Last update on May 15, 2019

Many expats move abroad alone but others come with spouses and children in tow, making the transition to a new country a little more complicated.

Moving to a new country, like life itself, is never without flaw. There’s bureaucracy and paperwork to contend with, and new laws, customs, languages and cultural quirks to interpret. There are days when Google Translate feels like your best (and only) friend as you legalise your residency status, open that local bank account and get that first SIM card.

For some, that’s just part of life’s rich tapestry. For others, it’s a source of stress. And for nearly everyone, it’s an emotional transition which takes time to adjust to.

Whether you’re a seasoned nomad in search of the latest overseas fix, an intrepid first timer, or a reluctant employee being transferred to a satellite office, everyone — including the family coming along for the ride — must navigate the relocation maze. And finding the right place to live is key to success.

New horizons don’t have to mean new horrors

Bottom line: research and preparation before setting off is vital (if any paperwork can be done before you go, do it!), as is a battle plan once you’re on the ground. Hearing about and learning from the experiences of fellow expats can also help provide some clarity in the murk and alleviate immediate concerns.

Mercer, a leading global HR consultancy, publishes an annual Quality of Living ranking for cities around the world — and incidentally, eight of the top 10 cities in the 2017 index are in Northern Europe. Among the factors it considers important to quality of life (and, by implication, ease of transition) include economic environment; schools and education (including standards and availability of international schools); public services and transportation (such as electricity, water, public transport and traffic congestion); recreation (e.g. restaurants, theatres, cinemas, sports and leisure); housing; and the natural environment.

Do your homework

Prior research can cover a veritable laundry list of things to think about so that you can hit the ground running in your new destination. There’s the affordability of your new location (including salaries, cost of housing, utilities, household expenses, transport, taxes and schooling), finding a job that is easily commutable and can fit into a balanced family life, and locating basic support services such as opening a bank account or buying a SIM card.

Moving to a new country with children

In it’s 2017 Expat Explorer survey, global banking giant HSBC delves deeper into the expat psyche, finding that happy children can make or break an overseas move.

“The choices parents make, not least their type of education, in their host country plays a part in shaping their children’s expat experience,” the survey states.

The survey says that expat parents whose children attend international schools believe their children are more open to new experiences and cultures as a result of the family’s move abroad. Logically, it follows that if a positive expat family relocation should take into account proximity to a good international school, then by extension finding a great place to live is a priority.

Location, location, location

It’s the classic real estate agents’ cliché, but it’s true. It might mean living close to work, or to good transport links, a hospital or even your favourite café. After all, long commutes erode quality family time and it is much more convenient to live close to the local amenities you need at the most inconvenient times.

If access to recreational activities is important to you, consider an out-of-town location close to the countryside. If you want to make new friends, find a place to live abroad that is close to sports and social clubs so you can maximise your, and your kids’, free time.

Another reason that many people move to a new country with their family is to immerse themselves and their children in new cultural experiences. Whether those experiences are on your doorstep or a ride away will depend entirely on location and budget.

Playing it safe

Safety and security is another vital consideration for families. Your home may be your castle, but you don’t want to be afraid to venture beyond the drawbridge. Out-of-town and more affluent districts tend to have lower crime rates, but that usually comes at a price.

Finding a place to live in the right neighbourhood is an exercise in patience and an investment in time that many people simply do not have when they arrive. But it need not be a minefield.

It is far easier to have all the data presented as a clear comparison of the best available residential properties in your chosen city, based on the exact criteria you choose, right on your laptop.

With the right pre-move preparations, and with support from relocation agents and trusted housing services on the ground, the vast majority of expats settle in well in their first year and go on to enjoy a richly rewarding experience. But the fundamental importance of finding the right place to live for the whole family, in the right neighbourhood, cannot be overstated.