Meet this 27-year old CPA from North America who quit her job to Study, Work & Live Abroad (Europe)

CPA canada moved to Europe

  • Hi, I am Jane Wong, a Canadian CPA and a Ph.D. from Europe (still pursuing).
  • I grew up in North America with Asian immigrant parents. Since I had a natural passion for numbers, my parents literally forced me to become a CPA and I got my CPA by age 24.
  • In 2016, I left North America permanently to explore the world and work/live in different countries and I haven’t been back since (besides for vacations).
  • I no longer work as a CPA (but I still do my parents’ taxes every year!).
  • Here is my story.

Quit my High Paying Job and Moved to Europe

I was fortunate to grow up with a pretty frugal family. My parents had their own business and they managed to retire in their 40s.

(But that is not to say that the money was just handed to me).

I worked hard to get into university and to graduate with no debt. In fact, I received over $50,000 in scholarships for my Bachelor's degree.

I also did internships while studying so I graduated with about $10,000 in savings at age 21. I then worked and got my CPA by 24.

In my culture, girls are expected to live at home until they get married off. So I stayed at home (with my parents) and saved a lot of money on rent.

By age 25, I had about $100,000 saved up. I didn’t know what to do with that money so my parents made me invest it into a house.

I bought the house in 2015 and it’s appreciated quite a bit over the last few years (The real estate market has been really hot in the past few years).

Quitting my job the first time and traveling for a few months

I had immense pressure from my parents who wanted me to open my own accounting firm one day. It was totally something I DID NOT want to do.  I felt quite suffocated with all these demands made by my parents.

Finally, in 2014, I decided that enough was enough. I could no longer continue the same routine. So what next?

That year (2014) I quit my job and traveled the world for a few months with a friend who was also sick and tired of her job – I guess it’s a very trendy “millennial” thing to do. Anyhow, we traveled through North America, Europe, and Asia.

And after traveling for a few short months I ended up back home!

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How this 73-year old CA and his wife drove from Mumbai to London across 19 countries in 72 days.

Finding another job in America only to quit again

After returning home, my parents didn’t let me live it down.

They kept talking about the months of salary that I forewent in order to “play and have fun.” They kept telling me to find a job ASAP.

I knew finding a job after quitting the first time would be no issue at all with my level of experience and my CPA background. Thankfully, I was able to find a job within 2 months of returning home.

So to all of you, if you want to take a break for a few months or maybe a year Go Ahead. Taking an off for a year or so to travel and explore or even to learn will not hurt your career much.

After a while, I started to fall back into the same routine again. I didn’t find meaning in my job, I was bored. I came into the office at 9 and counted down until 5 when I could leave again.

I was good at crunching numbers but it didn’t make me happy. I am also very hardworking and love working but I really didn’t enjoy that line of work. I was depressed at my job and I dreamt every day of seeing the world and doing something different, something more impactful.

Deciding to study (Master's Degree) in a Foreign Country

Since I grew up with rich but very fugal parents I saved quite a lot and had enough money saved up so that I could quit and travel for years… but I didn’t want to do that.

I wanted to do something purposeful. So I decided to pursue higher education but in a foreign country.

Living in a foreign country would allow me to still discover new places, thus, giving the “travel” aspect.

On top of that, I wouldn’t have to feel like I’m “wasting my time doing nothing” since I am still learning and improving my credentials. I also love studying.

Doing a master's in a foreign country just seemed like a win-win solution. 

Quitting my Job to Move Abroad Permanently (Europe)

Quitting my job in 2016 for the second time was scary because I was actually leaving my comfort zone. Until this point in my life, I had spent my entire life in North America. Now, I would be miles and miles away from home.

Also, I didn’t really know anyone in Europe, besides the people I met while traveling the first time I came here. I was basically going to be on my own for many things.

On top of that, my parents thought it was a waste of time for my Master's. They said that I was already overqualified and that I didn’t need the Master's. That was partly true if I wanted to be an accountant for the rest of my life, which I didn’t.

