Moving to a different country can be a very exciting prospect, especially if your loved ones are going to accompany you. Most people look forward to exploring a new environment, and interaction with people of different cultures is one of the most enriching experiences for both adults and children.
However, it is only natural for some people to be less than delighted and enthusiastic about the change. First of all, there is a lot of work involved in relocating, which some family members may find very stressful.Moreover, moving requires a considerable amount of adjustment, not just for adults but also for children. Many may find the thought of leaving their friends, family, and familiar lives behind, only to start afresh in a foreign, unknown land highly daunting.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make this transition much easier for your family. Below are ten easy yet important tips for moving abroad with your family.
Conduct thorough research about the destination
Before you actually make the decision to move, read up as much as you can about the country and city that you are considering. There is no such thing as too much information. Learn whatever you can about important cultural and other aspects, such as the lifestyle, economy, people, diversity, safety & security, infrastructure, education, healthcare, visas, banking, taxes, etiquette, traditions, cuisines, and things to do. You may also want to understand how employment and property ownership works in that country. Books and the internet are excellent resources of such information.
Never restrict your research to travel websites and brochures, as they will only give you a rosy picture about the place. If possible, get in touch with other foreigners (preferably people from your country) living there, and ask them specific questions. Fortunately, there are numerous expat forums online which can help you connect with individuals from all over the world.
Detailed knowledge about the country may not alter your decision to move, but it will at least prepare you and your family for what to expect. Presenting pictures, attractions, and interesting facts about the new place to your parents, spouse and children may just increase their enthusiasm about relocating. However, don’t make the mistake of only giving them the highlights, as you don’t want them to be disappointed when they actually move. Prepare them, gently, for the worst too, so that they aren’t in for any shocks later.
Make a preliminary trip
Take your family to the country for a holiday if possible. An orientation visit is very useful if you have limited knowledge about the area. Staying there, even for a short period of time, will give you some hands-on experience of how things are probably going to be when you actually make the move. Of course, most people usually focus on the positive aspects of a place when they are on a vacation. Bear in mind that living there permanently will almost always be a substantially different experience.
Plan your visit during the off-peak season, preferably during the winter or rainy period. While there, evaluate the living conditions as well as the health, safety, and education situations for your family. Try and connect with other foreigners or people from your country who are settled there. Also make an attempt to gauge whether the locals are welcoming and make friends with new expats easily.
Another advantage of a trip before the actual move is that you get the opportunity to set things up. This will give you an idea about items that are available in the country and can therefore be left behind as well as the ones that you need to bring with you, since it isn’t always possible to take all your possessions along.
Talk the talk
If the first language of the new country isn’t the same as your mother tongue, it is best that you all start learning (and practising) some basic words that will at least help you get around when you move. This will help make the transition much smoother. Speaking the native lingo is also going to be important for making friends with the locals.
Children are more adept at picking up different languages than adults are. Today, it isn’t necessary to take up a class for learning a language. Invest in a few CDs and DVDs that you can all listen to or watch together. Moreover, there are numerous websites and phone apps that help adults as well as children learn and practise foreign languages with the help of fun games. Of course, you don’t have to gain near-native fluency in the language, at least in the beginning. Just make sure that you all know enough to communicate with the people around you after moving.
Remember that many languages differ according to the country in which they are spoken. For example, Spanish in Europe is not the same as the dialects used in South America. Similarly, British & Australian English is quite different from American and Canadian English. You should therefore make sure that you all learn the dialects used in the country/ city that you are moving to.
Calculate your income and the cost of living
Is it worth uprooting yourself and your family if you aren’t going to save any money? Will you end up having a better lifestyle in the new country than you currently do?
One of the main reasons why people move to a foreign location with their families is better career prospects. They believe that they will be able to make and put aside more money than they are currently doing. Unfortunately, many expats find themselves saving little or nothing as their cost of living is much higher than what it was back home. It is therefore essential to carefully look at your income and possible expenses (including moving, visas, rent, children’s education, grocery, transportation, utilities, leisure, traveling, taxes, etc) before taking the plunge.
