Moving a Family Abroad

Where do you start when moving a family abroad?

Moving a family to a new country adds some complexity to an exciting situation. We asked three families about what advice they would give to families keen to relocate, and their answers were in a similar vein.

Charlotte and her family moved from London to Melbourne in September 2015. Her most important suggestion is to start early. “Getting your life ready to move takes longer than you think. Cancelling contracts and utilities, getting visas, dealing with the children’s schooling – it literally takes months.” She also recommends scanning all of your important paperwork, including marriage and birth certificates, passports and diplomas, and also home utilities, phone contracts, insurance, and other proof that you’ve been able to make payments to ensure providers in your new city know you’re trustworthy.

“Research the country before you make the move,” says Mike, father of two young daughters and a teacher in Jakarta, Indonesia along with his wife Erica. They have also lived in Lugano, Switzerland and Budang-Pangyo, South Korea. “Oftentimes the ‘CNN effect’ can skew our perception of what a country is really like, so reaching out to your social networks and finding people who have visited or lived in the country is important.”

In the past decade, Allison and her family have moved from Boston to Berlin to Barcelona to Beirut. “Every city we move must begin with B,” she jokes. Her two sons are aged 12 and 15, and their schooling has remained consistent thanks to the International Baccalaureate curriculum. “When we arrived in Beirut they easily slid into the correct grade level. This helped them feel settled quickly.”

While many expats can live happily without learning any of the local language, their experience will be richer with some effort here. Mike explains that even knowing polite pleasantries such as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ will go a long way when trying to integrate. Allison concurs. “Learning some German and Lebanese before both of our moves was invaluable. We gained the respect of locals and other expats when they saw us making an effort.”

Finally, creating a home away from home is important. “Bring things with you to set up a home – you’ll want to feel comfortable,” Mike says. Through each move, Allison has brought a few key items that signify ‘home’ to her family. “We have two beautiful throw rugs and a few pillowcases that have been tucked into every sofa we’ve had in every country we’ve lived in,” she explains. “Cozying up to familiar things makes everyone happy.”

While Charlotte agrees that bringing familiar items is important, she also warns, “Be ruthless with what you take and what you leave behind. Storage costs are surprisingly high, and though some companies cover shipping, it’s still a pain to have a lot of extra stuff.” Is there anything her family left behind that they have missed? “You will need more adaptor plugs than you think!”