Europe leads in many rankings of life quality. But is Europe a good place to live for everyone? And what are the pros and cons of living in Europe?
Here are my thoughts as an European born in Poland who’s traveled to over 30 countries in the world and lived in a few of them, including both in Europe and elsewhere.
I’ll start with my subjective list of pros and cons of living in Europe. Later I’ll share if Europe is a good place to live.
Pros of Living in Europe
Here are the positive aspects of Europe. As a clarification, when I talk about Europe, I talk about the entire continent, though my article focuses more on EU countries.
These are my own subjective perspectives. They’re important to me but they may not be equally essential to other Europeans.
The pros (and later cons) are listed in no particular order.
1. Europe Is the Safest Continent in the World
Not a day goes by without me being grateful for the safety of living in Europe. Europe is unquestionably safer than the US and many other countries in the world.
As a whole, no continent is as safe as Europe. The risk of falling victim to a crime in most European countries is very low, and the risk of violent crime is even lower. Some types of crime are so rare in Europe that they’re almost non-existent. Meanwhile, they’re common in other countries (things like kidnapping, armed robberies, homicides, and gang violence).
Is Europe 100% safe? No, it isn’t. Some crimes like pickpocketing still happen, particularly in public transportation in crowded cities of France (like Paris) or Spain (like Barcelona).
While European cities rank very highly in safety rankings, some cities in Asia and the Middle East are safer. For example, the United Arab Emirates is much safer than Europe due to strict laws and a very low tolerance for breaking them. There, you’ll be extremely unlikely to experience even the most petty of crimes.
But overall, whether you compare Europe to North America, South America, Asia, Africa, or let alone Central America, it’s an extremely safe region of the world. Taking safety precautions still makes sense, as anywhere else in the world. But the chances of something bad happening are very low (apart from a few notorious cities).
If moving abroad terrifies you because you’re worried about personal safety, few countries in the world are as worry-free as European nations. You may read about this topic in my article on the safest cities in Europe.
2. Everything Is Close
The layout of most European cities is not only pedestrian-friendly but also convenient for everyday living. Unlike in many other countries, you don’t have to drive to a supermarket on the other side of the city because that’s where all the supermarkets are.
Europe doesn’t have endless suburbs or residential areas without a single store in a few kilometers. Within a 10-minute walk, you can always find a convenience store, a supermarket, a pharmacy, a bakery, etc.
When you live in Europe, it’s completely normal to you than you can get anywhere you want on foot. When Europeans travel to cities that aren’t walkable they’re often shocked. I’m always amazed that it’s impossible to walk to the nearest supermarket because there are no sidewalks and the only way to get there is via a 3-lane highway.
Because many European cities don’t suffer from such extensive urban sprawl as American cities, it’s also easy to leave urban areas relatively fast. Even in the largest cities, barring traffic jams, it rarely takes more than 30-45 minutes to be on the outskirts.
And once you get out, instead of never-ending suburbs, you see farms, forests, and small villages. This, for me, as a person who prefers spending time outside of the city, is one of the greatest things about living in Europe. I can’t imagine living in a place where I can’t easily leave the city and be somewhere in nature quickly.
3. High-Quality, Healthy Food Is Abundant
…and junk food isn’t as normalized as in countries like the United States.
Europeans love their food and they value quality over quantity.
I’m always surprised by aisles upon aisles of junk food when I travel outside of Europe. The United States leads the way here with what feels like 90% of the supermarket dedicated to snacks, colorful beverages, sweets, etc.
I’ve noticed this to a smaller extent also in Australia and New Zealand as well as smaller countries influenced by the US (like Barbados), smaller island nations (due to imported, mostly processed food) or Asian mega-cities like Kuala Lumpur.
Often outside of Europe I can’t find even a single product with a clean ingredient list that I can easily find in Europe. For example, I couldn’t find any unsweetened oil-free soy milk in Australia. Not a single brand offered a beverage made just of water, soy, and salt as is the case in Europe (and it’s also often organic, to boot).
European supermarkets, at least the smaller ones like Lidl, feel centered around the aisles with fresh veggies, fruits, and bread instead of centered around the junk food aisles.
Speaking of bread, I’ll sound like every stereotypical European you’ll ever meet but… nowhere in the world is bread as good as it is in Europe. There, I said it.
