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How expat life can help families flourish

Moving to a new country brings a huge range of opportunities, emotions and experiences for the entire family. Having spent most of my life as an expat, this is something that resonates with me.

image of Dean Blackburn

By Dean Blackburn Head of HSBC Expat

15 May 2018

My first move abroad took place when I was just two years old. My father was in the army, so moving house and country was just part of life, as we moved to several countries over the course of my childhood. The transition wasn’t always easy, I left friends behind each time we moved, but looking back now I wouldn’t change a thing. Over time I was exposed to an incredible level of diversity that wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t moved abroad; and someday I would love my children to be able to share and embrace the experiences of new cultures, people and traditions first-hand as I did.

Today (15 May 2018) marks the United Nations’ International Day of Families, which got me thinking about my experiences as a child and now an expat parent, and how I could share the views of expats just like me to help families prepare for a move abroad.

Do your research

Speaking with contacts, friends or family already overseas is of course a great place to start. But if you need more in-depth information, each year at HSBC we speak to tens of thousands of expats in our Expat Explorer survey – which gives us unique insights to help families at all stages of their expat journey. For example, within the latest survey results, the Netherlands, Sweden and Singapore are ranked as the top three countries for expat families. Quality of education, safety and the health and wellbeing of children once they move are just a few of the reasons that expat parents rate these countries so highly.

When you have a family, it can be difficult to find time to research every aspect of moving to a new country. Our Expat Explorer survey toollink opens in a new browser window allows you to easily find out which country is best suited to your priorities, or if you already know where you are moving to, our Expat Country Guideslink opens in a new browser window which cover everything from culture changes to education are a good place to start.

Be prepared for change

It won’t always be easy, especially for your children. We know this from our work with Kate Berger, a Child and Adolescent Psychologist specialising in expat families, who helped us to create a range of resources designed specifically to help children and parents navigate the move successfullylink opens in a new browser window.

Last year, 32% of expats told us that they had considered moving home earlier than planned because they miss their friends and family so much. And when we asked parents specifically what the biggest challenges are for their children when they moved abroad, missing family and friends back home came top (43%), followed by making new friends (33%), and finally, settling into a new school (31%).

of expat parents say the biggest challenge for their children is missing family and friends

I know from personal experience, missing the people you leave behind is a difficult reality of becoming an expat, but working through these challenges together can set your children up to reap the rewards of expat life – of which there are many, not least the new friends you make whilst you are abroad.

Embrace the opportunities

You and your family will undoubtedly grow through the challenges of moving abroad and hopefully flourish with the new opportunities presented. When expat parents were asked about the benefits of raising their child abroad, 56% said that their child is more open to new experiences and cultures, 51% said their child is fluent in more than one language, and 33% said their child was more adaptable to change because of the move. These are all fantastic qualities that will serve these children well in later life.

of expat parents say their children are more open to new experiences and cultures

It’s a personal choice of course, and it’s natural to have reservations about any move abroad, but I would encourage anyone considering moving overseas to take the leap and do it. Despite the many challenges that expats experience, the majority of expats (56%) told us that they feel at home in their new country in less than a year and, for children, this increases to three quarters (75%) feeling at home in less than 12 months.

So my advice would be to go for it, support each other as a family when it gets tough; and you never know, you and your family may get the taste for the expat lifestyle and become a serial expat just like me.

Helping your child settle into life abroad.

What you need to know

About Dean Blackburn

Dean Blackburn is the Head of HSBC Expat, the award-winning provider of expat financial services which commissions the Expat Explorer survey, the largest and one of the longest-running global polls of people working and living abroad. Dean has over 25 years of experience working in financial services across the UK, UAE and Asia. So far, Dean has lived in a total of 6 countries.