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Becoming an expat: where to start

Making the decision to move abroad isn’t something to be taken lightly. There’s plenty of boxes to be ticked, forms to be filled out, and general planning to be done. But where do you actually start?

Becoming an expat: where to start

Unfortunately there’s a little more to it than just packing your bags and jumping on a plane. Here are some of the things you’ll need to factor in before you head for greener pastures abroad.

Paperwork

First up, visas. Assuming you have a job waiting for you on arrival, then be sure to speak to your employer as soon as humanly possible about visa support. Some businesses will take care of everything for you, including the costs; but others will leave it up to you. Find out what and how much you need to pay, then budget for it.

Depending on where you’re headed for, visas and work permits can be a complicated affair. The whole process could take months. There could be a lot of paperwork, and some countries require you to have a full medical examination (at a cost to you). This can be arranged through your local doctor.

It’s always worth making copies of your original documents too, as embassies have been known to be less than forthcoming when it comes to returning your documents.

Healthcare

Again, this really comes down to where you are going. Some countries provide free state healthcare, but not all. So look into it – before you need it.

Some companies provide private medical insurance as part of their employee benefit package options. If you are in any doubt, contact your employer, and find out the exact details of any cover they are providing. It is vitally important that you have comprehensive health insurance for you and your family.

International health insurance companies like Cigna offer a wide range of levels of expat medical insurance cover, in your new homeland and anywhere else you may be travelling. It’s better to be safe than sorry – find out more about Cigna International health insurance here.

But each place is different. Be sure to check the health advice recommendations (including potential vaccinations) for your new country of residence. A handy guide to some of the more popular destinations can be found here.

Travel

It goes without saying that air travel can be expensive, but it is of course a necessary expense if you are to become an expat.

That said, there are some ways to reduce the cost of air travel. Booking in advance generally results in discounts for long haul flights. Be sure to check out baggage allowances for the airlines you’re considering flying with, as some heavily restrict your weight limit, while others allow you to carry sports equipment for free.

Travel insurance is also a must. Don’t just think about the cost – make sure you’re happy with the whole package, including your travel insurance, and things like cancellation cover and baggage cover.

Shipping or Storage?

It’s unavoidable: The shock at just how much stuff you’ve accumulated. You’ve probably got a lot more possessions than you thought. So what do you take with you?

If you’re planning on renting at first in your new homeland, you could consider renting a fully furnished property and put your furniture into storage until you’re settled. You could then arrange to have your belongings shipped over at a more convenient time. Or sell it all and buy new furnishings abroad – it could end up being cheaper. But don’t get stuck, think about it in advance and decide on a course of action.

Budget

Given the logistical complexities of moving to another country, it can be easy to lose track of your finances, so adhering to a strict budget is crucial.

Try to plan ahead as much as possible, including the little things as much as the big expenses. Be sure to factor in things like hotels (if your new abode isn’t ready yet), local transport prices or the cost of a vehicle, local utility costs, legal documentation costs on arrival, and import tax on anything you may be taking with you.

Find out more about Cigna healthcare here

Yes, moving abroad takes planning and research, but by following the handy steps above, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a fully-fledged expat. But wait, there’s more…

Things you won’t have thought of…

Yes folks, there’s yet more to consider.

Becoming an expat isn’t just about ticking all the boxes laid out above. It also involves a mental, emotional, and behavioural shift in your lifestyle. Living in a new country means adjusting to a new culture and new attitudes.

Remember, culture is not a case of right and wrong. The conventional ‘have-a-nice day’ attitude popular in places like the USA, may not be replicated in your new home country, so be prepared for something a little different – and be open to it.

One of the biggest struggles for new expats is the adjustment to more alone time. Whether you’re just leaving a large group of friends behind, or moving to accompany a partner’s new employment venture, you may find yourself with more free-time, and more alone time.

There’s no quick fix for this. It’s part of the package and it takes some getting used to. Be sure to look up expat communities and support groups. Over time, through  daily life, you’ll settle in just fine.

Much like any other big life event, moving abroad can be downright stressful, so a sense of humour is of paramount importance. Be willing to laugh at the situation – and yourself when you get things wrong.

Becoming an expat is very much a marathon, not a sprint. The struggles that you face initially will diminish over time. It’ll be an exciting time, so take it all as it comes, don’t expect miracles overnight, and enjoy starting a fantastic new chapter in your life in a new country.

This article was sponsored by Cigna Global.

