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Ida Luka-Lognoné is member of the board of Allianz Worldwide Partners and CEO International Health. Allianz Worldwide Partners looks after the health insurance needs of expats all over the world. Originally from Poland, Ida currently lives in France and divides her working life between Paris and Dublin. She understands not only the challenges but also the great opportunities, experiences and friendships an expat life can offer. Here are her top tips for making the transition to a new country that little bit easier.
From the basics to the barber shop
First things first, your essential documents – passport, driving licence, work visa, international health insurance card and whatever else you might need for your specific destination. Photograph or scan them, store them in the cloud and email them to yourself. Leave photocopies at home with a trusted relative or friend. With these simple steps you’ll always be able to access vital documents, even if they are lost or stolen.
On arrival in your new city or town, seek out the local hospital, doctor, dentist and even hairdresser or barber and if possible, identify providers who speak your language. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely recommend embracing the local language, but it’s not always easy to communicate through gestures alone and no one wants a bad hair cut when trying to impress new work colleagues.
Before leaving home, chat to colleagues and friends to see if they know people in your new country. A casual introduction can open many doors and make the transition to your new life so much easier and in many cases, more fun.
Get to know as many people as possible at work and across other business-related areas and don’t confine yourself to expat groups. If you enjoy a round of golf or a spot of tennis, sports clubs can be great for making new contacts.
Visit the same shops, cafés and restaurants regularly as you will get to know the local owners and staff. The little things like being greeted by name or having a chat with a local can have a huge bearing on how comfortable and relaxed you feel in your new environment.
Sometimes the most obvious things are the most overlooked and whilst you will probably keep your bank account at home open, setting up a local account in your new country is really useful. It will facilitate in setting up utility accounts and rental agreements for accommodation, cars or other items that your employer might not provide.
Travel insurance or international health insurance?
Travel insurance covers emergency treatment for short-stay trips overseas. It is not sufficient for expats on long-stay assignments whose day-to-day or emergency health needs will be very different. My advice is to check out your international health insurance options before you go. Many multi-nationals offer excellent international health insurance cover to their expat staff but if not, or if you are self-employed, there are plenty of policies that are suitable for individuals and families. It’s one of those things that you can organise and forget about but it’s there if you need it. It can prove invaluable and offers great peace of mind.
Have emergency numbers to hand at all times and know what to do in case of a crisis. All of the major international health insurers provide 24/7 support and some offer Corporate Assistance services on corporate policies that can be very helpful.
A tip I swear by is to have at least basic language skills (notwithstanding personal hairdressing requirements!). Greeting colleagues, bank tellers, taxi drivers and restaurant owners in their own language really shows that you are making an effort, and can go a long way in endearing them to you.
Knowing the lingo will also help you feel more at home and a part of the local culture, so brush up on commonly used phrases for business, health, transport and dining.
You might like to consider language tuition while working in your new country. Not only will it allow you to progress more quickly, but your tutor or classmates might even provide further networking opportunities.
Explore, live and enjoy
I recommend taking the time to research and identify the most desirable areas to live taking into account safety, transport, local amenities and proximity to work. Walk, drive or use Google Maps to take a look around the local area to get a real feel for the place.
Speak to people who know the locality, including the locals, to discover the best route to work, the best places to eat, local attractions or the local handy man!
Even the most seasoned traveller can find things difficult at times so the more you can find out in the early days, the more you can enjoy your time there.
Do remember that every country has its own cultural norms. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with local customs and laws and also festivals and national holidays. Ex-pat forums are a great resource with no shortage of opinions, insight and advice but remember, every experience is unique.
Finally, the best advice I can offer is to embrace and enjoy the opportunity to try out a new country and culture. Not everyone gets this opportunity so embrace your hopes and ambition and just go for it.
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