Moving abroad with children

“My husband and I had been talking about moving abroad ever since we met 13 years ago. But the move kept getting postponed for one reason or another. The years went by. The possibility of moving came up again when our children were two and eight years old. We decided on Spain and the Costa del Sol.” Karin shares her experience of moving abroad with children.

BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Moving boxes packed and ready for moving abroad with children.
Photo: Johnér

We chose Spain because it’s not too far away from friends and family in Sweden and moving within the EU is less complicated than moving farther away. After extensive online research, we decided that Torrevieja on the Spanish Costa del Sol seemed promising. We booked a holiday there so we could get a feel for the town.

What do we do about work? The children’s education?

Once we got there, we could immediately see ourselves living there and getting a chance to spend more time and energy on the children. The questions came thick and fast when we got back to Sweden: What do we do about work? The children’s education?

I’ve been wanting to take time off work to study for a long time. I managed to arrange part-time study leave and my amazingly understanding employer AJ Produkter AB allowed me to continue working part-time remotely.

Our preparation for moving abroad with children

It took us almost a whole year to prepare ourselves and the children for the move. We had to sell all our possessions: house, car and furniture. If you are going to be living abroad temporarily, there are a lot of things you need to check with the Swedish Tax Agency and Swedish Social Insurance Agency. You can find most of the information you need online and if you still have questions it’s best to call the agencies to ask for advice.

BABYBJÖRN BABYBJÖRN Parental Magazine – Karin and her family moved to Spain; the children with their suitcases.
As neither of us could speak Spanish, we weren’t able to prepare the children much, reports Karin.
Photo: Private

The actual move in June 2013 was a long-drawn-out process with some ‘stopgap accommodation’ owing to the sale of our house. Both children saw this as an adventure; they never seemed anxious or homesick. What a relief! But our elder daughter understood that she was saying goodbye to her friends and was upset about that.

It was hardest for the little one who was three years old at the time of the move.

What surprised us most in this phase was how little the children actually missed all their toys, which were gradually packed away or sold. We thought that they meant a lot more, but it wasn’t until they had barely enough toys left to fill a carrier bag that they began asking where things were.

The children are our language coaches

Once we arrived in Spain, it was hardest for the little one who was just over three years old at the time of the move. She was baffled by the fact that no-one understood what she said and she couldn’t understand what children or grown-ups said to her.

It took about two difficult months before she could communicate with her teachers and classmates and started to enjoy her everyday life. She had some questions about where home was and needed time for the move to sink in.

Eleven months after the move both children speak Spanish.

Our nine-year-old was welcomed with open arms and still is a year later. In Spain, you choose whether your children come home for lunch and a siesta, or pay for food and supervision at school. We decided the children should stay at school to get to know their classmates and make friends. This also gave us a crash course in Spanish cuisine. Now, 11 months after the move, both children speak Spanish fluently and they’re great language coaches for us.

Schools in Spain are not like Sweden’s

Schools in Spain are ahead of Sweden’s schools in some subjects, including mathematics. Our daughter’s teacher was very helpful when she had to fit two years’ of maths into one year. As neither of us could speak Spanish, we weren’t able to prepare the children much. We learned a few words of vocabulary each week and started a CD-ROM course without finishing it.

We’d decided that the children should attend Spanish state school to learn the language and experience the culture. We’ve found a lot of the information we need on the internet and forums about moving abroad with children.

Schools usually open their doors to parents before fiestas and other holidays.

The gates close on the dot of ten past nine on a school day. Pupils arriving later than that with no valid excuse in writing are turned away but welcome to return the next day. Parents are welcome to make an appointment to visit the school. Before fiestas and other holidays, schools usually open their doors to parents to help make costumes or props.

School work is more compartmentalised than it is in Sweden. The school teaches the children but tells parents how it expects them to help support the children with their homework and other things.

Parents don’t get much of a say. On the other hand, a lot of trust is placed in the teachers and meetings can occasionally get noisy. But in between times things chug along nicely. The school takes charge when the children are there and the parents take care of the rest when the children are not in school.

Family focus

Moving abroad with children made us realise how much we love the family focus so prevalent at all levels of Spanish society. You notice it when you holiday in Spain.

You always see little children in restaurants, no matter what time it is. It’s much more noticeable when you live in a Spanish town, your children go to a Spanish school and you mix with Spaniards.

There are hugs and kisses, and the smiles are wide and genuine.

The children are met by their teacher every morning and any uncertainties are cleared up before they go inside the gates class by class. The parents aren’t allowed to follow them inside. There are hugs and kisses, and the smiles are wide and genuine – every day. If you linger after the gates have closed, you can hear the children greeting each other and singing.

The differences of living abroad

The differences that hardly matter when you’re on holiday become more important once you’ve moved abroad to live permanently. In Spain, for example, you still use the polite form of address when talking to older people or strangers as a way of showing respect.

The cost of living is lower in Spain. How much lower is up to you and depends on the standard you expect and whether you need a car etc. We have free bus passes here. You pay a one-off cost of €7 to make the card, but after that you can renew it every year free of charge. The same card gives you free admission to certain museums and other activities.

Food is cheaper in Spain, both in supermarkets and eating or drinking out. But electricity is vastly more expensive than it is Sweden. So are our water bills.

Text: Karin Ingelstrand