Some European countries make it extremely difficult to get a visa and establish permanent residency. No matter how badly you want to travel or move there, these challenges may stand in your way. But why is this the case? And are there any ways around these obstacles?
Spoiler: It's Easier Than You Think
It's harder to travel to a European country than it is to travel to a different city in your current state, but the truth is, it's much easier to get a visa than you think. Though different countries in Europe follow different rules and have different procedures, the process usually looks something like this:
- Find the right type of visa. There are probably many types of visas for which you may qualify. In Italy, for example, you can get an investor visa, which allows you to travel if you're planning on investing in an Italian startup, Italian government bonds, or Italian charitable organizations. If you have some extra capital, and you're willing to make an investment, this could be an easy way to get a travel visa to Italy. You may also qualify for visas in countries throughout Europe if you're looking for work opportunities, education, or if you're hoping to visit friends and family members.
- Consider a Schengen visa. A Schengen visa will allow you to travel freely across all Schengen states in Europe, making it the largest free travel area in the world. The Schengen area includes 26 different countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
- Make sure you qualify. Once you've decided which type of visa you want, read through the criteria and make sure you qualify. There are usually some stipulations to filter out unwanted travelers.
- Apply online. For the most part, you can apply for your visa online, or at least start the process there. Find the Consulate of the country you intend to visit (or the country you tend to visit longest) and follow the instructions there.
- Wait for approval. It will probably take some time to process your visa, so plan on at least a few weeks before you get final approval.
A Necessary Bureaucracy
Why aren't visitors allowed to freely come and go?
There are several reasons:
- Social programs. Most European countries offer strong social assistance programs, including free health care, free higher education, labor protections, and robust welfare. Freely allowing too many people to visit or permanently live in these countries could put an unfair burden on taxpayers or cause the entire system to collapse.
- Population density concerns. Some countries in Europe are concerned with population density. There isn't as much room for lateral expansion as there is in the United States, so they need to keep residency levels under control.
- Security/safety concerns. European countries are also invested in maintaining security. Keeping caps on the people entering and leaving the country helps to keep the borders secure, minimizing external threats and generally keeping people safer.
- Cultural posterity. Though less of a concern, most European countries haven't adopted the "melting pot" approach of the United States. Controlling visitation and immigration helps to preserve some elements of cultural posterity.
- Political dynamics. Some of the hardest countries for visa approval around the world include North Korea, China, and Saudi Arabia - nations with authoritarian rule and general disdain for outsiders. These countries use travel restrictions as a way to secure and further entrench their internal power. Thankfully, this isn't much a problem in Europe, but some travel restrictions may be influenced by political motivations, nonetheless.
Making Things Easier
No matter what, you can make international travel easier on yourself with the following steps:
- Do your research. Don't make assumptions. International travel restrictions vary and can change without much notice. Start doing your research many months before you plan on actually traveling and make sure you understand all criteria before moving forward.
- Plan well in advance. This is a long process, so you can't bank on rushing through it. Start planning your international trip several months, or even a year or two before you intend to leave.
- Talk to an expert. If you're confused about any part of the process, consider talking to an expert on the subject. Alternatively, talk to a friend who's been through the process before!
Getting a visa to travel to a European country can be a bit challenging, but it's much easier than most people realize. As long as you qualify for at least one type of visa, and you meet all the official requirements, you'll have a clear path to entry.