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What to do when moving abroad with children

What to do when moving abroad with children

If you’ve considering moving abroad and you have children, they’re no doubt at the forefront of your mind. Undertaking an international move can be quite stressful and making the change with your children’s best interests at heart can no doubt be intimidating, whether that includes what to pack, where to live, where to look for schools and what it will mean for those you are leaving behind.

First steps

The first thing you need to do is plan in fine detail. Look at your lifestyle and habits and decide which habits are must have. Thinking of the things that are important to your children, such as friends or extracurricular activities, and how you plan on addressing them is key. If they’re worried about activities sit down with them online and try to find equivalents at your destination. Promise them you will diarise online calls with their friends for regular catch ups and install messaging apps on their phones. If you can afford it provide regular trips back home so they don’t feel like they won’t be seeing their loved ones for a very long time. 

Even if they don’t object too much at first, make sure to be enthusiastic about the relocation, no matter how stressful the process will be for you. The idea might appeal to them at first but as the reality of the move sinks in they might start to object so make sure to keep highlighting the positives. These can include a warmer, sunnier climate, a house with a pool, room for friends to visit, better private education, more chances to explore, less crime etc. Word of warning however, don’t make promises you can’t keep as you risk breaking your children’s trust in you, which will undermine your efforts in the long run. 

When should you move?

If you don’t have a professional reason to move at a certain time of year, there are many factors to consider in this instance. What is the social calendar like where you’re moving to? What about the weather in the beginning of the year? When do schools start and when would you need to enrol for them?

Many countries in Europe are quite cold in the beginning of the year, which will affect your plans if you want to hit the ground running with outdoor events and activities. For example in Spain people tend to cancel social plans when it’s raining and in Greece August is a write off for anything other than going to the beach. In France you need to register for school in June whereas in other countries it could be earlier. 

What’s the best age for a child to move abroad?

As well intentioned as that question is, there’s no cut and dry answer. Obviously this will depend on your circumstances but different ages will have different advantages and disadvantages when it comes to international relocation. 
Younger children will benefit more in terms of learning the language and adapting to their new surroundings, especially if moving to a non-English speaking country. It will also be easier for them to make new friends but they might be more hostile or throw tantrums if they don’t like the change. 
Teenagers will be less likely to move happily as they’ve already established strong social bonds and have more at stake in terms of education. Older children however, are more likely to enjoy the prospect of travelling to nearby destinations and gaining new experiences.  
Whatever their age, children are adaptable and if you ensure that they’re involved in the decision making (as much as their ages allow) they’ll feel more in touch with the moving process and less likely to object. Try to take your child’s personality under consideration as well, no matter how swept up you get in the preparations, and ask for tips from other parents who have gone through the international relocation process themselves. 

What about changing schools?

Finding a good school should be your biggest priority. If you’re registering your children in public school find out which the best ones are in your catchment area, or plan to move to an area where you know you’ll be able to enrol in a good school. If you prefer to opt for an International school do your research to see if they’re the right fit for your child. Many international schools have waiting lists, so work that into your moving date. 

An International school would be a preferable choice if your children are older and if the curriculum is similar to their existing one and will be less likely to affect their future prospects such as uni or college. If you’re planning on repatriating at some point, this factor will also be significant in terms of minimising disruption to their schedule, as they’ll be able to pick up where they left off. For example, International Baccalaureate is a universal qualification and will provide the consistency you need.

Finally make sure to research your preferred school’s opening hours as these might differ to your working hours which might mean making alternative arrangements for getting your kids to and from school. Remember you’ll be in a new country, with new routines, a new language and different traffic rules than you’re used to so don’t complicate matters by living too far away from the school or being the one to drive them when they can take the bus; just make sure the trip won’t be too long. As always, forewarned is forearmed.  

Keep kids involved and make them feel respected 

It is crucial to ensure that kids feel like they have some control over the situation. You need to keep channels of communication open throughout and make sure to listen to their concerns no matter how silly or trivial these might sound to you. You could make the process sound like a great big adventure but if your kids don’t feel happy with the move, it will mean nothing. At the end of the day you’re the parent and what you say goes but changes of this nature can add to the helplessness that children often feel about the world around them. Children are creatures of habit and upsetting their routine could lead to tantrums and familial discord. 

It cannot be stressed enough that they need to be given some control over their fate. For example you might want to go over your housing options with them and let them have the final say about which house you choose, or at least an equal vote as the parents, so that they feel they’re being listened to. Another area they could help with is packing. Give them free reign over what goes and what stays that way they’ll feel comfortable with the items that will fill their new space. This can apply to furniture as well as their toys. You can even go as far as letting them pack their own suitcase or have them be in charge of the family pet’s travelling arrangements and treats (again depending on their age).

Will you be coming back?

If the move is temporary it will be in your favour to tell you children you will be coming back at some point. Two years will feel like a long time to a child but again, make sure to communicate and focus on the positive aspects of the move. Two years with a pool for example will be an easier sell than without, but the move back will also be potentially upsetting so make sure to emphasise the temporary nature of the relocation. 

For positives you can focus on the friends and family they’ll be close to once again but if your lifestyle is going to radically change again (i.e. no more pool) make sure to prepare them for that. Repatriation after an international relocation will feel like double the work but if you follow the steps outlined above and keep communication channels open it can be made as simple as possible. 
If you need help selecting a home, school or other amenities at your new international location make sure to speak to your Move Manager who will be able to provide you with the precise level of support you require for your move. For more info on our services click here.


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