Retiring overseas? Ageing, stress and how to ensure a healthy life abroad

Whether it’s a planned retirement move to a home in the sun, or a sudden desire to embrace a beloved host country for the long term, many ponder spending their ‘golden years’ living internationally.

Retiring overseas? Ageing, stress and how to ensure a healthy life abroad
Moving abroad to enjoy your golden years can be incredibly fulfilling. Photo: Getty Images

Turning your dream of living overseas into reality can be intensely rewarding. However, it is important to understand the stresses that come with it, how stress exacerbates common health conditions, and how these can be mitigated to ensure a happy, fulfilling life. 

In partnership with Cigna, we discuss the significant factors to consider before making plans to live abroad permanently.

Let’s talk about ageing

As much as we’d like to ignore the fact, as we grow older we are at greater risk of health problems. So it’s worth understanding some common conditions.   

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is by far the biggest threat to both men and women as they age. It encompasses a range of common conditions, from strokes and heart attacks to vascular dementia. Taking the United Kingdom as an example, CVD is responsible for 160,000 deaths each year. More pressingly, it is the impact of CVD on survivors that has greater consequences – strokes are one of the leading causes of disability in the UK , with two-thirds of survivors leaving the hospital with some kind of disability.   

Be prepared for the unexpected, get an international health insurance quote

Cancer is another leading threat to both men and women as they age. With the UK again as an example, 147,407 Britons died from cancer in 2020, out of an average of 375,000 new cases each year. One-third of all cancer cases were diagnosed in those over the age of 75. Breast cancer was the most common cancer diagnosed in the UK between 2016 and 2018, followed by prostate, lung and bladder cancers. While the survivability rates for many cancers are rapidly increasing, treatment and surgery does mean loss of mobility and quality of life for many patients. 

Mobility issues are another serious health problem faced by many as they grow older. After the age of 40, the number of people in the UK who require assistance to move freely begins to rise exponentially. Whether caused by the degradation of joints or other, more complicated issues, a loss of mobility can limit how much of the world an individual can engage with. 

While these figures may seem frightening, it’s worth remembering that medical science has led to significant increases in global life expectancy. The chances of surviving a life-threatening illness today are greater than at any point in history. 

What matters, however, is quality of life. We want to enjoy our later years rather than be impaired by illness. Therefore, any factors we can identify to help us avoid developing illnesses are worth paying close attention to.

Recent research shows the surprising role stress plays in the development of age-related diseases. The good news? This is a factor we can largely control. 

Stress and the human body

We’re all familiar with the sensation of being stressed – a rush of adrenalin, a flush of irritability and a pounding head. 

When we’re stressed, the body’s sympathetic nervous system releases adrenaline, as well as hormones such as cortisol, to spur us into a ‘fight or flight’ response, and lead us out of a dangerous situation. While this was a useful tool for our ancient ancestors, in the modern world it can do more harm than good. 

Increasingly, science is uncovering the myriad effects that prolonged stress can have on the human body. We’ve known for a long time that stress can harm the heart and circulatory system – prolonged stress can lead to a more rapid heartbeat and higher blood pressure, doubling the chances of having a heart attack or stroke

Research has also uncovered the role of stress in the development of many kinds of cancer. It indicates that the brain’s release of hormones during periods of prolonged stress can activate cancer cells, leading to rapid tumour growth. 

Stress also impacts the body’s immune system. When a person experiences prolonged stress, hormones again can significantly reduce the number of lymphocytes, a kind of white blood cell, weakening the body’s defences against infection. 

So, for most of us, if we can reduce stress in our daily lives, we can lessen our chances of falling ill. There are a number of techniques, practices and habits that can help reduce the effect of stress. For people living overseas, however, this may be more of a challenge. 

Enjoy the life you’ve planned for yourself abroad and build a policy that meets your specific health needs

Stress and living abroad

The experience of living abroad carries with it its own stressors. 

Chief among these are communication difficulties. A lack of understanding of language and cultural mores can be a constant source of stress for internationals, in particular when it comes to resources that may be needed, such as healthcare.

A lack of access to friendly support networks can also be a major stressor. A significant proportion of expats are individuals, so asking for help or having interactions may be difficult. Making friends can take time, and bring its own anxieties. 

Finally, there may be financial pressures – particularly for retirees, who likely have finite savings. Sudden disruptions to their lifestyle could mean a costly return to their home country, or a reduction in circumstances – in itself a major stressor. 

Stretch yourself: Staying active and connected to others can help vastly reduce stress levels. Photo: Getty Images

The most important consideration for older internationals 

As increasing numbers of people work, live and retire abroad, international health insurers are beginning to understand the role of stress for policyholders – in both recovery and prevention. Most insurers now actively address the stress experienced by internationals abroad through their coverage. 

Chiefly, many providers, such as Cigna Global, offer unlimited phone and online consultations with doctors, with clinical advice and prescriptions in the customer’s language. They also grant access to specialists and choice of hospitals within their network, giving clients peace of mind when it comes to serious illness.

