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What’s the reality of expat life in Europe today?

Many of Europe’s 33 million international residents have hit something of a jackpot - at least if recent research is anything to go by.

What’s the reality of expat life in Europe today?
Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

From longer parental leave and better educational opportunities to bigger paychecks and career boosters, expats in Europe seem to be enjoying the many perks of living abroad.

One of the greatest appeals of relocating to Europe in particular seems to be the promise of a higher quality of life. A recent survey conducted by Vitreous World on behalf of AXA – Global Healthcare* suggests that expats in Europe are more likely to have packed their bags for better pay and more benefits than for the chance to embark on a new adventure. In France, for example, 31 percent of foreigners say that the French lifestyle is by far the best thing about living there – and about 44 percent benefit from things such as improved pay and learning a new language.

Find out more about AXA’s health insurance packages for expats

Fresh statistics from the world’s longest-running survey of expats* found that, among other things, many European expat hotspots seem to be hitting the high notes on a wide variety of criteria. In Spain, for example, more expats than in any other expat community report that more sun and a slower pace of life has led to significant improvements in both their physical and mental health.** In Switzerland, too, international residents are enthusiastic about their lifestyle upgrade, which includes reaping the benefits of the strong economy (by way of higher-than-global-average salaries) and taking care of their families without having to worry about political instability.*

Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

Despite digital technologies alleviating some of the problems once experienced by expats, living and working abroad does, like most things, have a flipside – or, at any rate, its own set of hurdles. As AXA – Global Healthcare’s survey indicates, these can include language barriers, making new friends, seasonal depression, and adapting to a change in climate. But if you’re aware of these challenges before you move, downloading a language app or joining an online expat community can help you to prepare yourself.

Learn more about how you can benefit from AXA’s global healthcare plans

Moreover, expats often face bureaucratic obstacles as they navigate everything from banking services to local healthcare systems. According to AXA – Global Healthcare’s survey, almost four out of five expats had concerns when seeking healthcare in their current country, with 63 percent saying they would travel back to their home country if they needed medical treatment. Fortunately, you can make use of services such as the Virtual Doctor Service – which is offered with some of AXA’s global health plans with out-patient cover. This provides a handy solution for healthcare challenges if they do arise, allowing you to speak to a doctor at short notice, in a range of languages, at any time and from anywhere in the world.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

On the whole, it does appear that for international dwellers in Europe, expat life comes with many benefits. Although over half of the expats surveyed did report that being away from friends and family made it harder to integrate, and 43 percent said that making new friends was tough, AXA – Global Healthcare’s research indicates that, overall, the majority of both European and global expats believe that their experience of living abroad has been a positive one. For example, close to a majority of expats globally attest to having a better work-life balance than in their home country, citing better leisure opportunities, an easier commute, more disposable income, and more time to spend with family as main reasons.

With AXA’s global health cover, you and your family are covered at every stage of expat life. Find out more about how AXA’s international health insurance can help you to get the most out of life abroad.

*Research conducted in February 2019 by Vitreous World on behalf of AXA. A total of 1,352 expats were surveyed (250 in the UK, France, UAE, Canada and China, and 100 in Hong Kong).

**HSBC Expat Explorer Survey 2019

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and 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.

 

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

UPDATE: What are Switzerland’s rules for cannabis consumption?

Switzerland has a complicated set of rules for both medical and recreational cannabis consumption. Here's what you need to know.

UPDATE: What are Switzerland's rules for cannabis consumption?

Long prohibited and seen as a gateway drug with potentially dangerous impacts, countries across the globe have begun legalising cannabis in recent years. 

While the legalisation for medical use has been widespread, there have also been successful legalisation campaigns in several countries. 

The situation in Switzerland is also in flux and has been complicated by a range of recent changes.

Whether referred to as cannabis, marijuana or hemp, Switzerland’s Narcotics Act qualifies it as “a psychoactive substance”, with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being its most intoxicating ingredient.

The law specifies that “only THC is controlled under the Narcotics Act. Other active substances like cannabidiol (CBD) are not subject to the Narcotics Act as they do not have comparable psychoactive effects”.

Here’s what you need to know. 

