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Expat checklist: five simple steps to help you settle in

When you choose to live abroad, you know it will take time to truly feel settled in your new country. But some people adjust faster than others.

Expat checklist: five simple steps to help you settle in
Photo: Getty Images

Certain steps you can take are straightforward. Others require a little more research (like learning about your new healthcare system) or a lot more patience (did someone mention mastering the language?).

The Local, in partnership with international insurance broker ASN, offers five essential tips to help you feel at home in your new life abroad.

International insurance solutions to suit your needs – find out more about ASN

1. Save and learn emergency services numbers 

You’ll never forget the emergency services phone number in your home country. But can you say the same about your adopted home? Finding the number, saving it to your phone and even memorising it will not take long. 

If you live in the European Union, 112 is the European emergency number – free to dial across the EU from fixed and mobile phones. You can use it to ring for an ambulance, the fire brigade or the police. In some EU countries, 112 functions alongside other national emergency numbers, while in others it is now the only number to dial.

2. Learn local laws and rules of the road 

The law is the law. Except, of course, it varies widely between countries and regions. Some bizarre old laws have never been repealed but seem unlikely to be enforced (we doubt, for instance, that frowning in Milan will actually land you in court). 

But as an international resident, some areas do require your attention to avoid getting caught out – driving rules, for example. Find out whether you need to exchange your driving licence for a local one and familiarise yourself with national speed limits and road signs.

And remember that legal drink drive limits vary internationally. In Europe, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania all have a zero tolerance approach – while Germany does not allow novice drivers to consume any alcohol before getting behind the wheel.

3. Understand your healthcare coverage and choices 

National healthcare systems are very different – in Europe and around the world. A good understanding of the local rules on social security and entitlement to healthcare could really boost your peace of mind. 

In the EU, it’s your economic status and place of residence that determine the country responsible for your health cover – not your nationality. Make sure you understand the rules that are relevant for your personal situation.

You may want to compare what publicly funded healthcare covers with your options through private health insurance. Going private can offer far more comprehensive coverage, with access to the best hospitals and doctors. 

With international health insurance, you can also add benefits such as dental, maternity, physiotherapy and alternative medicine. You also have flexibility to upgrade or downgrade your policy. 

ASN offers tailored worldwide international health insurance through a range of partners. It also offers travel insurance – including emergency medical cover – lasting for up to 11 months and life insurance.

ASN offers global health cover wherever you are – for when you need it most

Photo: Getty Images

4. Learn the language – but beware false friends! 

Learning the language of your host nation might feel like the biggest step to take before you can feel totally settled. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. And fluency will not come in a hurry either. 

Finding a way to learn at your own pace – without too much pressure – could help you build your confidence. If you’re able to enjoy the challenge of expressing yourself in your new language, some of the worries associated with living abroad may gradually start to reduce.

Be on your guard with 'false friends' – words that sound similar to an English word but mean something very different. For example, the Spanish word 'embarazada' does not mean embarrassed – it means pregnant!

While learning, it’s important to be able to take care of personal matters in a language you’re comfortable with. ASN, which is based in Switzerland, offers global support in English, French, German and Italian, as well as access to 24/7 multilingual helplines.

5. Update your address 

One final tip – and a simple one! It has never been easier to stay continuously in touch with friends and family wherever you are. But could this lead you to overlook the need to update your address?

Governments, banks, insurers and other institutions still require an up-to-date postal address. And knowing you’re not missing any important mail can help secure your peace of mind.  

Need bespoke international health, travel or life insurance solutions? Find out more about how ASN can help you feel at home – wherever you are.

For members

HEALTH

Reader question: Are there limits on bringing medicines into Italy?

Over-the-counter painkillers can be surprisingly expensive in Italy, and some brands of medicine that visitors use back home aren't available in Italian pharmacies. So what are the rules on bringing medicines in from outside the country?

Reader question: Are there limits on bringing medicines into Italy?

Question: I’m moving to Italy for a few months and planning on bringing some painkillers with me, as I’ve heard they cost a lot more over there. Does Italy have rules on how much I can bring?

Basic pharmaceuticals can cost considerably more in Italy than in countries like the US or the UK.

For example, a box of 20 paracetamol will set you back around five euros on average in Italy, while a pack of 16 pills of the same painkiller in the UK costs 49 pence, or 57 centesimi. In Australia, a box of 20 paracetamol caplets will set you back around $3.49 (€2.30) and in the US there are much bigger savings to be made on larger-size packs, which are not available in Italy.

It’s not just headache pills: cold and flu tablets, lozenges and antihistamines are all often significantly more expensive in Italy than in many other countries.

With these kind of price differences, it’s understandable that visitors would want to save money by bringing their own medication over from abroad.

So what are the rules on bringing pharmaceuticals into Italy – and why are they so pricey in the first place?

Why are pharmaceuticals so expensive in Italy?

In essence, Italy has a powerful pharmacists lobby that raises strong objections at the slightest sign of market liberalisation.

Italy has strict rules in place governing the number of pharmacies that can operate in a given area based on the number of people living there, as well as around transfer of ownership, with many pharmacies simply being passed down to the next generation. While the system may not exactly be a monopoly, in the past it’s certainly seemed not far off one.

The passage of the Bersani law in 2007 relaxed the rules slightly, allowing basic over-the-counter drugs like painkillers to be sold outside of pharmacies for the first time; and a 2012 decree increased the number of drugs that could be sold in those venues without a prescription.

But that doesn’t mean you can just waltz into a supermarket, swipe a couple of packets of ibuprofen off the shelves next to the washing up liquid and the toothpaste and walk out with them for less than the price of a cappuccino, like in the UK.

Parafarmacie or ‘parapharmacies’, drug stores that were introduced in the wake of the Bersani law, are allowed to sell a limited range of over-the-counter drugs along with health and beauty products – but still require a pharmacist to administer the transaction.

Basic pharmaceuticals are often considerably more expensive in Italy than in other countries.

Basic pharmaceuticals are often considerably more expensive in Italy than in other countries. Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP

The same rule applies in supermarkets, where medicines must have their own dedicated counter that is manned at all times by at least one qualified pharmacist.

This means it’s not unheard of to end up spending 50 centesimi per pill for a basic headache drug like paracetamol, and sometimes even more. According to a 2016 survey, buying drugs at the supermarket as opposed to other venues offered savings of around 10 percent – not exactly life-changing.

READ ALSO: How to get a coronavirus test in Italy

The rules on bringing medicines into Italy from abroad

For controlled substances – that includes drugs like Adderall and Valium, which are considered narcotics in the EU – Italy’s rules are fairly strict.

You’ll need a prescription along with an official certificate stating the country and place of issue, the issuing authority, the prescribing physician and patient, and the dosage.

With these types of drugs, you’re also only allowed a 30 day supply – so if you’re in the country for longer than this, you’ll want to bring extra prescriptions from your doctor that will allow you to top up your medication in Italy for the length of your stay.

As for over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and non-narcotic prescription medicines, Italy doesn’t appear to have any clear published rules on importation for personal use. 

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Other EU countries such as Sweden and Finland allow travellers coming from outside the Schengen area to bring a three-month supply of these kind of pharmaceuticals, so it’s safe to assume that similar limits will apply in Italy.

The Local has sought confirmation from the Italian authorities as to the legal limit of over-the-counter medication that can be brought over from abroad.

If you do find yourself needing to buy basic painkillers and other drugs at an Italian pharmacy or parafarmacia, remember to ask for the generico (generic) version. 

You’ll usually be automatically handed a branded version as it increases the pharmacy’s mark up, so asking for the generic version could save you a good few euros.

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