Working from home while living in Europe
DISCLAIMER: While working from home is a great and flexible option for military spouses overseas, it is vital to ALWAYS check with your legal office and host nation's rules and regulations on the protocols for legally being allowed to work from home. This article may not pertain to some European countries with U.S. forces present. Failure to follow these laws may lead to loss of SOFA status.
If you are the spouse of a service member or DOD employee, relocating abroad is a momentous life change. Opportunities to travel are abundant and life is strikingly different in Europe than in the United States. One con of living in Europe however, is a lack of traditional career opportunities resulting largely from language barriers.
The Department of Defense released the “Military Spouse Demographics and Employment Information” study in September 2018 which stated: “Active Duty spouses have a 24% unemployment rate, which is much higher than the national unemployment rate. Female military spouses earn, on average, 25% less than their civilian counterparts.” In the study, there is no differentiation between spouses who reside in the continental U.S. versus those who live abroad. A basic assumption would be that unemployment is much higher among those who reside outside of the U.S.
While each person is different and there is no right answer, one incredibly effective way to maintain viable employment while living abroad is to work virtually—from home. According to the Randstad USA Workforce 2025 study, it is estimated that, “By 2019 agile workers could comprise as much as 50% of the workforce.” An agile worker is a consultant, contractor, temporary employee, freelancer or takes odd jobs. Many agile workers work from the comfort of home in lieu of traditional onsite employment.
A decade ago work-at-home careers were like bigfoot sightings, a few swore that virtual, full-time employment existed, but the vast majority of people worked regular nine to five careers. According to the 2017 US Census, over 8-million people work from home including agile workers, entrepreneurs, and full or part-time regular employees.
Virtual employment offers flexibility.
Virtual employment provides flexibility to work from anywhere: home, the coffee shop, co-working spaces, the beach, or even a ski resort. Living in Europe has many traveling perks but traditional employment at 8-hours per day, 5-days per week put a damper on long weekends that could be used for mini-vacations.
Consider the onslaught of freelancing websites such as Upwork, Fiverr, Craigslist, TaskRabbit and Handy which are used to find gigs. These websites provide a forum for agile workers to find gigs and connect with potential short-term and/or long-term employers. There are millions of freelancers using these websites to earn a handsome income or as a side-hustle for supplemental income.
Freelancing websites exist because people have complicated lives and vied for alternative career options apart from the restrictive nature of traditional employment that limits the time-off, flexibility, and location of employees. Sound familiar? Living abroad is complicated for Americans who live in Europe to serve.
How to get a virtual job.
Employers can be hesitant to convert from a traditional to a flexible workplace with telework and remote options. Prior to relocating to Europe, discuss the option of working remotely with your current employer. One strategy is to “try before you buy” and experiment with working from home 2 or 3 days per week. This strategy provides a slower transition that may open the door to full-time, virtual options when you relocate abroad.
If you are currently unemployed, research industry trends and positions that are virtual to find relevant work-at-home opportunities that can travel with you worldwide. There are a host of job boards online that are dedicated to 100% remote positions. Explore vacancies within your industry, qualifications and the equipment requirements for working from home to ensure your workspace meets the requirements.
Utilize freelancing websites and complete several projects or short-term gigs to get in the groove. Transitioning from traditional work or unemployment to working at home often has an adjustment period. At first, many remote employees struggle with distractions, feeling lonely and finding an optimal work routine. Completing a few freelance projects will work out the kinks and create a routine that is ideal for your new job.
Originally published by Jaime Chapman in Stars & Stripes Europe on February 14, 2019.