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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

Applying for residency in Denmark: Why you might need health insurance during processing period

Extended processing times for residence permits due to a Covid-19 backlog have left many waiting in Denmark for months without access to the public health programme. Here's what to expect on accessing – and paying for – medical care without a personal registration (CPR) number.

Applying for residency in Denmark: Why you might need health insurance during processing period
Access to Denmark's public health system can be difficult for people who are awaiting procedure of residence applications Several of The Local's readers have reported extended waiting times. File photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

Readers of The Local Denmark report little assistance understanding their access to healthcare from SIRI, the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration that processes residence permit applications. SIRI press officers told The Local Denmark they weren’t certain about applicants’ eligibility for free medical care while awaiting their personal registration or CPR number. 

Foreign residents with questions regarding your personal circumstances can contact a patient advisor at local hospitals. These are listed on the borger.dk website

Contacted by The Local’s reporter, a patient representative at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen didn’t mince words explaining what people without a CPR can expect.  

“If you have applied for a residence permit when you already are in the country, then you are entitled to stay here, but that doesn’t mean you have any rights at all, to be frank,” the advisor said.

Emergency care 

While you are eligible to receive emergency care in Denmark, you will be required to pay for it. “They will not deny you the emergency care, but they will charge you,” the Rigshospitalet patient representative said. 

This is a policy change that was initiated in the last few years, they noted. Emergency care in Denmark was free of charge even without a CPR number until 2019.

Non-urgent care 

Access to routine medical care, referrals to specialists, and hospital admission is usually handled by your general practitioner, who is assigned to you by the Danish government when you receive your CPR number and yellow health insurance card. But for those awaiting residency permits, things are a little more complicated. 

“If you are a citizen from [a non-European country], then you are only entitled to emergency treatment and all emergency treatment is against payment,” a patient advisor at Rigshospitalet-Glostrup stated.

“Then if you have relatives [who are EU citizens] during the lack of insurance, you are also entitled to treatment which is not emergency – like planned operation or examination at hospitals, but still it’s against payment,” they added. 

The Local’s reporter contacted the patient advice lines with health insurance queries after being referred to them by SIRI’s press service.

“I have various health conditions that I want to get checked but can’t because it’s not an ’emergency,'” one reader, who waited months without receiving her residence permit, told The Local.

“The insurance situation in the US is abysmal, but if I was there, I could at least sign up for insurance and be able to use it right away,” she added. 

Patient advisors say the best bet is to reach out to several local general practitioners and ask if they’re willing to see patients who don’t have a CPR on a pay-for-service basis. (It may take several tries: one reporter at the Local Denmark found that two GPs hung up the phone when she spoke English, and one said they do not accept patients without a CPR.) 

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If you successfully recruit a willing GP, they’re able to refer you to specialists within the public health system, again on a pay-for-service basis, or get you admitted into a hospital. 

Your other option is to reach out directly to specialists at private hospitals that don’t require referrals. Care through private hospitals is likely to be more expensive. 

Do I need insurance? 

The short answer is that yes, if you don’t want to get stuck with a surprise bill if you get hit by a car or need to be hospitalised with Covid-19, you’ll need private insurance. 

But be careful – “Danish private health insurance” is something of a red herring. Many Danes do have access to private health insurance plans through their employer or pension group, but those are only a supplement to the national health programme (so that PFA health insurance on its own wouldn’t cover treatment for your hypothetical bike crash concussion at a public hospital.) 

When choosing an international plan – usually offered by the major health and travel insurance companies – be certain to read what’s included since it’s likely to differ from the standards in your home country. For example, many providers of international insurance won’t cover pre-existing conditions at all, or will only do so for a (substantial) additional fee. Others consider medications an extra. 

Also be vigilant for whether their network makes sense for where you live in Denmark, specifically. Some providers that say they have an extensive network only cover a handful of Denmark’s private hospitals. 

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