If you’ve ended up here, chances are that you’re looking to start a new chapter of your life in Europe. Whether you currently have a job offer or are in the process of looking for work in Europe, you definitely need to learn whether or not you need a visa to get there. Luckily for you, that’s exactly what we’ll answer with this guide!
We know that Europe is a big continent with many different countries, but in the context of this article, when we say “Europe”, we mean any of the countries that make up the European Union (EU). Currently, there are 27 member states of the EU, with four non-EU member countries that share access to the European Free-Trade Zone and the freedom of movement policy. Within this guide to European work visas, we’ll discuss all you need to know about working in the EU, alongside who needs a visa and how you can apply for one.
Who needs a visa to work in the EU
As a whole, citizens of any EU country don’t need to apply for a visa in any of the 27 member states. This is thanks to the “freedom of movement” principle, which was a core aspect of the original 1957 Treaty of Rome and solidified in 1985 by the signing of the Schengen Agreement. Over time, the Agreement has expanded to include members of the European Economic Area (EEA) — Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway — plus Switzerland, who is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) alongside the three countries of the EEA.
In recent years, the citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and the USA do not need to pre-apply for a work visa prior to coming into Europe. Instead, they only need to apply for a residence and work permit upon arrival in the member state where they will be working in, in the same way as any EU or EFTA member citizen.
Anyone who isn’t a citizen of the listed countries will have to apply for a visa prior to arrival in the EU, according to the rules of the specific member state. Some member states, such as Hungary, allow people to apply for specific visas upon arrival while others, like Germany, require the applications to be made at the local German embassy of their home country prior to arrival.
What is the European Blue Card?
The EU Blue Card is a residence permit issued by an EU member state to third-country nationals that allow for certain highly-skilled individuals to live and work in 25 of the 27 member states, excluding Denmark and the Republic of Ireland. Holders of the EU Blue Card must apply with the purpose of taking up gainful employment because this is not purely a residence permit. However, there is a short list of occupations that the EU Blue Card serves and those are mainly occupations that are currently facing shortages in the market or might face one in the near future.
In order to apply for the EU Blue Card, you must first qualify by proving that you have all of the following:
- A university degree (preferably within the field facing a shortage)
- Professional training (or a specified amount of working experience in the field facing shortage)
- A qualifying salary of at least €56,400 a year (approximately £50,000)
What is a Schengen Visa?
The Schengen Visa is a short-stay visa given to citizens of non-EU or EFTA countries. It allows them to freely travel within 22 of the 27 EU and all four EFTA member states for a period of up to 90 days within any given 180-day period. The Republic of Ireland has maintained an opt-out and therefore has its own visa policy, similar to what the UK had before leaving the Union, while the four remaining states — Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania — are not yet part of the Schengen Area but will be legally obligated to join sometime in the future.
Overall, there are two ways to obtain a Schengen Visa — a stamp on arrival at the immigration border of a member state, or a physical visa that is printed and placed into your passport. Which one you will need in order to enter the Schengen Area depends on your nationality.
However, regardless of your nationality, if you are coming into the EU under the Schengen Visa, then you are not legally allowed to work. The Schengen Visa only permits people to enter for tourism or business purposes, and those who wish to work in the EU, even as a remote worker, will have to apply for a work permit in order to legally do so.
Requirements to get a European working visa
As we mentioned earlier, if you need to apply for a European work visa before arriving, the overall process depends on which EU member state you will be working in. While there are also overarching, EU-wide immigration policies, overall, the individual member states have the last say on their immigration policies regarding third-party nationals. With that said, there are overlaps between the requirements for getting a European working visa.
1. Application form
You can retrieve the work visa application form for the relevant member state either from the local embassy’s website or by making an appointment with the local embassy of the member state, where they will provide you with the application form to fill out. Depending on which member state you’ll be applying for a work visa to, you may get two copies to fill out and return to them. Just remember that you need to sign and date them both for a smoother visa application process!
