10 Tips From Expat Moms On Moving Abroad
Share your expat stories and advice below.
We’ve all had that moment where we’ve wondered what it would be like to live for a while in a different country. I’ve pictured myself in Hong Kong, Munich and London among other places, usually during short visits I wish could be much longer.
FamiliesGo! marketing guru Cat Jordan has actually done it, moving with her family fro the U.K. to try out life in New York City. Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan, founder of Momaboard, has done it many times over, living in a few cities the U.S. for school and work and then in Australia, and London and now in San Francisco with her family.
Together Cat and Kaamna answered questions and shared advice about moving one’s family to a new country and culture at our last MOMtravelchat, sponsored by Momaboard. Here are 10 things we learned from them.
Top Tips for Moving Your Family Abroad
1. Plan ahead
Some families do up and change countries entirely on their own. But letting an employer move you has several advantage—among them, one of you has a job when you arrive. So serious aspiring expats will focus their job search on companies and positions with overseas opportunities.
2. Size Up the Destination
Cat reminded us that if often comes down to “Can you actually see yourself there?” It’s essential to do at least one visit if not more because you agree on a destination and start the move. You want to talk to real estate agents, and anyone else who can give you the inside scoop on things.
Cat notes that it’s also important to consider how far you would be from home and how easy or hard it would be to get back to your family quickly if you needed to. Are there direct flights? How often and how long are they?
Kaamna launched MomAboard’s Expat Brief service to provide all the local insider mom stuff she wished she had during the moves.
There are additional resource for expat families. A few parents pointed out that in many major cities and suburbs active online parent communities — Park Slope Parents, DC Urban Mom, Berkeley Parents Network, or the Neighborhood Parents Network in Chicago—can be invaluable. They can help you find anything from dentists to violin lessons as well as tip you off to in-person events where you might make some new friends.
People help, too. “Best place to start is with friends of friends. Try Facebook. Someone always knows someone,” says Cat.
4. The Big Questions
The questions parents usually have about a new place are the day-to-day ones: which community to live in, where to find schools, parks and activities for kids and adults, and how prices and salaries compare to home.
5. The Big Concerns
The big concerns have to do with finding doctors and navigating a different medical system, managing more complicated financial and tax situations, and navigating daily life when you don’t speak the language or might not know the cultural nuances. Parents also want to learn about local safety concerns and to make sure the local economy and government are stable.
6. “Trailing Spouse” Challenges
The adjustment is often harder for the spouse who isn’t following a job. The working spouse has the structure and social outlet of work and the kids will get those things through school and activities. The trailing spouse is more on her own to adapt. She also is often the one who has to find the schools, doctors, babysitter, soccer teams, electrician and plumber and so on. These spouses worry about how to make friends — especially the coffee buddy you talk to daily about the little things — and about finding a job on their own.
If one spouse isn’t allowed to work or it isn’t practical, “That’s the hardest part and one reason so many expats get depressed. Those moms need community,” said one mom. She suggested making a point of going when the working spouse’s employer has events where spouses are welcome to do your own networking.
Kaamna cautions that you do, “Have to really put yourself out there, make playdates, join activities. Another parents suggested, “I think it’s a nice gesture to introduce yourself to neighbors, homemade treats in tow!”
7. Kid Expat Challenges
At almost any age kids are going to need time to adjust. Kaamna says it takes at least six months for kids to adjust and start settling in. Ahead of the move and during the initial period, parents say to check in with kids and give them opportunities to express their concerns, fears and frustrations.
One parent suggested allowing the kids input wherever you can —say by asking what they like and don’t about neighborhoods or houses when a realtor shows you around. Another suggested the kids make a list of things they want to do in the new place.
Others said to be sure to emphasize the fun side of this opportunity, “Best part is introducing your kids to new animals, food, dancing, friends.”
8. Culture Shock
Some expected sources of culture schock include dealing with different toilets than you’re used to, facing down unfamiliar foods and, for Americans, resisting the urge to tip.
But one parent notes, “Sometimes you get more culture shock where they speak English and you think it will be the same – then it isn’t.” Cat agreed, “Even Brits in NYC get culture shock. All the food sizes, the temperature in Fahrenheit and funny words!!”
Kaamna added, “The intangibles are hardest, culture, mindset, values. That’s what I try to figure out ASAP,” says Kaamna.
Though some culture shock can appeal, after you adjust to it. “In Sydney all the shops closed at 5:00. Everyone was on the beach,” said Kaamna. Once she got used to running errands earlier, “it was awesome.”
9. Language Barriers
Parents worry a lot about language barriers; they can make simple errands complicated and increase the odds of miscommunication or a faux pas. Luckily, apps, programs like DuoLingo and making a friend who speaks the language all help, as does hiring a local tutor. Kaamna notes that it’s important to remember, “locals really appreciate your making the effort even if you don’t speak perfectly.”
10. Keep Ties Back Home
“There is something comforting about knowing you have a home to come back to,” Kaamna says. Unless you have aspirations of being a permanent nomad (and we know parents who do that) or will be away for several years, consider renting your home out instead of selling it (at least for a while).
Go home periodically, at least once a year, to keep in touch with friends, family and coworkers. And also to remind yourself that home can change while you’re away. Reconnecting helps you to keep on top of what’s going with your hometown, schools, the job landscape, and more.
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Thanks for Kate Rowswell and Cat Jordan for their photos
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