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Expats with young children, how did you do it?

Expats with young children, how did you do it?

May 11th, 2011, 09:16 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,464
I was just going to comment on your ideas regarding education for your children where you toss out the idea that you are considering home-schooling. I don't see how you could work and do that at the same time, it's supposed to be a full-time job. I think it can be very detrimental to the children, also (having seen some of it first-hand in relatives where it damaged the children in terms of what they learned, so they placed behind their age when tested, and their social skills). They developed behavior problems due to boredom, also.

Now if you are just talking about living some place for a year and your kids are 5 and under, that is no problem.

But I think you are thinking you can do that if you wish and I suspect you will have to find out legalities on this issue, because it may not be as easy as in the US in some other country to keep your children out of school. Assuming you would be a legal resident. I know home-schooling is legal in France, but you are inspected and your children have to be taught certain things (like French, for one). If you aren't fluent in French, you wouldn't be qualified to tech your children French grammar and writing, etc. Your children would have to test equal to children in French schools.
Christina is offline  
May 11th, 2011, 10:04 AM
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We're Americans who've lived overseas for just over 7 years. We were able to do it by working for the U.S. Government. Initially, my husband was hired for his IT job, and then a few years later, I was able to get a job, too. Of course, going that route means that you have to live where the Americans have a presence in Europe (usually NOT the hot spots like Paris and Rome), but there are lots of benefits, too, and we've had some amazing travel experiences.

Lots of Americans here in Germany put their young children into German kindergarten, and some keep their children in the German system for as long as they're here. There are also American schools available or, in some locations, the government pays for your child to go to International School. I can tell you that, for our children, growing up overseas has been a defining experience that we wouldn't change for anything.

Good luck!
mindylt1 is offline  
May 11th, 2011, 10:05 AM
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We're American expats living in the UK. We've been here almost 4 years. We moved when our son was 2 -- he's now almost 6.

My husband, also in IT, works for a multinational. He applied for several jobs abroad. After he got the job, the company took care of the rest; work permits/visas, house hunting trip, moving our belongings, taxes and a few other things.

I have heard that expat packages are harder to get. Many companies are changing to local workers instead. They are able to transfer you but instead of paving the way in gold, you are treated the same as their local employees. It's not a way to get rich, but it is a good way to experience another country.

I'll answer your questions in order

1. We narrowed the options based on what was best for our family. We had offers from other countries, but felt the UK would be best for us!

2. We told some friends and family -- couldn't back out then!

3. No big hurdles, really. The process of getting here was very smooth.

4. My son was two. We packed his bags and told him we were getting on a plane! We will be moving on eventually so we will have to deal with preparing an older child. I imagine it will be involving him in the process as much as possible. No surprises.

5. Thank goodness I didn't have to learn a language -- although there is often a language barrier! The expats that I've talked to that have had the hardest time settling in felt isolated because they didn't speak the language.

As far as education, I can only speak to the UK. Our son is in a private (independent) school. I would definitely recommend that! The state school system here is very complicated compared to the States. You have to apply for your chosen school, give several back up choices, and then a school is chosen for you based on all sorts of stuff -- religious affiliation, distance to school, sibling priorities, special needs etc. I think it would be very difficult to manage that right off the bat.

Children also start school earlier in the UK. In the states it's the Sept after they turn 5. Here it's usually the school year in which they turn 5. So -- my son born in June 2005 would have started kindergarten in Sept 2010. He started reception (almost the same thing) in Sept 2009. They also provide 5 free (or reduced) sessions of preschool a week for all children over 3.

I would recommend not homeschooling -- our best friends have been made through the school. It would feel very isolating if he and I didn't get out and interact with other people every day!

It isn't easy -- but it isn't impossible either. If this is something you want to do -- you've got plenty of time to prepare. If you are thinking about 5 years from now I would recommend trying to get a job for a large multinational and then transferring within the company.