2. Visa photos
Every country in the Schengen Area has the same biometric photo requirements and specifications, regardless of whether it’s for a passport renewal or visa application. Since the visa photo is a vital component of the application process, you need to ensure that it meets the specific specifications of the Schengen Area. Two copies of the visa photo need to be produced and both should have been taken within six months of beginning the visa application process.
You can find the full specification of photos used in the Schengen Area here, courtesy of the German Embassy in the UK. In general, the specifications are:
- Photos must be at least 3.5 cm by 4.5 cm in size
- Frontal shot of the subject's face, taking up roughly 70-80% of the photos
- The background needs to be light grey or completely white
- The eyes of the subject cannot be hidden by hair or glasses, and must show their distinct facial characteristics
- No head coverings are permitted outside of religious purposes, with specific guidelines
3. Valid passport
Before you apply for the European work visa for the country that you are going to work in, you need to make sure that your passport is sufficiently valid. As a general rule of thumb, your passport should be valid for at least three years from the date of application. For the most part, you should be able to renew your passport through the diplomatic mission (embassy or consulate) based in the country that you are applying the work visa for.
However, there are frequent enough cases where a country’s diplomatic mission is not tasked with passport renewal and therefore requires their citizens to first return to their home country before applying for another one. Take note of this whenever you’re applying for a European work visa because you may face troubles when renewing the work visa with an expiring passport later on.
4. Employment contract
When applying for a European work permit, regardless of which member state, you will need to provide proof of a job offer within that country. You are not allowed to apply for a work visa if you are currently looking for work or if there isn’t a confirmation in writing that you will be employed by a company within that member state. Exceptions are given to those looking to apply for the EU Blue Card.
5. Proof of academic qualifications
Europeans highly value a university qualification — probably why a great many European politicians have been awarded PhDs! To reflect this value, the European work visa application process requires applicants to provide proof of their academic qualifications. This usually refers to a Bachelor’s degree, but you need to be aware that not all universities in third-party nations are recognised within the EU and that there is no EU-wide standard of certain academic qualifications. Check with the local embassy of the member country you are applying to confirm whether the qualification that you hold is recognised.
6. Proof of language proficiency
Not all EU member states require foreigners to be proficient in their local language in order to apply for a work visa. For example, Germany doesn’t require applicants to have a grasp of German, although it might be a requirement of the company that you apply to. However, in the event that the company doesn’t require you to have German proficiency, it is still recommended that those looking to live in Germany long-term should be able to communicate in the German language. You should look to have at least an A2 level of proficiency, according to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), in order to have the language skills to better cope with day-to-day life.
Where and how to apply for an EU working visa
Where exactly you need to go to apply for your European work visa depends on where you’ve been employed. You need to apply for the visa at the respective diplomatic mission of the country you will be working in but within your home country. This could either be through the country:
- Visa centre
For example, if you’re a Turkish citizen with a job offer in the Netherlands, then you need to apply for your work visa at either the Dutch embassy in Ankara — known as the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands — or through the Dutch consulate in Istanbul.
In order to apply for the European work visa, you’ll need to go onto the embassy’s website to find out the exact steps. If you prefer speaking on the phone, we highly recommend that you call the respective embassy so that you can get immediate answers to any questions you might have. But, in general, the process of how to apply for a European work visa looks like this:
- Learn about the employment visa options in the nation of your choice.
- Qualify for a work visa to Europe. To apply for a visa in the majority of European Union countries, you'll need to have a job offer in hand.
- Before applying for the visa, make sure you're in a position to do so by fulfilling the aforementioned standards.
- Assemble the employment visa paperwork.
- Apply for a visa appointment.
- Include any necessary documentation before the appointment, and make sure to bring it with you to the appointment.
- Wait until your visa is approved!
Whether you’ve just got a job offer at a great European company, a remote worker looking to settle in an EU member state for a long period of time, or a small- to medium-sized business looking to expand your workforce on a global scale, it’s important to know all there is to know about how work visas and permits function in all the EU member states. But, as we personally know very well, the landscape of labour and immigration laws is ever-changing, which is why we highly recommend that you seek out experts in global compliance to ensure that you don’t face any hiccups during the pages of your European chapter!