Retiring overseas? Ageing, stress and how to ensure a healthy life abroad

Whether it’s a planned retirement move to a home in the sun, or a sudden desire to embrace a beloved host country for the long term, many ponder spending their ‘golden years’ living internationally.

Retiring overseas? Ageing, stress and how to ensure a healthy life abroad
Moving abroad to enjoy your golden years can be incredibly fulfilling. Photo: Getty Images

Turning your dream of living overseas into reality can be intensely rewarding. However, it is important to understand the stresses that come with it, how stress exacerbates common health conditions, and how these can be mitigated to ensure a happy, fulfilling life. 

In partnership with Cigna, we discuss the significant factors to consider before making plans to live abroad permanently.

Let’s talk about ageing

As much as we’d like to ignore the fact, as we grow older we are at greater risk of health problems. So it’s worth understanding some common conditions.   

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is by far the biggest threat to both men and women as they age. It encompasses a range of common conditions, from strokes and heart attacks to vascular dementia. Taking the United Kingdom as an example, CVD is responsible for 160,000 deaths each year. More pressingly, it is the impact of CVD on survivors that has greater consequences – strokes are one of the leading causes of disability in the UK , with two-thirds of survivors leaving the hospital with some kind of disability.   

Be prepared for the unexpected, get an international health insurance quote

Cancer is another leading threat to both men and women as they age. With the UK again as an example, 147,407 Britons died from cancer in 2020, out of an average of 375,000 new cases each year. One-third of all cancer cases were diagnosed in those over the age of 75. Breast cancer was the most common cancer diagnosed in the UK between 2016 and 2018, followed by prostate, lung and bladder cancers. While the survivability rates for many cancers are rapidly increasing, treatment and surgery does mean loss of mobility and quality of life for many patients. 

Mobility issues are another serious health problem faced by many as they grow older. After the age of 40, the number of people in the UK who require assistance to move freely begins to rise exponentially. Whether caused by the degradation of joints or other, more complicated issues, a loss of mobility can limit how much of the world an individual can engage with. 

While these figures may seem frightening, it’s worth remembering that medical science has led to significant increases in global life expectancy. The chances of surviving a life-threatening illness today are greater than at any point in history. 

What matters, however, is quality of life. We want to enjoy our later years rather than be impaired by illness. Therefore, any factors we can identify to help us avoid developing illnesses are worth paying close attention to.

Recent research shows the surprising role stress plays in the development of age-related diseases. The good news? This is a factor we can largely control. 

Stress and the human body

We’re all familiar with the sensation of being stressed – a rush of adrenalin, a flush of irritability and a pounding head. 

When we’re stressed, the body’s sympathetic nervous system releases adrenaline, as well as hormones such as cortisol, to spur us into a ‘fight or flight’ response, and lead us out of a dangerous situation. While this was a useful tool for our ancient ancestors, in the modern world it can do more harm than good. 

Increasingly, science is uncovering the myriad effects that prolonged stress can have on the human body. We’ve known for a long time that stress can harm the heart and circulatory system – prolonged stress can lead to a more rapid heartbeat and higher blood pressure, doubling the chances of having a heart attack or stroke

Research has also uncovered the role of stress in the development of many kinds of cancer. It indicates that the brain’s release of hormones during periods of prolonged stress can activate cancer cells, leading to rapid tumour growth. 

Stress also impacts the body’s immune system. When a person experiences prolonged stress, hormones again can significantly reduce the number of lymphocytes, a kind of white blood cell, weakening the body’s defences against infection. 

So, for most of us, if we can reduce stress in our daily lives, we can lessen our chances of falling ill. There are a number of techniques, practices and habits that can help reduce the effect of stress. For people living overseas, however, this may be more of a challenge. 

Enjoy the life you’ve planned for yourself abroad and build a policy that meets your specific health needs

Stress and living abroad

The experience of living abroad carries with it its own stressors. 

Chief among these are communication difficulties. A lack of understanding of language and cultural mores can be a constant source of stress for internationals, in particular when it comes to resources that may be needed, such as healthcare.

A lack of access to friendly support networks can also be a major stressor. A significant proportion of expats are individuals, so asking for help or having interactions may be difficult. Making friends can take time, and bring its own anxieties. 

