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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How will Sweden’s ban on unregistered pre-paid phone sims affect foreigners?

From this month, people in Sweden will no longer be able to activate a pre-paid mobile phone sim without registering their identities. How will this affect foreigners living in the country?

How will Sweden's ban on unregistered pre-paid phone sims affect foreigners?

What’s changing? 

From August 1st, people in Sweden will no longer be able to activate a pre-paid sim without proving their identities and registering the number with their name. Existing pre-paid sims will continue to work until February 23rd.  

Why is this change being brought in? 

Sweden’s police argue that banning unregistered pre-paid sim cards will make it easier to fight organised crime, as criminals will find it more difficult to use unregistered sims for so-called ‘burner’ phones that they use for a short period and then discard, making them harder for police to tap and trace. 

“Unregistered pre-paid sims for mobile telephones are often used by criminals to make the police’s work more difficult,” Sweden’s justice minister, Morgan Johansson, said when the law was proposed in February. “Now we are bringing an end to that and as a result giving police better tools to fight crime.” 

Shortly before the law came into force, Fredrik Joelsson, an officer with the Swedish police’s anti-fraud section, told state broadcaster SVT that the change would “make it easier for the police and for other crime-fighting agencies”.  

What will people need to provide to register a new pre-paid sim? 

People who have a personal number and access to Sweden’s BankID online identity service can register online. (Here are links to registration for Comviq, Halebop, and Hallon)

To register a pre-paid sim online, Halebop requires you to provide your personal number, the mobile number of the pre-paid sim, and the sim card number. Comviq has a simple service on its website, which means you can receive an sms code rather than fill in the sim card number. 

Can I register without BankID? 

Yes. If you don’t have a personal number or BankID, you may still be able register your pre-paid card in person, either at a mobile phone provider’s shop, or at a retailer such as Pressbyrån or 7-Eleven. 

According to Comviq, all you need is to take your phone and valid Swedish or foreign ID to a retailer selling Comviq cards, such as Pressbyrån, 7-Eleven, or even your local  independent corner shop. They will then be able to register you.  

To register a Halebop sim, you need to visit a Telia mobile phone shop, but, according to their website, they require that those applying fulfil one or more of the following criteria: 

  • Holding a social security number (for example a coordination number (samordningsnummer) or personal number (personnummer)
  • Holding a residence permit 
  • Holding a certificate of study abroad in Sweden 
  • Holding a certificate for work in Sweden
  • Owning a property in Sweden 

Can I register without a Swedish address, Swedish documentation, or a Swedish identity number of any kind? 

Yes, so long as you can prove your identity, it should be possible to use foreign documents. 

Halebop says it will also register people at Telia stores who are: 

  • Tourists with a valid passport
  • Refugees with a valid passport

Comviq says that all its retailers will require is a valid foreign ID. 

What happens if I already have a pre-paid sim and don’t bother to register it? 

According to Comviq’s website, people with older pre-paid sims need to register by February 1st, 2023 “in order to avoid the risk that their number is deleted”. This suggests that you might be able to continue to use your card after February 1st, but that it could be cancelled at any point after that.  

Will the new rules bar new arrivals in Sweden from getting a pre-paid sim? 

It doesn’t look like they will.

According to Sally Stenberg, head of legal affairs with the The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS), the new law itself is unclear about what sort of identity documents will be sufficient. In the preparatory work leading up to the law, however, it is quite clear, she says, that the government does not want to block anyone, including foreign tourists, from being able to get a pre-paid sim. 

“The government has been pretty explicit that this isn’t intended to shut anyone out from having a pre-paid sim card,” she said. “The law says that if you don’t have a personal number you can use another identity number, and in the preparatory documents, they say that can be a passport number or your date of birth.” 

There was even a suggestion in some preparatory work that if someone has no documents at all, foreign or Swedish, they may be able to get a pre-paid sim if they can get a relative or close friend can vouch for them and provider their own documents. 

Can people register sim cards for their children? 

Yes. Pre-paid sim cards used by children should be registered using the identity documents one of their parents or another adult responsible for looking after them. 

Is there a limit to how many sims a person can have?

No. Under the law, there is no limit to the number of pre-paid sims a person can register, but if a sim is used by someone who isn’t the person it is registered to or a member of their family on more than a few occasions, the mobile phone operator is supposed to shut it down.  According to Stenberg, the law gives no suggestion on how mobile phone operators should determine this. 

What happens to the information people provide when registering a sim? 

Unless you ask for your identity to be kept secret, you name will be coupled to the mobile number of the pre-paid sim in Sweden’s online telephone directories, and Your personal number, name, address, photos of your ID documents, and other information collected will be kept by the mobile phone operator (and passed over to them by retailers).

If police require information on the identity of the person behind a certain number, or the numbers used by certain individuals, the mobile phone operators can then pass that information on. 

“Tele2 is, as all other operators in Sweden, legally obliged, under certain circumstances, to disclose stored customer data to government agencies, normally the police authority or the security police authority,” Fredrik Hallstan, press officer for Comviq’s owner Tele2, told The Local. “The data stored in accordance with the new registration provisions will fall under this obligation as well.” 

How did mobile phone operators view the new law? 

They have been critical, with Tele2 in particular complaining that the law is “not proportional”, and “not sufficiently motivated”. 

“When comparing the foreseen upsides with the foreseen downsides of the proposal, Tele2 found – like the government has done in previous analyses of a registration obligation – that such an obligation would not be proportional,” Hallstan said.

What will happen over the next few months? 

Stenberg said that PTS aimed to develop “more detailed rules regarding the identification of users” within a few months, based on how they see the new law working in practice. 

“We have the possibility to monitor the operators and collect information on how they are applying the law, and if consumers have complaints, we will collect them as well and monitor the reactions of consumers,” she said.