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.

For members


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

Homeschooling is not completely banned in Switzerland, but it is heavily regulated. Here’s what you need to know.

Children work through their studies at home
Homeschooling is not banned nationwide in Switzerland, but it is heavily regulated - while some cantons outlaw it completely. Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

The debate surrounding homeschooling in Switzerland – as with elsewhere in Europe – has been particularly fraught in recent years. 

Due to geographical problems accessing schools or the special needs of a child – as well as other practical and ideological differences –  parents have sometimes seen homeschooling as an alternative. 

One reason provided by foreign parents is a desire to teach their child in their own language. 

For parents from other parts of the world, particularly English-speaking countries, they are used to rules for home schooling children which are relatively relaxed. 

It can then be surprising when people arrive in Switzerland to find that home school can be either outright banned, or heavily restricted. 

This may be less of a practical problem in Switzerland in comparison to the United States or Australia, where distances are small, but for some parents it may be an ideological issue where they would prefer to homeschool their children rather than have this done at an educational institution. 

As with pretty much everything in Switzerland, if and how you can homeschool your kids will depend on the rules in place in your canton. 

Keep in mind that this guide refers to children who are being sent to school at home on a permanent basis, not children who are being taught at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

What are the rules at a federal level? 

Education for children is compulsory in Switzerland. 

However, the federal government leaves it up to the cantons to regulate the manner in which schooling is carried out – including homeschooling. 

A court case from 2019 sought to assert a right to homeschooling under the Swiss constitution, but this was dismissed. 

The Swiss Federal Court handed down a ruling which upheld the rights of cantons to restrict or even ban homeschooling. 

The court effectively said Swiss residents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children, allowing cantons the legislative power to decide upon whether or not it should be restricted. 

The case concerned a mother who wanted to homeschool her child in the city of Basel, where homeschooling is only permitted if the parent can show that school attendance is impossible. 

The Swiss constitution guarantees a right to privacy and family life, but the court said that this did not extend to homeschooling. 

What are the cantonal rules? 

Homeschooling is permitted to some degree in 16 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons. 

It is completely banned in Ticino, while in others such as St Gallen and Zurich although it is allowed, getting permission to homeschool is seen as “virtually impossible”.

While getting up-to-date figures is difficult due to data privacy issues, around 140 children are homeschooled in Zurich, Switzerland’s most populous canton. 

In Lucerne, Valais, Freibourg, Zug and Schwyz there is a requirement that parents who homeschool are accredited as teachers, while Bern and Aargau allow homeschooling teachers to operate without an accreditation.

In Basel City, parents must show that school attendance is impossible – which is particularly different in the tiny canton (at least with a geographical argument). 

In the above case, the mother’s argument that the authorities were not doing enough for her gifted son was unsuccessful in court. 

According to Swissinfo, in 2019 no children were being homeschooled in Basel. 

Homeschooling is more popular in the French-speaking part of the country. 

Of the 1,000 children who are homeschooled in Switzerland, approximately 600 of them are in the canton of Vaud. 

Vaud and neighbour Neuchâtel are considered to be one of the most permissive of homeschooling in Switzerland. In these cantons, you only need to alert the authorities if you plan on homeschooling your children – although there have been recent signs this will be further restricted in future. 

Why is homeschooling banned?

Although in many English-speaking cultures homeschooling is common place, it is frequently restricted or banned throughout Europe.

While it is constitutionally guaranteed in Italy and Ireland, other countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden ban the practice. 

Common justifications for banning homeschooling include a need to ensure children receive the same moral and ideological foundation, a desire to ensure school attendance, a lack of social skills among homeschooled children and concerns about the standard of education.

Is this likely to change? 

There are some advocacy groups which have spent considerable resources and time pushing for more relaxed home schooling rules in Switzerland, some of which are run by internationals who want their children’s education to look a little more familiar to what they know. 

There are several federal and cantonal advocacy organisations for homeschooling which can be found online. 

However, given how slowly things happen in Switzerland – and the fact that the major advocates of homeschooling tend to be foreigners rather than Swiss – means that any widespread changes are unlikely anytime soon.