Insurance providers, like Cigna Global, are also developing benefits tailored toward specific conditions, such as cancer. In such cases, in addition to treatment, telephone counselling and other disease-related costs, such as those for a wig, may be included. This provides needed support during a crisis, minimising the damage done by stress and boosting the chances of a full recovery. 

Finally, depending on the level of coverage, some insurers have deployed the use of dedicated services to give their policyholders advice on all areas of life abroad – from rubbish collections to family emergencies. A friendly voice acting as a guide means that many stressors faced by internationals can be minimised, if not eliminated. 

If you are planning to make a permanent move abroad, especially if you’re getting older, it’s important to consider how a potential insurer addresses the challenges of living abroad, and how it actively helps tackle stress. 

It is worth asking exactly what is offered in an international health insurance policy, beyond the coverage it has for illness and accidents. Does it offer consultations with a doctor in your language? What about counselling services? How will the policy offset the stresses of life abroad daily?

Important for retirees to know, if joining Cigna Global before the end of August, the company will upgrade their policy to include the highly-valued Vision and Dental add-on module for one year*, that covers eye tests, eyewear and a wide range of preventative, routine and major dental treatments. 

Enjoying your later years abroad can be a hugely rewarding and fulfilling experience. To make the most of it, make sure you invest in a policy that not only covers you for when you’re ill but also helps you stay fit, healthy and free of stress in the first place. 

Find out how Cigna can ensure you make the most of your life abroad, and request a quote for international health insurance today

*  – The free Vision and Dental policy upgrade is only applicable to new policies sold in August 2022 which will be eligible for 1 year free Vision and Dental cover. Premiums under $2k will not be eligible. Not applicable in conjunction with any other offer or discount.


Member comments

  1. Can someone explain why on The Local.DE all the stories are about, and from, the UK? Id didn’t sign up for The Local.UK

    The Italian and Spanish The Local are also mostly about Brexit and The UK folks living there and complaining how its not the same.

    Please, just news. Local to the country and focused on the country would be great.

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Indians in Germany: Who are they and where do they live?

Germany is home to a thriving Indian community that has grown considerably in recent years. So where are Germany’s Indians living? And what made them choose to settle here?

Indians in Germany: Who are they and where do they live?

Germany has long had a strong community of people from English-speaking countries, with approximately 13,500 Aussies, 117,000 Brits, 120,000 Americans, and just over 18,000 Canadians living here – to name just a few. In recent years though, an increasing number of people from India are settling in Germany as well.

Almost 24,000 new arrivals in Germany last year came from India. That was the fourth-highest total for arrivals from a single country in 2021, with newcomers from Syria, Romania, and Afghanistan making up the top three.

READ ALSO: Germany could have 86 million people by 2030, report claims

As of the end of 2021, there were about 172,000 Indians living in Germany, according to official statistics. That compares with only about 53,000 people from India who were living in Germany at the end of 2011.

So what else do we know about Germany’s Indian community?

For starters, men outnumber women by quite some distance. Just over 104,000 men from India call Germany home compared to just under 68,000 women.

Secondly, Germany’s Indian contingent is quite young. Around half of all people from India living in Germany are between 24 and 33 years-old, with the numbers going down considerably after age 40. Around 20,000 are children who are 10 years-old or younger.

Amogha Sathyanarayana, originally from Bangalore, has been living in Germany for seven years. Photo: Amogha Sathyanarayana

READ ALSO: Who are Germany’s foreign population and where do they live?

The Deutschland Monitor report notes that Berlin’s thriving – and often English-speaking – technology scene is a particular draw for trained IT professionals from India. Relative to its overall population, Berlin certainly wins, with just over 17,000 Indians calling the German capital home.

However, Indians are found across the country. Bavaria has the highest number overall (just under 36,000), followed by North-Rhine Westphalia (about 30,500) and Baden-Württemberg (just over 27,000).

Meanwhile, the federal states with the lowest number of resident Indian nationals are Mecklenberg-Western Pomerania, Saarland, Bremen, and Brandenburg, all with less than 2,000 apiece.

Germany calling: Its appeal in India

The Indian government estimates that about 32 million Indians live outside India, with the diaspora being even larger. While Germany’s resident Indians make up just a small share of that in comparison to countries like the US, UK, and Canada, there’s plenty of reasons why Germany is an increasingly attractive destination.

“With the Trump presidency in the US and Brexit in the UK, both of those options seem less welcoming than they used to be, and Germany seems to want Indians,” says Samantha, a 29 year-old originally from Chennai, who lives in Germany partly to live her life as an openly queer woman.

“We supply brain power and skills Germany seems to be short of, specifically in the STEM fields. In larger German cities the language barrier isn’t too much of a problem either.”

READ ALSO: Canadians in Germany: Who are they and where do they live?

For Ashwini Rao, a doctor currently in the fourth year of her residency in Recklinghausen near Dortmund, career was a big motivator.

Ashwini Rao, a doctor originally from India and living in Recklinghausen near Dortmund, on a recent vacation to Spain. Photo: Ashwini Rao

“Unlike in the US, UK, or other English-speaking countries at the moment, surgical residency wasn’t an unimaginable goal here,” she says. “And I did want to leave India to expand my horizons beyond what I’ve always seen.”

