How to integrate your family into international life

A new life abroad can be an exciting time - but if you're bringing your family with you, how do you make sure they feel included in the adventure?

Fabio Di Salvo

International schools: Advice for teachers who have a family and are thinking of teaching overseas

Moving to a new country is exciting. But it can also be a challenging, stressful and nerve-racking time, especially if you have a family to think about.

When I found out that I had been offered an international teaching role in Singapore, I was ecstatic. My wife, on the other hand, was understandably anxious about facing an uncertain future – she was leaving behind a job she loved to come with me on my adventure of a lifetime.

So, what things should you consider when moving with a partner or a family? Here is some advice from me and two colleagues who have also been through the experience. 

Moving abroad: what to consider before you go

Judy Cooper is the principal at Nexus International School in Singapore where I work, and she explains that small people add another dimension to the decision-making process.

"The decision to make a move to a new country takes extra thought when children are involved," she says. "We felt it would be easier to move while they were younger, although we knew that the move would still be a challenge for them."

As well as the impact on the children, bringing children with you will play into your decision-making process about where to go, says drama teacher Kimberly Bennett.

"Moving to a new country with a young family makes you ask questions that you might not normally worry about when travelling on your own," she advises.

Those considerations will be far ranging, from looking at what there is for young children to do to what the schools are like, and then if your children are able to get a place in the school you are teaching at. You'll also need to know what medical insurance is provided, and what areas are known for being more family friendly.

If you are moving with a partner, you also need to consider what their options are. What employment opportunities are available to them?

If they are accompanying you on your visa, do they need to get authority to work? It is also worth asking what roles are available at your school – my wife has recently started a new position at my school, which she loves.

Remember, your partner may be anxious about moving to a new country with the prospect of spending a lot of time on their own while you are at work (a concern which is even more real during the pandemic, where local groups are unable to meet).

Singapore has great expat groups on Facebook, where lots of people are in a similar situation and are arranging to meet up within local Covid-19 restrictions. It is a good idea to check out these types of groups in your new home country.

Involve your family in your decisions

The decision to move abroad is a big one and it can be a very confusing time for children.

"It's so important to take time to explain what will happen so they know what to expect," says Cooper. "Try to involve them as much as possible with decisions that impact the family."

When choosing where to live, Cooper gave each member of her family one "wish" – a swimming pool in the condo, a playground nearby.

She also recommends asking them how they are feeling and what is worrying them. By involving your family in the decisions, Cooper explains, you can help alleviate their fears and turn a time of uncertainty into a family adventure.

Think about the additional logistics

For Bennett, some of the bigger challenges were the practical ones – like all the paperwork!

"I spent months scanning documents and emailing people and sometimes even having to get documents notarised," she says. "It can be a pain, but if you take it in baby steps and you are really methodical then it's fine."

If your children are starting at a new school, there will also be a lot of paperwork to send to them.

Moving with a family also means moving with a lot more stuff. Bennett says that finding a good shipping company is key. Also, consider what you want to bring and what you want to leave behind. Research what is available in the country you are moving to and how much things cost, especially things that are important to your family.

According to Bennett, research needs to be done on local availability before you start leaving items behind.

"It can be really expensive to buy things new, so try to think about what you can take with you," she says. "You always think, 'oh, I'll be able to buy a toaster when I get there' but actually silly things like that all add up and are often hard to find at the other end, so it's worth just popping it into a suitcase!"

Top tips

Here are some final tips for settling into international life with a partner or family:

  • Unless your partner has a job lined up, contact the school beforehand to ask for any opportunities that may be available.
  • Do what you can to build up the excitement about starting a new school. Find out everything you can about the new school and try on the uniform.
  • Ask the school about the best way to contact other parents so you can arrange playdates and meet other parents.
  • Try and connect with people who are already there so you have some friendly faces when you arrive.
  • Bring some home comforts for the family (for us, this was Marmite, Lego and favourite toiletries).
  • Prepare to quarantine if you need to – create a routine and make sure you have lots of entertainment for the children.

Fabio Di Salvo is Tes international columnist and a physics teacher at Nexus International in Singapore next term

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