Switzerland has legalised medical marijuana 

As of August 1st, the use of cannabis for medical purposes will be allowed in Switzerland

Patients who are medically prescribed the drug will no longer need to seek exceptional permission from the health ministry, as was the case prior to August 1st. 

Demand for cannabis-based treatments has risen sharply, with the health ministry issuing 3,000 exceptional authorisations in 2019.

The government “intends to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients” and was therefore lifting the ban on its use for that purpose, it said in a statement.

The previous procedure involved “tedious administrative procedures”, said the ministry. “Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy.”

As of August 1st, “the decision as to whether a cannabis medicinal product is to be used therapeutically will be made by the doctor together with the patient” the government wrote

The sale and consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes will remain prohibited.

READ MORE: Switzerland to lift ban on medical use cannabis

The new regulations could benefit thousands of people suffering from severe chronic pain, it added, including those with cancer and multiple sclerosis.

READ ALSO: Why Basel is about to become Switzerland’s marijuana capital

The law change will also mean that the cultivation, processing, manufacture and trade of cannabis for medical use will be subject to the Swissmedic regulatory authority, just as with other narcotics for medical use such as cocaine, methadone and morphine.

Legality of recreational cannabis is determined by the THC

THC of at least 1 percent is generally prohibited in Switzerland and use of products with this (or higher) content may be punishable by a 100-franc fine.

Of course, if someone is determined to smoke it, 100 francs may not be much a deterrent — but that’s a subject for another article.

“By contrast, possession of up to 10g of cannabis for personal use is not considered a criminal offence”, the law states, as long as it is not used by or sold to minors.

Italy's constitutional court has blocked the latest efforts to legalise cannabis.

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

And, as with nearly everything else in decentralised Switzerland, “there are still considerable differences between cantons regarding implementation of the fixed penalty procedure”.

However, “cannabis flowers intended for smoking with a high proportion of cannabidiol (CBD) and less than 1 percent THC can be sold and purchased legally”, according to the legislation. 

That’s because, unlike the THC, cannabidiol “does not have a psychoactive effect”.

In other words, low-content THC and CBD will not give the “high” that recreational users seek.

When will Switzerland legalise recreational cannabis?

Currently, small amounts of recreational cannabis are tolerated in Switzerland.

“The decisive factor for classification as a banned drug is how much THC is contained in a cannabis product. If the THC content exceeds one per cent, the product is prohibited. Hashish is prohibited regardless of its THC content.”

As noted by the Swiss government, “If you are caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis (no more than 10 grams) for your own consumption, you will not be fined. In addition, if you supply (but do not sell) up to 10 grams to an adult, e.g. when sharing joints, you will not be fined.”

“If you are caught using cannabis, you may be given a fixed penalty fine of 100 francs.”

In June 2020, the National Council approved a plan to start cannabis trials for recreational use.

The experiments are to be carried out in Switzerland’s larger cities. Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva and Zurich have all expressed interest in conducting the trials. 

The study seeks to find out how the market for cannabis works – and how to combat the black market. The social effects of legalisation will also be examined. 

At this point, no decisions have been made. However, Swiss authorities have set certain conditions in case recreational use is approved.

The National Council said if cannabis were to be legalised, it must be locally grown in Switzerland – and it must be organic. 

Health Minister Alain Berset noted that legalisation should benefit Swiss farmers even though “very few producers have experience in this area”.

READ MORE: Switzerland backs recreational cannabis trials – with one condition

Can you grow your own cannabis?

In truth, a number of people cultivate marijuana plants on their balconies or in their (secluded) gardens for their own personal use.

As it turns out, the law allows it, as long as it is a variety of the plant that does not have a narcotic effect — that is, the THC content must be less than 1 percent. 

By the same token, cannabis-based products with THC content of below 1 percent can be brought into Switzerland from abroad.

However, the import rules differ depending on the type of product  it is — flowers, seeds, extracts, oils, or other goods.

How much cannabis is consumed in Switzerland each year?

Precise numbers are hard to come by, but according to an article in Le Temps, which based its information on a medical study, about 100 tonnes are consumed in the country annually.

Cannabis remains the largest market in terms of volume: it represents 85 percent of drugs consumed in Switzerland, netting between 340, 000 and 500,000 francs per year.

READ MORE: Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?

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