Everyday life can suddenly become complicated when you move abroad. Emma Bird provides the information to make it that much easier.
When you are on a three-month internship in another EU country or on a short-term assignment, everyday life will not be much different to that in your home country. When you want money, you’ll withdraw it using your existing debit or credit card and your utility bills are likely to be included in your rent or paid on your behalf. All that changes, however, when your stay is long term and you are fed up with the hefty charges that come with using your ATM card in another member state or you want to get checked out by a doctor straightaway. Residency This is the key to completing many everyday tasks in most of the EU member states and is compulsory if your stay is for three months or longer. To apply for residency, you will need to apply at the town hall and request a residence permit for a national of an EU member state. It is valid for five years and automatically renewable. Note that a residency permit is not necessary in the EU unless you are from one of the 12 former accession countries. Buying a mobile phone In many countries, the process is straightforward: you choose the phone and the provider you want to go with, you get assigned a mobile number and you walk out. Italy is one exception, where you will need your national ID card and your tax code. When you don’t know how long you are planning to live in the country, most expats opt for pre-paid packages that allow for top-ups. That way you can cut off the service as and when you want without worrying about being tied into a contract that you don’t fully understand. These days many providers can also provide broadband internet access meaning you won’t need to have a landline installed at additional expense. Healthcare in Europe For trips up to three months, your European Health Insurance Card will allow you to be treated by the national health service in your host country (You can find out more at the European Commission website). Depending on where you live, this may see you having totally free healthcare or may see you having to pay more than you are used to doing. In France, for example, health care is of the highest quality. You are free to choose your medicin traitant (GP) and any other specialist, but your GP must refer you. A trip to the GP will cost you Euros 21 but you can often claim back up to 70 per cent of your medical expenses. In the Netherlands, the old system was scrapped to favour a new public-private system, with the lowest insurance premium starting at Euros 82 per month. Many employers have insurance schemes so check whether or not you are eligible. Low earners may be eligible for a healthcare allowance of up to Euros 330. To register you will need your residency permit, ID card or passport and your tax/social security number. Opening a bank account To open a bank account in another EU country you will need to show your passport or national identity card, proof of earnings, proof of your address and residency (if you had to apply for residency, this will be the address to use. If not, show a utility bill addressed to you). It is also likely that you will be expected to show proof that your monthly salary will be paid into this account. Bear in mind that rules regarding banks are not consistent throughout Europe. Overdrafts are very expensive in France, and in Germany any payments you make by credit card will be deducted from your account the following month. Tax codes and paying tax You will need to apply for a personal tax code in the host member state. This is usually done in person at the local tax office. In Spain, this is known as the NIE, in Italy as codice fiscale, and in Germany, the Lohnsteuerkarte. Remember that EU member states do not have the same tax rates or even the same tax system, so if you are going to be taxed it is a good idea to find out in advance by just how much. The Netherlands and Denmark are two countries that provide tax incentives for expats. Some countries follow an April-April tax year (UK), while others go from January to December. Speak to an accountant who has a working knowledge of taxation in both your home country and your host country about your obligations. Double taxation treaties are in place to ensure EU citizens do not pay tax in two countries but you may be liable unless you follow the correct procedures. Whichever member state you move to, it is always a good idea to have plenty of photocopies of personal documents with you, as you are likely to need all of them sooner or later. These include your passport or national identity card, birth certificate, diplomas, degrees and other qualifications, translated medical record so that your new doctor does not have to start from scratch, recent bank or financial statements and your driving licence. If you do not speak the language and will also be looking for housing, consider hiring a relocation agent. Not only will they be able to source a property for you, they will arrange for the signing of the lease and provide you with a translation. They can also help with connecting to utilities, getting your tax code, mobile phone and registering with the authorities. They will also be able to help you secure a good deal. Given that generally they are or have been expats themselves, relocation agents know what you are going through and are often on-call to sort out problems long after you have officially finished with their services.
Emma Bird is an employment expert for Italy and the author of Starting a Business in Italy. She has a first degree in European Studies, French and Italian and is the managing director of www.howtoitaly.com