Five signs you know you’re crushing it living abroad

Packing up and moving overseas can be one of the most nerve-wracking and challenging experiences to go through. But it can also be one of the most enriching and rewarding. Here's how to know you are totally nailing life in a new country.

Five signs you know you’re crushing it living abroad
Moving abroad is one of life's great adventures. Here's how you know you're doing it well. Photo: Getty Images

Settling into life in another country can be hard work. Without years of experience of a foreign language and its culture, it’s easy to sometimes misunderstand things, or feel a bit silly. It’s natural to wonder whether you even made the right decision in moving in the first place.

So, together with international insurance providers, AXA – Global Healthcare, here’s how to know you’re winning in your life overseas.

You got yourself registered

No, seriously, a round of applause for you. The process of establishing your identity and residence in a new country can feel mind-bogglingly complex, especially if it’s in a new language. You often need to gather a broad range of paperwork and make sure it’s all filled out correctly. You may require any number of stamps or certificates to prove the authenticity of your documents. Signatures are needed, and some forms probably need to be sent overseas.

It’s by no means a similar process across different countries. What you are able to do without registering can vary widely – in Germany, for example, you can’t open a bank account or sign up for health insurance without your Anmeldebescheinigung and any foreigner living in Sweden will attest to the frustrations of life pre-personnummer. Some countries allow you to upload some registration documents online, others like France, will require multiple face-to-face appointments and binders full of paper documents to get registered. 

It can be stressful stuff, but it proves you can adapt and problem solve. If you can brave the local Mairie or Bürgeramt, you can face anything! 

Getting around has become second nature

Another sign you’re really getting the hang of life abroad is knowing the ins, outs, and sneaky life hacks associated with getting around your new home town. Often when you arrive in a new country, you don’t have a car, so familiarity with public transport is essential. There are new apps to discover and download, public transport cards to upload, and funny-named stops to try to pronounce.

Some public transport networks are so vast and effective that they become iconic – think the Paris metro. Others can seem so incomprehensible and arbitrary that even a professor of quantum physics couldn’t understand them. What really matters is that you know how to get from A to B in as little time as possible, and preferably for the best price too. If you’re not careful, you can needlessly spend way too much on catching trains and buses when a cheaper fare was readily available. 

There’s a lot to figure out when you move abroad. As providers of international health insurance, discover AXA – Global Healthcare’s international insurance solutions and know you’ve ticked one important box of life overseas

Knowing your tariff zones, the difference between train networks (harder than you think), when the last bus leaves for home, or where you can pick up and drop off your nearest e-scooter or bike,  is a true indicator of local knowledge, and a reason to be proud. Sure, there’s a lot of trial and error involved, but there’s also the ability to take in a lot of information being demonstrated – clever!

There may be no better way, however, to discover new surroundings than travelling around by public transport. Each stop has nearby cafes, restaurants, lanes, street art and quiet corners to explore. You could even get to test your language skills, as you decide to order some tasty ‘hyperlocal’ pastries. Don’t forget to take plenty of snaps of your new favourite places – time to make your Instagram friends a little jealous! 

Knowing when the last train home leaves is an important lesson to learn as an international living abroad. Photo: Getty Images

The local rhythms of life make sense to you

Once you’ve lived somewhere for a while, the rhythms and systems that dictate life become second-nature. Like where, when and how to sort your rubbish, recycling and food waste. It all may seem arbitrary at first, lacking rhyme and reason, but you get the idea as you watch the neighbours putting their bins out (or you read the passive-aggressive note aimed at you in the shared apartment building bin room). 

Another example: Have you ever had to travel miles to a train station for the one supermarket that is open on a public holiday you knew nothing about? It doesn’t matter how many calendars you buy, or internet searches you do – if you’re in Italy, Spain or even some parts of Germany, you will be completely blindsided by some random festival that is only observed in one regional area. It’s the feast of Saint Who

A sixth-sense about public holidays is a sign you’re ‘going local’. Knowing when an (often very obscure) public holiday is approaching, and planning your weekly shop to take that into consideration is something that only develops over time. Understanding and making allowances for ‘the way things are’ in your new home is a clear sign that you can adapt to new circumstances on the fly – you’re focused and flexible, observant and organised. Doesn’t that feel good?

