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Relocating abroad with children: 26 pieces of advice from expat parents

Are you moving abroad with your family? Are you considering a move? Or have you already relocated to a new country?

There are roughly 50.5 million expats worldwide, many of whom a part of families with children. We know that relocating gives you a lot to think about, but when you’re planning for one or more children you have to think about and plan so much more. So, what can those about to move learn from families who have already moved to new homes in other countries?

Aetna International surveyed 500 expats and asked two questions with the aim of supporting those families considering an international relocation:

Question one: “What single piece of advice would you give to families relocating abroad?”

Question two: “What advice do you wish you’d been given before moving abroad?”

Results: Question one

Top 12 responses to the question “What single piece of advice would you give to families relocating abroad?”

1)    Visit with children before moving
2)    Involve your children in the move and share the experience
3)    Find a good school
4)    Choose the right area/neighbourhood
5)    Plan ahead and do lots of research
6)    Accept that it’s going to be hard
7)    Get your children to embrace the new culture and language
8)    Stay connected with people at home
9)    Enjoy the move!
10) Choose the right house
11) Organise good health care
12) Don’t do it!

Expat parents relocating with children graphic Expat parents relocating with children graphic


Results: Question two

14 pieces of advice in response to “What advice do you wish you’d been given before moving abroad with your family?”

1. Check it out as a family first

a)    “Bring children before the move to help with adjusting”
b)    “Our children greatly benefited from a trip to see the house, neighbourhood and the schools they were going to, so, if that’s an option, do that”

2. Let the children have their say

a)    “If moving with older kids, let them have input into where you live and the house you get. Go on visits, let them look around the houses etc.”
b)    “Moving with a large family is hard, so make sure you give them individual attention and support them through this life changing move.”
c)     “Make sure the children can air their opinions on every part of the move, they could be unhappy if they don’t like the area/school etc.”
d)     “If moving with teens, make them as involved as you can. Make the decisions joint decisions and give them responsibility.”
e)     “Embrace the change and make it a family thing.”
f)      “Remember their social life is important as well.”

3. Research the education options

a) “Setting up your children into schools is hard as it takes a long time to enrol them, so prepare for that.”
b) “International schools were much better for my children. They helped them socialise and learn better with a varied friendship group.”
c) “Good schools are difficult to find and waiting lists are very long.” [Brit living in Singapore}.”
d) “Look at education options for your children, the international schools are not always right.”

4. Choose the right area/neighbourhood

a)    “Find the right neighbourhood with a family doctor, childcare and schools”
b)    “If moving with a young family, make sure the neighbourhood is good for expats and healthy environment for children”
c)    “Make sure they have outside space to grow up in. We had that back home, but not here and I feel it limits my children.
d)    “Cities can be very busy and children can find this unsettling”
e)    But, “Cities are very interesting and offer lots of opportunities for children  socially and educationally”

5. Find social opportunities for your children to make friends

a)    “Help them integrate with other children.”
b)    “The social side of moving impacted my children, so make sure you are moving to a friendly neighbourhood.”
c)     “Join up with community groups to make connections.”
d)     “Encourage children to mix with local families as well as other expats.”
e)    “Find schools and clubs before your arrival so that they settle in with their social life.”
f)     “Definitely consider the social aspect as this is an important factor for children to adjust in new settings, such as school and activity clubs they could join.

6. Maintain strong ties with family and friends back home

a)    “Keep strong connections [and contact] with family at home for your children to stay connected.”
b)     “Make sure they know that they can visit their family and friends back home anytime, but allow them to take advantage of the situation and make new friends!”
c)     “Use social media to help children catch up with friends and family at home.”

7. Investigate your childcare options

a)    “My kids are two and three so looking for trustworthy childcare is expensive and worrying, so make sure you sort out this before the move and look into your options.” [Brit living in the US].
b)    “Find childcare quickly”
c)    “Wait until the children are settled and happy before returning to fulltime work.”

8. Plan your finances very carefully

a)     “I saved money to bridge through the moving period as money was tight.”
b)     “Be prepared for money to be limited”
c)      “My children and I struggled to settle and there were money pressures as I was studying which made it so hard.”

