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 Some bizarre old laws have never been repealed but seem unlikely to be enforced (we doubt, for instance, that frowning in Milan will actually land you in court).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

For members

HEALTH

EXPLAINED: What to do if you face a long wait for healthcare in Sweden

Sweden theoretically has a "healthcare guarantee" limiting your wait to see a GP to three days, and to see a consultant to three months. The reality is somewhat different. Here's what you can do if you face a long wait.

EXPLAINED: What to do if you face a long wait for healthcare in Sweden

What is Sweden’s ‘healthcare guarantee’? 

Sweden’s “National Guaranteed Access to Healthcare” or vårdgaranti, is a right to care, protected by law, that has applied in Sweden since 2005. You can see the latest version of the relevant laws here and here. Here is a summary of the guarantee on the website of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKR).

Under the system, all patients are guaranteed:

  • contact with a primary care centre by phone, in-person, or by video-link on the day they seek care 
  • an appointment with a doctor, nurse, physio, or psychotherapist within three days of seeking help 
  • an appointment with a specialist doctor or consultant within 90 days of seeking help 
  • treatment or operation within 90 days, if the specialist considers this necessary 

Does the guarantee mean I have a right to treatment? 

No. If the doctor at the primary care centre, after examining you and questioning you, decides that there is no reason to refer you to a specialist doctor, they do not need to do so. 

Similarly, if the specialist doctor, after examining you, decides that no treatment is necessary, then your case is considered completed.  

Can the waiting times to see a specialist or to get treatment be longer than 90 days? 

Absolutely. In fact, they very often are. 

According to the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKR), in February, 32 percent of patients had been waiting 90 days or more to see a specialist, and 43 percent of those who had seen a specialist had been waiting for treatment for more than 90 days.  

The situation in primary care was a little better, with 80 percent of those seeking care in contact with their primary care centre on the same day, and 83 percent having their case assessed by a doctor or nurse within three days. 

In addition, if you agree with your specialist doctor that you are willing to wait longer for an operation, then that wait doesn’t get counted in the statistics. 

So what can I do if I’ve been waiting longer than the guaranteed time? 

In reality, it’s actually less a guarantee than a target.

In primary care, there is no way for individual patients to complain that they have had to wait too long to see a doctor or nurse, or to cut their waiting times by citing the guarantee. 

“There’s no system for enforcing that guarantee,” says Emma Spak, the primary care doctor who doubles as section chief for SKR’s healthcare division. 

It would make no sense to set up a complaints line for those who have had to wait too long for phone contact with their primary care centre, she points out, when they could instead talk to patients seeking a primary care appointment in the first place. 

“It’s more of an incentive system for the regions,” she explains.

Every primary care unit and every region reports their waiting times to the national waiting time register, and then as part of the access agreement between SKR and the government, the regional health authorities receive a bonus if they meet their waiting times goal, or if they improve their waiting times. “That’s one way of sort of enforcing this guarantee,” she says. 

When it comes to specialist treatment, though, patients do have the right to demand to be examined or treated by an alternative specialist or hospital if they’ve had to wait longer than 90 days.

If your primary care centre issues you a referral to a specialist, and the specialist cannot then offer you an appointment within 90 days, the specialist, at the same time as offering you a later appointment, will often put you in contact with a unit at the regional health authority who will offer to find you an alternative specialist, either within the region or elsewhere in Sweden. 

The regional health authority will then have to reimburse any extra travel or hotel costs incurred by the patient.  

Similarly, if after examining you, a specialist cannot offer you treatment within 90 days, they will normally put you in contact with the same unit. 

Some regions have a phone line for people who have been waiting too long, or else you can contact your specialist or primary care centre and ask for information on seeking an alternative specialist. 

What happens if I don’t want to travel to see a specialist or get treatment? 

If your regional health authority offers you an alternative specialist, either within your region or in another region, so that you can get treated within the 90 day period, and you are unwilling to travel, then you lose your rights under the guarantee. . 

“If you’re in Gothenburg, and they say you have to go to Stockholm to get your treatment, and you say, ‘no, I want to go here, then then you’ve sort of forfeited your right, and you have to take what’s on offer,” Spak says. 

What happens if I agree with my specialist to wait longer? 

If your specialist says that they can treat you in four months, but also offers you treatment elsewhere within the guaranteed 90 days, and you choose to be treated by your specialist, then that counts as a patient choice, which will not then be counted in the statistics. 

“The specialist might say, ‘I don’t think you will get any worse for waiting two months extra, and if you wait five months, then I can make sure that you get your surgery done here, and we can make sure that you get all the aftercare and everything here as well,” Spak says. 

But these patient decisions are also counted in the statistics, and if a region sees a sharp rise in patients choosing to wait, SKR will tend to investigate. 

“If some region all of a sudden has a lot of patients choosing a longer waiting time, then we will call them and ask what’s going on here, because patients don’t tend to want to wait extra,” Spak says.  

Can I get financial compensation if I’ve been waiting too long? 

No. 

What other ways are there of speeding up the wait for treatment? 

Don’t underplay your symptoms

When drawing up their timetable for treatment and assessment, specialists will tend to give different patients different wait times depending on the urgency of their case.

For this reason, it’s important not to underplay your symptoms when visiting a primary care doctor, as they will tend to include a few lines on the urgency of your case when they write their referral. 

Stress your flexibility 

If you are unemployed, a student, retired, or have a very flexible job, it is worth telling your primary care doctor about this, because they may write in your referral that you are able to make appointments at very short notice. The specialist may then put you on their list of people to ring if one of their patients cancels. 

“Sometimes I write in my referrals that this patient could easily come at short notice, so please put the patient on the list for people you can call if there’s a time slot available,” Spak says. 

If you haven’t told your primary care doctor this, it’s not too late. You can ring the specialist yourself and tell their receptionist that you are very flexible, and ask to be put on the back-up list. This is particularly useful if you’re waiting for a scan, but you could also potentially work even if you’re waiting for heart surgery or a hip replacement. 

“If they’ve accepted you as a patient, and they’ve made sure that you fulfil the criteria for having that scan or whatever, then you can call them and say, ‘I have a really flexible job, I can come anytime if you have a gap,'” Spak says.

“A lot of people do that, because they can have [back-up] waiting lists. If you tell them ‘I work around the corner and I only need 15 minutes to be there’, then they might call you if someone doesn’t show up.” 

Ring up your specialist 

The queue system tends to be quite ad hoc, with no strict rules over who should be treated first, so it is often possible to reduce your wait by ringing up your specialist a few times a month, just to bring your case to their attention. Sometimes the receptionist will remember a slot that has just come free and bring forward your treatment while you are still on the telephone. 

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