A nice bonus of understanding local public holidays is that you know when the really great parties are, and can plan accordingly. Getting dressed up, throwing on a silly Karneval costume, and letting your hair down is an ideal way to make new friends.

Spend less time worrying about your healthcare abroad, and more time enjoying the local festivals that make living overseas so special. Explore AXA’s range of plans today

You have your own support network

What makes your life as an expat even richer and more fulfilling? The people you meet. While there are times when living abroad can be taxing on the mind and body – it’s simply the reality of such a big change – you know you’ve really settled in well when you’ve got that network of friends and other supporters built up around you. 

Developing coping strategies to offset culture shock is one of the ways that internationals grow through their experience – and it can take many forms. Some of us might throw ourselves into meeting and making local friends, joining football clubs or a local gym, or taking a language course. Others prefer the company and advice of fellow internationals, meeting up over a Hefeweizen or Aperol Spritz to share experiences of local life. There are countless ‘expat’ social media groups that provide a lifeline to new arrivals, and often lead to strong friendships. 

These are all strategies identified in AXA – Global Healthcare’s 2021 Mind Health Index as proving beneficial in dealing with the realities of living abroad. More specifically, the development of support networks, and the importance of exercise, were found to be crucial in helping internationals thrive while living abroad. 

One way that expats are making sure they are staying connected and building a healthy support network is by using services like AXA – Global Healthcare‘s Mind Health Service*. Included as standard in all AXA – Global Healthcare plans, expats can take the stress out of finding a local professional by scheduling telephone appointments at a time that suits them.

With these kinds of support structures in place, you can spend more time enjoying life abroad, and growing with the experience.

So, you decided to make local friends, and attended that expat salsa night? Found the perfect meme to share summing up your life as a local? Plus, you took advantage of counselling when you weren’t feeling so great? You’re doing well! Keep it up! 

You’ve got your healthcare sorted

Like it or not, at some stage we will all fall ill to some degree. So knowing how to access healthcare is important.

Anyone abroad learns that different countries have different emergency service numbers (although across the EU, it’s all 112).  Sooner or later, you may discover the nearest emergency department, and mentally file that information away. It’s only natural to get excited when you find a local doctor you can turn to for ongoing medical treatment or get prescriptions when needed. Having someone who both knows your medical history, and can speak your language is so important, and shows you’re nailing international living.

Even better, when required to take out health insurance, as some countries like Germany and Switzerland mandate, some of us turn to a provider like AXA – Global Healthcare. With services like the Online Doctor Service** you can reach doctors who speak your language and issue prescriptions. The Mind Health Service also ensures that you can talk to trained psychologists about any concerns you have, or access valuable mental healthcare. This way you spend less time worrying about what will happen if illness strikes, and can carry on with the business of enjoying your life abroad.

Registration, healthcare, knowing the quirks of your new home – the journey from new kid on the block to local legend isn’t always easy. Stick with it, however,  and you’ll have the experience of a lifetime, and grow and develop in the process. Whether you’re six months or six years into a stay, remember – you’re still on your way, and you’re crushing it!

Find out how AXA Global Healthcare takes the stress out of keeping you healthy and happy living abroad, with a range of services designed specifically for your needs 

* – Mind Health Service provided by Teladoc
** – Online Doctor Service provided by Teladoc

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 (reg. no.3039521), registered in England with registered office at 20 Gracechurch Street, London EC3V 0BG. AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

AXA Global Healthcare (Hong Kong) Limited is registered in Hong Kong (No. 2293457).

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‘A dream come true’: The Aussie expat in the finals of an Italian TV cooking competition

Wannabe chef Valter di Cecco, who moved from Sydney to Rome, tells The Local how he hopes to shake up Italy's food scene with his spicy, multicultural cuisine.

