Settling into life in another country can be hard work. Without years of experience of a foreign language and its culture, it’s easy to sometimes misunderstand things, or feel a bit silly. It’s natural to sometimes wonder whether you even made the right decision in moving in the first place.
It’s important to know when you’re making headway in a new country. So, together with international insurance experts, AXA – Global Healthcare, here’s how to know you’re growing and developing in your life overseas.
You got yourself registered
No, seriously, a round of applause for you. The process of establishing your identity and residence in a new country can feel mind-bogglingly complex, especially if it’s in a new language. You often need to gather a broad range of paperwork and make sure it’s all filled out correctly. You may require any number of stamps or apostilles to prove the authenticity of your documents. Signatures are needed, and some forms probably need to be sent overseas.
It’s by no means a similar process across different countries. What you are able to do without registering can vary widely – in Germany, for example, you can’t open a bank account or sign up for health insurance without your anmeldbescheinigung and any foreigner living in Sweden will attest to the frustrations of life pre-personnummer. Some countries allow you to upload some registration documents online, others like France, will require multiple face-to-face appointments and binders full of paper documents to get registered.
It can be stressful stuff, but it proves you can adapt and problem solve. If you can brave the local Mairie or Bürgerbüro, you can face anything!
Getting around has become second nature
Another sign you’re really getting the hang of life abroad is knowing the ins, outs, and sneaky life hacks associated with getting around your new home town. Often when you arrive in a new country, you don’t have a car, so familiarity with public transport is essential. There are new apps to discover and download, public transport cards to upload, and funny-named stops to try to pronounce.
Some public transport networks are so vast and effective that they become iconic – think the Paris metro. Others can seem so incomprehensible and arbitrary that even a professor of quantum physics couldn’t understand them. What really matters is that you know how to get from A to B in as little time as possible, and preferably for the best price too. If you’re not careful, you can needlessly spend way too much on catching trains and buses when a cheaper fare was readily available.
Knowing your tariff zones, the difference between train networks (harder than you think), when the last bus leaves for home, or where you can pick up and drop off your nearest e-scooter or bike, is a true indicator of local knowledge, and a reason to be proud. Sure, there’s a lot of trial and error involved, but there’s also the ability to take in a lot of information being demonstrated – clever!
There may be no better way, however, to discover new surroundings than travelling around by public transport. Each stop has nearby cafes, restaurants, laneways, street art and quiet corners to explore. You could even get to test your language skills, as you decide to order some tasty ‘hyperlocal’ pastries. Don’t forget to take plenty of snaps of your new favourite places – time to make your Instagram friends a little jealous!
The local rhythms of life make sense to you
Once you’ve lived somewhere for a while, the rhythms and systems that dictate life become second-nature. Like where, when and how to sort your rubbish, recycling and food waste. It all may seem arbitrary at first, lacking rhyme and reason, but you get the idea as you watch the neighbours putting their bins out (or you read the passive-aggressive note aimed at you in the shared apartment building bin room).
Another example: Have you ever had to travel miles to a train station for the one supermarket that is open on a public holiday you knew nothing about? It doesn’t matter how many calendars you buy, or internet searches you do – if you’re in Italy, Spain or even some parts of Germany, you will be completely blindsided by some random festival that is only observed in one regional area. It’s the feast of Saint Who?
A sixth-sense considering public holidays is a sign you’re ‘going local’. Knowing when an (often very obscure) public holiday is approaching, and planning your weekly shop to take that into consideration is something that only develops over time. Understanding and making allowances for ‘the way things are’ in your new home is a clear sign that you can adapt to new circumstances on the fly – you’re focused and flexible, observant and organised. Doesn’t that feel good?
A nice bonus of understanding local public holidays is that you know when the really great parties are, and can plan accordingly. Getting dressed up, throwing on a silly karneval costume, and letting your hair down is an ideal way to make new friends.
You have your own support network
What makes your life as an expat even richer and more fulfilling? The people you meet. While there are times when living abroad can be taxing on the mind and body – it’s simply the reality of such a big change – you know you’ve really settled in well when you’ve got that network of friends and other supporters built up around you.
Developing coping strategies to offset culture shock is one of the ways that internationals grow through their experience – and it can take many forms. Some of us might throw ourselves into meeting and making local friends, joining football clubs or a local gym, or taking a language course. Others prefer the company and advice of fellow internationals, meeting up over hefeweizen or aperol spritz to share experiences and gently poke fun at local customs. There are countless ‘expat’ social media groups that provide a lifeline to new arrivals, and often lead to strong friendships.
These are all strategies identified in AXA – Global Healthcare’s 2022 Mind Health Survey as proving beneficial in dealing with the realities of living abroad. More specifically, the development of support networks, and the importance of exercise, were found to be crucial in helping internationals thrive while living abroad.
One way that expats are making sure they are staying connected and building a healthy support network is by using services like AXA – Global Healthcare‘s Mind Health Service. Taking the stress out of finding a local professional who speaks their language on their own, they can schedule telephone appointments at a time that suits them.
With these kinds of support structures in place, you can spend more time enjoying life abroad, and growing with the experience.
So, you decided to make local friends, and attended that expat salsa night? Found the perfect meme to share making fun of those stuffy Germans? Plus, you took advantage of counselling when you weren’t feeling so great? You’re doing well! Keep it up!
You’ve got your healthcare sorted
Like it or not, at some stage we will all fall ill to some degree. So knowing how to access healthcare is important.
Anyone abroad learns that different countries have different emergency service numbers (although across the EU, it’s all 112). Sooner or later, you may discover the nearest emergency department, and mentally file that information away. It’s only natural to get excited when you find a local doctor you can turn to for ongoing medical treatment or get prescriptions when needed. Having someone who both knows your medical history, and can speak your language is so important, and shows you’re nailing international living.
Even better, when required to take out health insurance, as some countries like Germany and Switzerland mandate, some of us turn to a provider like AXA – Global Healthcare. With services like the Online Doctor Service you can reach doctors who speak your language and issue prescriptions from anywhere with a phone signal. The Mind Health Service also ensures that you can talk to trained counsellors about any concerns you have, or access valuable mental healthcare. This way you spend less time worrying about what will happen if illness strikes, and can carry on with the business of enjoying your life abroad.
Registration, healthcare, knowing the quirks of your new home – the journey from new kid on the block to local legend isn’t always easy. Stick with it, however, and you’ll have the experience of a lifetime, and grow and develop in the process. Whether you’re six months or six years into a stay, remember – you’re still on your way, and you’re crushing it!