6 tips for Expat Families Moving Abroad

 

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Moving abroad? Read on for a few tips. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

RELOCATION: It’s always easy to be wise after the event. And there was never a better example than when we moved to the US on our first international assignment.

In hindsight there are many things I wished I had done before relocating our family.

Here are some of our learnings that were gained mostly the hard way:

1.  Visit your new location to experience the culture and investigate the safety, health and education aspects

You should preview the place you’re relocating to, for lots of reasons, not least of all to best evaluate the safety, health and education situations available for your family. These three areas are probably the most critical things to achieving a healthy, happy lifestyle as an expat.

 Whether you’re relocating to Somalia or the USA, every country has its own specific safety aspects to check out. Reading about it is very helpful, especially online, but seeing it, is all together different. This is a must-do when there are any safety doubts. If you do not feel safe when you are visiting, then you should reconsider moving there. It’s best to sort this out first before you decide to relocate.

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It is better to visit to see firsthand what your potential new international home is like. Online views can only give you a limited perspective. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

Accessibility and quality of the healthcare provided is just as important. If you are faced with a major crisis or life-threatening situation, then you need to know what the options are going to be, for you and your family before it happens.

Lastly, if you have children, getting the right schools for them is critical to making your relocation go smoothly. While newcomers to a country will find it near impossible to fully evaluate schools or colleges from a short orientation trip, it is still better than trying to judge these things from just viewing them online, or taking advice (like we were encouraged to) over the phone from a local education consultant. We found that our choices based on what we saw, were far closer to what suited our child than what was recommended. In the long run, we were right. But this was only because we visited the schools, which then guided our decisions.

2.  Understand what your relocation package does or doesn’t provide you

If you are being relocated by a company, make sure you are clear about what all the different benefits include, that you’ve been promised. This might include things like school expenses, child/family development funds, helping with spousal re-training or employment or loyalty bonuses. I wouldn’t be the first spouse to say that:

  • these are sometimes completely different to what was expected initially or
  • there were lots of conditions or criteria accompanying these benefits that were not explained clearly.

Know what you are letting yourself in for upfront. If things don’t add up right, then ask the company HR department for more information or clarification.

 3. Join expat forums and read blogs

This was probably my biggest mistake: not reading these for a more realistic understanding of what moving our lives to another country would mean. Not that this prevents every problem but forewarned certainly makes you forearmed. It may just help you deal better with difficulties such as culture shock or any differences in expectations, and there are plenty of helpful hints from people who understand what it’s like.

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A quick search of Google will help you find several expat blogs and forums that you can use to get more information on the relocation process. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

4.  Prepare your children for culture shock

Another thing we didn’t do well was prepare our children adequately about the country and culture we were moving to. Both our kids reacted badly at first to the new lifestyle and missed home a lot.

Reading up on your new home country can be very helpful both from an information point of view, as well as for cultural adjustment. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

Reading up on your new home country can be very helpful both from an information point of view, as well as for cultural adjustment. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

To minimize this, involve them in the whole relocation idea. This will increase their buy-in to the move and prepare them for the differences that will be experienced. It will help if you can find positives for the place you are moving to as a way of building the experience as a good thing for the whole family. Seeing movies, documentaries, reading books etc., can all help prepare them.

5.  Learn the local lingo

If you’re moving to a place where your own language is not the same as the local tongue, obviously it will be easier if you at least try and learn some basics for everyday communication. Even if you’re moving from one country that speaks English to another, e.g. UK to Australia, there are still lots of different phrases and word use that are unfamiliar, so try and expand your knowledge beforehand. Either way, you will probably feel more comfortable talking to locals in their own language, as well as the practical advantages of being understood in a foreign country.

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Our hispanic family member, brushing up on her Spanish. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

6.  Prepare for possible changes in career options if you are a trailing spouse

One of my biggest surprises as a trailing spouse was not being able to work here, even though I am legally entitled. If I had known the employment situation beforehand, it might have made us decide against moving. If your relocation is for only one spouse’s employment, do a realistic assessment of what all the career options are for the other partner, as the trailing spouse.

Some accompanying spouses will happily be stay-at-home parents so the question of working will never be an issue. However, there are many others who are forced to give up work because they are not legally allowed to in the new country or, like myself, can’t find the same employment. These non-working partners may need to think about new career options prior to arriving or at least have these as a backup plan in case things are not to expectations.

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Tips from other expats won’t solve every problem but maybe they can help you avoid a few along the way. Image courtesy of www.123rf

Of course, these tips won’t cover every possible problem you could come up against. However, they will go a long way to addressing some common issues expats face, and certainly would have helped us have a smoother relocation.