Also, my mom kept emphasizing all the years of lost wages I’d give up by going back to school.

Despite their efforts to talk me out, I did not listen to my parents.

If the Masters didn’t work out, I could always go back home and find a CPA job easily. I mean, I did that quite easily the first time. This should be no different.

I was set to leave and I had very few fears. I wrote a super in-depth article about my entire experience quitting my job, you can check it out here: Why I Quit my Job.

Also, I only received my student visa for Europe about a week before I was set to leave. Needless to say, I was stressing that this whole thing wouldn’t work out!! But I’m glad it did.

I packed 4 suitcases with me, and a snowboard. I am a huge snowboard junkie so I absolutely needed to bring it with me. I was able to bring 4 suitcases because my parents and brother came with me to Europe to help me move in.

My mom thought this whole thing was a scam and wanted to come and see for herself that this university existed. So my mom and brother came to Europe to settle me in.

Jane skiing on a snowy mountain

Living, Studying, and Working in Europe as an Expat

I moved to Lausanne in Europe because that is where my university is. I live in a very beautiful small town with all the amenities of a big city. I am also very close to nature which I love! I love that it is quieter than other “big cities” in Switzerland like Zurich or Geneva.

I thought that it would be pretty easy to adjust to life in Europe since it is quite similar to life in North America (minus some minor cultural differences) given that it was a westernized country.

However, soon after arriving, I realized that the way things work around here is completely different from back home. To give a few examples

  • The shops close very early: On weekdays, they close at 6. And on Sundays, everything is closed. I actually got here on a Sunday and all the grocery stores were closed. I had nothing to eat that day and just went to bed hungry! I definitely learned my lesson and I always make sure to be fully stocked on Saturday since shops will be closed on Sunday.
  • The locals here don’t really make small talk with strangers. I found this hard to adjust to because I’m used to the warmth and friendliness of people.
  • Also, since I am Asian, I tend to stick out a lot. And it makes me uncomfortable because people are always watching me.
  • Lastly, I really do miss the food from home, where you can get all sorts of ethnic cuisine imaginable.

Learning the local language helps

  • I took language classes to accelerate my transition to life abroad.
  • I recommend taking online classes from Preply.com.
  • Learn German if you’re targeting jobs in the Swiss-German part and learn French if you’re more focused on the Swiss-French region.
  • There’s also a Swiss Italian region but far fewer jobs are there.

Working in Europe on a study visa

If you want to move to Europe...I would recommend that you do as much RESEARCH as possible.

The visa requirements may vary depending on your country of origin. So make sure you figure out what your requirements are!

Finding a job (with a student visa) was quite easy, given my credentials. And the companies didn’t have to go through the laborious process of sponsoring me since I had the right to work under a student visa during the summer holidays.

So I did not have a job before moving to Europe but after 6 months, I was allowed to start working part-time on my student visa.

So while doing my Master's Degree I worked as a Teaching Assistant and the extra income was good.

In the summer, I found a summer internship. It was a nice way to see another part of the country; the Swiss-German part of the country since I live in the Swiss-French part.

Finding my Current Job and Pursuing a Ph.D.

Two years went by so fast and I finished my Master's degree and I realized I wanted to stay in Europe longer.

I first tried to look for jobs in Europe but had very little luck. Not many companies wanted to sponsor a non-EU national.

I also realized that I preferred having the freedom and I did not want to be “stuck” in a corporate job again.

That’s when I decided to do a Ph.D. instead.

Doing a Ph.D. in Europe seemed like the perfect option for me because I love studying, I love learning, and I love to research. I love doing something creative.

So currently I am doing a Ph.D. and it is considered a full-time job (amazing, right!). I just finished my first year and it has been rewarding so far.

My Ph.D. should take me a few more years and after that, who knows what I will do next! I hope to be done in the next 2 years. Usually, it takes somewhere between 3-5 years to complete.

The pay from the Ph.D. covers all my costs of living. It is quite generous. The pay is more than most professors make in other countries.

