Is There Ever a “Right” Age to Move Abroad with Expat Kids?

by | Feb 17, 2022 | Global | 1 comment

So, your partner comes home one day all excited because out of the blue his company asked if he’d like to move overseas. Somewhere exotic perhaps–a Caribbean island, or a hip city. It sounds like an opportunity too good to miss–he’s up for it, you’re down with it. You pack your imaginary suitcases and plan all the cool travel you’re going to do. Until you remember something that brings you back to earth with a resounding thud: you have soon-to-be expat kids. Suddenly, life in that New York loft apartment or stylish hillside villa doesn’t sound as exciting.

But should having kids put you off uprooting and setting off for pastures new altogether? And if not, should the age of your children play a part in your decision-making?

Expat Kids: the Younger the Easier

Happy with Mom and Dad by Clara Wiggins
Happy with Mom and Dad by Clara Wiggins

There is an issue that comes up a lot in expat conversations: expat kids. It was also something that we thought long and hard about every time we moved to a new country with our daughters E and M, now aged 12 and 10. And yes, I think you should factor in your kids’ ages when you are thinking about relocating.

When they are tiny–under school age, at least–moving with them will be relatively easy. The thing that matters most in the world to your kids is you, their parents. So long as you’re with them, where they are won’t actually matter that much.

There are some things you will always need to consider–like safety and security issues, can you get the right type of baby food, do you need to bring diapers with you, etc? But this is a good time to move with children.

Expat Kids: the Older the More Complicated

As the little ones grow up becoming expat kids, things will get slightly more complicated because you will need to consider their schooling. When we were thinking about a posting to Pretoria, South Africa, we knew that we would base our final decision on whether there was a suitable school. The school they eventually went to–the American International School of Pretoria–was amazing. However, they were following a very different curriculum from UK schools. So, when our eldest reached Middle School age, we decided the time was right for us to come home.

Many families don’t make this decision and prefer to carry on traveling with their children but it is easier if you can keep them within one school system (as an example, the most common choice for expats is often between the International Baccalaureate or a system based on their home country’s curriculum and there are British, French, German, American, etc. international schools around the world).

An alternative that has become more popular in recent years with the increase in technology is to homeschool using online services and tutors. If you are staying in one country long enough, then the local school system is also worth looking into if the language isn’t a barrier.

But it isn’t just about the actual school your child will be attending. You also need to take into consideration what they will do during the year you move them. Taking them out of one school system when they are about to take important exams is probably something to avoid whenever possible. Although, of course, if you have more than a couple of children, this becomes difficult when you may have at least one child in an important exam year every year.

Expat Kids: Leaving Their Friends

Schooling is one issue but friendships and, eventually, romantic liaisons may be another. As kids get older, their reliance on friends becomes more important. Taking them away from those friends can cause problems–not least the resentment your children might have towards you for doing it. With technology these days it is easy for kids to stay in touch with their friends in other countries, but this is never the same thing as being physically there with those people.

The Resilience of TCKs

All together now by Blake Barlow
All together now by Blake Barlow

Third Culture Kids (TCKs)–the term for children who live between different cultures as they grow up–are usually pretty resilient. They are used to seeing friends and classmates come and go–and one good thing about international schools is that they are used to helping their pupils through these transition periods.

It is worth thinking about your children’s ages when you consider an overseas move and try to fit it around them, their schooling, and, where possible, any “natural breaks”, like moving between elementary and middle school. But if this isn’t possible, especially when you have more than one child, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just try to be there, be aware, and listen to their concerns.

Thinking about moving abroad with your children? Let us know your thoughts and issues.

by: Clara Wiggins