What tips can you add for preparing your family for relocation overseas?

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14 thoughts on “6 tips for Expat Families Moving Abroad

  1. Great article, thanks! I’m just the opposite of you – a New Yorker who moved to Australia. The lingo and culture are the biggest daily challenges. Nothing like being in a discussion where everyone laughs and you have no idea what was meant by a slang phrase…or realising that Friday is a public holiday and everyone but you knew that…but wht’s gorgeous is how everyone laughs with you and tries to help you along. Love that about Australia. Forums are great as well. Love Expat Women and its lovely founder, Andrea, who lives right here by me!

    • Thanks Laura. It is amazing how even though we western countries (UK, USA, Australia) all speak English but it’s still hard to understand the meaning of things. It’s good to know that my compatriots are helpful. They do like a good laugh but prefer that everyone understand usually, so they can laugh along with you! I have exactly the same problem with public holidays. I think hubby is getting Good Friday off, because we are used to it being a public holiday, and start making plans, then for him to remind me ‘No’, not a holiday after all. I intend to write an article about Aussie slang in the near future. Perhaps to remind myself what our phrases are, and for a laugh:)

  2. Lots of good advice there!
    I am a UK expat living in the daunting and strange world of the USA.
    One tip I always say to other expat spouses is not to try and be superwoman (or man). Go easy on yourself – give yourself time and the space you need to settle into a new country.
    Also, it takes about 6 months to a year to start to feel fully settled.
    Great Blog!

    • Hi Emma! Thanks very much for your kind words and for dropping in to comment. Your advice is very sound and helpful. Wish someone had told me that when I first got here. For people in the dark who aren’t reading expat blogs or talking to other expats, you have no idea what to expect, and if it’s tough, it can be very depressing. It actually has taken me much longer to feel settled but that’s more to do with finding an alternative to my previous employment.Cheers!

  3. Great article once again!
    Also, 1 of the most important things we should do is let our own ‘standards’/ways go.By that, I mean, to not always ‘judge’ situations from our own culture/background given the fact that we are now living in a different culture with different ways/traditions whether it’s living in a so called western society, where you wouldn’t expect a lot of differences from any other western country, but they’re always there. From experience I know that many expats expected to struggle in maybe strong developed cultural countries like the Arabic countries, Asia etc ,but never in ‘fellow’ western countries.
    Becoming acceptant of our new surroundings, the new traditions, new ways is key. You might not necessarily agree or understand everything, but to not judge and take it all in with the most open mind,is very important in our journey to settling in.:-)

    • Hi Sharon! Thanks for the nice comment. You certainly show great insight with this comment. We too, thought that as a western place, the US would not be that different from Australia. We were very wrong, and the refusal to accept the differences with an open mind certainly made it a lot harder for us to integrate and settle down in the beginning. Thanks for a very useful addition that might otherwise escape many would-be expats moving here:)

  4. An open mind set is a must for an expat! With out the open mind you will be daunted until the bubble has burst! Great post, thoroughly enjoyed read it!

    • Thanks for your kind comments and thoughts. I think as an opinionated person, having an open mind set is sometimes a huge challenge. But without this you have a good likelihood of hating where you end up.

  5. I would like to add from my experience:

    1. The first year is the honeymoon phase. Everything is interesting and an adventure. Second year is tough .. One settles into the hum drum of life and reality really settles in. Third year things start looking up and places/roads start feeling as familiar as home.

    2. Relocation has been the biggest challenge on our marriage. Before relocating, agree reasons for going and what you aren’t willing to sacrifice. What happens if one wants to return but other doesnt?? A relocation ‘pre-nup’! Write it down. Turns out my husband and I had different motivations to relocate resulting in one being happy and the other wanting to return.

    • Excellent advice Lulu!! I would have to say this journey has been the biggest challenge on our marriage too. And it’s very hard to work out a mutual solution when one wants to go and the other wants to stay! There are so many complexities sometimes to relocation-almost impossible to forsee them all beforehand but I like the pre-nup idea.

  6. So many good advices! I’m going to need them because next month I’m starting planning my move to Spain and although I have a job waiting for me I’m quite nervous. Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. Amazing advices! Preparing your children for culture shock is essential. Kids understand things differently. If they want to feel sad leave them. If they want to feel angry leave them, too. It is important to give them space to express their emotions. Best regards!

  8. Thanks for sharing! they are great tips! I have just started working in a new country and started to read different expat forum and joining different groups to expand my social circle!

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