Chaitanya Chilamakuru, hailing from Tadipatri in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, now lives with his wife Poojitha near Bonn in a small town called Siegburg, where he works as a project manager in manufacturing machinery.

“People from India are making a large contribution here in Germany now. We’re well-represented in the expert occupations of the STEM fields, which are particularly affected by the skilled worker shortage,” he says.

“Why Germany? There’s an increasingly positive image of Germany in the world, and the country has targeted people in India specifically, especially through the online ‘Make it in Germany’ platform.”

READ ALSO: Where in Germany do all the British citizens live?

What keeps Indians in Germany?

Career was a dominant theme among many Indians we spoke with about why they came to Germany. But what else keeps them here?

The structure of both work and the social welfare state is a top reason for many, as well as Germany’s general openness on things like gender equality and LGBT rights.

“I love that I can be openly queer here, which wouldn’t be taken very well at all where I come from,” says Samantha, whose last name we’ve withheld due to possible reprisals from back in India.

Amogha Sathyanarayana, originally from Bangalore, at a small Pride event near Hanover. Photo: Amogha Sathyanarayana

“I also really like the work culture, which I think is much more professional compared to India. You get your stuff done so you can completely disconnect in the evenings and on the weekends. Plus public transport is so good here. I don’t miss Indian commutes!”

Amogha Sathyanarayana, a 30 year-old product manager in software and originally from Bangalore, has lived in Berlin for the last seven years. “Berlin in particular is one of the most accepting cities in the world, and a safe haven for queer people. You have to love that about a city,” he says.

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“The public transport and the train connections to pretty much all of Europe are also just pure joy for expanding your horizons. Put that together with strong social and economic structures like public health insurance and unemployment benefits if something happens to you – and that all just reaffirmed the decision to come here.”

“I marvel at how affordable education is here,” says Aroma Dabas, originally from Delhi and currently living in Leipzig while wrapping up her doctoral research in cognitive neuroscience. “Add in the other aspects of how the social welfare is designed to look after people if something happens – it’s just something I haven’t encountered before.

Aroma Dabas, originally from Delhi, came to Leipzig to pursue her doctorate in cognitive neuroscience. Photo: Aroma Dabas

“Also before I moved to Leipzig, I lived in an area near Delhi that’s particularly infamous for not being safe for women,” says Dabas. “I don’t miss that sense of insecurity.”

READ ALSO: Where in Germany do all the Americans live?

German challenges: digitalisation, bureaucracy, and racism

Not everything is perfect though. While life may be generally good here for the Indian nationals we spoke with, it’s not without challenges.

“What I’ve found most challenging is the bureaucracy and the systemic racism,” says Samantha. “The racism might be a bit worse for me than for some other non-Europeans as I took the road less travelled by coming here for a PhD instead of a Master’s. Things are not easy in German academia that way and they get a lot worse if you don’t have German citizenship.”

For Sathyanarayana, the worst challenges come where bureaucracy and racism intersect. “The apathy towards people of colour, particularly when you’re trying to navigate all the paperwork can really get to you sometimes,” he says.

“Unnecessarily complicated, slow, and old. It seems as if the system has never been adapted to the global and digital world that we currently live in,” says Dabas. “It is certainly not welcoming for non-Germans, particularly non-EU citizens.”

READ ALSO: The five most common challenges Indians face in Germany

Missing home and building an Indian community in Germany

No matter how much they enjoy life here, all of the Indians we spoke with have a bout of homesickness from time to time, especially when running into certain things that are lacking in Germany.

“Weirdly, I miss the digital literacy of India. Being in Germany will certainly remind you of that,” says Samantha. “Family is a no-brainer, but also the food and the weather.”

“I don’t miss the misogyny or the commuting, but I sure miss the food, spices, weather, mountains, and the sense of fashion,” says Rao. “Here, we don’t even have shops open on a Sunday.”

“German forests are pretty tame,” says Sathyanarayana. “They make me miss all of the wild animals we have in India. It’s just on a whole other level back home.”

India’s rich cultural life also tops the list of things people living here miss.

“I’m very accustomed to my life in Germany,” says Chilamakuru. “But there’s certainly a few things I miss about home – the vibrancy, the buzz in the air. Yes, even the crowded streets. Plus the pani puri stalls, the dosa corner, and all the festivities we celebrate with family and friends.”

Chaitanya Chilamakuru and his wife Poojitha Muthuluru near their home in Siegburg. Photo: Chaitanya Chilamakuru

Both Rao and Sathyanarayana say they hope celebrating Indian traditions and culture together, as well as getting support from each other, will get a little easier as the Indian community in Germany continues to grow.

“I definitely miss family support. Making friends in a foreign country is a daunting task and I consider myself lucky that I found my friends in Berlin,” he says. “Finally – and it may sound like a standard, cliché answer – but I miss the food! Germany has diverse offerings, but nothing beats the authentic street food you get back home.”

Are you an Indian in Germany? Tell us what you miss about your home country, and if you have any tips for Indian home comforts by emailing us: [email protected] or leaving a comment.