Three tips for successfully moving abroad with children

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Moving overseas with kids – when is the best time?

I’m sure most of you will have heard of the real estate three tips for a successful property purchase:

  1. Location
  2. Location
  3. Location

On a similar note, my three tips for successfully moving abroad with children are:

  1. Timing
  2. Timing
  3. Timing!

Before looking at these tips in more detail, let’s look at the concept of ‘time’ and ‘timing’.

Time versus timing

Time is extremely important in our lives; it helps us structure our daily lives and activities, so that we can live more organized, productive and enjoyable lives. While there are always drawbacks to being too conscious of time (such as the feeling of being “ruled by the clock”), it is essential that we have this marker to use while we work, play, grow older and make important life changing decisions. This becomes even more crucial when we become parents and have our children to care for and manage.

“Time only seems to matter when it’s running out” – Peter Strup

Timing is a key factor to the success of many events in our lives. Knowing when to act is critical in anything we do. If we are aware of the importance of timing, we are more likely to be successful. However, if we ignore the importance of timing, achieving success becomes more of an uphill struggle.

It can be argued that timing determines whether we will be able to reach our goals or not. It can be the conditions we create or the hand that life has dealt to us at any given point. However, when planning on moving abroad with children, the hand of fate often plays a minor role.

Dictionary definitions: timing (noun)

  • the selecting of the best time for doing or saying something in order to achieve the desired effect.
  • the process or art of regulating actions or remarks in relation to others to produce the best effect, as in music, the theatre, sport.

So, what ‘timing’ am I referring to in my 3 tips for successfully moving abroad with children?

My experience is based on my dealings with families moving to Spain with children; however the general concepts can be applied to any country.

All three elements are factors I deem essential to consider when planning the timing of your move abroad;

  1. Timing: as in the right time in your child’s life
  2. Timing: as in the time of year
  3. Timing: in relation to your own life

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot” – Michael Althsuler

It’s all about the children

We are adults. We are responsible for our decisions and our actions. As parents, we are also responsible for the decisions we make for our children. This may seem obvious, but a recent survey I have conducted, about moving to Spain with children (by people who have already done it), brought some shocking truths to light.

What is the right age to move abroad with children?

There is no one correct answer to “When is the right age to move abroad with children?” However, this is a question you must ask yourself about your own personal situation.

Generally, the younger the children the more adaptable and open to change they are, and therefore easier to move. If you are moving to a country that does not speak your native tongue, the younger the age of the child, the earlier they will adapt to the new language if they are immersed in it.

Older children may be more resistant to the idea of moving to another country due to leaving friends and of course the more complicated issues in terms of education. On the other hand, they understand a great deal more about different cultures, retain far more, and can therefore gain much more from the experience.

There are many online articles and guides about how to prepare your children for their move abroad, take time to read them and learn from other peoples experiences. Irrespective of age, the more time you spend planning your move and involving your children in your plans, the more likely you are to achieve success.

What is the best time of year to relocate overseas?

Provided you have a choice about when you move, (ie, it is not subject to work demands, although that does not always have to dictate the timing of your child’s move), the only way you can decide is by researching your chosen destination.

I am often surprised at the number of families who tell me that they are planning to move to Spain “just before Christmas” or “over the Christmas period”. I cannot think of a worse time. Needless to say, their plans change following their first conversation with me.

Why do I consider this to be a bad choice? In a nutshell; the weather, school timetables and Christmas celebrations!

Tip 1: Research the weather patterns of your chosen destination.

Here in Southern Spain, the majority of people chose to move here for the sunnier climate and the wonderful outdoor lifestyle (amongst other factors of course!). However, the weather is generally the most unreliable between the months of December and March. As a result, you and your children will not be starting off in the best climatic conditions. Your promises of sunny days on the beach and outdoor lifestyle may well be questioned!

Tip 2: Research local and traditional celebrations in your new destination.

Christmas and New Year is traditionally a time to be spent with friends and family. It is the most celebrated time of year in some countries but not in all. Imagine, your first Christmas in your new destination where you do not know anybody, you may not even be able to buy a Christmas tree and all the gifts sent by post have not yet arrived. Not an ideal situation for our loved wee ones is it?

Tip 3: Research school term times and enrolment procedures.

In Spain, school applications are generally submitted in March, places are confirmed by June and term starts in September. So, why move over in December? Even in our home country, starting a child in a new school in the middle of the school year can be challenging. Imagine starting them in a new school in a new country in the same circumstances. Don’t we at least want to try and make it easier for them?

In many countries, schools offer summer camps in the months of July and August, this is a great opportunity for your child to meet some of their new classmates to be, in a more relaxed and fun environment. Why not check this out before finalising the planned time of you move?

Is this the right time for you?

People move abroad for many reasons. People also move back to their home county for many reasons. Unfortunately, these are not always the right reasons.

