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9 Tips for Moving Abroad with Children

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Jasmin Meier Vidal
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I remember sitting in a Hamburg office with my mentor and friend, talking about how her husband had been offered a job in a foreign country. She said they wouldn’t take it, because of their children’s education: They did not want to take them out of school. 

Back then, I didn’t know how to respond. But I knew I found it incredibly sad that the whole family would miss out on such an opportunity. A few weeks later, in fact, I myself boarded a plane to Turkey, where I was planning to do research at some libraries and archives for the duration of six months, but ended up staying for the last 10 years. 

While there are plenty of reasons not to move abroad, there are usually plenty of better reasons why you should consider it.

During this time I was very fortunate to learn about the various opportunities Turkey, and in particular, Istanbul, has to offer, when it comes to getting an excellent education for your children.

But you have to get the right information in time and then decide what suits your needs best as a family. 

So in case you are wondering how to move your kids abroad, this article is for you. Of course, I can only speak on the specifics of moving to Turkey, but the general considerations will overlap, even if you are thinking about moving somewhere else.

That’s why today I want to share some tips with you about what to consider if you are planning on moving abroad with children. So let’s dive in!

Get an Overview of Educational Institutes Before You Move Abroad

Photo Credit: shutterstock.com/weedezign

This one might sound obvious, but I do see families who just pack up and move to Turkey without getting an overview and understanding of the educational landscape first.

Of course, this can work for you, but if you're looking to enroll your children in the school once you arrive, it will be helpful for you to be informed in advance. In the city of Istanbul for instance you will find a wide variety of excellent educational institutions:

  • Turkish private and state schools, offering a Turkish degree.
  • English-speaking international private schools offering an international baccalaureate (IB) diploma.
  • Non-English speaking private schools representing foreign countries.

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Set Educational Goals for Your Children

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Imagine what your life is going to be in 3-5 years. Then set educational goals for your children accordingly.

What does this mean? Many expat families move abroad more than once. So, even if your move to Turkey is your first one to a foreign country, there is the possibility you might just love living away from your country of origin.

You might be interested in extending your stay or going somewhere entirely different after your first expat adventure.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What language skills will your children need to acquire by that time, so it will be easier for them to adjust to a new environment? 
  • Will learning English from native English speakers be a good choice for you? 

In this example, you might be interested in an English-speaking international IB school.

Even if you consider moving back home, my advice is to give this some serious thought. I myself know families who sent their kids to an English-speaking IB school even though they considered moving back to their country of origin in the future. They just loved the idea of their children speaking English on a native level, having been immersed in the English language from the age of 4.

Consider If You'd Like Your Children to Get a Degree in Your Home County

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That may or may not be of importance to you, but it's important you decide it a few years before they'd start sending out university applications.

If you are a German, Italian, French, Dutch, Japanese, or Russian national and you move to Istanbul, you can send your kids to a private school representing your country.

If you already know you will only be staying for a short period of time and then move back home, this might be a good choice for you, as it will make admissions to school easier once you're back and it will most likely save your children from having to take admissions tests as they will already have an academic transcript suitable to your school system at home.

This tip is primarily for parents with older children but if you're moving abroad permanently, it could play a role in younger children, too, if you don't want them to have to move schools once they're older.

Decide What Role Your Native Language Will Play For Your Children

If they move to Turkey like I did, what language will they speak?

I sometimes meet people, who are real experts in moving across the globe, claiming their children will never move back to their country of origin and therefore don’t need to learn their parent’s native culture and language.

Instead, they focus on passing down excellent English skills to their kids. 

While this is a choice you can make, I more often meet people who wish for their children to learn their family language in a structured way in any case.

Because let’s face it: You don’t know where your children will want to go in the future. They might just as well be fascinated by history and try to learn more about where their family came from. So providing an environment where they can retain their family's language early on and giving them freedom of choice might be the best gift you can make.

This brings us to point 5...

Entertain The Thought of Working with a Private Language Teacher

Having a fun day out to the nail salon as a private tutor with my student

Due to Istanbul being such a multicultural metropolitan, there are many ways you can find a private language teacher.

