How to plan your move abroad with your children

  • traveling family
Published on 2022-09-28 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
Are you tempted by a big adventure abroad with your family? How to be prepared and make your kids feel prepared? Your kids' age, their interests, visas, their education abroad, etc., are some of the key issues you need to consider carefully. Here are a few pointers.

Preparing yourself to relocate abroad with kids

The plan to move abroad concerns the entire family, even young children. The kids should feel involved in your plans, and they should, above all, feel that you're handling everything well. Remember that they sense and absorb your emotions. If you are stressed, anxious, or unsure of yourself, your children might dread this relocation. But it's out of the question either to suppress your emotions. To be as well-prepared as possible, talk about everything, and don't hesitate to seek help from a coach specializing in expat life. Set a framework for your move abroad to make the right choices.

  • How old are your kids?

Babies won't have trouble adapting. What's more, they'll learn the language of your expat country in a very natural way. But it's not because kids are small that you shouldn't explain anything to them; quite the contrary. Talk to them about your plans, show them photos of the new country, and speak some words of the country's language around them.

  • How to make your kids involved?

The older the child is, the more they have to be actively involved in your plans. Children who have started school will have already bonded with their friends (even those from nursery school count). Parting with their friends will be a painful breakup, so you should prepare them as best as possible. Things can get more complicated if your kids are teenagers. Here again, it's essential to talk to them as much in advance as possible about your plans. Involve your teenagers to a greater degree (in choosing a high school, the neighborhood you'll live in, extracurricular activities, etc.).

  • How familiar are you with other cultures?

Are you a family of travel enthusiasts? Have you ever traveled abroad as a family? Are you open to other cultures? Do you already speak the language of your host country? Some families have a greater “multicultural outlook” than others. This broad-mindedness is not necessarily born out of a lot of international traveling; it rather depends on people's areas of interest: music, gastronomy, literature, sports, the use and practice of foreign languages, etc. Multicultural families can also be more oriented towards other cultures. Children immersed in this kind of open and tolerant environment are more likely to see expatriation in a positive light.

  • How did this plan to move abroad come about?

This is another crucial question again, placing your kids at the heart of your plans. Are you or your partner moving abroad with an expat contract? Or do you intend to immigrate? Why this country instead of another one? Have you wanted to live abroad for a long time, or was this project only recently born? Talk to your kids about your plans, especially if these are your old dreams. Because, like you, they also have their own dreams. Don't downplay their dreams, have an open-minded attitude when it comes to their questions and disagreements. Make them feel reassured and prepare for the big move together.

Visas for children: for how long can you sponsor them?

To accompany you abroad, your children will need a dependent visa. Countries limit the validity of this visa according to the children's age (generally up to the age of legal adulthood). On this matter, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) offers some more advantages to expats.

The new visas of the UAE, some of which came into force in September, allow expat parents to sponsor their children for a longer period, until they're 25 instead of 18. Golden visa holders enjoy even more benefits. For them, there are no restrictions. They can sponsor their spouse and children without any age limit for the latter. If expats have a green visa, they can sponsor their children up to the age of 25 and, only in the case of unmarried daughters, for an indefinite period.

According to American law, a dependent visa for children concerns only people under 21 years of age. But given the long waiting times, it's possible that a child turns 21 in the course of the visa application procedure. The Child Status Protection Act allows some people who are 21 at the end of the application procedure to still benefit from a “child” visa. The children and parents both have to present themselves for a visa interview. Only children younger than 14 are exempted from this interview.

In Canada, children under the age of 22 are eligible for a dependent visa. Parents can sponsor children who are 22 or older under two specific and compounding conditions: the young person cannot be financially independent because of a physical or mental handicap, and they were already dependent on their parents before turning 22.

The United Kingdom issues a dependent visa only if the child is under 18 when the parents make their application.

Your children's education abroad

There are multiple solutions for educating your child while living abroad.

  • International schools

French, American, British schools, etc. You can opt for an international school if you wish. These schools aren't reserved for expat kids but are also attended by local kids. The advantage is that these schools can provide your child with the same academic pace they were used to back home. It's a way of reconnecting the child with a world they are already familiar with. But be careful about the financial cost. If some of these schools are managed by the governmental authorities of your country of expatriation, most of them are entirely private. Tuition fees can vary considerably from country to country. Your child could also eventually obtain a needs-based scholarship or financial aid.

  • Local schools

Unsurprising, the majority of local children attend local schools. The advantage of enrolling your children in a local school is that they will connect directly with their new life in the host country. They will learn to speak and practice the local language much more easily. They will adapt culturally much more quickly. They will be able to adjust to the locals' lifestyle, norms and customs, and all of these everyday things that we can only acquire through complete cultural immersion.

  • Distance learning

Are you hitting the road as a nomad abroad? You can opt for distance learning courses. Your children will follow the same academic system as that in their home country. France, for instance, allows kids to study remotely through the CNED, the National Center for Distance Education, which is managed by the Ministry of National Education. French expats benefit from around 150 euros for a high schooler. But choosing online or distance learning courses requires more effort from you as a parent. You will need to check if your children are actually following their courses. Sometimes, you will even have to act as a homeschooling teacher. You should ensure that your children have extracurricular activities outside of home, preferably in group settings, to encourage them to socialize.

More tips for moving abroad with children

  • Breaking the news

Break the news to your kids as soon as possible, especially if moving abroad is an old dream of yours. Forget about the emergency family meeting around the dinner table that might trigger; it will only make you stressed. Also, forget about the element of surprise. Your kids might not share your enthusiasm (especially if they are older), and we understand them. If they're not involved in the plans, they'll have even more difficulty imagining themselves abroad.

You can choose to announce the news progressively. Talk as soon as possible about your plans, and keep referring to these with a playful approach: games, videos about the foreign country, books, video call chats with expat families, etc. Involve your children in the choice of school, apartment, future activities, etc. Learn the country's language together. This way, your children will feel empowered and valued.

  • Preparing for the move together 

Involve your other family members in your moving abroad plans, even those who are staying back.

If you are the parent of teenagers, you should take even more time to discuss with them. For example, your teens might be really involved in art or sports club, or they might really like their current school. If you feel that they don't want to follow you abroad, and if you have relatives who are willing to host them while you're not here, do consider that option.

The feelings of younger children (i.e., those at primary school) are also important. It's the age where kids learn to live in society. Don't assume that your child will always accept your choices. Remember that they are separate individuals and that your choices can upset them. Take their opinions into consideration, ask trusted friends and relatives to talk with them, and make the child feel involved in the plans.

You should also take your children's personalities into consideration. We sometimes overlook their feelings or think they are exact copies of us. Are they curious, playful, calm, shy, introverted, or extroverted? Adapt yourself to them and gain their trust.

  • Making a test trip

Ideally, and especially if you've never traveled to your future country of expatriation, do consider making a short test trip of a few weeks there.