Five signs you know you’re crushing it living abroad

Packing up and moving overseas can be one of the most nerve-wracking and challenging experiences to go through. But it can also be one of the most enriching and rewarding. Here's how to know you are totally nailing life in a new country.

Five signs you know you’re crushing it living abroad
Moving abroad is one of life's great adventures. Here's how you know you're doing it well. Photo: Getty Images

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 wonder whether you even made the right decision in moving in the first place.

So, together with international insurance providers, AXA – Global Healthcare, here’s how to know you’re winning 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 certificates 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 Anmeldebescheinigung 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 Bürgeramt, 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. 

There’s a lot to figure out when you move abroad. As providers of international health insurance, discover AXA – Global Healthcare’s international insurance solutions and know you’ve ticked one important box of life overseas

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, lanes, 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! 

Knowing when the last train home leaves is an important lesson to learn as an international living abroad. Photo: Getty Images

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 about 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.

Spend less time worrying about your healthcare abroad, and more time enjoying the local festivals that make living overseas so special. Explore AXA’s range of plans today

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 a Hefeweizen or Aperol Spritz to share experiences of local life. 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 2021 Mind Health Index 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*. Included as standard in all AXA – Global Healthcare plans, expats can take the stress out of finding a local professional by scheduling 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 summing up your life as a local? 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. The Mind Health Service also ensures that you can talk to trained psychologists 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!

Find out how AXA Global Healthcare takes the stress out of keeping you healthy and happy living abroad, with a range of services designed specifically for your needs 

* – Mind Health Service provided by Teladoc
** – Online Doctor Service provided by Teladoc

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 (reg. no.3039521), registered in England with registered office at 20 Gracechurch Street, London EC3V 0BG. AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

AXA Global Healthcare (Hong Kong) Limited is registered in Hong Kong (No. 2293457).

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Opinion: What it feels like to be American in Germany during the coronavirus pandemic

The Local's editor Rachel Stern reflects on what it feels like to live in Germany as her home country goes through especially tough times - and why she holds out hope.

Opinion: What it feels like to be American in Germany during the coronavirus pandemic
German and American flags on the car from former US President Barack Obama when he visited Berlin in November 2016. Photo: DPA

The first time I was abroad when America went through a major change was in November 2008. 

Cycling past ancient catacombs in the countryside outside of Rome seemed like a juxtaposition with the future-oriented shift that society had just taken. 

Barack Obama had just became the 44th president of the United States, as I learned when I woke up early, rushing to the nearest Internet cafe to confirm the news. 

I had just turned 23, just finished university, and had a feeling that could probably be turned into a long German compound noun: pride at representing your country abroad when it makes historic progress back home, and optimism about contributing to it soon. 

My then-boyfriend and I, two American tourists, felt like minor celebrities as Italians we met congratulated us on our country’s positive turn. That evening I even posed for a photo on the steps of Trevi Fountain with an Italian daily newspaper headlining the US’s historic election. 

I was swept away with satisfaction that our victory was also the world’s.

Twelve years later, seven of them spent living in Berlin, I have gotten used to seeing German media outlets led by US news, albeit of a very different sort. Some days the top story is devoted to the latest nonsensical quip President Trump made, some days about a new record number of confirmed coronavirus cases, and others on how riots are breaking out after another act of police violence. 

I sometimes find myself thinking nostalgically about when my Heimat felt like an anchor, a secure and steadfast place (despite its flaws) that much of the world looked up to. For me, it was always my rock I could return to relatively easily, no matter how far away – and for how long – my studying or working or adventuring abroad took me.

In May, I cancelled my plane ticket to San Francisco, and reluctantly requested a refund rather than postponing it. To what date could I? 

My safe haven has shifted continents, while my Sehnsucht (longing) for the one I want to visit but can’t has only grown. 

That said, I am especially glad to live in Germany, where even in the worst turn of events hospitals have enough space, I do not have to worry about taking “too much” sick leave, and authorities act quickly to try and get new coronavirus outbreaks under control.

Yet my worries have grown about my family being in a country plagued especially hard by the pandemic, and under a leadership which is Chancellor Merkel's polar opposite: sporadic and letting politics win over scientific common sense. Trump never dared to don a face mask until a few weeks ago, when it was clear that not doing so could cost him votes.

As a German resident, I feel privileged to be able to travel within the European Union. Yet it makes me sad that other Americans are not allowed to travel here, most through no fault of their own.

As coronavirus infections in the US grow to over 4.7 million, with over 157,000 deaths, more and more people run the risk of getting sick in a system that has already been unhealthy for years.

As there are less than 100 days to the November 3rd elections, I find myself filled with a sensation of both anxiety and cautious optimism, with many questions tied to that day and the everyday.

Will things again change — and actually stay better this time? Will societal inequalities be more deeply recognized and tackled going forward? When will the US (and world) soon have a vaccine, maybe even one developed in Germany?

Here I am, again abroad, awaiting the answers of a far-away and chaotic and mismanaged country I have not been to in a long time, but is still the ever-hopeful and resilient roots of who I am.