Apart from a culture shock, some expats go through a “value shock” when they realize that some expenses are much lower than what they are used to, while others are way higher. To avoid this problem, make a list of your monthly budget and check online to see how much you are likely to spend. You may find yourself cutting down on some basic stuff just to make ends meet in the other country.
Things like these are much easier to consider if you already have a source of income, like a job offer. Those who are planning to seek jobs after moving, such as a spouse or dependent, should also consider their monthly expenditure and take up offers accordingly.
Consider education options carefully
Education is likely to be one of the key considerations for relocation, depending on the ages of your children. However, since the teaching and assessment systems followed vary significantly in different countries, it is essential for you to look at the curriculum and the stage that your children will be entering into.
The first choice for you to make is the language of education. Do you want your children to be educated in your native language, or the local language of the country you are moving to? Depending on your preference, you can choose a local or international school for the children. Almost all of these schools follow the curriculum that has been designed by the education authorities of that state. The advantage of local schools is that your children will have local classmates. This will also help them learn the language and culture sooner.
Many developed and developing countries have internationals schools, where the main language for education is English. The curriculum followed could be British, American, Canadian, Australian or Swiss (IB) to name a few. However, these schools are quite expensive and have a majority of expat students. If you are planning to relocate again after a few years, an international school may be a better option for your kids.
If you are in a place to choose when your children join their new school, aim for the start of the academic year, as it will give them more time to adjust.
Look at various housing options
If your family is used to living in a large townhouse with a garden, they might hate being cooped up in a flat or apartment once they move. On the other hand, they may find the idea of moving to a condominium building with new amenities quite exciting.
The types of houses often differ from one country to another. Residential buildings in some countries offer more amenities than others. It is essential to know more about the kind of place you will be living in before you move. House hunting is a complicated and difficult procedure, especially in a foreign land. It may be a good idea to engage the services of an estate agent to make the search easier.
If your company is offering you accommodation, ask for pictures and information about where it is located. Alternately, check if you have the option to choose your own house within a certain budget. When looking for a place to live, security and accessibility should be some of the main considerations.
Regardless of how much you like the houses in the country you’ve moved to, it is always a good idea to rent for the initial few months – up to the first 2 years or so – before deciding to invest in property.
Prepare the entire family
Every cloud has a silver lining and this includes relocating to a different country. Discuss the positive aspects of moving with your family regularly and invite them to tell you how they feel about it. If they aren’t happy, let them talk about their concerns. Never force them to be enthusiastic about the change.
Don’t paint a rosy picture about the new place to your children; give them the positive and the negative so that they don’t have to deal with disappointment when they move. Encourage them to read up and find out as much as they can about the new place.
One of the best ways to ease relocation anxiety is by getting every member involved in packing. Make sure that your kids are around when their bags are being packed. Let them have a say in what they want to take along and which items can be left behind. Allowing them to make small decisions makes them feel that they have some control over their lives.
You can also get the rest of your family involved in decisions regarding housing and education.
Join an expat forum or club
This step helps you both before and after making the move. Being a part of an online expat forum can help you with your research prior to your relocation. You can ask other foreigners living in the country about how things work and plan your lifestyle accordingly.
Many of these forums have weekly or monthly activities for expats. This could be a great way for you to meet and socialize with other like-minded people.
Integrate yourself into the community
While it is a great idea to meet up with other expats, making friends with the locals is also important, especially if you work or interact with them regularly. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to invite everyone into your home the first time you meet them. It is best to take gradual steps while making friends with the locals.
Apart from speaking the local language, try and find out about the customs and traditions followed in the new country, to make sure that you don’t offend anyone. A gesture that is perfectly acceptable back home may be considered rude in the place that you have moved to.
It is also essential to get acquainted with the laws, rules and regulations of your new country.
Give yourself and the others some time to adjust
Constantly comparing your new surroundings to what you’re used to will only keep you and your family from adjusting. Keep an open mind and encourage your family to learn, experience, and explore new things. Also, don’t expect everyone to get used to their new location overnight. Spend time with them as they soak in the new culture, and let them accept the change in situation gradually.
Do you have any other important tips that can help families moving abroad? Let us know in the comments!