The key to making the most of your assignment abroad

Learn more about what employers can do to best support expat workers and their families.

The key to making the most of your assignment abroad
Photo: michaeljung/Depositphotos

Moving to another country, whether on assignment or independently, can be incredibly rewarding.

Such a move offers the opportunity to experience a different culture, a new city, new people and an alternative working environment.

However, international assignments present a unique set of challenges for the health and well-being of an expatriate and their family, who must cope with the emotional stresses associated with moving overseas.

When 43-year-old Aurélie, a financial services employee, relocated from France to Singapore with her two young daughters, things went well at first.

“The girls were settling in their new school and I felt like I was adjusting to my new role,” she recalls.

However, just two months into her assignment Aurélie learned that her mother had a serious illness, and she began to doubt her decision to move to Singapore.

Get a quote on an Allianz Care international healthcare plan

“I felt guilty about not being there for my mother and father, and that my daughters were not able to spend time with them,” she explains.

“I became increasingly unhappy, feeling isolated from my family and vulnerable.”

Lack of support network

While an ill parent may have triggered Aurélie’s predicament, the difficulty of dealing with any number of challenging situations can be amplified for people working abroad, threatening the success of their overseas assignment.

One of the main stresses for many expatriates is the lack of a support network during a time in their lives when they often need more support than ever.

LEARN MORE: Employer healthcare and support plans from Allianz

Indeed, many of the most common difficulties experienced by expatriates stem from simply adapting to new social and cultural environments while at the same time trying to balance taking care of themselves, their families, and work responsibilities.

Some expatriates can be overwhelmed by the stress of living and working overseas, even without the added complication of a family illness or other difficult situation.

Altogether, these difficulties can leave expatriates and their families more susceptible to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, affecting the employee’s well-being and possibly the success of their assignment.

Left unchecked, these stresses can result in assignment failure and premature repatriation, leading to further upheaval that can affect employees’ professional confidence and self-esteem, and even result in dissatisfaction upon returning to work in their home country.

With so much at stake, employers must consider how they can support their globally mobile employees and manage the risks associated with international assignments from the outset.

Implementing a comprehensive healthcare strategy that protects both the physical and mental well-being of employees can be a first step in helping to mitigate these risks.

Employee Assistance Programmes

Global assistance and wellness programmes help expatriates take positive steps to improve their physical and mental well-being, reducing the impact of stress, poor health and lifestyle choices while living and working overseas.

When Aurélie was considering cutting off her overseas assignment and moving back to France, she was advised by HR to take advantage of the company’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), powered by Allianz Care.

Soon thereafter she was put in touch with a counsellor who helped her come to terms with her feelings and helped her cope more effectively, ultimately saving her and her company from a messy premature repatriation.

Click here to learn more about the Employee Assistance Programme

“It really helped having someone to talk to. I realised that I could still support my mother, but that moving to Singapore was the right decision for my daughters and me,” Aurélie explains.

An EAP helps companies support their employees in work and life abroad by offering a range of 24/7 multilingual support services.

It helps employees and their dependants address a wide range of challenges, from work-related stress and relationship concerns to major life events like births and deaths.

Employees have access to confidential professional counselling – available face-to-face or via phone, video, email and online chat.

In addition, the EAP also offers crisis incident support, legal and financial services, and access to the Allianz Care wellness website.

LEARN MORE: find out which Allianz Care healthcare plans suit you

And expat workers who aren’t part of an employer healthcare plan may want to consider the Expatriate Assistance Programme, powered by Allianz Care.

It offers the same services as those provided to employees and is available to anyone who purchases an individual or family international health insurance plan through Allianz Care.

Whether you’re being sent abroad by your company or venturing out on your own to work in a new country, give yourself the support you deserve by taking advantage of the Expat or Employee Assistance Programmes, powered by Allianz Care.

After all, why should the challenges of everyday life get in the way of enjoying the adventure of a lifetime?

Click here for a quote on an international health insurance plan from Allianz Care


Philippe Fassier, Sales Director – Partnership & Affinity Business at Allianz Partners

This article was produced by The Local Client Studio and sponsored by Allianz Care.


For members


Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

The alpine country has a few peculiarities in its health system - starting with the fact that it is mandatory to be insured. Here's an overview.

Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

When it comes to Austria’s health system, a few things always surprise foreigners. For example, unlike some other countries, like the United States, Brazil, or India, residents in Austria are obliged to have public health insurance.

Enrolment is generally automatic and linked to employment. A vast majority of workers are insured by ÖGK through their employer. Still, many, such as self-employed people, will have their insurance with SVS or BVAEB, in the case of public servants.  

