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PRESENTED BY INVEST STOCKHOLM

International living: how to find local knowledge and support

Whether you’ve already moved internationally, you’re busy planning a move, or you’re simply imagining a whole new life, one thing remains the same: the need to tap into local knowledge.

International living: how to find local knowledge and support
Photo: Getty Images

You probably have some clear ideas about any country or city you’re willing to make your new home. But how do they compare with day-to-day reality once you’re there for good?

As readers of The Local know, getting insider knowledge from people who really know the location can make a huge difference to your quality of life. Here, we look at how you can take crucial steps towards integration in three areas: lifestyle, family, and the challenges of bureaucracy.

Learn to live like a local 

After arriving in your new home country, it takes time to shake off the sense of being a tourist rather than a true resident. But how can you start to feel at home quicker?

Beginning to adopt local lifestyle habits may help. But is eating dinner later in Spain or making punctuality a top priority at all times in Germany really enough? It can also help to get inside knowledge of a city’s best-kept secrets – the places where savvy locals spend their time and the ‘life hacks’ that save them time and trouble.

The pandemic has made it more challenging than ever to make friends with locals who might help you out in this regard. But it’s worth checking the online resources your city offers to help you find your feet.

People settling in Stockholm, for example, can benefit from a huge range of insights from local residents, now hosted on one website. Tips include top picks for food and drink, outdoor workout routes (much-loved by the locals), and places in the city where you can de-stress with mindfulness.

Insider knowledge: get top tips about living and working in Stockholm from the locals who know the city best 

Feel you’re missing out on the cultural highlights of your new location? If you’re in a major city, you’ll probably find many exhibitions are now available online. Big names such as Paris’s Pompidou Centre and the Tate galleries in London offer an array of options for digital consumption.

Learning the local language can help you and your partner adjust quicker in any country. Have a look for state-sponsored language classes near you, like Sweden’s free, national Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) course.

Key steps to family fulfillment 

People who make an international move to be with a spouse or partner who has a job offer face unique challenges to settling in. A new country and lots of free time may offer opportunities for exploring new interests or reviving old ones. It can also lead, however, to feelings of being unfulfilled and may damage the individual’s self-esteem.

But today many business organisations, cities and even private companies offer spousal support programmes. Some offer tours of businesses and cultural attractions to help relocated workers and their partners integrate more quickly and develop local networks.

The International Dual Career Network (IDCN) is an association of international organisations and corporations that supports the partners of people who move for work. It focuses on providing guidance and professional networking opportunities, including via events and webinars. IDCN has networks in 14 global locations, including nine in Europe – click here to find out more.

Photo: Getty Images

Many countries and cities have similar services: these include Switzerland’s Spouse Career Centre and Dual Career Network Berlin.

In Sweden, the non-profit Stockholm Dual Career Network supports the partners and spouses of international talent who are looking for work. Members have praised SDCN for helping them to find a social life, as well as a “social expectation” in Stockholm that everyone should enjoy quality, family time. 

As an international talent and tech hub, Stockholm is always seeking to attract skilled and creative people from around the world – from robotics engineers to fashion designers. Perks of living in Stockholm that many international people appreciate include a strong focus on work/life balance, generous parental leave, and large expanses of unspoilt nature to explore.

Find out more about Stockholm’s family-friendly credentials

Bureaucracy: go digital (if you can!)

Finding fun ways to adjust to a new lifestyle and helping loved ones to thrive are a big part of making a successful move. But ensuring your international relocation runs smoothly also means facing up to the inevitable bureaucratic side of things. 

Should this fill you with dread? Well, perhaps a little less than in the past (depending on where you’re headed!). Amid an international battle for talent, many cities are harnessing digitalisation to speed up administrative processes. According to the European Commission, the quality and usage of digital public services was increasing even pre-pandemic. In the EU, Estonia ranks top in this regard followed by Spain, while the likes of Italy and Germany languish below the EU average.

Sweden is one of the leading EU nations for digital performance as a whole, ranking second only to Finland. The Mayor of Stockholm recently told The Local that the capital city is now planning a “one-stop shop” International House that she hopes will make it possible to get a digital work permit in 15 minutes. As international people everywhere know, when it comes to making yourself feel at home, some things can’t come fast enough.

Want to know more about Stockholm? Click here to read more about the city’s appeal to global talent. Already in Stockholm? Find your way off the city’s beaten path with these personal tips from local residents.

 

CHILDREN

How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

What can families anticipate with regard to raising children in Switzerland and in which ways does it differ from the United States? Here is a look at some of the main differences.

How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

Moving to a new country can come with a pretty big learning curve – especially if you’re moving with family.