Good luck!
BKP is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 02:58 AM
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Greuzi - Thank you for the info & encouragement! We are fine tuning things. I believe our initial thought was to live abroad for a year or two and depending on how things go, make a more permanent move. That is changing the more we learn... Obviously we have much more footwork to do and perhaps a more measured, easing into things approach (via long-term visits) is the way to go. How wonderful an experience for your family! I truly want our children to be exposed to other cultures and travel. 

StCirq - Yes. Renting and p/t living. Good initial strategy... How did you know Saint-Cirq was THE place for you???

Christina - When I say we work, I really mean DH. I am a SAHM with occasional freelance writing. Caring for our children will be my full-time 'job'. You provided some very good-to-know insight re: French schooling!  Very much appreciated!

Mindy- Your experience sounds great! 

BKP - Thank you for sharing & answering my specific questions! Things worked very well for you all. I have heard companies are scaling back on overseas packages, so what folks were able to do heavily in the past has drastically changed. We have thought of the UK as ideal in terms of eliminating upfront the language barrier... Def will take note of your comments about school, especially the opp it affords to establish relationships for the entire family! Very good point!
ChicagoDallasGirl is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 03:45 AM
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I have heard that expat packages are harder to get. Many companies are changing to local workers instead.

Yes, and no. One should separate the increasing constraints on the size of expat packages from any decrease in appetite among multinationals to send workers on foreign assignments.

I suspect that there has been a reduction in overall numbers of international assignees, just as there has been an overall reduction in employment in many countries. That number may recover, or companies may discover that much of it was a boondoggle and never go back to previous assignment levels. Certainly any such reduction hurts the OP's chances.

What doesn't necessarily hurt the OP's chances is the increasing trend in reducing expat packages or eliminating them entirely. People can still be sponsored for international assignments (and receive the preferential treatment under many countries' immigration laws), without getting the housing allowance, the COLA, the car allowance, tax equalization, etc. Increasingly, prospective assignees are told that they can move abroad, but that they will receive total compensation in line with what a local would make, or with some minimal additional benefits. This can be a far cry from the days of gold-plated expat packages that saw the company, effectively, paying for all living expenses, and with the assignee pretty much pocketing their entire salary.

The trend away from generous expat packages might actually work in the favor of the OP. With the outsized financial incentives gone, I suspect we might begin to see some reduction in supply of expat candidates, which might help someone like the OP. The OP seems to value the experience enough that they might participate, even if it meant some minor financial hardship.
travelgourmet is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 05:59 AM
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I made about 35 scouting trips.
StCirq is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 06:23 AM
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35! Oh, that must have been hard, StCirq. Tough duty
Mimar is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 08:41 AM
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Yes, but how did it even land on your radar? What made you go for the first visit, and kept you going back for more.
ChicagoDallasGirl is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 10:16 AM
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A few years back I read a book by an American woman whose husband worked in South Carolina for Michelin. They had the opportunity to move to near Michelin HQ (Clermont-Ferrand, I think)in France for his job with their two or maybe three kids. I can't remember much about it except their neighbors.

French by Heart: An American Family's Adventures in La Belle France, by Rebecca S. Ramsey.
Coquelicot is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 10:48 AM
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Well, back in the 70s I started going along with my dad's school groups (he was a headmaster) as a chaperone to France every year for about, 8 years. I fell in love with the place and just kept going back several times a year most years, trying out different parts of the country every time, always with the intention some day of buying property there. The very last place in France I hadn't visited was the Dordogne, and I landed there in the early 1990s and fell in love with it. I went back several times specifically to look for a property there, and after 3-4 trips, found the one that captured my heart.

What kept me going back? The day I first landed in France I had the distinct impression that I had "come home." It just felt perfectly "right" to be there. The more I explored it, the more fascinated I became. I already spoke the language, so that was never an issue, at least in metropolitan areas (getting used to my Occitan-speaking neighbors was another thing). I love the way France is really about 100 different little countries with different food, customs, architecture, and scenery. I love the pace of life, the attention to detail, the presentation of small things in grand ways...it's simply a place where I can live the way I prefer to live better than I can here (though I don't stint on having plenty of French influence in my American life!). It still feels like home every time I land.
StCirq is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 11:28 AM
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Coquelicot, thanks for the reference. I will look up the book.

