Five ways to maintain the bond with friends and family ‘back home’

Moving abroad can be daunting, especially if you’re used to regularly seeing close friends and family. It might not be as easy to drop in for a cup of coffee but with a bit of effort you can maintain and even strengthen your relationships.

Five ways to maintain the bond with friends and family 'back home'
Photo credit: Pexels

If you’re planning a long distance move, you’re probably feeling a wave of different emotions. Starting a new life is scary and exciting but it also doesn’t need to mean leaving the old one behind.

Find out how AXA’s Global Health Plans makes your move abroad much easier

Technology helps people to stay in touch despite the distance and can even act as a safety net following the move. For instance, when you take out a global health plan with AXA you can manage your international health insurance online and, with some of the plans, speak to a doctor by video. Anyone who has previously relocated will know how reassuring it can be to speak to a doctor in your own language, especially when you have children.

Perhaps best of all, technology allows you to easily keep in touch with friends and family, wherever you are in the world. So there’s no need to sit down and pen a five-page letter which takes three weeks to arrive!

Here are five ways to stay in touch with friends and family after the big move.

Video calling

There are plenty of apps which allow you to speak face to face (via video call, not teleportation). If you’re in different timezones, it can help to schedule a regular time to talk – ideally when the whole family is together and there are no tired or hungry children to contend with.

Click here to get support with your international health plan

Some of the most popular video calling apps include Skype, Facebook messenger and WhatsApp. If you’re connected to wifi the video call is totally free, otherwise you’ll be charged for the data you use. So there really is no excuse to not call your mum more often!

Send a letter

Expats no longer need to rely on snail mail to stay in touch with friends and family back home. That said, it’s still much more of an experience to send or receive letter. There’s something more personal about sitting down to read a letter someone has taken the time to write. If you have children, you could also ask them to draw pictures or write short stories to send with the letter – it’s a great way to get them to really think about the person they’re writing to.

…or a message

If you’re worried about things going missing in the post, send what you can over social media or email instead. You may already be speaking regularly by video call but so much happens throughout the day that you might want to share. Especially if you have young children! So get snap happy: take tonnes of photos and share them with friends and family on social media.

Everyday rituals

If you’ve moved abroad with your children, it’s up to you to make sure they feel connected to the people back home. Find ways to make grandparents part of your children’s everyday lives; set up a daily video call so they can read the bedtime story, tell your children stories about their family members or create a photo album that they help to organise. Distance doesn’t need to get in the way of closeness, you might just have to work a little harder.

Reconnect in person

Nothing beats a visit home but it can end up being quite tiring if you try to fit everyone in. Prioritise who you want to see and if you can, get them to come to you. Consider renting a holiday home somewhere central and inviting anyone who wants to see you to come there – it will save you driving up and down the country and tuckering the whole family out.

Find out more about AXA’s global health plans for wherever life takes you

AXA’s global health cover can help you stay in touch with friends and family, but they can protect you and your loved ones every step of the big move. Find out more about AXA’s international health insurance and tick one major relocation task off your list.

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.



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

The government passes on the costs for ambulances, but the compulsory health insurance might cover the payments - in some very specific cases.

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

Austria has a health system with compulsory health insurance for its citizens, similar to many of its neighbouring countries. Everyone is insured, either by their employer, themselves, or, in some cases, by the state.

However, the insurance models can get complicated and the “who pays for what” question can result in some costly responses. In the case of an emergency, when an ambulance is called, the professional rescue is made by the government ambulances and rescue service.

The costs are then paid for by the health insurance fund, with 75 per cent of Austrians covered by the Österreichische Gesundheitskasse (ÖGK).

Can the health insurance companies refuse? 

The health insurance companies refuse to cover the costs for four main reasons, according to the City of Vienna: when the person is not insured at the time of the rescue operation, when there is no “medical emergency”, in cases of alcohol or drug abuse, and in case the person is found dead when the emergency services arrive.

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

The exceptions are not without controversy, and patient lawyer Sigrid Pilz criticises the “lack of love in the procedure”, according to statements she has given in Austrian media.

There is also very little clarity on what qualifies as a “medical emergency”, and the health insurer says that it will cover costs when the insured person is “unable to talk and cannot use public transport due to their physical or mental condition, even with an accompanying person”.

“Only medical reasons count”, according to the ÖGK website.

Air rescue in Austria

Another significant exception to the insurance coverage concerns air rescue. The ÖGK says that it will cover the costs of domestic transport by aircraft if the patient is in danger of death, and the urgency calls for air transport. Additionally, the medical necessity must be proven by a doctor and recognised by the ÖGK.

The insurance company highlights that this does not include “accidents in the practice of sport and tourism on the mountain” – a not so rare occurrence in the Alpine country.

On its website, ÖGK reiterates that it “recommends taking appropriate precautions. Otherwise, an emergency can quickly become a big financial problem”.

The “appropriate precautions”, according to expert lawyers, would include hiring private insurance.

How much does it cost to call an ambulance?

The fees for emergency rescue are set by the municipal council in Austria. In Vienna, there is a lump payment of €709 for any use of the public rescue service – even if both assistance and transport have been deemed unnecessary.

There is also a €30 fee for each kilometre driven if the assistance is needed outside the city limits.

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

The fee is valid from the moment an ambulance leaves its station. In practical terms, this means that if somebody faints on the street and a third person calls the ambulance in concern, emergency service will come. Even if the patient wakes up well and does not require assistance, they will receive a €709 bill.

There are several cases of people who called an ambulance after foot injuries, or due to high fever, for example, and as they were not considered “severe enough”, received the payment request.

It is worth mentioning that there are also ways to waive or reduce the fee, including in cases of low income or after direct negotiation with the insurance company.

It is not difficult to find examples, especially among immigrant groups and Austrian media.

In one case, shared on social media, Irina B. was a student in Vienna when she got sick with a high fever and dry cough – before the coronavirus pandemic. She decided to call the emergency ambulance and received a quick checkup at home and the recommendation to “drink a lot of tea”.

“On the day after, I went to my doctor, and he gave me treatment recommendations. I almost forgot about this story, but four months later I received a letter asking me to pay around € 700”, she wrote.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s new rules around sick leave for employees?

She decided to go to the main insurance office with her doctor’s sick note. The ÖGK representative told her to call the general health line 1450 in cases such as hers in the future and waived the payment.

“He said it was my first penalty, and I also suppose the certificate from my doctor really helped”, Irina said.

What should you do to avoid the high ambulance costs?

The best way to avoid ambulance costs is to call the Austrian health line at 1450. The health workers are trained to give advice on the phone.

They can quickly assess whether you need an ambulance or not – they can also call for you immediately.

The health line can also give medical advice if there is no emergency and call a doctor to your house if necessary.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s ‘tick vaccine’ and should you take it?

Whenever travelling, even inside Austria, primarily if you practise winter sports, it is worth considering private insurance with air rescue coverage.

Costs for helicopter rescues could add up to thousands of euros. The compulsory insurers will not cover in most cases.