Moving abroad with your family

family at airportMore people than ever are living abroad - the UN estimates 232 million people lived and worked outside their home country last year. But while so many are choosing to start a new life somewhere round the world, upping sticks with children does give you a few extra things to think about.

Doing your research and preparing as much as possible will help you and your family settle into your new life. We've teamed up with World of Expats and scoured the Mumsnet Talk boards to offer some guidance if you're considering, or starting to plan, a move abroad with your family.

 

10 things to consider when relocating a family

1. Research your planned destination before you go

Find out all you can about the lifestyle, day-to-day practicalities and immigration requirements. Will family life be very different in your new location, and how will you manage this? When moving with small children you need to reassure them and try to keep some routine. It's good to have answers to basic questions they're likely to have about what will happen when you move.

2. If you can, visit before moving

Orientation visits are particularly useful where you have limited knowledge of an area you are considering moving to, and in any case can provide real insight about the new location. It is highly risky to move based on your experiences and memories of an enjoyable holiday – the things you're looking for in a home will be quite different. If you can, talk to other expats who live there all year and ask about the good as well as the challenges of living there full time.

  • There's a great community of expats on Mumsnet's Living Overseas Talk topic - pop over and say a virtual hello.

3. What will you do when you get there?

If moving with a job, you'll have at least some plan of what you're heading for and if you're lucky the company will help with setting things up at the other end. If your move is due to your partner's career, some immigration regulations may mean you won't be able to work, at least for a period of time. If this is the case, you need to consider your financial situation, but also look into other options for things to do to help you settle and meet new people – for example studying or doing voluntary work.

4. Look into the cost of living

"Look into rent costs, schooling costs and cost of living. A good idea is to do a spreadsheet for your cashflow for the first year. The (hidden) upfront set-up costs are horrendous and could break you if you don't do the sums properly."

In many places as well as culture shock, you can experience 'value shock'; some items will be significantly cheaper than you are used to and others significantly more expensive. Make sure you understand the cost of living in your intended destination and what you need to earn to fund the lifestyle you want to lead.

Don't forget to factor in flights home and think about moving costs, if this isn't being provided as part of a relocation package.

5. Investigate the education options

Depending on the age of your children, this will be a key consideration when deciding to relocate. Education systems can vary greatly in different countries, so take a look at the curriculum and what stage they'll be entering into. The timing may be out of your control, but if possible aim to move before the start of a new school year to allow your child to start alongside their new classmates.

You also need to consider how long you may be staying in the country. If there's a chance you will move back home, or to another destination, before your children complete their education, you may want to look at international schools, which will allow your child to move more easily between the different systems. Equally, if you're planning to stay long-term, attending a local school can help form social groups (for children, and parents).

If you are moving to a country with a different language, this is also a consideration – will it be an opportunity for your children to become bilingual, or will not knowing the language hold them back? 

There's a lot to think about, but also plenty of positives to moving children and introducing them to a different culture. Often those who move abroad when they're young develop a broader knowledge and have a great global outlook.

6. Think about your housing options

If you currently own a property, do you need to sell it when you move? Holding on to it may be valuable in terms of keeping finances in your home country, and a foot on the property ladder. It will also help you retain some stability - knowing that it's always there to return to one day if you want. If you let it go, you may feel that you're giving up your 'old life' completely, making the relocation that bit more daunting.

When you move, consider taking temporary accommodation to get the feel for an area before you commit to a long-term rental or buying a home.

"In my experience, expats very often end up staying longer than they expect, so I would suggest that you plan your living arrangements accordingly."

7. Research local services

"The absolute most important thing to look into is health insurance. Check to make sure you are 100% clear on what is covered and what isn't, how much, who is covered, and if any of you take regular prescriptions find out as soon as you can how much they might cost for each refill. And, be prepared for a shock if you're used to the NHS!"

When you move to a new country many of the services you are used to may be provided in a very different way. For example, if you are used to the NHS, the system in the US will be very different, as it will be in Australia. You need to understand how the system works and what it will cost.

You should understand your banking, insurance and other financial needs as much as possible before you move, and allow time to get things set up once you arrive.

8. Prepare family and friends for your move

Telling family and friends you're moving will be hard (for both parties). Reassure them that you can stay in touch – things are so easy these days with video calls, social media and email. 

"Remember the change can be scary for other people - they aren't going off on an adventure, they are left here without you."

In a fit of wild hospitality and possibly homesickness you will invite everyone to visit you. Depending on where you are living, they may all just turn up! At first this is delightful, but soon you will start to feel that you are running a hotel. It can be hard work, and expensive, to accommodate visitors, so ask them to plan trips around you - decide on how long they can stay, perhaps suggest times of the year when it would be best to come or even recommend other nearby places they can explore at the same time as dropping in.

9. Become part of the community

When you arrive in your new home, try to join clubs or groups to help you meet other expats and families in similar situations to yourself. Use every chance to find out more about your new home and take advantage of everything it has to offer. You may need to speak the local language, but even if you do not it is well worth acquiring a basic familiarity. This is something you can do as a family before you go.

10. Embrace your new home

Live every day as though your move is permanent and non-negotiable. It can be hard, but it's the only way. This has the potential to be a very exciting period in your life, full of new experiences and possibilities that might never have come your way at home. Make sure you grab every new opportunity that presents itself and live your new life to the full. Of course, moving abroad with your family is a huge change. Give everyone time to adjust, and cut yourself some slack. When you look back you will not remember the everyday hassles and frustrations, you will remember the great people you met, the wonderful places you visited and the new things you did.

 

Some advice from other Mumsnetters who have made the move:

  • "The first three months are taken up getting accommodation sorted, adjusting to new jobs, settling kids into schools, finding out where to do shopping, finding nice places to explore on the weekends, etc. Then from month four onwards, the novelty wears off and you're back to normal life but not yet with firm friends, noticing the less-than-perfect aspects and hyper-aware of how everything differs from 'home'. It's not unusual for it to take quite a while to feel settled."
  • "Put everything into meeting people and making new friends and bit by bit you'll start to feel more settled. If you're not an outgoing person by nature, it can be tough at first, but it does become easier over time."

 

This content has been created with World of Expats, a site that offers guidance and advice on emigrating.

Last updated: 08-Jul-2014 at 10:40 AM