StCirq - Ahh. I see. The heart knows when one has come home. How awesome you had the benefit of tagging along AND knowing the language. I have Googled the region and pics are breathtaking. Your description of how it suits you - is you - sounds perfectly romantic. Thank you for sharing your story.
ChicagoDallasGirl is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 12:38 PM
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We came to France in 1987, fell in love with the Dordogne, and in 1988 decided to live here. That's the extent of our research - it was very clearly where our hearts belonged. Finally managed to sell our house AND save enough money to buy a house, and got a very small pension to have at least some income. Then we rented out part of our own house,(the big part) and did property management for other people to earn some money.

So a combination of a dream and some common sense approach.

Also, - by chance of birth had European passports, and being Canadian had SOME French - or at least a willingness to get further into the language than high school level. We spent a lot of evenings after long work days at French night classes. All of that paid off when we were able to communicate with our neighbours and make good friends here.

We didn't have children to bring (just two cats, who spoke French about as well as they spoke English) But I would certainly put children into the local school system, as it's the way they - and you - are going to make friends and learn the language.

Seventeen years later, we still think it's the best decision we've ever made. We've spent the last few days showing South African friends around the area, and we are just about as stunned at the beauty of this place as they are.

If you are really thinking of coming to Europe, there are any number of books on 'Living in France' 'Working in France,' etc., and presumably for other countries. Plus lots of expat sites. Some are better than others - too many expats are looking for people of their own nationality to help them out, do construction, upkeep, etc., on their properties. But you should find some useful information.
Carlux is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 01:27 PM
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Long shot, but if you or your husband happen to have an Italian or Irish grandparent who immigrated to the US, you may qualify for citizenship in those countries. Since both are in the EU, your residence and work problems are pretty much solved for any EU country.

Lived in London for two years, then francophone West Africa as a State Dept employee. It's a great experience, though as some have hinted, living there is very different from vacationing for a few weeks.
Fra_Diavolo is online now  
May 12th, 2011, 01:27 PM
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Thanks, Carlux! Your story makes my eyes green as another interest of ours is the possibility of opening a b&b... Speaking of expat sites. There are SO many. It's hard to know which are legit. Would you recommend one or two?
ChicagoDallasGirl is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 01:29 PM
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Fra_Diavolo, there is a trace of Irish on both my and hubby's paternal sides of the family, however, we'd have to go much further than grandparents... (sigh)
ChicagoDallasGirl is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 01:35 PM
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I don't think the Irish Foreign Registry of Births is open to Americans any longer. That's how I got European citizenship, but it was back in 1987. I think they either stopped or severely restricted applications in 1999. Anyway, you not only had to have a parent or grandparent born in Ireland, you had to have the paperwork to prove it (birth certificate or parish record).
StCirq is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 06:58 PM
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nz101 is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 07:49 PM
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I realise the market is not what it was, but the point I was making was that it is not difficult for a non-EU person to get a resident's permit in Germany. People are answering here as if all EU countries have the same rules which is not the case.

Unfortunately, a lot of companies are not looking for young enthusiastic IT'ers, they want people with the necessary skills and experience to 'hit the ground running'. I just did a quick search on jobserve.com for IT jobs in Germany and it came back with 1,355 jobs posted in the last 7 days and I'm pretty sure 99.9% of them will make no mention of being an EU citizen as a requirement, because companies and agencies know they are very easy to get.In addition, the vast majority of these jobs are English speaking roles.
Geordie is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 08:49 PM
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There is a vast difference between the romanticized version of a place and the reality. I would start with a place of choice but be open minded that it might be the final resting place.

Also here is a site for what are called population pyramids. The demographics of many European coutnries will change significantly over the next forty years greatly effecting taxes, job opportunities, available services, culture, etc. There are ageing populations without replacement populations in many European countries where there will an undue burden on those working.

The US will avoid this due primarily to its immigration policies or lack thereof.
Aduchamp1 is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 08:50 PM
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Sorry forgot to include the site for the population pyramids.

Aduchamp1 is offline  

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