Where Do I Start? Tips for Moving Abroad with a Young Family
Well hello there. I know I haven’t blogged for an awfully long time. But it feels really great to be blogging again. Late last year saw the publication of my first book ‘Heart Matters in Early Motherhood.’ You know they say that if writing a book doesn’t kill you, promoting the book will. Ain’t that the truth.
Oh and did I mention that during the book promotion process, our family also began the process for relocating……..to the other side of the world. Yes a week ago we moved from New Zealand to Britain with our three small children. You see we always knew that we would move to England. In fact, people used to chuckle that we had been talking about moving to England for many, many years. Frustratingly, as it turned out my husband had to complete an enormous application that took 18 months to complete on top of full time work, followed by a series of exams for anyone who hadn’t worked in the health system over here. So we endured a very long waiting period. But in God’s perfect timing we finally, eventually moved. I can’t believe we’ve actually moved, given that it was such a long drawn out process.
It could be argued that moving internationally is somewhat stressful. Actually it can be significantly stressful. Stress just goes with the territory. But when the intricacies of moving abroad threatened to overwhelm me, I reminded myself that we are not refugees. Plenty of people across the globe encounter far greater challenges. However, moving for anyone can’t be minimized. Moving country as a single young person has its challenges, however add in a family with a few small children, and the challenges increase exponentially. There’s just so much to do. Moving country is a mission. It’s not mission impossible, but it’s certainly a mission. I recall searching the internet for articles on international family moves, and I didn’t really discover much written on the subject. I probably have enough material to write a small book on the subject, but I’ll start small with a simple blog post.
If moving country were easy, people would do it everyday. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy logistically, physically, emotionally, spiritually or financially. Moving house to another house just around the corner, or in the same city can be stressful. But moving country is that multiplied by about ten. When my children were very small, the notion of moving country completely overwhelmed me if I’m to be honest. Those were the days where just getting a shower was an achievement. I’m glad that my children were all over three when we moved. Looking back, I think the process would have been more challenging if they had been younger. Now that everyone walks, everyone can use the toilet on their own and everyone sleeps (most of the time), it has made the process of moving country more manageable. Like many things in life, moving country requires many hours of planning and hard work and there is a lot more involved that one would think. With a move to anywhere in the world there are so many details to organise – purging possessions, shipping possessions, passports, visas, air tickets, jobs, schools, preschools, house, car/s, medical/dental records, change of address notifications, putting property on the market. It really was a full-time job (in and around family commitments) for three to six months. I was the ‘International Move Coordinator.’
On the topic of moving abroad, friends would often say to me ‘I wouldn’t know where to start.’ I felt like that too. Especially when I looked at my house! For me it wasn’t getting to know others in a new place that daunted me, it was the practical logistics of arranging a seamless move. And the bureaucracy was also a Goliath. In fact, tackling British bureaucracy has made me stronger. If you can handle British bureaucracy, you can handle anything!
So just in case you ever contemplate moving to another country, (unless this exhaustive to-do list hasn’t put you off) here are my top tips:
Plan well in advance: Give yourself three to six months to plan, so that it isn’t an exhausting rush when you move. Create a spreadsheet with all your tasks to be complete on it. Remember to share it with your spouse so that you are both singing from the same song sheet.
Weed out your commitments well in advance of your move. This was really key in our move. Six to nine months before our move I retired from different activities such as playing in an orchestra and making meals for others, and resigned from different responsibilities such as a church ministry position. I allowed myself time to take a sabbatical from writing, and I also cut down on children’s activities. My eldest had two extra-curricular activities, my three year old had one and my five year old didn’t want to do any extra curricular activities. We kept life simple, meals were simplified, I didn’t bake and I didn’t do crafts with the children! And they have survived! In fact, they are thriving.
Bertie, the cousin’s dog with the kids
Purge, de clutter and sell. This took a year. The purging of possessions was by far the biggest most daunting aspect of moving (besides completing my visa application). We had a garage sale, we sold items on facebook (where there are no fees), we gave items to charity shops and to friends (who by the end of it probably grimaced when they saw us coming!). I spent much time de-cluttering, and although we have never been hoarders, we still filled a six metre skip before we moved out of our house (with some help from our lovely neighbours, who of course asked first before helping us fill our skip).
Organise well in advance. Due to the thirteen hour time difference, I spent many late evenings or early mornings skype calling schools, preschools and accommodation options in the UK. It was tiring, but it meant that when we got to the UK, things had fallen into place.
Take advantage of technology. Isn’t technology amazing. I ordered our grocery shopping online two weeks before we moved to the UK. And the day we moved into our house over here, the groceries were delivered to our door. Some furniture and a washing machine were also delivered. This was a Godsend in our jet lagged state.
Accept help. That friend who offers to bring you a meal in the week before you move? Say ‘Yes please.’ And the other dear friend who offers to help you fill your skip? Also, say ‘Yes please.’ Because it really does take a village.
Self-care. What is challenging about moving country with a family, is that life really doesn’t stop. There are still meals to be made, children to be taxi-ed here there and everywhere, birthday parties to attend, fundraisers to play our part in and so on. In the last month before we moved I allowed myself to have a nana nap if possible each afternoon. I also gave myself permission to go slower. Because transitions such as moving abroad are really tiring. Coffee and chocolate are also acceptable methods of self-care. Remember also that self-care goes for children too. Make sure they have some familiar toys and books to take in their suitcase because with a move to the opposite side of the world, it takes three months before a shipment arrives.
Adjusting to life in a new country. When you land in your new country, give yourself six months to a year to adjust. Be open minded. Write a list of the positive attributes of your new country. Many people do not emigrate successfully due to home sickness or an inability to adjust to the differences. Luckily the cultural differences between Britain and New Zealand are only subtle, given that a significant percentage of our culture came from Britain in the first place. And we have family here who have been so good to us. It must be even more challenging to move to a country where you don’t know anyone or where there are language barriers.
Our local library – just over the road from our house.
Someone I met who had emigrated from Scotland to New Zealand said that her best piece of advice is to ‘put yourself out there.’ It’s probably good advice. Who knows I might even become adventurous and join the WI (Women’s Institute). It meets in the village hall just over the road from our house.
I would also add to that piece of advice, my own. And that is, to be gentle on yourself. Take things slowly. It will be lonely at first. It can take much time to get to know others. Thanks to skype and social media I can keep in contact with friends at home.
If you have moved abroad with a family, what are your top tips that you would add to this list?
A verse that a friend gave me before we moved.