Now, coming back to the availability of produce…
Is Europe cheaper if you consider the prices of fresh produce? It definitely is. Because culturally there’s so much more focus on the quality of ingredients, fruits and vegetables are not only cheaper but also more abundant. They’re also often available organic and the price of organic produce isn’t that much higher.
4. Easy Travel to Other Countries
EU citizens can easily travel between all countries in the European Union (plus a few outside of it) with just a national identification document. There’s no visa process, no requirements how long you can stay (you can stay indefinitely), and no border checks if you’re traveling by land.
Of course, the same can be said about traveling between different states of the United States or Australia. But in the case of Europe, you’re crossing national borders (not state ones) and you don’t have to deal with any frustrating, time-consuming immigration procedures.
Europe offers an ease of travel that’s hard to beat. You can move between countries with a short, low-cost flight or you can take a train, a bus, or drive yourself. Because there are so many countries compacted on a small continent, you have easy access to other languages, new cultures, cuisines, bucket list activities and destinations, etc.
If you live in a smaller country, sometimes you have access to a few countries within a very short drive. For example, if you live in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, within a 1.5-3 hour drive you can go to Austria, Italy, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Germany. These countries all have very different cultures and they’re all possible for a day or a weekend trip.
For longer distances, it usually doesn’t take more than 4-5 hours to fly anywhere in Europe unless you’re flying from the easternmost part of Europe to the westernmost or the reverse.
5. Europe Supports a Healthy Lifestyle
The infrastructure, culture, and climate of Europe encourages a healthy lifestyle to a larger extent than in many other countries.
The portions in restaurants aren’t huge (speaking about you, America). The supermarkets, as previously mentioned, revolve around fresh produce. There’s focus on food quality instead of stuffing your face with the cheapest, least healthy option. Fast food restaurants, while exist, aren’t nearly as popular as local restaurants.
The infrastructure encourages a healthy lifestyle, too. You can walk or bike wherever you want. Each city has many parks and is often surrounded by green spaces (forests, lakes, rivers) in at least one or two directions. And because Europe is so safe, even single women can, for the most part, go jogging without worrying about their safety.
People tend to spend time actively. It’s normal to invite a friend for a bike ride, a walk in the forest or to enjoy a local park. Particularly during the warm months, you see many people taking strolls and being outside instead of holed up in their homes.
The climate helps with that. It’s rarely too hot to be outside as is the case with humid, tropical Asian mega-cities where almost everyone spends time in air conditioning 24/7.
Granted, Europe has winters, and for the large part, cold ones. This season of the year definitely makes people live less healthy lives. Some, like me, suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder because Europe is much less sunny than other continents.
You don’t want to be outside when it’s below freezing, when it’s already dark at 4 pm, or when you haven’t seen sun for two weeks already and want to hibernate. Many activities have to transfer indoors, are much less enjoyable (cycling, having picnic at the beach), or become impossible (swimming in a lake or sea).
Thankfully, Europeans living in colder countries can easily take a quick flight to southern Europe and enjoy a spring-like climate. Or those who don’t mind winters can take advantage of countless cultural events and indoor attractions. And the hardiest ones can still spend time outside.
6. The European Summer Is Glorious
While for me the climate in Europe is too cold outside of the summer, I can’t deny that European summers (outside of southern Europe where they can get sweltering) are absolutely glorious. This is the reason why even though I escape European winter and go to other continents, I come back in the summer.
You have very long days, with sunrise around 4-5 am and sunset past 9 pm. You have extremely comfortable temperatures, usually within the range of 23-30 °C (73-86 °F) during the day and 13-18 °C (55-64 °F) at night. You have plenty of sunshine. The humidity is much lower than in most places in the US where air conditioning is a must (not so much in Europe).
The summer atmosphere in Europe is one of a kind. People are way more relaxed than they are in the winter, particularly in countries with harsh winters. Because the summer is so short, people spend as much time as possible outside, enjoying dinners al fresco, picnicking in parks, taking walks in forests, enjoying the beaches, lounging by rivers and lakes, or hiking in the mountains.
7. Environmental Consciousness
Most Europeans tend to be environmentally-conscious. They care about clean streets, fresh air to breathe, and preserving (or restoring) natural areas. Possibly because Europe no longer has true wilderness areas (more on that in cons), people value more what they have left.
