Aetna: Expat families

The top lifestyle destination countries for expat families

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Most parents want their children to be healthy and happy; to be bright, creative and physically fit; and to let nothing get in the way of fulfilling their potential and leading a rich, rewarding life.

Making that happen is all about the choices we make — and the resources we have, explains Aetna. Inevitably, the decision to uproot a family and move overseas will be fraught with concern about how children will settle into their new home country.

But take heart: American psychologist Kate Berger believes that expat children develop skills from their experience that will serve them well in later life.

“These kids, by default, develop a skillset that makes them uniquely qualified for leadership positions,” Berger, an expat herself, told the BBC. “They can be dropped in a new situation and figure their way out really quickly.”

But she advises parents to watch for patterns of behaviour change as their child experiences the “loss” of leaving home, family and friends and adjusts to a new climate, culture and, often, language.

Ask experienced expats and, mostly based on anecdotal evidence, they’ll tell you that some countries offer better odds of a successful relocation with children than others.

And asking expats is precisely what the online community InterNations has done in recent years — canvassing its members around the globe to rate the destinations that are best for families.

They define “best” by assessing how expats rate countries against a number of factors: the availability, cost and quality of education; the availability of leisure options; and finally, “family well-being”.

This final criterion spans attitudes in the destination country towards families with children, children’s health and safety, and personal satisfaction with their family life.

The result is a 60-strong “league table” of the worst and best countries for expat families that varies from year to year. Indeed, there has been a different “top country” for expat families for the last three years. But some do seem to be perennial favourite destinations for expat families. Based on this, four countries in particular seem to offer expats the best chance to match their hopes for their children with their financial resources and the quality of services and available support.

Aetna: Countries for expat families

Sweden and Austria

Sweden and Austria are the only countries to have been rated among the top ten of the InterNations league for the last three years running. Sweden topped the league in 2014; Austria in 2015. The countries rank fifth and sixth in the 2016 league, respectively.

Why are they so popular? Expats ranked Austria highly for the quality and cost of education, but primarily for “family well-being”: the opportunities for children to play, stay healthy and safe, as well as offering the sense that the family was settled and happy. Similarly, Sweden scored highly as a country that welcomes expat families and makes children feel at home. 

Finland and Israel

Two other countries — Finland and Israel — are featured in both this year’s and last year’s InterNations top five. Finland topped the 2016 league after achieving the highest scores for the quality, variety and cost of education.Perhaps it comes as no surprise, considering that the Finnish education system is free from nursery age to university — and even textbooks and meals are free or subsidised. The quality of healthcare and education helped Israel climb from fourth place in 2015 to third place in this year’s overall league of favourite expat destinations.

And finally, New Zealand or the Czech Republic?

If you’d asked expats last year which country should join Finland, Israel, Sweden and Austria in the top five destinations, they would have said New Zealand.

Two factors propelled New Zealand towards the top of the league — first, the range of education options available, and second, a strong rating for overall family well-being.

If you’d asked the same question this year, the answer would have been a country in another hemisphere: the Czech Republic.

Expats were won over by the cost and availability of childcare and education options, and felt their children were in good hands in the country’s healthcare system. 

But while league tables and rankings can influence decisions, the choice of where expat families relocate is often governed by career opportunities.

Thorough research about the available education, health services and leisure facilities can help narrow down country choices to particular regions, or help identify city districts that are more family-oriented and expat-friendly than others.

This brings us back to Kate Berger’s tips for expat parents, where she says that the environment is only part of the equation. The vital step for every expat parent is to understand how their children are feeling. Mix the old and the new — retain some of the old family habits while adopting some local traditions. Arrange new play dates, but help children feel connected to their friends back home.

Your family is embarking on an adventure: be prepared and expect bumps along the way, but look ahead with optimism for whatever comes next.


Aetna / Expatica

The information included in this article is provided for information purposes only and it is not intended to constitute professional advice or replace consultation with a qualified medical practitioner.

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