SHARE
COPY LINK
PRESENTED BY AXA

The biggest culture shocks experienced by expats in Europe

We asked our readers what surprised them most about working and living in Europe. This is what they had to say.

The biggest culture shocks experienced by expats in Europe
Photo: elenathewise/Depositphotos

Every country has its own little quirks and discovering them is part of the fun of living abroad. That’s not to say it can’t be tough to adjust at times, as many of our readers have found out for themselves. The Local has partnered with AXA – Global Healthcare to present a handpicked selection of the biggest culture shocks experienced by expats in Europe.

No smiles in Sweden

One of the first things expats notice about the Swedes is that while they are (almost unnervingly) polite, they prefer minding their own business – so don’t expect a smile on the subway.

Photo: danni.ronneberg/Depositphotos

Swedes may be all about solidarity and equality, but they’ll never give away their favourite spot for picking mushrooms, let alone give up their bus or train seat. They’re also strict about queuing but are often seen crossing the street where there isn’t a designated pedestrian crossing (the horror!) and spitting on the ground which may seem shocking to some expats in Sweden. 

Old-school in Italy

The Mediterranean country boasts lush vineyards, serene coastal landscapes, and lively cities bursting with culture. However, its nightmarish bureaucracy and lack of digitalization sometimes outweigh the many positives for its international residents.

Slow digitalization is a common bugbear experienced by expats in several European countries. When it comes to digital healthcare at least, AXA is on-hand to support Europe’s international residents. The Virtual Doctor Service, offered with AXA’s global health plans including out-patient cover, allows expats to speak to a doctor in a range of languages, at short notice from anywhere in the world.

Find out more about AXA’s online doctor service

No lunch errands in France

Photo: monkeybusiness/Depositphotos

The French are famously hot-blooded so you’d think they’d see the merits of air conditioning. Think again. Even in the hottest months, they manage to get by without air con — much to the dismay of the country’s international residents. 

Your French colleagues won’t be impressed if they catch you rushing your lunch or eating it at your desk. The French make time for each other and are well-known for their long lunch breaks and lively dinner parties. But for those who are used to taking a quick lunch – or even working through their lunch breaks – lunches that last for hours can be an adjustment.

Internationals used to running errands over lunch will have to reschedule: banks, post offices, most shops, and even the gendarmerie (a branch of the French armed forces responsible for internal security) close down for at least a couple of hours at lunchtime.

Speeding in Germany

Photo: ifeelstock/Depositphotos

Germany is another country where digitalization has been slow on the uptake. Mobile data plans are simultaneously slow and expensive, which can be frustrating for expats used to a more seamless online experience. In contrast, there is no speed limit on the Autobahn which can come as a terrifying realization for internationals driving in Germany.

Stereotype or not, Germans are famous for their efficiency. That said, expats in Germany report finding simple bureaucratic tasks – such as setting up a bank account – to be far from efficient.

Timekeeping in Spain

It’s hard to think of Spain without envying its siestas – the obligatory down-time when the entire country shuts down for two hours in the middle of the day – and its fiestas – which needs no translation.

Photo: monkeybusiness/Depositphotos

The Spaniards certainly do seem to have a unique relationship with time, as expats soon come to realize. We’re not just talking about the late-night dinners. In Spain, there is little road rage (a by-product of no-one rushing to get anywhere), young children stay up later than many expats are accustomed to, an “afternoon appointment” can refer to an appointment time after 8pm, and you can comfortably say buenos dias (good morning) until after lunch. This takes some acclimatising for expats coming from countries with stricter rules about timekeeping.

Strapped for time? AXA’s Virtual Doctor Service can save you time and give you peace of mind while living abroad. Click here to find out more about AXA’s global healthcare plans or click here to get a quote.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and presented by AXA.

AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited. Registered in Ireland number 630468. Registered Office: Wolfe Tone House, Wolfe Tone Street, Dublin 1. AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.

AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited. Registered in England (No. 03039521). Registered Office: 20 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0BG, United Kingdom. AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority.

