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The biggest culture shocks experienced by expats in Europe

We asked our readers what surprised them most about working and living in Europe. This is what they had to say.

The biggest culture shocks experienced by expats in Europe
Photo: elenathewise/Depositphotos

Every country has its own little quirks and discovering them is part of the fun of living abroad. That’s not to say it can’t be tough to adjust at times, as many of our readers have found out for themselves. The Local has partnered with AXA – Global Healthcare to present a handpicked selection of the biggest culture shocks experienced by expats in Europe.

No smiles in Sweden

One of the first things expats notice about the Swedes is that while they are (almost unnervingly) polite, they prefer minding their own business – so don’t expect a smile on the subway.

Photo: danni.ronneberg/Depositphotos

Swedes may be all about solidarity and equality, but they’ll never give away their favourite spot for picking mushrooms, let alone give up their bus or train seat. They’re also strict about queuing but are often seen crossing the street where there isn’t a designated pedestrian crossing (the horror!) and spitting on the ground which may seem shocking to some expats in Sweden. 

Old-school in Italy

The Mediterranean country boasts lush vineyards, serene coastal landscapes, and lively cities bursting with culture. However, its nightmarish bureaucracy and lack of digitalization sometimes outweigh the many positives for its international residents.

Slow digitalization is a common bugbear experienced by expats in several European countries. When it comes to digital healthcare at least, AXA is on-hand to support Europe’s international residents. The Virtual Doctor Service, offered with AXA’s global health plans including out-patient cover, allows expats to speak to a doctor in a range of languages, at short notice from anywhere in the world.

Find out more about AXA’s online doctor service

No lunch errands in France

Photo: monkeybusiness/Depositphotos

The French are famously hot-blooded so you’d think they’d see the merits of air conditioning. Think again. Even in the hottest months, they manage to get by without air con — much to the dismay of the country’s international residents. 

Your French colleagues won’t be impressed if they catch you rushing your lunch or eating it at your desk. The French make time for each other and are well-known for their long lunch breaks and lively dinner parties. But for those who are used to taking a quick lunch – or even working through their lunch breaks – lunches that last for hours can be an adjustment.

Internationals used to running errands over lunch will have to reschedule: banks, post offices, most shops, and even the gendarmerie (a branch of the French armed forces responsible for internal security) close down for at least a couple of hours at lunchtime.

Speeding in Germany

Photo: ifeelstock/Depositphotos

Germany is another country where digitalization has been slow on the uptake. Mobile data plans are simultaneously slow and expensive, which can be frustrating for expats used to a more seamless online experience. In contrast, there is no speed limit on the Autobahn which can come as a terrifying realization for internationals driving in Germany.

Stereotype or not, Germans are famous for their efficiency. That said, expats in Germany report finding simple bureaucratic tasks – such as setting up a bank account – to be far from efficient.

Timekeeping in Spain

It’s hard to think of Spain without envying its siestas – the obligatory down-time when the entire country shuts down for two hours in the middle of the day – and its fiestas – which needs no translation.

Photo: monkeybusiness/Depositphotos

The Spaniards certainly do seem to have a unique relationship with time, as expats soon come to realize. We’re not just talking about the late-night dinners. In Spain, there is little road rage (a by-product of no-one rushing to get anywhere), young children stay up later than many expats are accustomed to, an “afternoon appointment” can refer to an appointment time after 8pm, and you can comfortably say buenos dias (good morning) until after lunch. This takes some acclimatising for expats coming from countries with stricter rules about timekeeping.

Strapped for time? AXA’s Virtual Doctor Service can save you time and give you peace of mind while living abroad. Click here to find out more about AXA’s global healthcare plans or click here to get a quote.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and presented by AXA.

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. Registered in England (No. 03039521). Registered Office: 20 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0BG, United Kingdom. AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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HEALTH

How Norway’s health insurance scheme works and the common problems foreigners face

Learning about Norway's National Health Insurance Scheme is essential. So here's a look at some common problems foreigners in Norway come up against and how to avoid them.