Corporations reduce their emissions and supermarkets forgo single-use packaging whenever possible. Individuals recycle, compost, and buy biodegradable products, etc. You can even see it on a municipal level, with many cities running tree-planting programs to make urban areas greener.
Eco-friendly practices are a normal part of living for most Europeans. When I travel to places that don’t recycle, it feels wrong to throw everything into the same trashcan. It feels even worse to stay in a rural house and throw away food scraps that would be perfect for composting.
Thankfully, more and more places around the world are adapting similar practices so hopefully soon this will be the norm worldwide and Europe’s eco-friendly practices won’t stand out so much.
Cons of Living in Europe
As incredible as certain aspects of living in Europe are, there are also some downsides. Here are the worst things about living in Europe for me.
1. No True Wilderness
While access to some kind of nature is easy, Europe doesn’t have any true wilderness left. Apart from some mountainous areas in the Balkans and some hard to get to harsh regions of northern Scandinavia, you won’t be able to disappear for a few days away from civilization.
In my home country of Poland, apart from some mountainous areas (that are frequented by thousands of people in the warm months), you’ll struggle to find a single place that’ll be farther than a few kilometers from the nearest road. This means that no matter how hard you’ll try, you’ll always be less than an hour away from civilization.
And even if you are in a natural area, it’s often a managed forest with just one or two main species of trees planted in a row for later logging. It hardly gives you the feel of being in nature that a true wilderness area gives.
Some may consider it an advantage but for me, it’s a big drawback. I envy Americans or Australians who have access to countless national parks, national forests, and other wilderness areas where you can go on multi-day hikes and not see or hear a single soul.
2. Not Much Interesting Wildlife
Europe has very few dangerous animals. Some may consider it a benefit. But Europe also doesn’t have much interesting wildlife. If you’re a nature lover, you’ll be disappointed.
True, if you go to a forest you may see a roe deer, a boar, a squirrel, or some birds. But it’s nothing compared to what you can experience on a daily basis in countries like Australia, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, or the United States.
Barring certain areas of Europe, you’re unlikely to experience any majestic interactions with wildlife. You won’t see herds of animals, interesting birds, or much life in European lakes, rivers, or seas (though you may in the Atlantic Ocean).
This is one of the key reasons why I travel. I love nature and find it fascinating to see animals in the wild. Unfortunately, this is very rare in Europe. And while I do make the most of it and still explore nature, I know my experiences will never match the diversity you can experience on other, less urbanized continents.
3. Higher Population Density
Europe is very densely populated. Some European countries (like the Netherlands, Belgium, or the United Kingdom) even more so, to the extent you feel like you can never be truly alone.
You can easily notice the density in European cities. They’re much more crowded than similarly-sized cities in the United States, Australia, or New Zealand. The cities are more compacted, which reduces urban sprawl and makes it easier to move around. But it also means that you’ll encounter more people everywhere.
You can also feel it away from the cities. While, like I mentioned, access to nature is easy in Europe, you’re never far away from the nearest village. Even in the mountains, you can almost always see some settlements on the horizon.
For people who sometimes want to be away from it all, it may be hard to find a quiet place away from others. Even if I go for a walk deep into the forest, it’s likely that within an hour I’ll meet a person or two.
4. Cold, Gray Weather in the Winter
Europe (apart from southern Europe) is much less sunny compared to the United States. Even the cloudiest areas of the US like the Pacific Northwest still get more sunshine hours than European nations like the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Norway, or Austria.
This is a huge drawback for me. But it doesn’t have to be such a big drawback for you if you’re drawn to Europe because of its cultural venues, art, history, etc. Winter is the prime season if you love art. It’s the best time to see a play, go to a museum, attend a festival, etc.
But if you love being outside, you need to know that European winters can be long, cold, and gloomy. Many people are completely exhausted long before the spring arrives. Most of my family and friends are dead tired by January already.
Like I described in my article on why I hate winter and cold weather, I absolutely can’t stand it and need to leave Europe in the cold months to preserve my sanity.
Over the years, I’ve met many Europeans from cold countries who were so tired of winters they had to move. The common destination for many Europeans is Spain as it’s home to some of the warmest cities in Europe. Among those for whom Spain is still too cold, they choose different continents, most notably Southeast Asia, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Australia. I also listed the hottest countries in Europe in this article.