For members

HEALTH INSURANCE

REMINDER: Key tips on changing your Swiss health insurance as deadline nears

If you are unsatisfied with your health insurance plan or want to take out a cheaper one, you need to act fast — the November 30th deadline is fast approaching. Here are a few last-minute tips.

REMINDER: Key tips on changing your Swiss health insurance as deadline nears

What’s happening?

Switzerland’s world-class healthcare system comes with a price, but while most options are costly, choosing the right plan can save you hundreds of francs per month. 

This is all the more relevant now, as the cost of premiums for the compulsory (KVG / LaMal) coverage is set to increase by 6.6 percent on average in 2023 — and in some cantons by even more.

For instance, the highest, above-national-average premiums will hit Neuchâtel (+9.5 percent), Appenzell Innerrhoden (+9.3 percent), and Ticino (+9.2 percent).

Residents of Zurich will see their premiums increase by 7 percent.

READ MORE: Which Swiss cantons will see the biggest increase in health insurance premiums?

Rates are set by the cantons, but while changing your place of residence just to get a cheaper health insurance may not be a viable option, in many cases, you can get the same benefits as you currently get for a lower price just by changing your carriers — not cantons.

However, f you want to switch your provider for 2023, you must do this by November 30th.

This can be the case particularly for foreigners in Switzerland, who may have come to the country and been signed up for an insurance plan – for instance through recommendations from friends or workmates – without properly knowing the ins and outs of the healthcare system. 

The following guide provides info on how to change your healthcare provider, but keep in mind that if you want to cancel your current plan and switch to another one, you must notify your carrier, by registered post, by November 30th at the latest.

However, there is a certain process you must follow if you are changing carriers.

This is what you should do

If you do decide to part ways with your current provider, make sure you have another policy in its place before making the switch. Health insurance is compulsory in Switzerland for every resident, whether Swiss or foreign, so you can’t be without coverage even for a short period of time.

As stated above, the insurance carrier must receive your termination letter, sent by registered mail, no later than November 30th.

You must attach proof that you have taken out a new insurance policy.

Any outstanding monthly premiums must be paid before you can make the switch.

You can use these templates in German, French, or Italian to create the cancellation letter.

READ MORE: How to change your health insurance carrier in Switzerland 

How do you find a cheaper plan?

Hopefully, you have done so already, but if not, you must really hurry to get this done in the few days that you have left.

These are the less expensive alternatives:

Health maintenance organisation (HMO)

Under this model, policyholders are required to consult a particular HMO practice. Two disadvantages of this alternative is a limited choice of doctors and you also need a referral to see a specialist.

However, the benefit is a premium reduction of up to 25 percent compared to the conventional insurance.

Family doctor model

Your family doctor, a general practitioner, will be designated by your insurance company and will be in charge of all your medical treatment.

He or she will refer you to a specialist if necessary. 

If you opt for this option, you could save 20 percent on your insurance.

The Telmed alternative

If you choose this option, you have to call a telephone service and get a referral to a doctor or hospital.

This does not apply to medical emergencies and other exceptions, such as eye exams and annual gynecological check-ups.

Total savings could range between 15 and 20 percent. 

Increase your deductible

In Switzerland, the deductible (franchise) ranges from 300 to 2,500 francs.

The lower your deductible, the higher your premiums, and vice-versa.

If you are young, healthy, hardly ever get ill, and don’t take any expensive medications, then you can save substantially with the highest franchise.

Keep in mind, however, that if you choose the highest deductible and end up needing medical care, you will have to pay a greater proportion of the costs.

Pay the premiums in one lump sum

Most insurance carriers will give you a 2-percent reduction if you pay your premiums upfront rather than on monthly basis.

So if you want to keep your current plan, this may be a good cost-cutting option, provided you can pay the hefty amount in one lump sum.

Keep in mind that November 30th is the deadline not only for switching from one insurance carrier to another, but also for notifying your current company about the changes you want to make to your deductible or any other tweaks to your policy.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about health insurance in Switzerland

SHOW COMMENTS