Read more about expat healthcare:

Becoming an expat: where to start
Education abroad: How to find an international school
Why expats choose international health insurance
Retiring abroad: what you should know

For members

HEALTH

Reader question: How can foreign doctors practise medicine in Austria?

If you are a doctor moving to Austria, there are a few legal requirements you need to follow before starting your medical practice. Here is what you should know.

Reader question: How can foreign doctors practise medicine in Austria?

Medical doctors are in high demand all over the world, especially as the coronavirus pandemic showed us how much we are short-staffed in the health sector.

In Austria, it’s no different, and the federal government has already announced several measures to attract people to its health sector in the future.

READ ALSO: More pay and longer holidays: How Austria hopes to attract 75,000 new nurses

Among the measures are changes to its Red-White-Red residence permits, those that, for example, allow workers, including in shortage occupations, to immigrate to Austria on a work visa.

Things will get easier for many IT employees, engineers, and tourist sector workers, but in some sectors, including the health one, there are a few more hurdles before starting working.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

When it comes to medical activities, even European citizens who already have a right to live and work in Austria might need to go through a process to get their education certified and valid to start a medical practice in the country.

The process will depend primarily on where your training has taken place and what type of medical activity you intend on doing. All details can be found on the Austrian Medical Association (Österreische Ärztekammer).

General requirements for medical practice

In order to take up a medical practice in Austria, every physician (doctor, specialist, or general practitioner) needs to register with the Ärztekammer and meet the general legal requirements.

These include having full legal capacity concerning professional practice, good character and reputation required for fulfilling professional duties, fitness to practice needed for completing professional responsibilities, sufficient knowledge of the German language and legal residence giving access to the labour market.

READ ALSO: Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

There are also specific requirements that need to be met depending on where your training took place.

Training took place within the EEA or in Switzerland

In this case, the process tends to be a bit easier, and you need to provide evidence of your basic medical training and any specific or specialist training you might have. For that, a diploma for medical study issued by an EEA member state of Switzerland will work.

You can check whether your documents are eligible for automatic recognition in Austria by emailing the Austrian Medical Association at [email protected].

Medical training outside the EEA (but recognised)

If you have had medical training outside of the EEA or Switzerland, but your training has been recognised by one of these states, the rules are also a bit different. You must show evidence of the medical activity and proof of its recognition.

Additionally, you must be authorised to independent medical practice in the country that recognised your education and has at least three years of actual and lawful professional experience in that country to have your training recognised through a non-automatic recognition of third country diplomas process.

You need to contact the International Affairs Team of the Austrian Medical Association ([email protected]) to get more information.

Medical training done in a third country

If you have completed your medical training in a third country and do not fulfil the requirements for a non-automatic recognition (above), you must first have your university degree recognised as equivalent by an Austrian university.

This process is known as Nostrifizierung.

In Austria, the Nostrifizierung procedure is done by the medical universities (Vienna, Graz or Innsbruck) with similar processes. In Vienna, you need to submit an application form, an education history for the comparison between the Curriculum taken and the one offered in Austria, and a possible “random test”.

Among the documents to be submitted in the application process is proof that you have a B2 level of German, a document from the Ärztekammer that you are required to go through the Nostrifizierung process and a confirmation that you paid the €150 fee. You can find a list of all documents you’ll need to submit here.

READ ALSO: Six things to know about visiting a doctor in Austria

The universities will then “investigate” if your education is equivalent to the one offered in Austria. The first step is a curriculum comparison (checking for both content and hours of classes), but they may also carry out a “random test” in some cases.

The test will be in German, but the participants selected will be allowed to use a language dictionary – the test results are only a part of the nostrification process and help the universities assess if the candidate’s training is equivalent to an Austrian one.

After you go through the recognition processes (Nostrifizierung), you can register with the Austrian Medical Chamber.

Registration with the Austrian Medical Association

Before starting medical practice in Austria, every person needs to register with the Austrian Medical Chamber. For this, they will need to send documents including proof of nationality, proof of lawful residence, a certificate of good standing from countries where they have practised medicine for more than six months within the last five years, a criminal record certificate, medical certificate (confirming physical and mental fitness to practice the medical profession) and more.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the Austrian healthcare system works

The application for registration has to be filed with the Austrian Medical Chamber.

The Medical Chamber of the respective province where you plan to exercise the medical profession is available to further assist with this. You can arrange a meeting with them to clarify general questions about the process.

Here you can find more information.

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