Insurance is also guaranteed to co-insured persons, such as spouses and dependents, pensioners, students, disabled people, and those receiving unemployment benefits.

“People are surprised about the amount of different health insurance providers, all of which are part of the public system”, says Miglena Hofer, senior legal counsel at Austria For Beginners

The Local spoke to her and Severina Ditzov, also a senior legal counsel with the company focusing on easing the integration process of expats and their families, to understand a few of the things that can be most surprising about the health care system for those coming into Austria. 

Different insurers, different systems

Austrian health care is universal, and contributions are mandatory – with few exceptions. However, one thing that will surprise many people is that your insurance fund can differ depending on your occupation.

READ ALSO: What is Austria’s e-card? Everything you need to know

For example, most people in the country are insured by the Österreichische Gesundheitskasse (ÖGK), with about 7.4 million insured people in Austria (some 82 per cent of the population). 

However, civil or public servants, miners, and persons employed with the federal railways are insured by BVAEB. According to the company, more than 1.1 million people in Austria are insured with it. 

Additionally, the self-employed, freelancers and farmers will be insured by SVS

There is also the General Accident Insurance Fund (AUVA) for accident insurance and the pension fund Pension Insurance Fund (PVA), to which all residents contribute. 

“People are, of course, surprised to find out that each provider offers different coverage”, highlights Miglena. This means that not every doctor will work with all ÖGK, SVS, and BVAEB, for example. Therefore, it’s essential to check whether the doctors you are going to work with your insurer.

Even more, the insurers might cover different things or pay in different ways. “Some of the public insurances, like SVS and BVA, have self participation. The fund will cover 90 per cent of the treatment, and the rest will be paid by the patient”, Severina explains.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How freelancers in Austria can pay four times less in social insurance

This can be particularly surprising for people changing insurers, for example, those who went from being formally employed by a company with ÖGK to being a self-employed person insured with SVS.

On top of that, people can have private insurance

Austria works with a two-tier system, so besides the mandatory public insurance, residents can also have their own private policies. 

So, additionally, from the public contribution to the state funds, they can pay private companies to provide health care policies too. Doctors can also choose to work with public or only private patients – or both.

“Public doctors may also have private practices, and they are not obligated to have them in two different places”, says Severina.

“It is very common that the doctor works as a public doctor on Mondays and Wednesdays and private doctor on Tuesday and Friday, or private before noon and the public after 12pm, for example”. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Austria?

A receptionist would need to tell the patient beforehand if the examination will be private or not, and the information should also be available online, but sometimes they forget to inform, or the person doesn’t correctly check and gets thoroughly surprised when receiving a bill at the end of the consultation.

There is also a difference between Wahlarzt and a Privatarzt. “While both are private doctors, you only get partially reimbursed by the public insurance if you go to a Wahlarzt”, Miglena clarifies. 

A different style of medicine

The style of the consultations can also be shocking to foreigners. 

“Austrian doctors, especially those working with public insurance, are not very empathic or chatty”, Miglena says. “During your appointment, you hardly speak to the doctor as they jump from one room to another”, she adds.  

It is not rare for consultations to last just a few minutes, a drastic change for people from South America, for example, where doctors sometimes spend 30 to 60 minutes talking to patients. 

Another substantial difference is that Austrian medicine is very much focused on prevention and natural remedies, with many doctors prescribing teas and exercise to patients used to getting prescriptions for anxiety and sleeping pills in the United States, for example. 

Pollyanna, a Brazilian who has been living in Vienna for four years, tells how she had difficulties finding a prescription to take the medicine she was used to and that helped her sleep: “The doctor didn’t even want me to take melatonin, let alone my usual prescription medicine”.

Her husband, who is an American, went through a similar situation and felt the difference between doctors in the United States and in Austria.

This style of medicine, one that focuses on prevention and self-recovery, makes it common for people with the flu to be sent home with the recommendation to rest and also creates one of the most unusual things for many expats in Austria: the fact that the public healthcare system will cover a weeks-long stay at a spa.

The expert advice

If any of these quirks, especially the quick consultations with long waiting times, bothers you, you might want to invest in additional private insurance, according to the expert lawyers.

“Sadly, one gets treated way better if they have private insurance”, Miglena says. “Suddenly, every doctor speaks English and is friendly to you, looks you in the eyes, and doesn’t mind answering your questions in detail”. 

“With public insurance, one has to wait for approximately four to eight weeks for examination with a specialist; private insurance can get you faster appointments,” Severina adds.

If you are looking for a doctor – private or not- Austria’s is a good tool with filters to help you find a doctor based on your insurer or which languages they speak.