Deciding to uproot your family and start a new life abroad can fill you with hope and excitement, but you must take a step back and consider the impact it could have on your loved ones. As well as saying goodbye to friends and family, you’re also taking your child out of their usual surroundings and asking them to make new friends, learn a new language, settle in at a new school, and commit to the move just as much as you are. Below, we’ve put together the biggest pros and cons to help you decide whether expat life is right…
Although English is one of the most popular languages and many international schools teach in English, the chances are that your child will have to learn to speak another language. This can seem daunting to both you and them, but slowly introducing them to the language before you move can give them confidence and ensure that they’re able to fully integrate when they arrive. Depending on where in the world you move, and the nature of their education, they’ll likely be eased into foreign-language lessons over time and offered one-on-one support, but be sure to check the availability of such support at schools before making an application.
Educating your children locally offers several advantages. Not only will they pick up the local lingo far quicker than through private tuition or language apps, but they’ll make friends and feel like they’re part of the community much faster. Of course, it helps if you already use the language at home - introduce it to them and learn together before you start relocating.
One of the biggest drawbacks of moving to another country with your children is that their education will likely be disrupted. They’ll be studying a different syllabus in a new language and their previous skills and qualifications might not be recognised by schools and colleges. The chances are that they’ll be learning about different things, and this can lead to a real culture shock depending on their age. A good school will help to ease the transition, perhaps even working with your child’s former school to create a plan of action ahead of the move.
There are many ways that you can reduce the burden. Timing is crucial - try not to relocate in the same year as GCSE or A-Level exams, and where possible, move over the summer holidays so that you have time to settle in and find the right school. Research into local schooling, too; in Spain, for example, applications for placements are due by March for term to begin in September. Timing your move to have your child start at the beginning of term will make it easier for them to settle; starting class mid-term will only add to their stress.
Another advantage of relocating is that your child will become more reliant on you and their siblings for support and social interaction - at least in the short-term. Moving to a strange, far away location can be daunting, but it will bring you closer together as a family, strengthening your bond. You’ll be experiencing new cultures together for the first time, and make some memories that will last a lifetime. Pre-empting your move with a few weeks’ holiday to the country can be a good way to ease the pressure, helping create positive first impressions.
According to an HSBC study, most expats say that moving abroad had a positive impact on their children and family life. Set aside time in the early days of your move to explore your new town together, head to the grocery store, and try to make some connections early on. Introducing yourself to neighbours and joining a hobby club can be a great ice breaker and help you and your children make friends, which will ease the transition and help you settle in.
The unfortunate truth is that upping sticks with your children can be a traumatic experience, especially for older kids who have strong ties in their home country. Whether it’s the thought of missing friends, family, boyfriends, or their home, you should prepare yourself for some difficult conversations - and accept that they may resent you for tearing them apart from their current life. Make sure they keep in touch with their friends on social media and FaceTime and include your kids in conversations about relocating early on. The more involved they are, and the more notice they have, the less likely they are to kick off or object to the move.
As a parent, it’s also important to encourage discussion and listen to their concerns. It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement and stress of the move and forget about your kids’ feelings and emotions. Some will be feeling loss, others anxiety, and they might not be able to voice their concerns for fear of upsetting or offending you. Try to create an open dialogue.
Moving abroad allows you and your children to experience a truly different way of life. It could be that you spent too much time working in the UK and want to secure a better work-life balance, or that jobs in your new country offer more generous remuneration which can help you give your children a better life. Emigrating also opens up endless possibilities for your children in terms of job prospects, relationships, hobbies, and more. It will no doubt seem alien at first, but that’s part of the excitement and sets you off on a different trajectory.
Highlight the benefits when discussing the move with your children. Compare your current life in the UK with the potential life you could enjoy abroad. Be open about your finances and outlook on life and get them excited about the future - it’ll make saying goodbye easier.
Moving abroad also helps you and your children learn how to communicate and integrate with new communities, opening up your lives and helping you adapt to different situations, which is an important life lesson.
Finally, it’s important to mention that your children will no doubt miss their old life back at home, even if you give them the world abroad. The chances are that they’ll experience a “culture shock” - it’s important to acknowledge this and offer your support. Keep an eye on their attitude and watch out for changes in their behaviour. Again, keeping an open dialogue is important here - the more transparent you are, and the more support you can offer them, the better it’ll be. Language and culture barriers take time to adjust to, but they’ll get there.
From a behavioural standpoint, younger children (those aged 10 and under) find it easier to form new friendships and learn a new language faster than older children. For teenagers, it might be worth considering a personal tutor to help them adjust to their new surroundings, school work and language, and counselling could be required to help them fully integrate into the community, but you should see this as an opportunity rather than something to fear.
The Money Saving Expat blog is jam-packed full of advice for families with young children. Click here to read more of our articles and check back soon for new updates, every month.
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