How To Decide If Moving Abroad Is Right For Your Family
Maybe you or your spouse have been offered a job abroad or would like to take a sabbatical. Or maybe you’ve always dreamed of immersing yourself in a different language and culture by moving to a different country. Whatever it is that might take your family abroad, it is important to think carefully about the decision beforehand to ensure that choosing to move abroad is the right option for your family.
I’ve lived abroad in three very different countries so far (China, Lithuania, and Italy), and have been living outside of the U.S. for almost eight years. I’ve gone from being insanely unprepared for the move, to knowing what to expect and how to make better choices about the countries we choose to move to.
If you are faced with the decision of moving abroad for the first time, don’t go into it as unprepared as I was the first time around by considering the six points below.
One of the most important things to consider before moving abroad is if you can afford it. Take a hard look at your family’s financials and inquire about the financial support that a job might be providing. Even if you aren’t planning on moving furniture or anything more than a suitcase or two, moving is expensive and almost always costs more than planned. From paying a deposit on an apartment to unexpected costs that pop up here and there, moving is a cost to carefully consider.
Along the same lines, it is important to look into the cost of living and tax laws in whatever country you plan to move to. Consider how your income might change or cover the predicted cost of living.
What are your responsibilities in the U.S.? Do you have pets at home that you’d need to arrange a new home or passport for? Or perhaps you own a home and a car and must decide whether to sell these items, rent them, or keep them for your return. When you have “stuff” (e.g., a house, car, furniture) it is more difficult to simply get on a plane and enjoy the wild ride that is moving abroad, but it certainly is possible if you plan for it.
The age of your children and their personalities
If have children or would like to have children when you move abroad, think about the care you’d like for them to have, considering everything from safety, to health care, and childcare options. Some of the countries I’ve lived in have been fabulous for children and maternity care, while other places are lacking. In other cases, other countries have limited childcare options because maternity leave it typically long or grandparents are traditionally the primary childcare providers. You can research family life online by reading expat blogs, finding relevant Facebook groups, or talking to colleagues at your potential new workplace.
In addition, think about your child’s personality. If your child is old enough, you can even talk with him or her about the opportunity to move abroad. If your kids are too young to express their opinions, you could look towards their personality, but I do think it is a bit easier to move abroad if you have very young children compared with older children.
Your extended family’s health
As your parents and other family members grow older, considering their health and your role in their care is important. If you are the main care-giver for your aging parents or you support them in other ways, this is clearly something to consider before making the jump abroad. Even if your parents and close relatives are young and healthy, they’ll likely miss their grandchildren, so researching flight options, cost, and the ease of visiting (i.e., do they need a visa) is something to think about.
Long term goals
Before saying “yes” to an opportunity abroad, take some time to talk with your spouse about your long-term goals as both an individual and as a family. Maybe you hope to save a certain amount of money for retirement, buy a house, have another baby, or go back to school — can you work towards these goals while abroad?
In my experience, many families move abroad for one of the parents’ jobs, not both. While it can be possible for the other parent to find a job once you arrive in country, this can be challenging (though not impossible) without speaking the language and/or with visa regulations. If you or your spouse must put their career on hold for a life abroad, it is important to reflect upon the competitiveness of the field and the option to re-enter the position if and when you do return back to the U.S.