December 12, 2016 - Comments Off on Three questions for Americans moving to Europe

Three questions for Americans moving to Europe

Milburn Lewis is a recruitment business that conducts intercontinental searches for our clients, the Big 4 and other international accountancy firms. Most of the professionals we work with are not just considering a career move, but also a relocation. It is our goal to make the process as smooth and stress-free for everyone involved.

Over the past twelve months, we have seen a momentous increase in North American professionals considering a move across the Atlantic. Captivated by the prospect of exceptional career growth, access to new markets, and an excellent work-life balance, talent is streaming into Europe from the United States and Canada.

At the same time, Big 4 firms across the continent are embracing this migration of talent. Recognising the knowledge, skills, and innovation these professionals can bring to European firms. Our clients continue to seek out North American professionals across the spectrum of disciplines, including audit, tax, cyber security, and forensic technology, to name but a few.

Considering an international career move can be an incredibly difficult journey, one that is fraught with dangerous turns and unforeseen obstacles. For this reason, we encourage anyone considering such change to ask questions. And they do, lots of them.

We thought it would be helpful if we answered the three most common questions we get from North Americans considering a move to Europe. Of course, there will be others, and we encourage you to send those to One of our recruiters will be happy to get in touch and answer any further questions you might have.

1. How difficult is it for North Americans to move to Europe?

When most talk about Europe, they are referring to the European Union. Although Europe has a single Ryder Cup team, politically and economically it is made up of 28 sovereign states with their own histories, cultures, languages, governments, and parliaments.

Member states of the European Union include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and (for now) the United Kingdom.

We also include Switzerland and Norway in discussions with professionals. Despite not being members, migration and trade in both these states are closely bound together in their respective relationships with the EU. As such, Switzerland and Norway must apply similar rules to those of EU member states.

One of fundamental tenets of the EU is ‘freedom of movement’. Unfortunately, this only applies to EU citizens. Immigration by ‘third-party nations’ is a matter for individual governments and parliaments found throughout the capitals of Europe.

It is therefore important to think in a strategic, long-term way. Don’t simply think about the next twelve or eighteen months. Think about where an opportunity will lead you five or ten years from now.

It appears to us that the most popular destinations are those with the largest markets – the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Germany, for example. These cities are perceived to offer professionals the most career progression, with the highest salaries. And, to some extent that is true. But these markets are intensely competitive, with firms having access to an abundance of “local” talent to choose from.

It may be easier to think out of the box, to not restrict yourself to the obvious choices. Estonia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Luxembourg, and Poland are all options that offer career advancement, thriving economies, access to EU markets, cosmopolitan cultures, and an outstanding work-life balance. But most North Americans overlook these locations for the “traditionally attractive” destinations.

By broadening the scope of your search, you are only increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome. Through our work in the region, central and east European countries can be more advantageous for North Americans looking to break into Europe and its markets.

Big 4 firms in CEE countries find it easier to obtain the necessary visas for professionals from non-EU countries. The reasons for this are two-fold; a desire for top-level talent and continued economic stimulus in the region. Professionals will find that exploring these countries can lead to a quicker, easy process, as well as all the benefits associated with an international move.

2. What are the tax liabilities likely to be in Europe?

There are many variables to consider when exploring an international move, the most important being whether it is financially beneficial. There is no point travelling half-way round the world if you’re going to be economically worse off. And given that both American and Canadian citizens may still be liable for taxes back home, this is something we urge professionals to give this serious thought.

We have found that people instinctively look at where the salaries are highest – the U.K. and Switzerland, for example – and focus their search in these locations. Again, this might be a mistake. Yes, it is a fact that salaries are lower in the CEE region. But if you look at the wider picture, CEE countries might be a lot more lucrative than one might initially think.

EU member states, as well as Switzerland and Norway, have autonomy over their domestic tax affairs. Therefore, tax rates across the EU vary from state to state. In Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, the top rate of tax is above 50%. Whereas, in Bulgaria, Albania, and Hungary it is around 10%.

Indeed, salaries in London and Zurich are higher than in Tallinn and Prague but so are income taxes. In the CEE region, manager- and director-level professionals in the Big 4 can expect salaries of around €50,000 and €90,000 respectively. But they can also expect a tax rate of below 20% in CEE countries.

Too many professionals automatically discount the traditionally less attractive locations due to the salaries. We humbly urge you to reconsider. The CEE region, and other small European states, can result in more disposable income than one can expect in Europe’s largest cities.

3. I’ve heard the cost of living is significantly higher than back home?

This is one of the most common questions for North Americans moving to Europe. Like in the U.S. and Canada, there is great diversity in the cost of living. If your desire is for the skyscrapers of London, or the mountains of Zurich, then you can expect prices equivalent to New York or Toronto.

On the other hand, cities like Warsaw, Poland and Budapest, Hungary are quickly becoming Europe’s hottest destinations for Big 4 professionals. There are several reasons for this; over the last twelve months, the Big 4 firms have announced their intention to continue investing heavily in the CEE region; access to the wider EU market, including London; and a much lower cost of living than other European countries.

Let’s take Budapest as an example. To rent a one bedroom apartment in the city centre would cost around $415 per month. For those with families, one can expect to pay around $800 per month for a three-bedroom apartment in the same area. Compare this to London, the zenith for many Big 4 professionals. One bedroom city centre apartments are notoriously difficult to find and when you do, you can expect to pay no less than $2100 per month. The cost of a three-bedroom apartment in city centre London will cost upwards of $4000 per month.

These higher costs continue across the board, from utilities to groceries. Ultimately, what this means is that only the most senior professionals can consider living close to the city centre. Whereas, others are forced to accept long and expensive commutes into the office, limiting one’s work-life balance.

On the other hand, countries like Poland, Estonia, and Hungary, allow professionals to focus not only on their work, but also on living. To quote Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, “Work-life balance is all about making sure you take time to live…” Choosing the right location can go a long way towards achieving this goal.

Concluding thoughts…

Choosing to make an international move is daunting. But there is a reason more North Americans are making Europe the next stop on their professional journey. In an increasingly competitive market, employers are looking for those who aren’t afraid to step outside of their comfort zone. That’s why our clients want professionals who have worked abroad, who have proven their ability to adapt and grow in new surroundings.

We strongly encourage Americans and Canadians alike to consider moving to Europe, it has much to offer both professionally and personally. But we want to point out that moving to Europe shouldn’t limit you to London, Zurich, or Paris. There are countries and cities across this great continent that have much to offer Big 4 professionals, many of which are often overlooked.

By exploring the CEE region, and other smaller states in Europe, North Americans will find unparalleled career opportunities, whilst enjoying an exceptional standard of living in some of the world’s most historic and beautiful cities. If you are interested in exploring opportunities in Europe, or elsewhere, please don’t hesitate to reach us at

Published by: Ian James in Blogs

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