Last update on July 29, 2019

Moving abroad with your family isn’t just a chance for you to further your career; it’s also a chance for the entire family to learn and grow in a new environment. Ensure that your family’s relocation is a positive experience for you, your partner, and your children.

Moving to a new country, like life itself, is never without flaws. There’s bureaucracy to contend with, new laws, different customs, local languages, and cultural quirks to interpret. There are days when Google Translate feels like your best (and only) friend as you finalize your residency status, open that local bank account, and pick up your first SIM card. For some, that’s just part of moving abroad with your family. For others, it’s a source of stress. And for nearly everyone, it’s an emotional transition that takes time to adjust to.

Moving can be a traumatic experience for any family for any reason, be it positive or serious. Even if finding a new home abroad went smoothly, there are immaterial concerns that your family’s going to have before departure. Moving almost always means leaving something behind, whether memories, loved ones, family or friends. Our tips can help you ensure your moving experience is a positive one, allowing your family to focus on making new memories in their new home.

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 aren’t new horrors

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

Moving abroad doesn't mean you're abandoning everything you know (Photo: Ricardo Moura / Unsplash)

A few research units have developed ranking systems for what they call livability. Their quality of life indicators include public safety, education quality, public transportation, housing availability, natural environment, and recreational facilities. The most well-known quality of life rankings also take into account the ease of moving to the city as someone that doesn’t necessarily speak the local language.

Look into the annual rankings released by Deutsche Bank Research, the Economist Intelligence Unit, Mercer, and Monocle. If you haven’t yet settled on a destination city, these rankings could point you in the right direction.

Do your homework

Prior research covers a veritable list of things to think about; take this step seriously so you can hit the ground running at your new home. There’s the affordability of your new location; you’ll have to take into account salaries, cost of housing, utilities, household expenses, transport, taxes, and schooling.

There’s also sorting out your own quality of life. It’s important to find a job that is easily commutable and fits into a balanced family life. Locating basic support services such as opening a bank account or buying a SIM card are also key. Don’t forget the things that money can’t buy, either; seek out the local community of your faith if you follow one, for instance. Having a nearby mosque during Ramadan, a church during the Christmas holidays, or public events during the Chinese New Year can help the entire family adapt.

Moving abroad with your family

Every year, global banking giant HSBC uses its Expat Explorer Survey to delve deeper into the expat psyche. Every year, they find that happy children can make or break an overseas move. Whether it’s putting the children into a high-quality school or getting the chance to provide financial support to them over the long-term, your kids’ needs play a major part in shaping the family’s expatriate experience.

Expat families have a lot to choose from when it comes to finding a school for their children in a new country, whether it’s a local school or an international one. Expat parents whose children attend international schools often believe their children are more open to new experiences and cultures as a result of the family’s move abroad, likely because they’re learning how to immerse themselves into another culture. Logically, it follows that if a positive expat family relocation should take into account proximity to a good school, then by extension finding a great place to live is a priority.

Preparing your children for the move

Whatever stage of moving abroad with your family you’re in, it’s particularly emotional and distressing for the children. Younger kids, in particular, may feel confused by the big change. Adults tend to focus on the practicalities of the move; children are more likely to focus on the losses that moving will bring. Each family is different; some children may take the move in stride, while others may be worried about making new friends.

Reactions can vary a lot with age and personality, but what’s important is to communicate as a family unit, providing reassurance where needed. Talk to your children early about the move, allowing them to adjust to the idea and discuss their concerns. Acknowledge the significance of the move and help them understand the reasons behind it. Securing them a spot in a school that follows an internationalized curriculum like the International Primary Curriculum or International Baccalaureate could ease their transition.

Don’t forget to allow time to say goodbye to your current home. Plan a going away party for your kids and their friends. Spend a day visiting your favorite places before you leave. These provide closure before the big day, so you can move on and focus on the future.

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 favorite café. After all, long commutes erode quality family time. Beyond that, it’s much more convenient to live close to the local amenities (including grocery stores and hospitals) 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 close to sports or social clubs that you’ve found to maximize your family’s free time. You could also maximize that free time even further by hiring an au pair.

Proximity to recreational facilities and parks is crucial for a family moving abroad (Photo: Robert Collins / Unsplash)

Another reason that many families 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 train 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 where there might be more room for the family pet to have a run around the garden tend to have lower crime rates. However, more suburban locations usually come at a price.

Finding a place to live in the right neighborhood is an exercise in patience. It’s also an investment in time that many people simply do not have when they arrive. But it need not be a minefield. It’s far easier to have all the data presented as a clear comparison of available properties in your city. Services vary by country, but many real estate websites have robust search engines that allow you to customize your search for a home.

With the right pre-move preparations and support from relocation agents, most expats settle in well during their first year; the majority go on to enjoy a richly rewarding experience. But the importance of finding the right place to live in the right neighborhood cannot be overstated.

Don’t forget the silver lining

Every cloud has a silver lining. Although moving abroad with your family might seem like a looming dark cloud to the youngest family members, remind them that with change comes a fresh start. Get your kids excited about new, exciting activities and making new friends in the place you’re moving to. This is especially relevant if your child has experienced bullying or had difficulty fitting in where you currently live. New schools and friends present the opportunity for your child to be themselves from the get-go; they can find a new, better social group from day one. Best of all, they’ll still have their family around when it comes to observing the most important holidays like the Chinese New Year or Ramadan.

Put the family to work

Help ease anxiety surrounding the move by getting each family member involved in packing their own possessions. Regardless of how small or insignificant it can seem to an adult, even letting your children make small decisions about what to take helps them feel in control and a part of the move. Younger children may become distressed seeing all their toys and possessions being taken away; make sure to explain to them that they’re just being moved to their new bedroom.

When packing your survival bags for the move, ask your kids to pack their three desert island essentials to keep them entertained on the journey or while they await the delivery of the rest of their belongings. If you’re moving abroad with pets, involve the family in finding everything that they’ll need at the new house.

Making your new house a home

When you finally arrive at your destination, you can finally breathe a sigh of relief; you made it! Most expats have to wait a little while for their possessions to be shipped overseas to their new country of residence. Catch up on some sleep, take some time to relax, and explore your new surroundings. You can now concentrate on making your new house a home and settling back into family life.

You’ll need your energy for when your belongings arrive; it’s a good idea to get the children’s rooms sorted first. Fill these rooms with familiar things to make them feel more comfortable in their new environment. Get older children and teenagers involved in unpacking their own belongings. By allowing them to decide where their belongings go and decorate their own room, they can build some excitement and feelings of positivity about being in a new city.

Amid all the chaos of the move, you can bring a little normality back to life by sticking to traditions and routines from your old house. Sit down for a meal together, take the dog out for a walk, or share one of your family rituals or traditions together. Routines like will help your family feel that being together is more important than being in any specific place.