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Protect yourself from the rising costs of living

You can’t have missed it – almost everything we use and consume is suddenly costing a lot more than it used to. It’s also having a marked impact on internationals abroad.

Protect yourself from the rising costs of living
Worried about rising costs? It's not just you -- prices are soaring across the globe. We find out why. Photo: Getty Images

Almost everyone has felt the effects of sudden cost of living increases, and for many it has had real consequences on where and how they live and work.

With soaring energy bills and increases in both food and petrol, consumer inflation in Europe hit 8.6 percent in June and could reach nine percent by the end of the summer. Those who moved abroad to work or study have felt the effects particularly keenly.

Together with the international health insurance provider, AXA – Global Healthcare, we investigate why costs have soared so quickly, and exactly how this impacts those who have made another country their home. 

What is driving the increase in living costs? 

While there’s no singular reason that living costs are increasing across the globe, there are several factors that we can point to as contributing to the problem. 

First and foremost, the coronavirus pandemic had a devastating effect on manufacturing industries and supply chains around the world. Worker illness, government shutdowns and disruptions to the supply of essential resources dealt a significant blow to global GDP in 2020, resulting in a fall of more than three percent. 

Restarting manufacturing and global logistics after months of effective shutdown subsequently led to a substantial rise in the costs of goods, as supply struggled to keep up with surging demand. Even with massive investment in logistics infrastructure, to date there are still lengthy delays supplying goods such as machine parts and electronics, leading to surging business costs.

Climate change has also played a role in the crisis. The increasing unpredictability of weather patterns over the past two years has meant that many regions around the world were impacted by severe weather events, including several in Europe. An increased incidence of heat waves and cold snaps have also placed a strain on gas reserves, leading to escalating power bills. 

Find out how taking out health insurance can help offset cost of living increases 

Of course, the war in Ukraine is having a serious impact on the cost of living, most noticeably in Europe. The World Bank has suggested it could be responsible for the biggest price shock in 50 years. As a major agricultural nation, wheat prices have begun to sharply increase following the invasion, as has the price of natural gas – Ukraine holds Europe’s second-largest reserve of the resource.

Another consequence of the Ukraine war is spiralling fuel prices. As Russia is one of the world’s top three oil exporters, its current frosty relationship with the West means that the cost of oil per barrel will remain elevated. Coupled with logistical delays in delivering gas and fuel, as an ongoing consequence of the pandemic, consumers and businesses are experiencing substantially increased transport costs. 

Boiling point: Climate change is one factor increasing the cost of living. Photo: Getty Images

How do rising costs impact internationals? 

The cost of living crisis is having a significant effect on the mental health of internationals. Research by AXA – Global Healthcare, in the form of its Mind Health Index 2022 supports this idea. 

Its research, conducted prior to the current crisis, indicated that 28 percent of non-native (international) participants rated their stress level between eight and 10 (out of 10), while 35 percent of non-natives said that financial stability was an issue causing stress. Thirty-nine percent of non-native participants believed that they faced an uncertain future when it comes to work and finances – a massive stressor, regardless of where you may be. 

The causes of this are also clearly identifiable. Primarily, many internationals simply do not have the assets to sustain repeated price shocks in terms of food or energy costs. A survey conducted by market research firm, Finaccord, found that approximately three-quarters of internationals worldwide are individual workers – ie. depending on a single income.

A further third are also students, meaning that they are paying tuition costs while trying to support themselves, whether with a local job or payments from home. Quite simply, many internationals cannot afford to pay much more for necessities, particularly at a time when wages have stagnated. 

Many internationals also lack the kind of support networks that would let them otherwise overcome economic turmoil. Earlier research by AXA revealed that 87 percent of participating internationals felt isolated and cut off from family and friends, who would otherwise be able to assist and share costs.

As a consequence, further research conducted in 2019 by AXA – Global Healthcare revealed that one in five participating internationals would return home should prices continue to rise – even though over 50 percent reported that they enjoyed a better salary and quality of life than they did at home.

The research also discovered that housing and tuition costs comprised the hardest financial pressures for internationals – with 51 percent identifying rent and housing costs, and 40 percent identifying education as more costly than expected. 

It could be stated, therefore, that prior to the global spike in the cost of living, internationals already found themselves in a tight spot, with the threat of having to return home looming over them. Now, with skyrocketing prices, excessive and prolonged stress is an even greater contributor to a range of illnesses. 

Internationals are more prone to sudden increases in costs of living. Discover how AXA’s health insurance options can ensure some certainty

Securing an international future

Moving abroad to start a new life is a costly endeavour and one that many work for years to achieve. It’s worth it, however: the experience of working or studying abroad is suggested to have a number of economic and lifestyle benefits.

That said, navigating the financial stresses of rising costs can be challenging. 

Many internationals opt to offset the challenges of rising costs with comprehensive health insurance coverage. AXA – Global Healthcare’s research shows that a quarter of internationals worry about the cost of healthcare in their new home, and would even travel abroad to seek treatment. 

Depending on where you are, unforeseen medical costs can run into the tens of thousands, meaning the difference between getting by, and having to return to your home country.

If you’re seeking a health insurance provider that offers comprehensive coverage and a range of useful benefits, you may want to consider AXA – Global Healthcare. Operating globally, the company has over 55 years of experience in covering those living and working abroad¹.

AXA – Global Healthcare policyholders get 24-7 care from personal advisors, connecting them with excellent private healthcare from a worldwide network of doctors, surgeons and specialists.

Outside of emergency care, AXA – Global Healthcare provides a number of additional benefits. Policyholders are able to access a number of annual check ups. Special care is available to those diagnosed with cancer, and mental health issues aren’t ignored – the AXA – Global Healthcare Mind Health Service¹ means that you have professionals for support wherever you may be. 

