Moving abroad with kids

“We’d often talked about moving abroad with kids, but something always popped up that made us put it off. The years went by. Then the subject of moving came up again when our kids were two and eight. So we decided on Spain and the Costa Blanca.” Karin tells us what it’s like to move abroad with children.

BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Moving boxes in anticipation of moving abroad with kids.
"We had to sell everything: our house, our car, the furniture."
Photo: Johnér

We chose Spain because it wasn’t too far from our family and friends in Sweden. Plus, everything is easier to manage when you’re moving abroad with kids inside the European Union, like from Sweden to Spain. After some online research, we came to the conclusion that Torrevieja, on the Costa Blanca on the southeast coast of Spain, would be right for us. So we booked a vacation there to check it out in person.

How would we find jobs? Or schools for the kids?

Once we got there, we felt right away like we could imagine living there and spending more time with our children. Many questions circled around our heads when we got home. How would we find jobs? Or schools for the kids?

I had wanted to take a break for a long time. And that’s just what happened. Thanks to an incredibly understanding employer, I got to take a part-time leave of absence from my job at a furniture store and continue working remotely part time.

Living abroad with kids: The separation stage

It took a year to get ourselves and our kids ready for the big move. We had to sell everything: our house, our car, the furniture. If you’re living abroad with kids temporarily, there are tons of practical matters to look into, like taxes and insurance. You can find a lot of information on the internet, and what you can’t find you can talk to an advisor about.

BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Karin and her family moving to Spain, children with suitcases.
Since none of us spoke Spanish, we couldn’t prepare our kids that much, says Karin.
Photo: Private

Our actual move date in June 2013 kept on getting delayed as we tried to sell our house, so we had to have some temporary housing arrangements. Both the kids saw it as an adventure, with no worries and no one missing home. Sweet. But our older daughter knew she had to say goodbye to her friends, which understandably made her sad.

Our youngest child – three years old – took it the hardest.

What astounded us adults most during this phase was how little the kids actually missed all of their toys, which were gradually packed away or sold. We thought their toys meant a lot more to them, but it was only after they had barely enough to fill a plastic bag that the kids began to ask for them.

How our children helped us learn a language

Once we got settled in Spain, our youngest child – three years old at the time – took it the hardest. She hadn’t understood the full scope of nobody being able to understand her, and that she herself wouldn’t understand what any children or adults said to her.

It was a tough two months before she could communicate with her teacher and classmates and begin to feel comfortable with her daily routines. She had some questions about where home was and needed time for the move to sink in.

Now, eleven months after the move, both kids speak Spanish.

Our nine-year-old was welcomed with open arms, and still is one year later. In Spain, you decide whether your children will go home for lunch and take a siesta, or stay at school and pay for their food. We chose to let our kids stay at school so that they could get to know their classmates and become part of the community. This gave us a quicker insight into Spanish cuisine. Now, eleven months after the move, both kids speak Spanish and are a great help to mom and dad with the language!

The Spanish school system is different from ours at home

Spanish schools seem ahead of our own in some subjects, like math. Our daughter’s teacher was super helpful when our daughter had to cram two academic years into one year. Since none of us spoke Spanish, we couldn’t prepare our kids that much. We did some vocabulary together every week and started a CD course without finishing it.

We’d decided that the children would go to the local Spanish school to learn the language and culture. We got a lot of help from the internet and forums about moving overseas with children to get the information we need.

Parents are usually invited to fiestas and celebrations.

The school’s gates close at exactly 9:10 a.m. If you show up later without a formal written excuse, you’ll be sent right back home and will be welcomed back the next day. Adults are encouraged to make an appointment to visit the school. For fiestas and other celebrations, parents are usually invited to help with the preparations or necessary props.

The organization of the school is more compartmentalized than schools in Sweden. The school manages the teaching but tells the parents how they want them to support their children with homework and other matters.

There’s not much room for collaboration. On the other hand, teachers are empowered, which can lead to a lot of raised voices at school meetings. But in between, things keep rolling along. The school manages the time when your children are there, and the parents do the rest when the children aren’t in school.

A focus on family

Moving abroad with children made us realize that we love the family focus that permeates Spanish society at all levels. You really notice it when you’re on vacation in Spain.

Somehow there are always small children in restaurants at all times. You notice it even more when you live in a Spanish city, have children in a Spanish school and socialize with Spaniards.

Hugs and kisses abound, and smiles are big and genuine.

The children meet up in the morning with their teachers, and any uncertainties are figured out before the troops are led inside the gates, class by class. Parents are not allowed to follow inside. Hugs and kisses abound, and smiles are big and genuine – every single day. If you linger for a while after the gates close, you can hear them greeting each other loud and clear, and even singing.

The differences of living abroad with kids

Some differences play a minor role when you’re on vacation but become important once you move abroad with kids and live as a resident. In Spain, for instance, you still use the formal way to address older people or people you don’t know in order to show respect to your fellow human beings.

It’s fairly cheap to live in Spain. How much cheaper depends on your standards and whether you own items like a car. We have free bus cards here in Spain. There’s a one-time charge of about 7 dollars for making the card, but it’s renewable for free each year. The bus card also gives you admission to certain museums and other activities.

It’s cheaper to buy food both in the store and at restaurants, or to go out and have a drink. Electricity, on the other hand, is way more expensive than in Sweden, as is water.

By Karin Ingelstrand