Expat Families: The Challenges of Moving Abroad 


March 2023 

Moving abroad with family for a new job is an exciting opportunity but can also have its challenges. It’s important to understand how such a big move can affect your family, and how to ease the transition. 

Moving abroad can be stressful for anyone, but especially for a family with children. Many of the usual challenges are heightened when kids are involved, and it can be difficult to explain the reasoning behind these problems.
One obvious major challenge of moving to a new country may be the language barrier. Whether you’re familiar with the language or starting from scratch, being suddenly completely immersed in a new language can be scary, and especially confusing for children. 
Depending on where you’re moving to, you may be required to take cultural awareness training to assimilate into your new home. But even with training and research, living in a completely different cultural environment from your home country can take a lot of getting used to. 
Every expat will experience homesickness during their move, but for expat children, this feeling can be especially overwhelming. Separating from family and friends may be a new experience for your kids, and it’s important not to underestimate the gravity of their feelings.
With all the chaos of moving across the world, it can be easy to forget the importance of a social circle, both for you and your family members. Making new friends is key to feeling truly settled in a new country, and for your child, who may already be stressed about the move, this can be intimidating.

When the moving process is particularly stressful on a child, they can sometimes be described as having Expat Child Syndrome, or ECS. It’s most commonly found in children aged 10 to 15 and can manifest in a number of ways including:

  • Changes in sleep or eating habits
  • Withdrawal and introversion
  • Disruptive behaviour
  • Unusual attachment to parents

Communication and comfort from parents are essential to helping a child who is struggling with Expat Child Syndrome. Parents should be receptive to their child’s point of view and encourage them to connect with other kids their age in different environments.

As well as the mental and emotional stress, there are a number of logistical challenges to moving your family overseas.  
Expats tend to underestimate the amount of money needed to comfortably and safely move abroad with their families. There can be many unexpected expenses that crop up throughout the process, so it’s important to have a safety fund in place in case you need it. 
Visas need to be organised as soon as possible after deciding to make the move abroad. While your employer may help with this process, you may also need to organise a lot of your visa documentation yourself, and this can be confusing when moving to a country with a different processing system.
When moving your family abroad, it’s essential to do your research about neighbourhoods, schools, and social areas in your new home. The key is ensuring positive social interaction for your family to make the transition to a new country easier. When the environment isn’t a good fit, this can make the process harder for the whole family.
Many countries have long wait times to become eligible to use their public hospitals, while others may not have the services that your family needs available on a public system. International health insurance is a crucial investment for your and your family’s health when moving abroad. 
Although the moving process can be stressful, there are lots of ways to mitigate the stress and make the experience more enjoyable for your family.

Before you move, make sure to explain what’s happening to your children, and answer any questions they may have. 

Give them the time and space to say proper goodbyes to their friends and family members, and help them to set up communication lines so they can still keep in touch. Preparing your children for this big transition will make it easier to adjust when you land in your new home.

Throughout the process, keep communication lines between you and your child as open as possible. Involve them in conversations, answer all their questions, and make them feel involved in the process and that their voice is important.
While it’s important that your child stays in touch with their old social circle, it’s equally important to give them opportunities to interact with their new environment. Find a balance between touching base with old friends and joining extracurricular activities, and make time in their schedule to honour each.
Interested in an international health insurance plan? Our team can help. If you’re already an Allianz Care customer, you can access our Expat Assistance Programme, offering multilingual and confidential support 24 hours a day.