Moving abroad with your family can be an enriching experience, giving untold benefits to you and your children, expanding your horizons and giving you insights into completely different ways of life across the globe. However, the decision to move gets exponentially more complex depending on your current relationships and family circumstances. Are you sure you're all as keen on the idea or even that you all hold the same dream of what a life overseas might entail? Perhaps you spent time abroad as a teenager or after college? Perhaps, like me, you were desperate to see the world as an impulsive youth, and packed a rucksack and sailed off into the sunset? Perhaps that all went swimmingly, and you returned with rosy memories of climbing coconut palms on exotic beaches, finding the next best place before it was cool, swapping stories with your fellow backpackers and eating enough alarming food to give you enough travellers’ tales for a lifetime? Maybe now, you'd like to do it all again, although you would struggle with one fifty-five litre back pack to get the husband, kids, and pet iguana through airport security?
Now might be the time for some serious family conversations....
How does this idea fit with your life plans?
If you don't have a broader plan worked out, this is an ideal time to get one. You can't do this soon enough: failing to have a plan at this level would be one very likely reason for your dream move abroad to falter, either before getting off the ground, or (worse still) once your move is underway and you realise your dreams are different! Spend some time together talking as a couple about how you see your lives shaping out. It's big stuff, but it's important. You don't want to arrive at middle age and realise that your soul mate is planning on quitting work at fifty and going round the world with a back pack and a bikini, if your plan is to work to sixty five and then enjoy your sunset years with nothing more strenuous than a round of golf at the local club.
The easiest way to start to form a plan may be to write out a timeline: grab a sheet of paper and mark out time in five-year intervals, starting now and running until you're well into retirement. Mark below the line events and dates which are fixed or already planned: buying a property; starting a family; kids starting school; exam years; mortgage completion and the approximate point at which you plan to retire. This alone should provoke some debate. Then think about when you would be able to move, based on things that will happen anyway - perhaps you couldn't contemplate a move before buying a house, or you want a stint abroad before starting your family, or you would need to work round schooling plans for the offspring. Narrowing down timescales should help move the conversation forward in the right direction.
Are there any 'no go' locations or situations?
If you both agree that life abroad appeals, you need to make sure that you're not chasing different dreams. Do you see yourself running a boutique hotel on an island in the Pacific, or living the city life in downtown Shanghai? Would you consider moving to another continent, or only to more familiar territory? Would you be comfortable in a place where there were very few other foreigners, or are you looking for somewhere with a big expat community?
Think about lifestyle: would you consider a situation in which you lived a fairly basic life in terms of facilities? Would you live on a compound or in a “dry” state? Would you feel comfortable living in a country with significantly different notions of law, civil society, the status of women or minority rights?
Consider language: what is your level of aptitude and enthusiasm if you move to a rural area or a country in which knowledge of your language is likely to be limited? What about climate: could you survive in humid and sticky, polar extremes, or with seasonal weather events likely to disrupt daily life? How would you manage without close links to your extended family, friends and network? Moving to the next country is a lot different to moving to another continent when you consider frequency and convenience of visits back, or people coming to see and share your new life.
Do some research: look at news from, and reviews of, places you are considering; find some expat bloggers writing in the location; buy the guidebooks and cultural guides, and find the local 'What’s On?' website to get a feel for what the locals are doing and saying. You may end up with a fairly short list of countries or cities you agree on and narrow your search to these. Or, you may simply have a list of situations that would not suit you, with an open mind as to locations beyond that.
Who would be prepared to give up what, to achieve the dream?
Achieving your dream move abroad may involve a degree of sacrifice, at least initially. Realistically, would one of you be more likely to find work in the area you choose? If so would the other be comfortable moving without a job secured, or even accepting a period of unemployment? Do you have the savings to support the move and any unforeseen expenses? Would you move together, or one head off first to find accommodation and get a feel for the place, whilst the other closes down your affairs at home? Are you comfortable about leaving your home behind without any roots there, or would you want to maintain a property and a base in your home country?
If you already have kids, how would you facilitate their education whilst you're away? This is one of the major points of disagreement for families considering a move, and here the internet is your friend. Long before any move becomes realistic you could have a feel for your options. Would you consider a boarding school in your home country to keep stability in your children's education? If so, what are the fees and what scholarships might you be able to consider? Would you consider home schooling, and if so, how can you ensure you have the skills and confidence to support this? Local schools can be a great option, allowing the children to integrate with new friends from your host country. This may be a decision that can only be made once you know where you are going and the quality and accessibility of the local school system, but one to consider nonetheless.
Alternatively would you consider an international school? The ethos of international schools, especially those teaching the International Baccalaureate curriculum, can be somewhat different to state schooling, so time getting a feel for the programmes available would be time well spent.
What is the purpose, for you both, of your time abroad?
This may seem like an odd question, but your root reason for choosing to move abroad will fundamentally influence what you do whilst you are away. Are you really looking to explore and discover a new part of the world? If so, you might want to spend holidays from work in your host country, or near by, rather than returning home. Are you looking to get, and give your children, a truly international experience? In which case you are likely to choose to spend more time seeking out local friends than expats. How open minded can you be about new experiences, foods, and ideas? Honest answers to a few such simple questions can help make sure you and your partner are not looking for fundamentally different experiences during your time abroad.
Having invested the time in considering these few simple points, you and your partner or family can continue to dream and plan for your time abroad, safe in the knowledge that you're working towards the same happy ending.