5. Not That Much Climate and Landscape Diversity
Let me preface this by saying that Europe does offer diversity in terms of climate and landscape. But it doesn’t offer the same variety as the United States where you can find almost every imaginable climate and landscape possible, from ultra-high mountains and deserts to swamps, temperate forests and tropics.
I’ve always found it incredible how easy it is for Americans to see almost every landscape without ever leaving their country. While Europe is still a great place for traveling, it doesn’t go through that many climatic zones and varying landscapes.
Pros and Cons of Living in Europe: Gray Area
Since it’s my own, completely subjective list, I haven’t mentioned some things that you may see covered in more generic articles written by big publishers. But let me address them briefly to add my own perspective. These are “gray area” pros and cons as I’m not sure how to categorize them.
It’s great that I don’t need to pay huge health insurance premiums. But Europe isn’t the only place where you get “free” healthcare for paying taxes. And the truth is that I still need to pay for most things out of my pocket if I want an appointment this week and not in a few months.
So in the end, while it’s “free” for urgent and expensive hospital visits (and I do appreciate it), everyday care is much better in a private clinic. Many people opt for private care despite also paying for “free” healthcare.
Ultimately, paying out of your own pocket is more cost-effective and safer as the private sector has better technology and better doctors.
Again, that’s a great thing about Europe for many people. But I prefer the freedom of having my own car and driving. Apart from occasional trains, I never use public transportation so for me it’s not something I would list as a huge benefit of living in Europe.
Still, I do appreciate the excellent infrastructure in many cities. I like the new, comfortable trains you can take to travel around the country and I do use them from time to time. It’s just not a top benefit of living in Europe for me.
I don’t have a 9 to 5 job but I don’t see Europe as this magical place where people work very little and are on vacation all the time.
Sure, Europeans do work less than Americans or Asians but it doesn’t mean they live stress-free lives. As an American living abroad you may feel like you’re working much less in Europe than back in the US.
But out of my friends who do have regular jobs, many can’t find much balance in life and have experienced their first burnouts before the age of 30.
This may be more about my home country of Poland, though, and may not be reflected in some countries in Western Europe that have a different culture (like Spain or Italy).
There are some great aspects about being exposed to a new language each time you travel in Europe. As a person who speaks three languages, I like it.
But there are also practical issues that may make it a drawback.
For example, even though you can easily move between countries in the European Union, it’s not as easy as moving from one state to another in the United States. You have to take into account the fact that you may not speak the local language.
While most people speak at least some English in Europe, it’s hard to make new friends or get a job if you don’t speak the local language.
Same goes for expanding your business. In the US, you simply expand to another state. In Europe, expanding to another country that speaks another language is way harder.
History and Architecture
Europe is home to some of the world’s most well-known architectural and historic landmarks. There’s no doubt it’s one of the greatest charms about the Old Continent. If you love art and history, you’ll always have something new to see and explore.
But I personally don’t mind living abroad in a place without much history. I didn’t miss old European buildings when I traveled through Australia. I rarely travel exclusively to see historic buildings and they don’t interest me that much other than to have a quick visit if they’re nearby.
Many Europeans don’t even visit the old town or visit it rarely because it’s too crowded with tourists and getting there is too much of a chore.
Is Europe a Good Place to Live?
If you’re thinking of moving to Europe, here’s a quick bullet list that may help you decide whether you’ll enjoy living in Europe or not.
You’ll Enjoy Living in Europe If…
- You want to live in some of the safest countries in the world.
- You like walking or cycling and want to live in a pedestrian-friendly city.
- You like fresh, high-quality produce.
- You enjoy traveling to other countries.
- You want to live in a place that encourages a healthy lifestyle.
- You value cultural diversity coming from dozens of nations living close to each other.
- You prefer more moderate temperatures, particularly in the summer.
- You value environmentally-conscious practices.
You May Not Like Living in Europe If…
- You desire access to true wilderness remote areas which are lacking in Europe.
- You prefer lower population density areas where you can have more solitude.
- You dislike cold, cloudy winters with very short days.
- You prefer a wider range of climates and landscapes.
- You want more freedom, less red tape, and perhaps a little bit more “chaos” that is found in developing countries.
- You don’t like pedestrian-friendly cities where drivers have to drive more slowly or can’t even enter certain areas of the city in a car.
- You love easy access to fast food restaurants and thousands of options for junk food.
- You’re not open to the idea of learning new languages.
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