Although you may worry about many things before moving overseas with your children, three topics are mentioned far more than any others as being the biggest cause of relocation anxiousness.
Even if you have lived overseas before, these worries will rear their ugly heads again when looking towards your next move. They are relevant even if you are planning to return to your home country.
In fact, I would say that these three particular concerns are foremost in many parents’ minds a good deal of the time, regardless of their expat status.
In no particular order, these three concerns are; education, safety and health-care.
Making the ‘which school’ decision is possibly one of the hardest us parents have to go through. And it’s not just school-age children we worry about; selecting a kindergarten or nursery is just as traumatic for parents. We worry that if we pick ‘wrong’ school our child’s future will be ruined. It won’t be. Kids are remarkably adaptable.
We agonise over the choice, or lack of choice, of schools; we worry that our child will be unhappy and won’t make friends; we fret that the education isn’t as good as it would be in ‘insert country here’, and we worry about foreign language immersion or not enough language immersion.
We’ll look into choosing a school overseas in more depth in other articles, but for now, all you can do is select the best school available near to where you will live. And be aware that it’s perfectly OK to change your ideals and your mind – I have had to.
It is better to change schools if the school is actively failing your child for whatever reason. Most children come to no harm by moving schools, but be aware that too much change can be harmful to some children. Only you know your child and can work out how they will deal with this, so think carefully.
Safety and security in your new country
This concern will depend entirely upon which country you’re moving to. It’s perfectly possible to live securely and safely in a country with a ‘bad’ reputation. You need to do your research, speak to other residents of that country and take heed of the advice given to you. Why not join my Facebook community and see if anyone there knows about your potential new home country?
Conversely, the opposite can happen. You can move to a very ‘safe’ country where things happen that you couldn’t imagine in your home country. We spent five years living in Tokyo, where Japanese children have to travel to school on their own from the age of six. This includes travelling independently on public transport. My daughter wanted to follow their lead. We didn’t permit this (mainly because she has no sense of direction!), although she was give errands to run at a much younger age than we would possibly have allowed had we still been living in the UK. She went to the shops and the post office, involving crossing a major road when she was about six or seven years old.
She adored the independence and trust given to her, but was confused when we moved to Berlin where such freedoms can’t be bestowed. This is not to say Berlin is necessarily less ‘safe’ than Tokyo, but our location means similar errands require driving a car. And then we ended up in South Africa where independence is much harder to effect.
Adaptability it the key here – you need to adapt to your surroundings and do what is right for your family even if it’s not the same as the locals do.
Expat health care
Sort out a good health-care plan and medical insurance before you move and check what health services are available to you in that particular country. Health care systems vary from country to country and might not include services you have come to expect from your current structure.
If you or your child has an existing condition requiring regular medical care, ensure that you plan even more than most people would. You need to ascertain that your medication is supplied, or even permitted, in your new country. Talk to your doctor in plenty of time in case you need to change your medication; better to do that on familiar territory than in a new country.
Perhaps I should add here that your concerns will change as your child grows up. Worrying about which buggy to choose, and which kindergarten to put your child in to will pale into insignificance as your child gets older. Then you will be confronted by anxieties such as how much freedom will your teenager be allowed? How will they fare at exam time? Will they get in with the ‘wrong crowd’? I won’t go on…
Natural or man-made disasters can happen anywhere. You don’t know if you’ll end up living through a hurricane, an earthquake or a terrorist attack. Chances are that you won’t. Worrying about these events will get you nowhere, so all you can do is live life to the full and keep an eye on the news. Being prepared helps ease worries too.
These are exactly the same concerns all parents have, regardless of the country they live in. Your worries cannot be taken away, as they are valid, but perhaps in voicing those anxieties, you can help alleviate them in some way.
And accept that continuous worry is a fact of parenthood!
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we sent two children to local schools in pretoria, both had very different educational experiences, which resulted in sending the youngest child back to the UK to boarding school, however, neither child has had issues with changing schools and at almost 18 and 22, they say going to school in another country was the best thing they did.
I help expats with cars – primarily when coming to the US – BUT…
The house to rent/buy, and where to live ,should be a choice AFTER figuring which school is best. In the US, you are assigned to the public school district by your address.
The best thing to do is figure the best school choice, then find a home that is within reasonable distance considering school, work, nearby important locations; that is when the car part comes into play.
Use a school choice consulting firm like School Choice International. The work has already been done lots of times before. It’s worth the cost. It’s too difficult to do yourself.
Thank you for sharing, Gerry.
Hi, I would like to disagree with your statement, “children come to no harm by moving schools.” As a child, I was moved from school to school several times and I can say that it DOES have a long lasting effect that I’m still dealing with today. I’m 44.
As an expat myself, I understand all the trials and tribulations of living a life away from ‘home’, but one thing I vowed to do is to keep my son in the same school.
Hi. Thank you for visiting and for your comments. I’m sorry you had a rough time of it.
In fact, since writing this article I have actually changed my mind on this subject and will edit the article to reflect this.
Even 8 years into schooling we continue to wonder if we’ve made the right choice (the French system)! I think in our case it’s a parenthood worry rather than an expat worry, though.
I’m with you on that one! We’re right in the midst of a major change as we’ve experienced quite a few problems with schools. But as you say, that’s also a very valid parenting problem, not necessarily expat related.
When I moved to The Netherlands in 2000 I was told I’d need to take out private healthcare – I *wasn’t* told out that this would be backdated and FINED if I didn’t do it immediately! I thought I was initially covered by the UK reciprocal agreement!
Goodness! That’s a worrying problem. I would have thought the EU would have it covered too. It just goes to show just how much extensive research needs to be done on every aspect of a relocation!