6 tips for families moving abroad

Guest contribution by Emily Rogers, Expat Parenting Abroad

We choose to move abroad for different reasons, some feel that they have to do it to further their own or their spouse’s career. Others make the deliberate choice to move because they can see opportunities for themselves and their families.

No matter why you are moving abroad, the process sparks a whole range of emotions. From being happy and excited about the new opportunities to feeling sad and empty about what you’re leaving behind. Some days we feel like we have it all under control, then other days we just want to cry in the corner through sheer overwhelm. Whether adults or children, the emotional roller coaster is very real.

Let’s be honest, the emotional roller-coaster is going to happen no matter what you do or how you plan. The good news is, there are steps you can take to reduce the range of roller-coaster emotions.

1. Research

Sometimes you have the luxury of visiting a place before you move, but not always. This doesn’t mean you will have a bad transition, it just means you have to be a little more creative about your research.

Advances in technology are making this easier all the time. When we first moved to Asia, we literally had to go and get the Lonely Planet Guide for that location and research using a travel book. Not anymore, there are Facebook groups, networking organizations, websites, and a multitude of resources available to you. This too poses its own problems, such as information overload, the trick is to be clear about what you need to know before you move.

Some key questions you might like to consider are: what is the style of housing/accommodation that is available in that location? What is the security of that location? What types of schooling options are available? Can you easily work as a spouse, should you want to? What’s the medical support like, and what sort of pharmacy items are available? Do you need insurance? How easy is it to get grocery items, and are there family favorites you might consider bringing with you? This list is not exhaustive, but you get the idea try to think about long-term family impacts.

2. Communicate

The sooner you can talk to people about your upcoming move, the easier it becomes to process what you are going through. Obviously with human nature, everyone has an opinion they will want to share with you!?! Know that you don’t have to take it all on board :-).

There is however something in talking about a move that really helps you to get your head around what you’re going to experience. It helps to clarify your expectations and you will quickly learn what questions you still have.

Be mindful of how you share the news with your children. You want to ensure you do it when you have ample time to sit with them and digest the information. They will have different questions for you, don’t feel you have to answer them all immediately. You can acknowledge “this is new to all of us, I don’t have an answer but why don’t we find out together”.

Tune in to how they share the news, when they facetime the grandparents what do they say? How much do they share? How do they answer the questions? This will give you a good indication of how they are processing the move.

3. Involve 

Involving your kids in the move is a great way to help them adjust to what is happening. Don’t feel you have to do it all for them, that is not your burden to carry. Involving them in planning, research, even the packing helps them understand all the aspects of a move.

Involving your kids in the packing is key, they often worry that they won’t see their ‘stuff’ again. So showing them how it is packed, labeled, etc relieves some of their anxieties.

We always play a game with the girls when we are in a transition – we go around the table, usually over dinner, and say one thing I’m excited or happy about, and one thing I’m sad or nervous about. We keep going until we have nothing more to add. It is always surprising what they come up with!

4. Prepare 

Ensure you are prepared for the physical move. Think about your temporary accommodation at both ends of the flight, make lists of what you need to have with you to ensure you don’t forget anything. I always keep out a basic knife, chopping board, kids’ lunch boxes and water bottles, a tea towel, dish soap, and the mandatory jar of vegemite! So no matter how long before we are settled on a more permanent basis I can still pack school lunch :-).

Think about the seasons, it is similar weather to where you are now, or do you need extra layers. You can’t cover everything, but try to be smart about how you pack for the interim phase.

Carry essential medicines with you, especially during the interim phase of leaving and arriving. There is nothing worse than feeling pressure to find medicine in an unfamiliar environment.

Prepare for the flight. Pending your kids’ age, you may need changes of clothes (I always put the girls in PJs for an overnight flight, with a soft toy to keep them comfy), activities, snacks, etc. Don’t rely on what’s on the plane, bring what you need with you.

5. Good Goodbyes

Plan how you want to say goodbye to the place you’re leaving. Whether it’s your permanent home or has been for only a few years, there are things that each of you will miss about a place. We often call it our bucket list, things we want to do before we depart. Obviously, with COVID this isn’t always possible at the moment, but if you can try and have at least one bucket list item for each family member.

Do plan a gathering of some sort to say goodbye. The people you are leaving want the opportunity to see you, and your family will want to say goodbye too. If you can’t do this in person, then plan a zoom or facetime party. Do try and make it a positive experience, try not to let it go on too long, keep a timeframe in mind before you arrive or start.

6. Happy Landing

In your research, find at least one family activity you can do soon after you land in your new location. Something that creates a new family memory or experience that your kids can share with family and friends they’ve just said goodbye to. Having that something to talk about, can be a great ice breaker when you first connect after a goodbye.

No matter how much you plan, you will still experience the range of emotions about moving – we call it bittersweet in our family. It really helps to articulate that we feel both happy and sad at the same time, and that is OK.

What is really important through all of this, be there for your family and for yourself. Journal if you can about how you’re feeling. Talk it out with your spouse. Listen to your kids. And hug each other… often!

I have been an expat for over 20 years, and both our girls were born on foreign shores. With hubby’s role in hotels, we find that we have been on the move every 2 years to a new country. With so many transitions, I have become an expert settling myself and the family quickly.

I have a free cheat sheet to share with you, 5 Steps to A Successful Transition. In this cheat sheet, I share my top (very practical) tips that you can use to support yourself and your family. Download your free copy now. 

Also, read EMC’s tips on getting settled in Jakarta

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