Finally, there may be financial pressures – particularly for retirees, who likely have finite savings. Sudden disruptions to their lifestyle could mean a costly return to their home country, or a reduction in circumstances – in itself a major stressor. 

Stretch yourself: Staying active and connected to others can help vastly reduce stress levels. Photo: Getty Images

The most important consideration for older internationals 

As increasing numbers of people work, live and retire abroad, international health insurers are beginning to understand the role of stress for policyholders – in both recovery and prevention. Most insurers now actively address the stress experienced by internationals abroad through their coverage. 

Chiefly, many providers, such as Cigna Global, offer unlimited phone and online consultations with doctors, with clinical advice and prescriptions in the customer’s language. They also grant access to specialists and choice of hospitals within their network, giving clients peace of mind when it comes to serious illness.

Insurance providers, like Cigna Global, are also developing benefits tailored toward specific conditions, such as cancer. In such cases, in addition to treatment, telephone counselling and other disease-related costs, such as those for a wig, may be included. This provides needed support during a crisis, minimising the damage done by stress and boosting the chances of a full recovery. 

Finally, depending on the level of coverage, some insurers have deployed the use of dedicated services to give their policyholders advice on all areas of life abroad – from rubbish collections to family emergencies. A friendly voice acting as a guide means that many stressors faced by internationals can be minimised, if not eliminated. 

If you are planning to make a permanent move abroad, especially if you’re getting older, it’s important to consider how a potential insurer addresses the challenges of living abroad, and how it actively helps tackle stress. 

It is worth asking exactly what is offered in an international health insurance policy, beyond the coverage it has for illness and accidents. Does it offer consultations with a doctor in your language? What about counselling services? How will the policy offset the stresses of life abroad daily?

Important for retirees to know, if joining Cigna Global before the end of August, the company will upgrade their policy to include the highly-valued Vision and Dental add-on module for one year*, that covers eye tests, eyewear and a wide range of preventative, routine and major dental treatments. 

Enjoying your later years abroad can be a hugely rewarding and fulfilling experience. To make the most of it, make sure you invest in a policy that not only covers you for when you’re ill but also helps you stay fit, healthy and free of stress in the first place. 

Find out how Cigna can ensure you make the most of your life abroad, and request a quote for international health insurance today

*  – The free Vision and Dental policy upgrade is only applicable to new policies sold in August 2022 which will be eligible for 1 year free Vision and Dental cover. Premiums under $2k will not be eligible. Not applicable in conjunction with any other offer or discount.


Member comments

  1. Can someone explain why on The Local.DE all the stories are about, and from, the UK? Id didn’t sign up for The Local.UK

    The Italian and Spanish The Local are also mostly about Brexit and The UK folks living there and complaining how its not the same.

    Please, just news. Local to the country and focused on the country would be great.

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EXPLAINED: What is the Austrian integration exam for non-EU nationals?

If you are a third-country citizen in Austria, you will likely have to show German skills and basic knowledge of the democratic system for a residence permit. Here's what you need to know about the Integration Exam.

EXPLAINED: What is the Austrian integration exam for non-EU nationals?

Austria is a great country to live in, but not a particularly easy one to immigrate to, especially if you are not an EU/EEA citizen. There are many hurdles to getting a residence permit and most immigrants will have to show some proof of German knowledge or even pass an “integration exam”, also in German.

The integration exam is part of Austria’s “integration agreement”, which the government says serves to “integrate third-country nationals who are legally settled in Austria”. It also aims “at the acquisition of advanced German language skills and knowledge of the democratic system”. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to apply for a residency permit in Austria

Immigrants need to take two “modules”, depending on their goals. For certain resident permits, Module 1, which serves to prove language skills at the A2 level and includes an integration exam, is mandatory.

The second module is only a prerequisite for granting a long-term residence permit and generally for granting citizenship.

Who needs to take the exam?

Third-country nationals are obliged to complete Module 1 when first granted one of the following residence permits:

  • “Red-White-Red Card”
  • “Red-White-Red Card plus”
  • “Settlement Permit”
  • “Settlement Permit – Gainful Employment Excepted”
  • “Settlement Permit – Special Cases of Dependent Gainful Occupation”
  • “Settlement Permit – Artists”
  • “Settlement Permit – Dependant”
  • “Family Member”

However, certain exceptions can be confusing. For example, a person who was granted the Red-White-Red card is considered to have successfully completed Module 1 due to the points-based system they have to go through. 