How do you know if this is the right time in your life to make the move?

Ask yourself: What is my main reason for wanting to move abroad?

Work Commitments? Many people move abroad for work commitments. If this is your case, are you sure that taking the children with you is the best choice? Have you considered commuting? Many families live very happy lives like this. Check out the alternatives and ensure that your new destination is suitable for your children. Does it offer the opportunities you want for them?

Looking for new job opportunities for yourself? This is a difficult one, especially in the current economic climate. I am currently advising people not to move to Spain unless they are financially independent or they have secured a guaranteed work contract.

In search of a better lifestyle? This is thankfully the main reason people tell me. It is the reason I most love to hear. It is the reason I live where I live. It is the reason I love my work.

“Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.” – Pope Paul VI

So there you have it, my three (and a few more!) tips for successfully moving abroad with children. My aim is to give you food for thought, questions to ask yourself and to drive home the importance of research, planning and timing.

We are always told that we learn by making mistakes. However, many mistakes can be avoided by learning from others who have made the move and who are ready to help you. You only have to ask!

By Lisa Sadleir

Choosing the right school for your child is one of the hardest decisions you’ll make as an expat parent when moving abroad.

There are many education options around for expats, and so much depends on your individual family set-up and child that there is no ‘one-school-fits-all’ solution. Each child is different and each country’s school system is different, even within the ‘generic’ international schools. Also, families differ in their requirements and aspirations, and even relocations vary greatly. What worked well for you all in one country won’t necessarily be replicated in your next move.

It’s easy to get very stressed at this point. Don’t panic! I’ve put together this book to help you kick-start your search for the best type of school for your child.

Now available on your local Amazon.

Get instant access to an abridged version here

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  1. These are great tips! Moving abroad with kids can be a challenge. Especially if the kids are old enough to have hard times adapt to the new way of thinking and living. I believe that this kind of decision should be made only if the kids are young and will not suffer from the change. Thank you for sharing! Carole

    1. Thank you so much! I am so grateful to have found your website.
      I am a 100% medically retired American military veteran, and I am looking to relocate my family in search of a better place to live and learn new cultures, language. Thankfully I am retired and get a pension. Luckily I get paid no matter what and would love to relocate with my children and husband. This website is perfect for planning and asking myself “am I doing the right thing?” Thank you!

  2. Pingback: Tips For Moving Abroad With Children
  3. I think this is well said. I agree with you on the two main points: The time in your life (and your children’s lives) when you move abroad is not as important as you may think. It always seems like a bad time, and it always ends up being a good time, in the end. My takeaway would be that if you have the opportunity to move abroad, you should do it, almost no matter what. The only exception I can see to this is if your child is in his/her final year of schooling. As for timing, I also agree. We twice moved our kids (once to South Africa and then back to the U.S. three years later) in the middle of the year, and it wasn’t optimal in both instances. Moving there we came to a brand new place not knowing anyone, and since everyone else at the school already knew each other, it wasn’t quite so easy for our kids to make new friends. Coming back here, it was easier, as the U.S. is one of the easiest places to make new friends (I would say, from our experience), but our kids by now were older and the problem arose that in the high school they didn’t let you take any AP classes (the higher level classes that are so important if you want to be admitted into an elite university) for just half a year. So our son sort of had to bide his time taking filler classes he really didn’t need, and not being able to bolster his grade point average as high as he could have with AP classes, making his overall average lower. This probably all sounds very technical to a non-US citizen, and it really is silly to have to watch for things like that. Overall I’d say it’s still totally worth it to move when given the chance, due to all the exposure the kids get, and you can’t just go by a school curriculum to make that decision. In the end it all works out.

    1. Thank you for a wonderfully positive comment, Sine! Yes, it does sound a little confusing to this non-US citizen, but I’m really pleased it’s worked out for you. I’m guessing your kids were able to attend an American school in South Africa which, I would think, made the transition somewhat easier. Unfortunately we didn’t have a similar experience moving mid-years and our daughter repeated so many subjects yet totally missed out on others. I’m sure as an adult this will be no issue for her, but currently in school she’s finding it hard work to catch up. She is doing remarkably well, academically, but only due to her current excellent school and the effort she is putting in. With hindsight we would have taken more care with her schooling and timing. But as always, hindsight is 20:20!

      1. In fact, they went to a South African private school, not the American one. Which was the best decision we ever made in terms of them getting great cultural exposure. Although the Am. School would have made it a lot easier as there would not have been a shift in school year (SA goes Jan-Dec). But that is my point. Even when it seems more difficult, it is worth it in the end. It shouldn’t always be smooth sailing for the kids, a little struggle at times isn’t the worst that can happen to them, and it will make them stronger. And the actual contents of your academic curriculum are really rather unimportant compared with the overall school experience. At least that is what I have learned in all of this. South Africa was great for our kids in that “overall” category:-)

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