How Norway's health insurance scheme works and the common problems foreigners face
Here's how to avoid common problems with the National Health Insurance Scheme. Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Norway’s National Health Insurance Scheme

The word ‘free’ is used loosely when it comes to describing healthcare in the Scandinavian country. Norway’s healthcare system is financed through national and municipal taxes. So residents are supporting their ‘free’ services through tax. Truly free health insurance is only offered to those under 16 years of age who do not pay taxes to Norway. 

Access to Norway’s healthcare and social services is not determined by whether you are a Norwegian citizen, nor whether you are registered in the National Population Register or pay taxes in Norway. It is based on residence or employment. But before you settle in and assume you’re covered from day one, there are some provisions.

  • To be considered a resident of Norway, you must have plans to live in the country for at least twelve months.
  • Membership with Norway’s National Health Insurance Scheme is only available for those who are in the country legally.
  • If you are planning on staying in Norway for less than twelve months, are not working, but have strong ties to the country, then you may be entitled to voluntary membership of Norway’s National Health Insurance Scheme.

If you are legally living in Norway but plan on studying or working abroad for a period of time, look here to see your healthcare membership eligibility while outside the country. 

And the common problems foreigners need to overcome?

  • Signing up 

According to the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV), you will be automatically enrolled in the Norwegian National Health Insurance Scheme if you are legally working or living in Norway.

Processing times can range from a few days to a month, and you will usually receive confirmation through the post when you have been added to the system.

Healthcare is a large part of the Norwegian National Health Insurance Scheme, as are social services such as welfare. If you need economic support, you can apply for assistance if you are legally living in the country. How much you will receive depends on your situation and application processing times vary between each individual evaluation and municipality. 

READ MORE: Seven things foreigners in Norway should know about the healthcare system 

There are many rules and guidelines if you decide to apply for economic assistance. To see what procedures, information, and advice you are entitled to, look here.

Self-employed workers are also entitled to the same benefits as traditional employees in Norway. Though it is up to them to register events like sick leave on their own. 

  • Somethings are not free

The healthcare system in Norway is of a high standard and covers most expenses. Because it is so comprehensive, many new to the country assume that all health matters are covered by national health insurance. It is important to remember that vision and dental insurance are not a part of the public health care plan. 

Dental treatment is free for those between one and 18 years of age. If you are 19 or 20 years old, you must pay 25 percent of the total bill. If you are 21 or older, then you are required to foot the bill. 

However, there are exemptions for special cases. You can find out more about the payment exceptions here.

Eye exams, contact lenses, and glasses are not covered by public health insurance. These are normally services offered by private companies such as Spec Savers and Brilleland.

In addition to vision and dental, cosmetic surgeries are also not covered by public health insurance. 

Here is a price list for common services in Norway.

What is a frikort?

frikort or an “exemption card” is a card given out once you have reached the maximum limit of fees the public is required to pay per calendar year. In 2021, the maximum amount in fees you are expected to pay is 2,460 kroner before being eligible for a frikort

  • Many things have gone digital 

Many newcomers to Norway are surprised to find how digitalised health services in the country are. After you have become a member of the national insurance scheme, you can go online to order prescriptions, find available appointments with your GP, have digital communication with their doctor, and look at summaries of past medical appointments. 

For an overview of all the services and information, you can use online, look here.

  • Finding your GP

While your acceptance into the National Health Insurance Scheme may be automatic, it is up to you to choose your GP. 

There are a few guidelines to be aware of if you, for some reason, want to change from your original choice. You are allowed to change your GP up to two times in one year. You can also choose to switch if you officially change your address or if your GP cuts their patient list. You can find a list of general practitioners at legelisten.no.

  • The waiting times

As previously stated, the standard of health care in Norway is high, and you can visit your GP or a specialist as often as you need them. But it is not uncommon to have to wait a few weeks before you find an available appointment. The same goes for non-critical surgeries. It is not unusual to wait up to six months for a non-life-threatening yet necessary surgery.

Useful Vocabulary

egenandel – deductible

fastlege – general practitioner 

optiker – optometrist 

tannlege – dentist 

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