You can find a teacher before you move via:

  • Expat groups on Facebook
  • Searching online teachers directly on other social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok

Or, you can find a teacher after you move by:

  • Asking friends and neighbors on site
  • Asking other parents at your chosen school
  • Engaging in activities organized by your consulate or church/mosque/synagogue or other and asking around there.

Also, ask yourself what is more important to you: having someone who can come to your home once or more times a week to work directly with your children, or having someone who can promise you more stability in the long run, like a teacher who works online and whom you can take with you wherever you might move from here.

This person will be someone to count on even in a situation of crisis such as a global pandemic.

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Talk to Your Employer Before You Move

Sending your child to an international private institution is expensive, but many employers, who send out staff to work abroad, are willing to pay for tuition fees.

Some even agree to fund additional education in your native language, if you ask them while negotiating the terms of your stay abroad. 

In this case, it will be important for you to find a teacher, who has a registered business rather than just someone doing private tutoring off the books. Because a registered business will be able to provide you with an invoice or receipt that you can pass on to your employer to get a refund.

Or, Be Bold and Take Matters Into Your Own Hands!

Children are adaptable and can learn in many different environments

If none of the above are interesting for you, or you send your child to an English-speaking IB School, but you can’t find a suitable private teacher to pass on your native language, you can still choose to take matters into your own hands.

There’s just one thing you need to be cautious about when moving to Turkey: If your kids are Turkish citizens, they will have to attend school in person.

However, if they have multiple citizenships you can choose to send them to an international school from the beginning. Then it is important that you don’t enroll them in a Turkish school because once registered in the Turkish system, you will not be able to take your children out and send them to an international school later on, should you not be happy with the Turkish school you chose or the school system in general.

It is also important to know that some international schools don’t take on Turkish nationals, even if they have multiple citizenships. If this applies to your children, this is something to communicate with your chosen school in advance.

But if you are a foreign national and you want to teach your children yourself, you are free to do so. You can choose to work with your children through the entire curriculum for homeschooling provided by your home country or you can still send them to school and just teach them your own language.

And last but not least...

Remember You Are Resourceful and Capable and Always Believe In Yourself

If you're able to take the leap and move abroad with children, you're more than capable of teaching them, too, if that's what you want to do.

Teaching your own language to your children while living abroad might sound difficult at first but if your children can speak at all, this means you are absolutely capable of teaching them your own language - regardless of the degree of your involvement in the process as a whole.

It is more about coming from a place of love, being patient, prioritizing having fun while learning together, and having a little bit of discipline, as well.

You do not need to be a certified teacher or educator to pass on your native language, and you can get help along the way if you need it. There are countless teachers, educators, mentors, and coaches who can help you with any difficulties you might face.

Get Your Children Excited and Prepared for Their New Country

Be sure you take them to see the sights in their new home abroad

Moving abroad is a big step for you but it might feel even bigger for your children. For them, they're also leaving behind friends, the house they grew up in, and their comfort zone. They're also embarking on a journey that will lead them to a new life, which may or may not be familiar at all to them.

Take some time to prepare them for all the great things waiting for them in their new home abroad. Encourage them to make friends and get to know the local culture and language, yet also give them the space to grieve the friends and lifestyle they've left behind.

Relocating can be tough but can also be a whole of fun. Do your best to get your children excited to move abroad before the big day comes and then carry that excitement overseas with you by exploring your new country together and getting them confident with their first day at a new school abroad if you choose that route.

Whether you and your family are moving abroad for a short period of time, a few years, or permanently, the transition will most likely feel much more dramatic to your children, so it's best you're prepared and supportive of the array of emotions to come.

In Summary

10 years ago I didn’t know how to respond to my mentor and friend when she told me her husband would not take the job abroad, because the kids were at school. Today these are the tips I would give her if she told me about such an opportunity again. 

Should you be a German speaker and find yourself in a similar situation, please feel free to contact me at any time. As a private teacher for German-speaking expat kids and parent mentor with a registered business in Istanbul/Turkey, I’ll be happy to talk you through the process and give you more information about working with me online - no matter where you decide to move.

Read our disclaimer & privacy policy here. Hero picture credit: shutterstock.com/areetham

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