Schools

Switzerland offers the choice between public, private, international, and boarding schools. Public schools are however the norm for the vast majority of kids – of about 5,000 schools in Switzerland, only about 300 are private.

International schools are a popular option for families that have been in international schools in other countries, or if they’re keen on their kids being immersed in and developing their English.

Some of the top boarding schools can be found in Switzerland, with families from all over the world sending their kids to them. Wait lists can be long, but this sleep-away option is available for kids ages 3-18. 

Approximately 95 percent of Swiss parents send their children to public schools because they are free and because the educational system is such high quality.

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

Many international parents opt for public schools so their kids can pick up the local language and make local friends. Public schools in Switzerland are fantastic and your child will have access to a solid education complete with activities and outings.

There are physical education activities in addition to recess and bi-monthly trips for swimming lessons, and often ice skating in the winter. 

Parents and students alike will almost immediately notice a difference in the amount of homework that comes home.

Heather Wittkopp has two sons that go to a private school in the German-speaking region, near Zug. She recalls the struggles back in Pennsylvania.

“It was very stressful and we would constantly be studying. We fought about it. It was hours of homework. It was not a good situation.”

When asked if things have gotten better since their move to Switzerland about two-and-a-half years ago, her tone completely changes.

“Coming here to the international school was just eye opening. It’s amazing what they learn here, but it’s also that the pressure isn’t there. In the US you’re constantly memorising for tests. And here, it’s more like they’re teaching for the real world– like how to think outside the box.

They’re doing a lot of projects where you’re constantly with people and you have to collaborate and you have to work with all different types of people and figure out how you can work together in a team.”

Getting to-and-from school 

While the US has a heavy drive-to-school and drop-off culture, parents in Switzerland are actively encouraged not to use cars to bring kids to class. Most kids walk, though it’s common to see children on bicycles or scooters heading to school. 

There are high levels of social trust in Switzerland which means children, most as young as four and five years old, start learning to walk to and from school alone.

READ MORE: How to save money on childcare in Switzerland

Not only is this practice of raising independent children a family affair, the whole community is supportive and aware of it. There are crossing guards at all major streets who help students as they go to classes and as they go home for lunch or after school. 

When asked about her thoughts on the level of social trust and the independence culture, working mom, Lara Junod says, “It’s pretty amazing that in this day and age, you know, in 2022 with the world that we’re in, that this can still exist. It shows that people do look out in your community.”

Originally from New York, Lara has lived with her husband and six-year-old daughter in French-speaking Lausanne for the past three years. “They teach them here to be quite independent, quite young.”

International schools are a popular choice for foreigners in Switzerland. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

International schools are a popular choice for foreigners in Switzerland. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Home for lunch

A two-hour lunch break is scheduled into the day, allowing for students to head home and have lunch with their families. If the parents work, however, there are after-school programs for which children can be signed up.

These programs provide lunch and care for the two hour break and primary school children will return to school for the rest of the school day before coming back to the after-school care program.

In the evening when the program shuts down, children are either picked up or will walk back home on their own. 

READ MORE: What is emergency childcare in Switzerland and how do I access it? 

Extracurricular activities

Each canton offers weekly sports activities for children in kindergarten and primary school during the school year. The cost for the weekly activity is minimal and offers children something to do after school, gives them an opportunity to make new friends, and learn new athletic skills.

An example of some of these would be some of the traditional sports played in the US, but also fencing, sailing, American football, dance, and yoga, among others. 

Daycare Quality

What about babies and younger kids who aren’t old enough to start kindergarten? There is a mixture of for-profit and not-for-profit childcare throughout the country.

Some daycare centres offer full immersion in the local language while others offer bilingual care (the local language and English). In public, not-for-profit daycare, parents can still expect a child-focused curriculum that supports young children’s development and growth. 

EXPLAINED: What are the rules for homeschooling children in Switzerland?

It’s imperative to note that the cost for daycare in Switzerland is very high, costing around 2,500 Francs per month, per child, although some subsidies are available depending on the overall household income.

Due to this and in conjunction with traditional values, many children will stay home with a parent until they are of kindergarten age.

There are, however, play groups which allow for parents with babies and younger children to network and for both child and parent to socialise. Play groups can be for a couple hours at a time and are offered through churches and community centres several times per week. 

Home life

While things at home will probably carry on much as they would in the United States, there are some nuances to living in Switzerland.

For example, there are dedicated quiet hours to which everyone adheres.

From 10 o’clock at night until 7 A.M., people are quiet.

Additionally, there is a quiet hour from noon until 1P.M., so people can have a relaxed lunch and potentially quiet time for a lie down.

Finally, Sunday, in its entirety, is a quiet day.

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