Things to consider when moving abroad with children

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Published 2020-06-10 12:14

For families, moving abroad with children comes hand-in-hand with much bigger questions than those faced by the single expatriate. While the decision to move children abroad can seem daunting, the influence of a new culture, atmosphere, school system and perhaps language can be enormously enriching for their life to come - and offers the kind of experience they simply wouldn’t get in their native schoolrooms. Of course, there are a few key things to consider, so to help get the ball rolling, you’ll find below some key things to think about if you’re planning a move abroad with kids.

Get the kids involved

If you’ve made the decision to move abroad, then you’ve probably been thinking about it for some time. Consequently, you’ve had time to mentally prepare for the realities of that, weigh up the pros and cons, and to adjust your thinking. Children will need this time too. 

As far as possible, give children time to adjust and - if necessary - come around to the idea of the move. Discuss key points of the move honestly and openly as a family, encouraging questions and listening to their concerns. In terms of practical things you can do to allay any anxiety, you can: 

  • Browse the internet for photographs of the country and area in which you’ll be living
  • Access Google Maps and use Streetmap view to explore the neighbourhood (if you know it)
  • Find some inspiring videos about the country / area 
  • Find fun things to do where you’ll be living - from leisure activities and social groups to the great outdoors. 

All this will start to build a workable new reality in which they can imagine themselves, removing some of the anxiety around the move and creating a list of things to look forward to.  

Ask the children to make a list of things they would like to do when they get there, or suggest activities you can do as a family. 

Involve the children with organisation and packing if they are old enough to do so - what would they like to take with them? Be sure to take a few familiar things with you directly (if you are waiting for a larger shipment later) and choose things that can immediately create a sense of familiarity and “home” for the children as soon as you arrive. 

Schooling

Once you have decided to make the move, make finding the right school for your children a priority on what will be a long to-do list! Consider your own commute, if you will have one, and the childrens’ journey to school. Can you make it as likely as possible that the children will have school friends living nearby? Will the children be attending a local native school, or enrolling in a Baccalaureate program at an international school? Both certainly have their advantages. Moving into a similar educational system to the one they have enjoyed at home can reduce the shock to their system and encourage a seamless transition, whereas much younger children may benefit enormously from being enrolled in a native school where they can be immersed in a new language and culture at a formative time. If the move is permanent, this can be invaluable - though it can be quite difficult for the child at the outset given the completely new surroundings.

Remember that many schools - and of course especially the good ones - may have waiting lists, another reason why finding the right school for you and your children should be top of your list. If you have time, consider the peak enrollment times, the start of new semesters etc. to try and co-ordinate with a new intake of students and make it more natural for your child starting a new school. 

Look into the benefits for you and your family

Every country has different social benefits that may be available to you and your family. Take a little time to research childcare, the education system, healthcare, parental leave, holiday allowance and sick pay so that you are aware of the key figures and potential upsides (or challenges) to living in your new country. Social welfare is something that can be a huge benefit to residents. For countries in Europe, you will find your rights by country in one helpful website here

Healthcare

Alongside education, healthcare is another priority for those planning on expatriation. Making sure you have the correct health cover will reduce stress in the event that you need to seek medical guidance or care in your new host country. Firstly, look into the healthcare system on a general level in your new home - is there a system via which you must register to receive healthcare? What paperwork will you need to do so, and how is the registration completed? Is there universal healthcare in your country, or are there upfront costs? Will you need separate comprehensive health insurance? 

You may also want to locate a local doctor that speaks your language, so that you know where you can go if needs be, without worrying about difficulties with communication. Expatriate forums can be a great resource for local knowledge and recommendations. 

Think positively

A move abroad can be such an adventure, and if you are able to think positively about even the tricky aspects, your children will find it easier to do the same. Following your lead, they will realise there is more to look forward to than worry about. That being said, it is completely natural to be anxious or sad about moving away, and there should be room for negative feelings. You also don’t want to ‘oversell’ the new reality ahead, or to set unrealistic expectations that could lead to disappointment or resentment later.

Is there an expat community you can tap into in advance?

In the age of social media and the internet, there is a wealth of potential resources out there for you to tap into, some of which may be usual long before you leave. Look out on Facebook for local expat groups, check out online forums for recommendations and advice, and look into clubs and activity groups that can be joined on arrival for sports, outdoor activities, meet-ups and shared interests for both you and the children. This will start to create a rich and useful network that will help you feel connected to your new local community before you even arrive.  

When you arrive

To help keep things familiar on arrival, try and keep routines that the children are familiar with - mealtimes together, movie nights, weekend outings etc. This should help them feel settled a little more easily. Plan fun outings together and keep a calendar of your schedule so that they can look ahead and know what fun things are coming up. 

Tap into a helpful resources

There are some great resources out there, such as the Expat Explorer by HSBC, which includes a survey that could be of great help if you’re not sure where you’d like to move to. The survey helps rank different elements of day-do-day life by country - from childcare to personal finance.