Thinking of moving abroad with kids? When my kids were just 7 and 9 years old, I packed them up from their cushy Florida lifestyle and moved them to Milan, Italy as expats. As if uprooting them from their friends was not enough, I was also taking them from the wide open beach lifestyle to a high-rise building in the city. No skateboards or biking allowed. It was a pretty selfish decision on my behalf. I loved Italy and I loved exploring new places, but I also wanted to expose my kids to the world and we had an opportunity to live as expats. I did not visit outside the U.S. until I was 34 years old and I genuinely felt like I had really missed out on decades of culture, education and exploration.
If you find yourself packing up the family to live in another country, here are a few things you can do to make moving abroad with kids a bit easier for everyone:
1 Read local blogs in the destination where you’ll be. I tell other travelers this all the time. If you really want insight into a place, read what other transplants have to say about it. I didn’t have this advantage when I moved in 2004 but today, you’d be hard-pressed to not find a wealth of information written by other expats. Just Google “American blogger in (destination)”. Learn from others about their experience moving abroad with kids.
2. Since we were traveling to a city where English is not that common, I wanted to expose my kids to learn the language early. Before we left the U.S., I created flashcards with a picture on one side and the Italian word on the other. I carried them everywhere we went and I’d whip them out when we had a bit of downtime – waiting in the doctors office, sitting in traffic, or enjoying a family dinner. Invest in a program like Rosetta Stone or one made especially for kids.
3. Connect with the local Embassy or Consulate. You can find most of this information on the state department’s website, along with a host of travel information. Start here: https://www.state.gov/travel/. You can sign up for all types of notifications and really immerse yourself in your host country.
4. You’ll want to do plenty of research on available schools – your relocation company or the State Department can provide you additional information. Search for a Facebook group. We found that most families sent their children to the American School but when I visited, I wasn’t sold on their teaching philosophy, so we opted for a British school which was a bit of cultural immersion unto itself.
5. Once you arrive, be sure to pack plenty of indoor activities to keep your kids busy upon arrival as you get settled in. I went to Michaels and bought tons of arts and crafts supplies to keep them occupied those first few weeks as we unpacked, before they started school and began meeting other kids.
6. Have your kids journal about their experiences or start a blog. It really helps get them engaged in the places you visit and the sights you see. You’ll be surprised how much they absorb and it’s interesting to see expat life through their perspective. I’m so sad that I did not have the foresight to print out their blogs as they were on a platform that disappeared years ago. They did keep scrapbooks that I treasure today.
7. A great way to learn your new surroundings is with scavenger hunts. Shortly after we arrived in Milan, I would take our flashcards and we would walk the neighborhood trying to find the words on the cards – animals, people, stores, objects. It was a great way to explore our new neighborhood. I ordered these great exploration books for my kids that we used as a guide.