Winter is coming: How to stay happy and healthy

It's easy to enjoy the summer when living in Europe. Warm days and late sunsets allow plenty of time to socialise, exercise and enjoy yourself. The colder months, however, are a slightly different proposition.

Winter is coming: How to stay happy and healthy
A jog a day: Regular walking or jogging not only increases fitness, but reduces your chances of suffering from seasonal illnesses. Photo: Getty Images

Autumn and winter mean shorter days, colder nights and often a range of health challenges. Not only are seasonal colds and flu circulating, but low temperatures and light levels make it more difficult to keep in shape, and moods dip. 

Together with international health insurance broker ASN, we identify proven ways in which you can stay fit, healthy and happy as the year draws to a close. 

Cold, coughs and flus – oh my! 

Avoiding the cold and flus that come with the cold weather can be difficult, but there are some things that you can do to minimise the risk, that go beyond washing your hands or wearing a mask. 

Clinical studies across the globe have demonstrated that regularly taking vitamin C, echinacea and (most importantly) zinc may boost the immune system’s defences, and in some cases prevent illness. 

For those with health issues such as hypertension, pre-existing respiratory or heart disease, seasonal viruses can be devastating. In these cases, doctors recommend a yearly flu vaccine. These protect against the yearly dominant strains and can vastly reduce the severity of illness, should you get sick. 

As Giovanni Bretti from ASN Customer Care tells us, “The good thing about international health insurance is that you can include or exclude benefits such as vaccinations and specialised respiratory care, tailored to your needs.”

Avoid worry and gloom this winter – get a quote on your international health insurance from ASN

Ski, skate, cycle or spin

Of course, we know that you can minimise your odds of getting seriously ill by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a good level of fitness – but how do you keep that up when it’s dark and cold outside? 

Majuran Panchalingam, an International Insurance Consultant from ASN shares some tips: “When it starts to get cold outside, I mainly train indoors. Furthermore, I make everything ready the evening before. Skipping training becomes more difficult when I have already packed my training things.”

Also, something as simple as installing a free pedometer on your smartphone can help. Studies demonstrated it can increase average daily physical exercise by around 20 percent.

For those with a competitive streak, depending on which app you choose, you can receive detailed analysis on your walks or runs, including distance, speed and elevation.

An increasing number of apps also allow you to virtually ‘walk’ a set distance, such as the length of the Great Wall of China. Some even award a real medal or certificate upon completion. 

Regular exercise can also help prevent injury to muscles and joints but should you get hurt in an accident, such as slipping on an icy pavement, it’s important to seek medical assistance and specialised help as soon as you can. Some health insurance policies, like those arranged by ASN, will even give you free access to physiotherapists and other physical specialists. 

By dealing with problems as they occur, you can not only avoid more invasive treatment and possible mobility issues but also save on healthcare costs. Who doesn’t want that? 

ASN gives you peace of mind in the colder months by finding you the best offers on international health insurance 

Autumn splendour: Taking advantage of cool, dry weather to get outside and socialise with friends is an important part of staying healthy. Photo: Getty Images

Get out of the gloom 

The colder months don’t just impact physical health – they can have a remarkable effect on mental health as well. 

This is for a complex range of reasons. Some scientists have linked shorter days and longer nights to decreased serotonin production in the brain, while others have suggested it provokes changes in our circadian rhythms – our routines of wakefulness and sleep. Rather than be social and get out, we just want to sleep. 

What has been shown to work are two things: getting outside during the daylight hours, and the regular use of a sun lamp, available in many shops. Both can have the effect of fooling the brain into proceeding as normal, and avoiding a low mood. 

Internationals are especially susceptible to poorer mental health in the colder months, as they might find themselves isolated while those around them are celebrating the holiday season. It’s important to stay connected and socialise when possible. Many forums and websites for internationals regularly hold events to facilitate social interaction and this can be a great way to stay connected and make new friends.

If you do find yourself experiencing a persistent low mood, speaking to someone about the challenges you’re facing and receiving the proper support can help. 

Mental health therapies are usually covered in standard international health insurance plans. If you are working with a broker, such as ASN, they will do their best to support customers in their preferred language to find out what is covered and what kind of possibilities there are to find peace of mind again.

The best investment in your health

One of the best things an international living abroad can do to safeguard their health throughout the year, and especially in the darker months, is to consider an international health insurance policy. 

Such policies, like those brokered by ASN, give 24-7 access to a global network of doctors, specialists and other healthcare professionals who can provide the personal care you need, when you need it. Not only that, but if you need to be transported to your home country for specialised care, this may be covered by an international health insurance policy. 

These policies often also include coverage for preventative care, to help you avoid illness and mitigate conditions before they become chronic. 

Just as consistent exercise, taking advantage of social activities, and getting yearly flu shots are investments in your health through autumn and winter, an international health insurance policy can ensure you can make the most of your life abroad. 

Take comprehensive control of your health this winter with a quote on international health insurance through ASN  

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What kind of insurance do I need to have in Austria?

Like its German-speaking cousins, Austria is known to be a country where you can get insurance for almost anything. Some are even required by law. We sort through the need-to-haves from the nice-to-haves.

What kind of insurance do I need to have in Austria?

One of the perks to living in a generally risk-averse culture may well be the products you can get to shield yourself from the terrifying consequences of various worst-case scenarios.

From health insurance to accident insurance to legal insurance if you get sued – there’s a wide, and even confusing array of products available in Austria. In what can be a culture shock to some foreigners, these are the ones you’re required to have by law. Later on, we get into some useful optional insurance.

Public health insurance and social insurance

Krankenversicherung, or health insurance, is the most basic and well-known insurance you’re required to have by Austrian law.

