Last week, a college friend emailed me with some questions about moving abroad. Being a parent can certain;y make this decision harder and I started thinking about other people who might be thinking about moving abroad with kids but not sure where to even start thinking about it so I revamped & upgraded this post that I had previously published at Expat Village.
I couldn’t have known that that conversation driving home from the doctor on a rainy weeknight in February was the one that would change the course of our lives. Like the rainy windshield, parts of it were a blur. It had just been confirmed that the nausea and total exhaustion were in fact signs of my first pregnancy. I had thought about that moment in the last month: If I was, in fact, pregnant we would not move abroad. If I wasn’t we would go. So that should have been it, right? Not going – case closed. I mean, moving abroad pregnant? Moving abroad with kids? That’s nuts… right? Who does that? Well, apparently, a lot of people (we’d discover later).
You may feel like once you have children you have to check living abroad off the bucket list, but what if you didn’t? Here are some things to consider if you are thinking about moving abroad with your family.
Ask Yourself: Will You Regret This?
Swish, swish, swish. The wipers were flicking the rain from our windshield when I blurted out, “I still want to go!” That’s a detail that isn’t blurry. I tried to make the decision rationally, the way I thought a “grown-up” would, and then I felt this overwhelmingly sick feeling of regret that told me If you don’t do this now, you will never do this. I don’t do well with regret and this was a giant mountain of it. It was too much regret for me to put on myself and entirely too much regret to put on a 5 week old fetus. The decision to move abroad pregnant or to move abroad with kids could be terrifying but ask yourself if it is more terrifying than regretting not doing it.
Move Where You can Afford to Move
Images of you and your family walking the cobblestone streets of Paris and visiting the Louvre are lovely but unrealistic if you’re looking to have a stay at home parent that doesn’t have a trust fund. But that doesn’t mean all of Europe is out either. Research where you want to go specifically in terms of affordability and your desired lifestyle. We knew that I wasn’t going to be working once we moved abroad so Husband asked this question a lot at the job fair: can we afford here on one person’s salary. We also wanted experiences and adventure so living in an expensive country, where Husband would be working just to get by, was not going to work for us either. So, unfortunately, many parts of Europe were not a good fit for us then. We wanted a place that I could stay home with the kids and write and a place that allowed some travel and a lot of family time. It seemed like a tall order but we found it.
We landed in a place that is very kid-friendly. Among many other things like pregnant parking and express lines for prego bellies e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e, people would stop traffic to allow me to cross the road and maternity leave in Dominican Republic is 3 months 100% paid leave. Law. The Dominican Labor Code does not budge on this. Other fabulous places like Denmark offer a year paid maternity for mothers (100% wages) as well as governmental child support. Norway offers excellent paid maternity and paid paternity. You’ll find some pretty sweet deals for having babies abroad but make sure you do your research again just in case there is a required length of time before such benefits kick in. Some places require living in a place for a certain time period before you’re eligible for their benefits.
As I mentioned, we knew that I would stay home and Husband would work. We moved with zero intention of hiring a maid or a nanny until we realized that the majority of people here have a maid and a nanny. We figured out why. Because it’s ah-maaaa-zing. She isn’t a replacement parent; someone to take our place so that we could jet set to an all-inclusive hotel every weekend without our kids, she is there to help us when we need to work, write, or sneak in a little us time. This is good for every member of our family. For us, having a nanny comes in at the top of the list of reasons why we would stay here another year with small children. Our nanny loves our children which makes our lives easier which in turn makes our marriage happier which makes us better parents, workers, friends, etc. Other places may not offer the possibility of private care but may instead offer the support and aide of the government. France for example has an excellent childcare system. Germany supports parents with monetary support called Kindergeld that pays at least €185 a month, about $250. (You must be living there for over 6 months.)
Moving with Older Kids
Moving abroad with young kids can be more exhausting but emotionally easier when you are talking about moving with older kids. Friends here made the move when their daughter was a teenager. In a fair and respectful manner, they told her that she had as much of a vote in the move as the rest of the family (maybe more since Mom’s vote was whatever daughter voted). It wasn’t always easy for her. Like in many moves, kids can be cliquey and this school, in particular, as far as international schools go, is rather big on cliques – as far as I’ve heard – but when talking to their daughter she’ll tell you that she wouldn’t have changed this experience. Sometimes you won’t be able to your kids a vote because the move is a must but do make sure to pay special attention and check in with them often.
Once we made the decision to move abroad with a baby on the way I was thrilled… until I thought about our new community. What if everyone at our new school was young and single and fun and partying while I was pregnant and tired and leaking milk from my boobs? Would we be ostracized? Would we make friends? Would we be “that couple” with loud kids that no one wants to hang around with? I emailed our contact at the school who joked that there was something in the water because everyone had kids or was having them. Whew! Major relief. But not all communities are created equally. If you can, find out what your new community’s social life is like. Do people have kids? What is there for you to do with kids? Etc. If it isn’t a community that has lots of children you might want to look into what other kid-friendly and family-oriented avenues there are in that country.
Logging Traveling Hours
Travel time? It seems like a silly thing to think about when you’re considering health care, child care, and birthing plans? It’s just a flight, right? I assure you it’s not. This was NOT a top 5 consideration for me… until we had an actual baby. After we made the commitment to move to Dominican Republic, our current host country, we realized we were lucky to be this close to our home state for several reasons. First, being that we were going to have our first child – and first grandchild – being close was a monumental benefit for visiting grandparents and friends, not to mention our own visits back. Secondly, cost. The longer the flight, the more expensive the trip (in many cases). When your child is under two-years-old and flies free, that $1000 trip is a second thought, but when your child turns three, that $1000 becomes quite hefty. Lastly, flying home with a baby and maybe eventually two babies? The shorter the better please. I’d prefer the 4 hour direct flight overtime over a 15 hour flight with a layover and a 10-month-old.
All in all, I don’t regret the decision we made to move abroad. There are things that we sacrifice or changes that we accept but I sincerely think that as a family our life here is better than what it would be living in New Jersey. Minus missing our families – which is a big one – we haven’t found many downsides about living abroad with our family that would make us consider going back to the States anytime soon.
Thoughts? What advice would you give another family moving abroad?
Photo by Viewfinder.