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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 Some bizarre old laws have never been repealed but seem unlikely to be enforced (we doubt, for instance, that frowning in Milan will actually land you in court).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.

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HEALTH INSURANCE

Why getting rescued in the Swiss Alps could cost you thousands

With holidays just around the corner, many mountain enthusiasts will be heading for the Alpine peaks. An important thing to remember is that even in the summer, accidents can happen and mountain rescue in Switzerland can come at a high price.

Why getting rescued in the Swiss Alps could cost you thousands

It is true that statistically most mishaps in the mountains are related to winter sports — skiing, snowboarding and the like.

About 50,000 accidents a year are recorded in the Swiss Alps each winter, “the vast majority of which are linked to skiing and snowboarding, the two disciplines that also generate the highest costs”, according to Swiss National Accident Insurance Fund (SUVA).

While summer mountain activities seem to be less risky, accidents can — and do — happen nevertheless. Again according to SUVA, such popular activities as base jumping, rock climbing, or hiking on unsteady surfaces can result in accidents.

In fact, the mere fact of just hiking can prove dangerous: every year, some people are attacked by cows while strolling in the mountains. One such case involved two hikers who were knocked to the ground by a cow in Nidwalden — an incident which inflicted bruises and shock on the hikers (the cow was fine).

But you don’t have to be an extreme sports enthusiast or approach cattle to sustain injuries in the mountains — just ask David, a UK national living in Vaud.

In July 2021, David rode his mountain bike near Arosa, Graubünden, when he hit a rock and fell into a metre-deep crack, breaking his foot in the process. Passersby called for help.

“A helicopter came and three people got me out of the ditch, stabilised me ,and airlifted me to the nearest hospital”, he said

The final bill just for the rescue amounted to 3,200 francs.

While it may seem like a steep price for a service that “took one hour tops”, this sum is not exorbitant or even unreasonable.

What you should know

Mountain rescues are generally provided by air ambulance services such as Rega, Air Glaciers or Air Zermatt. All three work on a subscription model, meaning people can become donors, which could, in certain cases, lower the cost of a rescue.

As Rega, the largest of the three services, noted on its website, it can, “at its own discretion and within the bounds of its resources, waive or reduce the costs of any emergency services”.

This was not the case for David who had no subscription, but has taken out one since the accident.

READ MORE: Rega: What you need to know about Switzerland’s air rescue service

Mountain biking can sometimes be dangerous. Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

The exact cost of the rescue varies according to three criteria, Rega spokesperson Emilie Pralong told Le Temps newspaper in an interview.

These criteria are “the duration of the mission, the transport costs (pilot, paramedic, helicopter), and the services of the emergency doctor”.

At a rate of around 100 francs per minute of flight, the bill can quickly skyrocket but in the easily accessible mountain area (as was the case for David) ranges from 2,500 to 3,500 francs charged to the patient.

Does health insurance bear at least part of these costs?

Unlike its Alpine neighbour Austria, where public health insurance will pay for mountain air rescue only if the patient is in danger of death, things are a bit different in Switzerland, where health insurance is private.

In Switzerland, the mandatory accident insurance paid by the employer covers the cost of rescues, even if you are not physically injured, according to Moneyland.ch consumer website.

On the other hand, for children, pensioners or people without professional activity, “the compulsory health insurance will cover half of rescue costs up to the maximum amount of 5,000 francs per calendar year,” said Pascal Vuistiner, spokesperson for Groupe Mutuel’s Romandie.

There are also additional insurance policies that will cover unpaid costs, including those incurred abroad, especially as the basic Swiss plan only covers rescues in Switzerland.

For instance, many supplemental health plans include some coverage for search and rescue costs, medical transportation, and repatriation.

Coverage for search and rescue operations is typically limited, ranging between 10,000 and 100,000 francs. Many (but not all) Swiss supplemental health insurance offers include unlimited coverage for ambulance transportation and repatriation to Switzerland for medical care.

READ MORE : Should you buy supplemental health insurance in Switzerland?  

Coverage for search and rescue and/or emergency medical transportation is also part of many travel insurances.

However, “with very few exceptions, coverage for search and rescue operations is limited. Maximum benefits can be as low as just 5,000 francs, or as high as 60,000 francs”, according to Moneyland.

In David’s case, most of the costs of his airlift, surgery, hospital stay and post-op physical therapy were covered by the above-mentioned insurance policies. The only thing hurt in the long run is his pride, as this was the only fall the experienced mountain biker has suffered in his life.

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