As a foreigner, you’ll often need it even to set foot in the country, with many visas or residency permits requiring you to show proof of health insurance. Typically, this is a travel insurance policy that includes at least €30,000 worth of coverage with medical cover. This should tide you over until you get public health insurance in Austria.

All residents of Austria – whether Austrian or foreign – must have public health insurance by law. Like tax, the contributions you have to pay are proportional to your income, and are often deducted off your payslip automatically each month.

Health insurance is mandatory for everyone living in Austria, which covers check-ups and treatments. Photo by Pixabay

There are also several different public insurance funds available, depending on whether you’re employed, self-employed, or a public sector worker. About 82 percent of the country is insured with Österreichische Gesundheitskasse (ÖGK), the fund used by most employees.

In addition to public health insurance, residents of Austria can – if they choose – also opt for additional private health insurance on top of what they pay in public insurance. We’ll cover this more below.

READ ALSO: Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

Employees must also have unemployment insurance, pension insurance, and accident insurance related to their jobs – although the human resources department of your workplace will typically manage this for you. For the self-employed, these are managed by the same body that manages your health insurance – the Social Insurance Institution of the Self-Employed (SVS). Public accident insurance will cover people if they become unable to work due to a workplace injury – but not accidents that may occur off the job. There is some extra optional insurance for this we detail below.

READ ALSO: Unemployment benefits in Austria: Who is eligible and how much can you get?

Own a car? You’ll need insurance

If you plan on driving your own car in Austria, you will need to purchase car insurance. This is called Kfz-Haftpflichtversicherung – and is a type of public liability insurance specifically for drivers.

It’s important not to confuse this with either a Verkehr – or transport – plan in legal insurance, or with general public liability insurance – which will not cover any damage to someone else or public property you may cause if you get in a car accident. While the other two insurance types are useful to have, they’re not required by law. By contrast, car-related public liability is mandatory if you own a car.

All car owners in Austria must have public liability insurance. Other optional add-ons are available at an extra cost. (Photo by Matthias Balk / dpa / AFP) / 

If you’ve moved to Austria with a car, your existing insurance will cover you for the first month you live here. During that time, you need to register and insure your vehicle.

Note too that many car insurance plans will include partial or full coverage for damage to your car from theft, fire, and even animals. These are nice to have, but only the third party liability part of a car insurance policy is legally required in Austria. If you were to only purchase a bare minimum plan, any damages to someone else or their property in an accident would be covered – but the damage to your own vehicle would come out of your own pocket.

Own your home? You’ll need insurance

If you own your own home, you’ll need a standard home insurance plan – or Eigenheimversicherung. As with many types of insurance, there’s one you’re required to have by law and then optional add-ons that might give you extra coverage.

In the case of home insurance, you’ll need a plan that covers fire, burglary, and storm damage. If you have a pool, garden, or solar panels, for example – you can get additional insurance. These extras though, aren’t mandatory.

Have a dog? Yep. You’ll need insurance

If you own a dog, you are also required to have a type of pet insurance in Austria that covers liabilities of up to €725,000 if your furry friend ends up hurting someone else or damaging property.

This is called Hundehaftpflichtversicherung. While it covers public liability for things your dog may do, it isn’t pet health insurance. Again, while pet health insurance can be incredibly useful and save you a lot of money on any vet bills – only public liability is required by Austrian law.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about owning a pet in Austria

Useful optional insurances

As we’ve been suggesting, there’s plenty of additional insurances that are useful to have in Austria beyond what you’re legally required to have.

With so many Austrians and Austrian residents taking out insurance, prices for these are often very reasonable – often just a couple hundred euros a year. But they can provide incredibly comprehensive coverage if the worst happens.

The most basic of these is Hausratversicherung. While homeowners are required to get Eigenheimversicherung to cover things like fire and storm damage, Hausratversichering insures the contents of a home during the same events. Thus either owners or tenants can take out Hausratversichering to protect their stuff at home.

Other add-on insurances can include the ones mentioned above, like full coverage for your car in the event of fire or theft, pet health insurance, or private health and accident insurance.

Legal insurance may help you out if you’re ever unlucky enough to find yourself in Austrian court.
Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Private health insurance in Austria may get you more options for doctors – as some only work with private patients – or it may get you a private hospital room if you end up having to stay in one. Meanwhile, private accident insurance – or Unfallversicherung – will cover you if you become unable to work for a longer period of time due to an accident you had off the job, rather than the public accident insurance that covers you if you have a workplace injury. A more comprehensive – and typically more expensive – version of this is Berufsunfähigkeitversicherung, which replaces the income of someone who becomes completely unable to practice their profession. People in higher-risk professions like builders may have this type of insurance. If they become unable to work anymore, this insurance will pay out their salaries until they reach retirement age.

General public liability insurance – or Haftpflichtversicherung – is also available to cover you if you or your family, your children for example, cause damage to someone else’s property. This could include instances where your kids break a neighbour’s window while outside playing or you accidentally spill a bottle of wine on a friend’s laptop at a party. In both cases, you can typically make a claim on this insurance to cover the damages – rather than pay them out of pocket.

Austria also has many comprehensive travel insurance – or Reiseversicherung plans – to cover you if your trip gets cancelled or you need medical treatment abroad. It can be especially good to have if you travel outside the EU a lot, where your European Health Insurance Card won’t be valid.

Finally, there’s Rechtschutzversicherung – an insurance that protects you if you get sued in Austria. This insurance can help you in a variety of situations, such as with litigious neighbours, in work disputes, in traffic accidents, or in landlord disputes. With it, you can typically fight a case without incurring financially debilitating legal bills.