages and it can be very easy indeed to find work," says Mr McDadd.

Steve Berry moved to Paris with his employer. "Our company newsletter advertises opportunities overseas and I saw one in France," says the executive manager for the recruitment consultancy Michael Page International. "Having international experience on my CV will be beneficial in my career."

Having made the move just a few weeks ago, he is already enjoying Parisian culture. "Recruitment in the UK is so fast-paced that it's like a trading-room floor. In France, it's much more relaxed. Paris is wonderful for other reasons - the ambience, the culture and the food."

Because Mr Berry only speaks basic French, his employers organised an intensive language course for the first six weeks of his stay. "In truth, I could get away with what I had because most of the people I deal with speak English. But you get to enjoy a country far more if you speak their language."

Nichole Dryburgh, who recently set up her own business managing a chalet near Morzine in France, agrees. "I knew I'd be okay without being able to speak French because this area is touristy and largely English-speaking. But the locals prefer you to at least try to say something in their language. In one local restaurant, the owner has been known to turn people away if you don't have a go at speaking it. There are also the times you need an electrician or builder, who often don't speak English," she says.

Tamsin Kaffrey, spokesperson for the National Centre for Languages, says learning a European language has never been easier, with specific options including, say, learning conversational Portuguese or business Spanish. "There are many different ways of learning," she adds. "Some people prefer an intensive course, while others prefer more traditional evening classes. Some people prefer to listen to a CD in the car, while others prefer a more structured format. We work with bodies such as the Institute of Linguists to gain quality assurance for the best courses and to help individuals and businesses find the course that best suits their needs."

Rosetta Stone Language is one example of a relatively painless way to embark on learning a European language. Spokesperson James Pitman says, "One of the advantages of our programme, which is run online as well as on CD-Rom, is that we offer voice recognition technology, so you can improve your pronunciation by getting feedback on it."

For those wishing to move overseas to become a Tefl (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher, you won't need to know a language at all, according to the London Teacher Training College. "The modern methodology these days is to teach in the language you're learning," says a spokesperson. "So although a local language is useful because it will give you an insight into understanding mistakes due to first language interference, it's by no means essential."

For many people, the biggest concern is whether their qualifications will count in another country. Efforts are being made to ensure they do. The Europass is a collection of five documents, including a CV, that records your qualifications and skills in an understandable manner so that you can change jobs and move around Europe more easily. "You can also contact the main association for your profession in the country you want to go to," adds Phil Williams of Careers Europe.

Tax is another area of anxiety. "If you move to another country, you pay into their tax system and after a certain amount of time, you're entitled to the benefits that system provides. Tax only becomes complicated if you live between countries."

Victoria Pybus, author of several books on living and working in Europe, advises people to check up on levels of tax in individual countries, as well as general salaries - even if your plans are temporary. "In France, for example, tax is high, but the benefits are fantastic. In Italy, the salaries are low."

Cost of living can be different too, as Alex Smith discovered when she moved to Mallorca to head up PR for Hotelopia. "It's much cheaper to live here and we pay much less tax compared to the UK. I've been able to save money for the first time in years."

Like many people living their dream overseas, she loves her new life. "Weekends are usually spent on the beach and winters are spent hiking through mountains. It's also much friendlier here. As for returning to the UK to work, no thanks."

'After such a great time in Italy, I fancied a change again and decided on Amsterdam'

Euan Reaper, 31, has worked in Amsterdam as a senior cost manager for Turner & Townsend construction and management consultants for six months. Before that, he taught English in Italy for nine months.

"I wanted to experience living elsewhere, and I loved Italy - but I was a quantity surveyor, which is a peculiarly British profession. So I decided to teach English in Italy. I didn't even need to speak Italian and I got accommodation as part of the job.

Having had a great time there, I fancied a change again and decided to move elsewhere in Europe. A vacancy came up at Turner & Townsend, using my original skills, so I applied. Again, I didn't need a language because everybody speaks such good English in Amsterdam and I work for a British company.

The only time it's a real issue is trying to read the labels in supermarkets. I'm really enjoying living abroad. There have been some areas that are over-bureaucratic, such as trying to move my car over here and setting up an international bank account. But for the most part, things have been very smooth."

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