My family moved in 2018 from the US to Thailand and quickly realized it wasn’t our forever home.
We moved again to Portugal, and with the experience of the first move, we made fewer mistakes.
Here’s what I learned about moving internationally with children.
In 2018, our family of four packed our entire lives into eight suitcases and moved to a new country. Less than a year later, we did it again.
The first move, to Thailand, felt like a dream come true. But the challenges started just two weeks into our new life, when all four of us came down with serious food poisoning and my two kids and I had to be hospitalized. I remember a specific moment in the hospital in Phuket when the overwhelm hit me. As I looked down at the IV in my arm and then over to my 5-year-old daughter in the bed beside me, I wondered if we had made the right decision moving there.
The potential that moving abroad was a mistake was terrifying to even consider. We had uprooted our entire lives with the conviction that this was the right thing for our family. I had spent years building a location-independent business helping people write nonfiction books. We had built our lives around this dream.
The following months would hold hard-won lessons that even seasoned ex-pats like my husband and I would find challenging. Today, as I reflect on our experiences from my home in Portugal, I’m grateful we kept at our dream of exploring the world with our children. But I learned a number of lessons any family considering a move like ours should know about ahead of time.
Be realistic and intentionally search for problems
The truth is that as meaningful and life-changing as moving abroad can be, it can be hard, no matter how experienced you feel. When kids are involved, the chances of hardship are even higher.
When getting ready to move to Thailand, we thought we were fully prepared. We had visited the country years ago when we were living in Vietnam. After that visit, moving to Thailand became dream. Plus, we felt up to the challenges because we had lived in two developing nations, but that was before we had kids. We didn’t push ourselves to look past our confirmation bias to ask whether the dream we’d held since our 20s fit our young family.
Going into our next move, we created a realistic must-have list: safety, great healthcare, excellent schools, a beach nearby, access to nature, good cycling for my husband, within an hour of an international airport for my business, and a favorable tax structure.
From there, we assessed locations against our list. If one didn’t pass, we moved on – no matter how much we loved the idea.
We also went out of our way to intentionally search for problems, asking ourselves: Can we handle that? What would we do if this happened? Is that a deal breaker for us?
This led us to eliminate a couple countries we originally wanted to move to. After about a month of research, we chose Portugal.
Get practical about the details and find support
For both moves, we made sure our practical boxes were checked.
For Thailand, I hired a local assistant and kept a detailed spreadsheet with neighborhoods and school options. My insurance broker helped us find international health insurance. I joined ex-pat Facebook groups to ask questions and used government sites for visa research. Ultimately, we picked a school that wasn’t a right fit, found out that our health insurance didn’t cover much, and ran into endless visa issues – including a required $ 10,000 hold on funds in a Thai account for more than six months.
For Portugal, we did things differently. I hired an established relocation company to process our visas, set up bank accounts, and secure excellent private Portuguese health insurance. Rather than choosing our locale ahead of time, we did a monthlong driving tour of the country, visiting multiple cities and schools.
Yes, this move cost more. But the stress I saved was worth the expense. Plus, we’re still here and happy nearly three years later.
Thailand wasn’t a fit for us, but it was a meaningful experience in so many ways. Most importantly, we grew closer as a family because of the challenges we overcame together. If you go into your own move with openness and acceptance of the journey ahead, you’ll grow too.
Stacy Ennis is a No. 1 best-selling author, a speaker, and founder of Nonfiction Book School, where she coaches authors to use the power of writing to uncover their unique stories so they can scale their influence.
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