Work and Travel in Europe
WORK IN EUROPE ALL YEAR ROUND
Europe is perhaps the most thoroughly explored continent in the world. High standards of living, small geographical areas, ease of transport, and connectivity between a diversity of cultures means that the backpacking trails have been well worn over the years.
Europe is, therefore, a good choice for backpackers just getting started in the work and travel lifestyle. But don’t be fooled - there’s plenty of challenges when it comes to work and travelling in Europe - such as the complex web of languages and visas one must navigate through in the process of moving from place to place. An experienced working traveller will still find plenty of opportunities in Europe where their skills give them an upper hand.
There’s an infinite amount of travel guides out there that cover Europe, of course. But none of them specifically targets the Working Traveller. Since you’ve landed on this page, we assume you need unique insight into making this lifestyle successful.
Read on and we’ll give you the tools you need for working and travelling Europe.
1. Join up with a hostel
The concept of a youth hostel was invented more than 100 years ago, in Europe - Germany, to be precise. The concept has flourished and spread across the globe in the decades since, but there’s no better place to get experience in the industry than in Europe. Every single country guide in this European section has at least one hostel in it, and they are constantly in need of skilled and motivated backpackers to perform any number of tasks. These include cleaner, chef, bartender, receptionist, activities coordinator, yoga teacher, musician, painter…the list goes on and on.
2. Work on a farm
Europe covers a wide area with a lot of variety in seasonality, but, very generally, the climate is temperate all over. This means late spring, all of summer, and early fall are the best times to work and travel on a farm. From large-scale industrial farms to organic smallholdings, you can find a farm to work on that will suit your interest.
Along with farming is fruit picking or harvesting. In almost every country in the continent, a variety of produce must be harvested en masse annually, usually in the summer and fall. This is good entry-level work for a novice working traveller.
3. Become an educator
Teaching is a splendid skill to bring with you on the road as a working traveller. You’ll find plenty of opportunities up and down the continent. You’ll be more needed for teaching English in eastern Europe, where literacy in this language is lower than in western and northern Europe. If you know a language such as Japanese, Mandarin, or Arabic, however, your skills may be requested in western European countries where those in the business sector may need to acquire literacy in a second language in order to conduct their work.
Tutoring in tech, science, or sports will be skills requested by hosts in all of Europe.
WORK & HOLIDAY VISA / PERMIT REQUIREMENTS FOR PAID WORK AND VOLUNTEERING IN EUROPE
EU citizens don't need visas for other EU countries. Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and Americans don’t need visas for visits of less than 90 days.
Twenty-six European countries are signatories to the Schengen Agreement, which has effectively dismantled internal border controls between them. They are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Hungary, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Cyprus, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania are prospective Schengen members but have yet to officially join.
The UK and Ireland, as well as Russia and much of Eastern Europe (such as Ukraine, Croatia, and Serbia), are not part of the Schengen Agreement. Visitors from non-EU countries will have to apply for visas to these countries separately.
Citizens of the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK only need a valid passport to enter Schengen countries (as well as the UK and Ireland). However, other nationals, including South Africans, can apply for a single visa – a Schengen visa – when travelling throughout this region.
Non-EU visitors (with or without a Schengen visa) should expect to be questioned, however perfunctorily, when first entering the region. However, later travel within the zone is much like a domestic trip, with no border controls. See HERE for a detailed and frequently updated compendium of current visa/permit requirements for the various European countries.
SEASONAL WORK IN EUROPE
Spring is the start of the growing season in most of Europe. To experience the full process of yielding a succession of crops in Europe, working travellers need to book up work on farms in late winter, so that they can plan to arrive in early spring, right when crops are going into the ground. Spain is a country with a particularly high percentage of land given over to farms, while Moldova and San Marino are two much smaller countries that may fly under the radar for most backpackers, but are incredibly fertile and rural countries in an otherwise built-up continent.
It pretty much stating the obvious to say that summer is the high season for tourism in Europe. Any country in the northern hemisphere that takes a summer holiday will likely choose a European country as their destination.
So there’s no better time to utilize your skills in hospitality or build up new ones. Italy is a great option to work and travel to in summer; you can try working in a hotel, homestay or luxury resort, cleaning and cooking for guests.
Alternately you can work on boats or yachts intended for tourist day trips, learning how to sail and maintain the workings of a sailing vessel. Other than Italy, try any of the Mediterranean countries for this type of work, including Greece and Croatia.
Now is the time for working travellers to head to various locations for picking produce. The autumn grape harvest is huge across swaths of France, Greece, Italy, and Switzerland, while hops, apples, and hard fruits are picked in the UK and Ireland this time of year.
Alternatively, head to the cities to utilize your teaching skills at the beginning of the academic semester. Remember, however, that this work will likely require a more formal application which usually will need to take place months in advance.
For work and travel opportunity completely off the beaten path, consider volunteering at a monastery in Macedonia, since the weather conditions are most agreeable in autumn and spring.
Winter will bring some snowfall to most of continental Europe except the Mediterranean, and the ski resort industry is a classic industry for working travellers to get a footing in.
The biggest and best ski resorts are in the Alps of France, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia. Roles include ski/snowboard instructor, equipment technician, or sales representative in a pro shop. You can also work as a chalet cleaner, chef, or au pair minding the children while parents hit the slopes.
Many Europeans celebrate Christmas, so an interesting seasonal industry to get into as a working traveller is booking up roles at holiday markets, selling and wrapping gifts or serving speciality drinks. You can find these markets from London to Munich, and especially in northern European countries such as Sweden and Norway.
And finally, if you wish to escape the cold temperature in winter, this is possible in Europe. Just head as far south as you can, to Italian islands like Sicily, where you can find work harvesting citrus fruits from December through February.
ATTITUDE TO FOREIGNERS WORKING IN EUROPE
There’s probably no other set of countries in the world where foreign backpackers and labourers are a more common sight than in Europe. Many locations in Europe are some of the safest and easiest places for a working traveller to come to practice their craft.
Just keep in mind that Europe is by no means a homogenous place, so you do your research at each stop along your journey to identify the unique societal customs of the local people.
One more useful piece of advice - several cities in Europe are the most touristy in the world, such as Barcelona, Spain. Believe it or not, it is in places like these that you need to be the most mindful of touts, pickpockets, and date rapists. Oftentimes you are safer in that remote African village than in the downtown quarter of a touristy European city on a Saturday night!
With all this in mind, however, you should be starting to get excited about the prospect of working and travelling in the great continent of Europe. Have you started to pack your bags yet?