Retiring Overseas With Children

Retiring Overseas With Children

“I enjoy reading all your tips and information about retiring and living overseas. My situation, however, is a little different from that of your target market. I am not of ‘retirement age.’ I am a 44-year-old widow with two young school-aged children.

“I am seriously interested in relocating with my children to a warm coastal area where we can escape the everyday stresses caused by the rat race that is the culture of life here in the good ‘ol USA.

“I have monthly income of a little over US$3,000. Health insurance and health care is a priority, as well as quality schooling. Home-schooling is an option.

“I do not want to move to a retirement community full of retirees, but rather a place with expats who are younger and who have young children…”

In fact, dear reader, you’re not as different as you may think. A growing percentage of our readership is considering the options for living overseas with young children.

As you’re guessing, the challenge is a bit greater…but not insurmountable.

Right…you don’t want a retirement community. You want to become part of the local community. In fact, this will happen whether you want it to or not as soon as you enroll your children in school. They’ll make friends…and, by extension, you’ll be drawn into local life, as well.

In some ways, making an international move with children, as I’ve done now three times, clarifies and, as a result, simplifies things. You don’t have to wonder about your priorities. There’s no question. Most important are safety, schooling, and health care. Such a clear-cut agenda allows you to eliminate a lot of places off the bat.

Bottom line, for me, the important issue has been schooling. I wasn’t in a position to try home-schooling. Furthermore, when we made our first move, from the States to Ireland, my daughter was 9. I needed to think not only about her immediate education, but also about options for high school and beyond.

In fact, this is part of the reason we moved again, when we did, from Ireland to Paris…so that Kaitlin could enroll in an International Baccalaureate (IB) program. The IB is the most recognized and respected international “high school” diploma, the top credential for a foreign student applying for admission to a U.S. or UK university, for example, and there was no option for this in Waterford, Ireland.

Similarly, the good international school options in Panama City made it possible for us to relocate here last summer. In this part of the world, the top choices if you’re making a move with children are Panama (Panama City boasts more than a dozen international-standard choices for educating elementary-aged children, including an American school, a British school, and a French school, where Jackson is enrolled)…and Costa Rica.

We were delighted with what we found when we researched school options in Panama City, for we had other reasons to want to be here for the next few years. Friend David Stubbs, on the other hand, who made his move to this part of the world with his two school-aged children about five years ago, considered both Panama and Costa Rica…and chose Costa Rica, where his two now-teenaged children attend the British school.

David could have been in either place and preferred the cooler climate of San Jose to the heat and humidity of Panama City.

Correspondent Lucy Culpepper, on the other hand, who has been shopping for the right overseas haven for her family, which includes two school-aged children, for the past year or so, looked at both Costa Rica and Panama…and, in the end, settled on France.

“We are in Pau in the Atlantique-Pyrennes region,” Lucy wrote to say the other day, “and we have decided to stay! We are running around looking at schools now…”

The other important consideration when making an overseas move with young children, as you point out, dear reader, is health care. I’d say, though, that any place with international schooling options will also boast international-standard health care. If you decide to home-school, of course, you could live anywhere, and, in that case, you’d want to look closely at local health facilities and standards.

In addition to safety, schools, and health care, another thing to take into account when moving overseas with young children is the language. If your child is younger than 5 or 6 when you move, no problem. Enroll him in a French school (as we did Jackson at age 4)…a Spanish school…a school where they speak and read only Mandarin Chinese. Your child will struggle for six to eight weeks…then he’ll be fine. He’ll wake up one morning and, suddenly, shockingly to you, speak the local lingo like a native.

From age 6 or so to age 10 or 11, it’ll take a while longer…and you’ll want to hire a tutor to support the effort…but, again, no problem, really. Your child will be fluent in a matter of months.

Older than that, and it’s tougher. Kaitlin was 15 when she began attending school in Paris. She spent her entire first year studying the language. Some nights, she wept her way through her homework at the kitchen table. She struggled…

Her teachers’ advice? Let her struggle.

The hardest thing for any parent to hear.

Her little brother, Jackson, age 4 at the time, was bi-lingual in a matter of weeks. It took Kaitlin more than a year of intense effort…and, finally, a French boyfriend…but she, too, today is fluent.

“Do you think Kaitlin will be ok?” a friend asked on the eve of our departure from Baltimore what seems like a lifetime ago now. “She’s leaving her grandmother, all her family, her friends, her school…”

“No, no, nevermind. I know the answer,” my friend continued. “You’ll just make sure she’s ok.”

We wondered ourselves whether or not Kaitlin would be ok those first couple of years in Ireland. Indeed, she missed her grandmother, her family, her friends, her school…

“I’m an American. I belong in America,” she’d exclaim regularly.

Occasionally, she’d go so far as to shout, “You’ve ruined my life! As soon as I’m able, I’m going back to Baltimore.”

What’s the story today, more than a decade later? Kaitlin is, indeed, back in the States, in college. But, increasingly, begrudgingly. She’s made it clear that this is a temporary situation. As soon as she’s able…she wants to move back to Paris…

Kathleen Peddicord


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