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Expat checklist: five simple steps to help you settle in

When you choose to live abroad, you know it will take time to truly feel settled in your new country. But some people adjust faster than others.

Expat checklist: five simple steps to help you settle in
Photo: Getty Images

Certain steps you can take are straightforward. Others require a little more research (like learning about your new healthcare system) or a lot more patience (did someone mention mastering the language?).

The Local, in partnership with international insurance broker ASN, offers five essential tips to help you feel at home in your new life abroad.

International insurance solutions to suit your needs – find out more about ASN

1. Save and learn emergency services numbers 

You’ll never forget the emergency services phone number in your home country. But can you say the same about your adopted home? Finding the number, saving it to your phone and even memorising it will not take long. 

If you live in the European Union, 112 is the European emergency number – free to dial across the EU from fixed and mobile phones. You can use it to ring for an ambulance, the fire brigade or the police. In some EU countries, 112 functions alongside other national emergency numbers, while in others it is now the only number to dial.

2. Learn local laws and rules of the road 

The law is the law. Except, of course, it varies widely between countries and regions. Some bizarre old laws have never been repealed but seem unlikely to be enforced (we doubt, for instance, that frowning in Milan will actually land you in court). 

But as an international resident, some areas do require your attention to avoid getting caught out – driving rules, for example. Find out whether you need to exchange your driving licence for a local one and familiarise yourself with national speed limits and road signs.

And remember that legal drink drive limits vary internationally. In Europe, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania all have a zero tolerance approach – while Germany does not allow novice drivers to consume any alcohol before getting behind the wheel.

3. Understand your healthcare coverage and choices 

National healthcare systems are very different – in Europe and around the world. A good understanding of the local rules on social security and entitlement to healthcare could really boost your peace of mind. 

In the EU, it’s your economic status and place of residence that determine the country responsible for your health cover – not your nationality. Make sure you understand the rules that are relevant for your personal situation.

You may want to compare what publicly funded healthcare covers with your options through private health insurance. Going private can offer far more comprehensive coverage, with access to the best hospitals and doctors. 

With international health insurance, you can also add benefits such as dental, maternity, physiotherapy and alternative medicine. You also have flexibility to upgrade or downgrade your policy. 

ASN offers tailored worldwide international health insurance through a range of partners. It also offers travel insurance – including emergency medical cover – lasting for up to 11 months and life insurance.

ASN offers global health cover wherever you are – for when you need it most

Photo: Getty Images

4. Learn the language – but beware false friends! 

Learning the language of your host nation might feel like the biggest step to take before you can feel totally settled. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. And fluency will not come in a hurry either. 

Finding a way to learn at your own pace – without too much pressure – could help you build your confidence. If you’re able to enjoy the challenge of expressing yourself in your new language, some of the worries associated with living abroad may gradually start to reduce.

Be on your guard with 'false friends' – words that sound similar to an English word but mean something very different. For example, the Spanish word 'embarazada' does not mean embarrassed – it means pregnant!

While learning, it’s important to be able to take care of personal matters in a language you’re comfortable with. ASN, which is based in Switzerland, offers global support in English, French, German and Italian, as well as access to 24/7 multilingual helplines.

5. Update your address 

One final tip – and a simple one! It has never been easier to stay continuously in touch with friends and family wherever you are. But could this lead you to overlook the need to update your address?

Governments, banks, insurers and other institutions still require an up-to-date postal address. And knowing you’re not missing any important mail can help secure your peace of mind.  

Need bespoke international health, travel or life insurance solutions? Find out more about how ASN can help you feel at home – wherever you are.

For members

HEALTH

How long do you have to wait to see a doctor in France?

When it comes to making an appointment to see a doctor in France - even your GP - waiting times can be frustratingly long.

How long do you have to wait to see a doctor in France?

Back in 2000 a report by the World Health Organisation found France provided the “close to best overall healthcare” in the world.

But there is no doubt that it suffers from issues that mean patients don’t always have access to the healthcare they need.

How long patients have to wait is is one of those ‘how long is a piece of string’ questions, depending on a whole host of factors, notably where you live in France. As you’d expect, large urban centres attract more medics – but even these places are not immune from some serious healthcare issues.

According to data from international market research firm Ifop, more than 67% of French people have given up trying to make an appointment with their friendly neighbourhood doctor purely because of how long it takes to get an appointment.

The waiting time to consult a general practitioner varies between six to 11 days. It was only four days 10 years ago, according to the data.

The situation is not helped by the number of missed appointments. Le Parisien reported that an average of two appointments per doctor per day are missed. That may not sound much, but it amounts to 28million missed appointments annually – a workload the equivalent of 4,000 doctors.

At the same time, visits to hospitals’ emergency rooms are rising. Last year, 22million patients were treated by A&E doctors and nurses.

And, as more doctors retire, replacements are proving hard to come by. So-called “medical deserts” are a regular talking point in many rural areas of France – but residents in some areas of major cities are reportedly finding it increasingly difficult to register with a new médecin traitant when their long-standing family GP retires.

READ ALSO Medical deserts: Why one in three French towns do not have enough doctors

For an appointment with a specialist, expect to wait much longer. In France, you don’t need to see your GP before you make an appointment with a specialist medical professional, but most people do because it means the costs are more likely to be covered by state and “mutuelle” health insurance.

According to the Direction de la recherche, des études, de l’évaluation et des statistiques (DREES), getting an appointment to see an ophthalmologist involves an average wait of 190 days – more than six months. 

Dermatologist appointments can involve waits of between 60 and 126 days. As with other medical specialisms regional differences can be huge. In Paris, for example, the wait for an appointment with a dermatologist is at the lower end of the scale. But in rural areas where dermatologists are few and far between, it’s much longer.

Access to gynaecological care in France can also be difficult, taking between 44 and 93 days, or more than three months, to get a consultation, potentially critical time for anyone in need of cervical cancer screening, for example.

READ ALSO How France plans to transform its struggling health system

The wait for a cardiologist appointment in France, meanwhile, is in the average range of 50 to 104 days; a paediatrician’s consultation could involve waiting between 22 and 64 days; and a radiologists’ appointment ranges between 21 to 48 days.

Again these waiting times in big big urban centres like Paris or Lyon will likely be lower given the concentration of specialist doctors.

READ ALSO Have you fallen down the self-diagnosis rabbit hole?

The good news is that the ability to make doctors’ appointments online – especially specialist appointments – is starting to cut waiting times. But it’s clear France still has a long way to go. And those tens of millions of missed appointments are a major problem.

The Union Française pour une Médecine Libre group has called on politicians to allow doctors to penalise patients who do not turn up for their consultations, while online booking service Doctolib is working on a public awareness campaign to highlight the problem. 

Recently a meeting was organised with doctors’ unions and patients’ associations to discuss possible remedies, such as sending a warning email patients. But the portal is unwilling to deny those who repeatedly miss appointments access – “That would hinder universal access to care,” it warned.

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