'A dream come true': The Aussie expat in the finals of an Italian TV cooking competition
Valter in the kitchen. Photo: Valter di Cecco

When Australian-born Valter applied to be a contestant on a new Italian TV cooking series, he thought he wouldn't even get past the first round.

But he's now in the final nine, whittled down from 3,000 entries from across Italy and beyond, on Rai 2's Il Ristorante degli Chef. On the show, aspiring chefs are judged by experts on their ability to run a kitchen, as well as on their cooking skills.

He says he got his chance to shine on Tuesday's episode when he was given rice to work with. “I was really excited,” he says. “A chicken biryani. I know how to cook it well.”

“I was hoping to bring out my multicultural side. This was my chance to show the judges how well I can use spices,” he says.

His other dishes included prawn dumplings, roasted pork cheeks, and “the star, my Vietnamese salad.”

“They were full of that spice and everything nice about food in Sydney. It’s diverse and full of flavour,” he says.

“Coming from a multicultural society like Australia I’ve experienced a lot of difference types of cuisine and Asian food is my all-time favourite.”

But 46-year-old Valter, who speaks Italian and was born to Italian parents, admits that his biggest strength lies in Italian food, which he learned to cook at a young age.

“I learnt how to make my first ragu at 10,” he says. “My parents both worked long hours. This meant that mum was time poor, So that dinner was ready on time she would get the ingredients ready and have them waiting for me when I got back from school. Then she’d call me and give me instructions on how to make things.”

“Even on my school holidays I would go through mum's recipe books and experiment,” he says. “I just loved cooking. It was a creative outlet and still is today.”

One of the highlights of the competition so far, he says, was when the judges appreciated his twist on the classic carbonara.

“I had to revisit the recipe so I made it with chorizo, cocoa and smoked paprika.”

Photo: Valter di Cecco

On this weeks' show, he was chosen as the first capo brigada or team leader, in charge of service for diners including local celebrities and food bloggers.

Valter, a graphic designer, says he's used to having his work criticised – but being judged is never easy.

“I was trying to stay cool, calm and collected but once the orders starting flowing in things started to get stressful,” he says. “Chef Berton [one of the judges] screaming in your face is challenging but I still remained composed. Deep down I was completely freaking out.”

“But being selected as the first team leader was such an achievement. Who would have thought?”

He will have been living in Italy for three years in December, after he came over for to celebrate New Year in 2015 and “just didn’t go back home.”

“I didn't decide to move to Italy. It just happened,” he explains. “I kept on prolonging my departure date. Then I found a job and decided to stay.”

Though coming to Italy always “felt like being home” he says getting used to life in Rome after living in modern, multicultural Sydney has been a challenge.

“I try to take the good with the bad. I know that my lifestyle here suits me much more than the one I had in Sydney,” he says, though he’s still very attached to Australia and does get the occasional urge to “pack up and leave”

“I miss the clean streets, the beaches. I miss how easy it is to get around and how much space we have in Australia. But most of all i miss my family and friends,” he says.

Photo: Valter di Cecco

“Everything about what I just said means I should go back home,” he says, but admits he has been seduced by the Italian capital.

“I compare Rome to a relationship. It’s that girlfriend or boyfriend that you know deep down inside isn't right for you, but you stay together because of the passion, the excitement.”

“I think I'm in love with Rome,” he jokes.

And the relationship is nowhere near over yet. After the cooking competition, Valter dreams of eventually opening up his own cooking school in Rome, or even opening a restaurant “with an Australian twist.”

“My dream is to become a food ambassador connecting Italy with Australia,” he says.

“I want people in Rome to see that we can change things up a bit in the food industry and show them that we too can cook in other countries.”

But he has a long road ahead of him, as he prepares for the next round of cooking challenges on Il Ristorante degli Chef in which two more contestants face elimination next week.

The pressure is mounting on Valter and the eight other remaining wannabe chefs, but so far his skill and enthusiasm seems to be winning the judges over.

“I hope I can win the competition but I'll take each day as it comes,” he says. “I can't wait for the next challenge. I'm pumped and ready to go.”

You can see Valter and his fellow contestants in action on Tuesdays at 9.20pm on Rai 2.