In fact, if we consider the currency exchange, then I am earning more in dollars than I was earning back home as a CPA. I also pay fewer taxes here.

Future Plans

I’m an avid traveler and living abroad allows me to easily move around in Europe. I’ve seen most of Europe now, which would probably not have been possible if I had not moved abroad.  

Maybe, who knows, I might change my mind again. I’m quite fickle. But for now, I am extremely content with living in Europe.

I think once I finish my Ph.D. I will probably want to relocate somewhere else again. Perhaps to Asia because I’ve never lived there before and I’d think it would be a cool experience. I also love Asian food.

Questions I get asked most often.

"Why I Chose Europe To do my Masters Degree?"

I first visited Europe in 2014 when I quit my job the first time. I fell in love with the lifestyle. I loved the mountains. I loved how clean everything was. I told myself “I am going to move here one day.”

In fact, before considering my Master's Degree I had applied for jobs in Europe but it was tough because European companies do not like to sponsor non-EU nationals. And the government has strict quotas on this.

It was virtually impossible to get a European company to sponsor me without physically being there. However, Europe never left my mind.

I kept thinking about Europe and trying to manifest it into my life.

When you want something really badly, your mind will actively try to find more connections to it. For me, I started noticing everything related to Europe wherever I went. I started meeting more European people.

So then I talked to some friends who recommended that I do a Master's degree in Europe.

"Masters Tuition Fees in Europe?"

I looked into the tuition fees and they were next to nothing only $1,000 a year. Only the cost of living is a bit high.

But all in all, a Master's degree, including the cost of living, would cost less than doing an equivalent degree in North America.

On top of that, I received a scholarship that would cover the large majority of my living costs for two years.

How does one say no to that? I had won the jackpot!

So for several reasons as mentioned above I picked Europe to do my Master's Degree.

"Cost of Living in Europe as an Expat on a Study Visa."

Another high barrier to moving to Europe is probably the cost of living.

Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries to live in. So unless you already have a job lined up and the company is paying for your relocation expenses, you will need to have a fair amount of money saved up.

When I first moved abroad, I expected monthly spending of around $1,600.

However, I ended up having to pay a lot more for unexpected costs – such as costs to issue a living permit and transportation costs, furniture costs, etc. Those expenses easily added up to another additional $1,000.

I went to Europe with about $1,000 in cash. I had another ~$5,000 in my bank account for emergency funds.

It took me 6 months before I found a part-time job, so I was glad that I had this emergency money to cover my monthly living expenses

Currently, I spend about $2,000 a month but I live fairly frugally in a tiny apartment.

For a larger family, I would think they would spend at least $5,000-10,000 a month.

"Visa."

It is quite difficult to get a visa to work in Europe without already having a job lined up.

There’s a rule that you cannot hire a non-EU national if there is someone more qualified in the EU. That means that companies have to prove that they searched in all of the EU and that YOU are the most qualified. This is very difficult to do and most companies just don’t bother with it.

So you will have to be a specialist in your field. First, you have to get employment, that too with an employer who will agree to go through all the hassle.

In Conclusion...

Quitting my job and moving abroad to a totally new country is definitely a life-changing experience.

I would not be the same person if I had stayed in North America all my life. I am a lot more independent now. I feel like the sky is the limit and nothing can stop me. I am more fearless.

I gained a lot more confidence after living abroad. I realized that I am great at connecting with people. I make friends wherever I go. And I am talking about deep connections.

The journey has been fun, challenging, and very rewarding.

Now It's Your Turn...

Have you considered moving to any European country? Or are you already studying/ living as an ex-pat?

I would love to connect with you in the comments.

I offer coaching through my blog as well. I offer advice on how to better handle finances and how to figure out your dream life (which includes, for example, moving to another country).

My Instagram handle @mytwentycents. I also offer blogging advice. You can contact me through my blog or janet@mytwentycents.com if you’re interested!

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you'd like to share?
Contact chantelle@thefinancestory.com in the first instance.

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