As an international, dealing with the rising costs of living can be difficult. However, you can ensure that should something happen to you, you can avoid unexpected financial burdens.

Furthermore, with AXA – Global Healthcare’s range of additional services, you can make sure health problems are identified before they become a problem, allowing you to focus on living, working and enjoying life abroad. 

Find out more about AXA’s Virtual Doctor service, mental health support and other services offered so you can enjoy life abroad with the knowledge that you’re fully covered

¹AXA has been providing International Private Medical Insurance for over 55 years

²The Mind Health Service is provided by Teladoc Health,

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.

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ENERGY

How electricity prices are rising across Germany

As the year draws to an end, price comparison portals have observed huge spikes in electricity costs across Germany - though the scale of the price hikes vary across different regions.

How electricity prices are rising across Germany

According to analysis carried out by comparison portal Check24, there were at least 580 cases of price increases in the basic electricity supply at the beginning of the year, with around 7.3 million households affected.

Electricity costs increased by an average of 60 percent, the analysis found, though in some cases were much higher. In the case of the Cologne-based supplier Rheinenergie, a kilowatt hour of electricity has gone up to 55 cents – 130 percent higher than the previous price. 

Comparison portal Verifox, which conducted its own analysis, found that prices were rising by an average of 54 percent across the board. 

“The new year is beginning with a massive wave of price increases for electricity,” said Verifox energy expert Thorsten Storck.

Analysts also noted strong regional differences in the scale of the price increases, with Munich and Cologne topping the list for the most expensive electricity. 

In Munich, a kilowatt hour of energy will cost 61.9 cents from January, compared to 55 cents in Cologne.

Meanwhile, MVV Energie in Mannheim, Baden-Württemberg, will charge almost 45 cents per kWh for its basic supply from January onwards – instead of the previous 27 cents. The East German energy supplier EnviaM, based in Chemnitz, will charge 48.1 cents in the future – 20.1 cents more than before.

In Potsdam in Brandenburg, the region supplier is raising its electricity prices by around 21 percent to 46.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

READ ALSO: ‘It’s going to be a bleak winter’: How people in Germany are coping with the energy crisis

Why are the prices so high? 

In a statement explaining the imminent jump in prices, Rheinenergie pointed to the huge increase in their procurement costs and other overheads.

“Compared to the previous year, prices on the electricity exchanges have risen by more than 300 percent,” they explained. “At their peak they had increased more than tenfold. In addition, the grid fees are also rising.” 

The extreme spike on the markets is yet another consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has sent the price of natural gas soaring.

An electricity pylon near a motorway in Lower Saxony.

An electricity pylon near a motorway in Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Moritz Frankenberg

Though gas isn’t the only component involved in producing electricity – much cheaper renewables also account for a decent portion of Germany’s supply – it does have a significant impact on prices. That’s because of something known the “merit order,” in which the most expensive gas-fired plant used to produce electricity is decisive in setting the cost.  

READ ALSO: Germany’s Scholz dims lights on Christmas tree amid energy squeeze

What can customers do?

How to handle the latest wave of price increases may in part depend on who your current supplier is.

According to Udo Sieverding, an energy expert at the North Rhine-Westphalia consumer advice centre, people using a private supplier should consider whether it would make more sense to fall back on the so-called “basic supply.” 

“Customers outside the basic supply should even consider making use of the special right of termination in case of price increases and let themselves fall into the basic supply,” he said. 

The basic supply – or Grundversorgung – is generally provided to people who don’t set up their own electricity or energy contract with another supplier. Prices are set on a regional level and used to be considered expensive, but in recent months they have generally slipped below the rates offered by private companies. 

For people already using the basic supply, the situation is a bit trickier.

“The electricity price increases at the turn of the year are in part drastic,” said Sieverding. “Unfortunately, the new customer tariffs via the intermediary portals are even higher, which means that a change of supplier won’t lead to savings in most tariff areas.”

That means it could make sense to sit tight for now and accept the higher prices, but keep an eye on any deals that could be offered in the coming months. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to save money on your German electricity bill

Will electricity stay this expensive in the future? 

Energy prices were rising dramatically even before Russia’s war on Ukraine – in part due to pandemic supply issues – and experts don’t think they’re set to drop anytime soon. 

According to analysis by Check24, a sample household with an annual consumption of 5000 kWh paid an average of 29.4 cents per kWh in November 2020. One year later, it was 31.6 cents. Currently, the average is 42.7 cents.

Apartments in Lower Saxony

A few apartments are lit up in a tower block in Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

Electricity market expert Mirko Schlossarczyk, who works for consultancy firm Enervis, said 40 cents per kilowatt-hour was likely to be the new normal in 2023 and 2024, and that prices could even rise to 50 cents per kilowatt-hour after that. 

Although wholesale electricity prices could fall again significantly in the future, as a result of a prospective drop in gas prices and the increased expansion of renewable energies – the noticeably larger share of the end customer price would be accounted for by levies, surcharges, fees, and taxes, Schlossarczyk said.

“We will not see a return to 32 cents (the pre-war price) in the coming years simply because of the comparatively high wholesale electricity price level and the already announced increases in grid fees,” he added. 

But isn’t there supposed to be a price cap coming?

That’s right: from March 2023, the government plans to introduce a cap on electricity prices that will apply retrospectively from January.

However, this still won’t take electricity bills back to pre-war levels. Instead, 80 percent of a household’s normal electricity consumption will be capped at a price of 40 cents per kilowatt hour, while any excess over this will be billed at ordinary market prices.

That is likely to mean that households that don’t reduce their consumption by at least 20 percent still face much higher bills, and even those that do will pay an average of eight cents more for a kilowatt hour of electricity than they were in 2021. 

READ ALSO: Germany plans to cap energy prices from start of 2023

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