The Netherlands is a European country where English is widely spoken. Image: Pexels

In English, please! European countries without language barriers

English speakers planning to move to Europe might want to opt for a country where they’re most likely to be understood in well, English!


The Netherlands is a European country where English is widely spoken. Image: Pexels

A number of South Africans are opting to live in Europe as South Africa continues to experience challenges, such as load shedding and alarmingly high levels of unemployment.


Many South Africans head for countries where English is the official language.

The United Kingdom (UK), United States (US), Canada, Australia and New Zealand have traditionally been popular destinations for South African migrants due to cultural connections and the possibility of continuing with “life as usual”…and of course, the ability to get by in English.

The Republic of Ireland, where English is one of the official languages, has also become a preferred destination for many.


Not being able to speak a language can create hardships for migrants. Although learning the language of your host country should be a priority, it takes a lot of time and effort. 

Numerous South Africans are opting to live and work in European countries where they do not share the same language or culture. This is a bold and perhaps adventurous move but many are doing it. There is already a sizable number of South African ex-pats living in Portugal and the Netherlands.

There are many challenges in moving to countries with different cultures and languages. Finding employment, signing contracts, visiting a doctor or even just grocery shopping in a different language can be quite challenging. 

ALSO READ: Brain drain: SA in the midst of a migration wave, say experts


English is widely spoken in some European nations, making life much simpler for migrants. So if you are planning to move to Europe but are worried about language barriers, it might be worth looking at the countries where English is widely spoken.

Global education company Education First (EF) produces the English Proficiency Index, which ranks the top countries in Europe for speaking English. EF collated the English test results of two million people worldwide, including from 35 European countries, to produce this list.

The top spot on the European Index is held by the Netherlands, with between 91 and 93% of Dutch people saying they are able to hold a conversation in English. In second place is Austria. Denmark made it to third position while Scandinavian neighbours Sweden and Finland also feature in the Top 10. 


  • Netherlands
  • Austria
  • Denmark
  • Norway
  • Belgium
  • Portugal
  • Sweden
  • Finland
  • Croatia
  • Germany
  • Italy came in the last place, so if you are moving there it might be worth starting language lessons in advance.


Several countries require foreigners to pass a language test in order to apply for residency so it may be best to avoid these if you struggle to learn languages. A few countries require no knowledge of the local language for residency permits but do require language proficiency when applying for citizenship.

Permanent residency in Switzerland requires applicants to be familiar with one of its languages (German, French or Italian) at A2 level for speaking and A1 for writing.

Spain and Portugal ask for a basic ability to speak their languages when applying for citizenship. Spain asks for an A2 DELE qualification (Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera) in Spanish when applying for citizenship. This is equivalent to high-level beginner Spanish. Portugal requires A2 level of CEFR for citizenship applications.