9. Don’t forget to research local doctors and plan for your health care

a)    “Remember to get a family doctor.”
b)     “Look after your kids’ health abroad as it will be easier for them to get ill, so spend more money on health care.”
c)     “Find an international doctor quickly as the change in climate can cause illness when moving.”
d)     “Keep your children fit and healthy, play sport and games.”
e)     “Healthcare and medicine is too expensive and not [to be] trusted.” [Someone living in Dubai]

10. Embrace your new culture, but allow time to adjust

a)    “My children benefited greatly from the education, so make sure they are ready to embrace a new culture and learning new things.”
b)     “Take extra time to adjust to and accommodate cultural differences as children can feel uneasy [in a new country]”
c)     “Remind your kids of your culture and let them know that they are lucky to have a mix of both.”

11. Get a head start on learning the new language

a)     “Teach children to learn and enjoy the new language before relocating.”
b)     “My children are older and because we didn’t know a lot of English they struggled with their high school education.” [Italian living in the US].

12.  Consider the stresses moving with a baby could bring

a)    “If moving with babies, make sure the health support is good, as this [is the] most important time for them.”
b)    “When moving with babies, make sure you keep your support network in your home country, but also find peers in the US [or new country] to support you there.”
c)    But, “Babies settle anywhere.”

13. Consider the impact of moving with young children

a)    “Moving with young children is expensive, childcare and schools cost more than your paycheck” [American living in Dubai]
b)    “Get good childcare in the first few days as balancing work is difficult during the move.”
c)    “Moving with young children, consider where you are moving to and encourage them to be bilingual.”
d)    “Trusted childcare is hard to find.” [Bangladeshi living in India]
e)    “Moving with a very young child can be very challenging.”
f)      “My child is an only child and is eight, meaning the friends he made became his siblings. He found the move hard because he was lonely, so I would say send them to clubs around the area to make more friends.”
g)     “My children are young so looking for a safe environment is important and schools that are suitable.”
h)     “If moving with family, be aware that shock can have distinct effects on young children.”
i)       “The weather can be unsettling for a young child used to cooler conditions.”

14   Think about the impact a move will have on your teens

a)    “The moving process isn't unsettling for small children. It’s worse for the older ones.”
b)    “When moving older children and teenagers, make sure you consider how this will impact them socially and be a support in finding friends.”
c)     “Let your child chose a school that is best for them, schools in America are diverse and the nearest one may not be the most appropriate.”
d)     “My children are older and because we didn’t know a lot of English, they struggled with their high school education.”
e)     “If moving with teens, make them as involved as you can. Make the decisions joint decisions and give them responsibility.”
f)      “I moved with teenagers and my advice is to settle them in gradually and make sure you are moving into a safe neighbourhood where they can make friends and go to a good school.”

Download the full survey data here

Pre-trip planning: Essential preparation to help ensure a successful international move

2016 report by Chalré  Associates, found that the most common reasons cited for expatriates not staying abroad for the planned duration include:

  • adjustment problems
  • dissatisfaction with quality of life
  • inadequate support for the employee and their family while overseas.

The 2015 National Foreign Trade Council survey found that the number one concern of expatriates when it comes to health care is being able to access the services they need. 79% of respondents, or their family members, accessed medical care while on assignment, and 75% said they accessed mostly local providers for their routine medical care.

This is where pre-planning can make all the difference.

Aetna International’s own pre-trip planning support includes establishing each member’s individual needs to build up a complete picture of their lifestyle and health care requirements, as well as their eligible family members. We join the dots, planning for immediate requirements and anticipating potential future needs.

Whether you’re concerned about which medications you can bring into your destination country and if you can get prescription refills locally, or you need to find a suitable physician for yourself or your partner, our 24/7 year-round service includes:

  • a detailed pre-trip planning programme, including information about the health care system in your destination country
  • guidance about the nearest medical centres and what to do in the case of an emergency
  • a health assessment prior to departure to check for potential problems
  • help with shipping medications
  • medical support for chronic conditions
  • help arranging well-being programmes in your destination country.

You can’t plan for every eventuality, but with pre-trip planning we can make sure you and your family’s health care and well-being needs are covered.

For information on all our health care benefits and services, feel free to speak to one of our expert sales consultants.

For further information on international relocation and overseas assignments, read ‘Why do assignments fail and how to avoid it?’

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