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

Other exceptions include:

  • holders of a “Stay Permit”
  • holders of an “EU Blue Card”
  • holders of a “Settlement Permit – Researcher”
  • holders of a “Residence Card or Long-term Residence Card” (family members of EEA and Swiss nationals entitled to move and reside freely).

Certain groups are also exempt from the Module 1, including underage third-country nationals, third-country nationals in bad health condition (a medical report by a public health officer has to be provided) and a third-country citizen who has declared in writing that they will not stay in Austria for more than 12 months in 24 months.

You can complete Module 1 by showing proof of German and passing the Integration exam, but also by other means. For example, people with a “school-leaving certificate with general eligibility for university admission”, an equivalent to the Austrian Matura, don’t need to fulfil Module 1. If your country doesn’t have a Matura, it’s usually enough to show proof of attendance at a university level.

Holders of a “residence permit – artists”, similar to holders of the Red-White-Red, are also considered to have completed the Modul.  

READ ALSO: Visas and residency permits: How to move to Austria and stay long-term

What does the test look like?

For the completion of Module 1, the German test is to prove A2 level, and you can find an online example HERE.

The civil exam, which should prove integration and knowledge of Austria’s democratic system and history, is perhaps the one that causes more concern to those applying. You can find a training test online HERE.

The test is in German, but we have also translated some example questions into English so you can test your knowledge and how well-integrated you are in Austria.

Would you pass the integration exam? (Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash)

Can you pass these example questions?

TASK 1: Read the following statements and questions. They are either true or false (or yes or no) and only one answer is correct at a time. So check the right answer for each (answers to both tasks are at the end of this article). 

  1. Austria is a republic.
  2. A wife has a different opinion than her husband. Is she allowed to speak her mind?
  3. In Austria, parents are supposed to come to school during parent-teacher conferences and talk to teachers about their children.
  4. Someone loses his job because he is homosexual. Is that allowed in Austria?
  5. A house rule may state, for example, that you are not allowed to be loud after 10 pm.
  6. In Austria, every woman is allowed to decide for herself how many children she wants to have.
  7. My brother does not have health insurance. Can he use my e-card when he goes to the doctor?
  8. Tyrol is an Austrian state capital.
  9. Is it possible to call emergency numbers for free in Austria?

READ ALSO: ‘Citizenship is problem child’: How Vienna’s immigration office MA35 is changing

TASK 2: Read the following statements. There are three possible answers to the questions (a, b and c), but only one is correct. Tick the one right answer 

1. When my computer is broken…
a) I take it to a special waste disposal place
b) I put it on the street
c) I throw it in the residual waste

2. What is a fundamental human right in Austria?
a) Women may vote from the age of 21
b) Women and men have the same rights
c) Men are allowed to have two wives

3. I am unemployed and the AMS has found me a job in a company. What do I have to do now? I have to…
a) Go there and introduce myself
b) Not go there because I get money from AMS
c) Only go there if I like the company

4. Austria has about…
a) 5.5 million inhabitants
b) 8.5 million inhabitants
c) 12.5 million inhabitants

5. Who is allowed to take the mother-child passport examination?
a) All family members
b) Children up to 16 years
c) Pregnant women

6. Parliament…
a) Decides on religious laws
b) Passes state laws
c) Elects the Federal President

7. A woman wants to become a car mechanic. She has to do an apprenticeship and…
a) Study at the university
b) Attend a technical college
c) Go to vocational school

8. In Austria, it is forbidden for adults to…
a) Drink alcohol
b) Hurt their partner
c) Change their religion

9. From when can one freely choose one’s religion in Austria?
a) From 12 years
b) From 14 years
c) From 18 years

The answers to task 1:

1.True; 2.Yes; 3.True; 4.No; 5.True; 6.True; 7.No; 8.False; 9.Yes

The answers to task 2:

1.a; 2.b; 3.a; 4.b; 5.c; 6.b; 7.c; 8.b; 9.b