Deciding to move abroad can be nerve-wracking at the best of times, even when we’re young, single, and unencumbered by responsibilities. It’s easy enough to simply repack and move back home if the reality of expat life doesn’t quite live up to our (sometimes far-too rosy) expectations. Yet, expatriating as a family takes the anxiety to a whole other level.
What happens when we have so much more to consider than just ourselves? How do we know if expatriating is right for our family?
Here are a few telltale signs that expatriating is the right move for your entire family, according to all those who’ve moved aboard, failed, and succeeded!
Everyone is excited to move and feels part of the decision-making process
Usually, a family expatriates when one parent receives an enticing and career-boosting job offer abroad. Let’s say that person is you. It’s now your responsibility to ensure your family is fully on board with the decision to move abroad.
Expat families agree: just because the move will be primarily about you (and your new swanky job title), it doesn’t mean it’s solely your decision to make. Every member of the family must be included in discussions about the move, and it’s important not to sugarcoat the experience for children old enough to understand.
Yes, you will invariably get homesick. Yes, it will be hard to make new friends at first. Yet, the mind-blowing benefits of new and exciting experiences will more than make up for the initial downfalls. The primary advice experienced families give is to tackle the challenges head-on as a family unit. One for all and all for one? That’s what it’s like to expatriate as a family.
You feel you can tackle every step of the challenge, constructively
You may not be an expert multi-tasker and organizer, but you sure will be by the time you’ve expatriated with your family. You must. If you get easily overwhelmed by handling a multitude of tasks at once, you will have a tough time pulling this off successfully.
Aside from your new job commitments, you must consider school placements for the kids, social activities for your partner (VERY important), and finding the right home that all of you agree on. City center or outskirts? House or apartment? Every decision will affect your family’s ability to settle in, so every decision must be made as if it’s of pivotal importance – because it is.
You’ve built a support network before the move
No matter where in the world you wish to move, trust that there will be an expat community ready to welcome you into their warm embrace. Some cities and countries are renowned expat havens, yet even in the remotest place, there will be an expat or two who’s been there, done that.
Reach out to the expat community in your chosen destination as soon as you can – you’ll find a multitude of families who know exactly what you are going through (and will go through), and they are well-placed to advise and recommend. They are also the first to tell you that the most successful expat families are the ones who started building their comfort bubble before they moved.
Your partner is happy to take a career-break
A move abroad for a family usually means a career-boost for one parent and a career-break for another. Unfortunately, this kind of career-break might seem like a good idea at first (even to the person in question). Still, given that minds have an uncanny habit of changing at the most inopportune moments, it may help to consider an alternative right from the start.
There’s no reason a career move for you cannot be a career move for your partner too if they are currently in the workforce. Take international schools in China as an example. When they hire expat foreign teachers, they often have other positions available for their partners. They know that a happy working family is much more likely to stay awhile, so they find it beneficial to make sure both parents are happy. And if they wish, employed!
Your family can afford the move and/or is offered financial assistance
Expatriating is a costly affair for families, and not every company offers adequate compensation when moving their employees around the globe. Unless you can afford to pick up the slack, expatriating may not be right for your family. The last thing you want or need is to face financial difficulties because the move is draining all your family’s savings.
Even if reimbursement is forthcoming, know that there will be a lot of out-of-pocket expenses when you move abroad. Make sure your family has the budget to absorb extra costs and you’ll take that stress right out of the equation.