If the kids are happy, mum and dad are, too. That’s why when it comes to moving abroad, expat families say a welcoming environment for their children is at the top of the list of must-haves.
Moving abroad can be both exciting and scary for children, but is often balanced out by the unparalleled exposure to new cultures for the entire family, said Kate Berger, a psychologist in Amsterdam who specialises in expat children. Children living abroad develop skills that make them more adaptable than their counterparts living at home.
“These kids, by default, develop a skillset that makes them uniquely qualified for leadership positions” and they are often more open-minded than their peers, said Berger. They can be dropped in a new situation and figure their way out really quickly.”
There are, to be sure, more child-friendly locations than others. BBC Capital looked at four of the countries for expats with children. What do they all have in common?
1) New Zealand
This nature haven ranks as the best place to raise children, coming in first before South Africa and Germany, according to HSBC’s 2014 Expat Explorer Survey, of 7,000 respondents. Those that put the country at the top of their list were impressed with the improved safety of their children and healthy lifestyle outdoors.
Expats relocating here for a short amount of time mostly opt for private school, which costs up to NZ$ 39,819 ($30,000) per year, according to Auckland-based relocation expert Libby Svensen. Despite stringent zoning requirements, public schools can be a good way for expats to get settled. “Children going into the local public school tend to have local friends and the parents find it easier to meet local people,” Svensen said.
Vienna has topped consulting firm Mercer’s Quality of Living index in 2014 and 2015. Cynthia Keeler, 29, who works as an interior designer for children’s spaces in the city and has lived there for four years, said there’s a lot to love about the capital, including the dedicated stroller spots on buses.
Attending one of the city’s international schools, filled with the children of diplomats (the United Nations has one of its four major sites here), can make it easier for expat children to adjust to a like-minded, yet diverse, community. For older children, attending accredited German, British, French and American schools means that credits are transferable to universities abroad.
Cities including Zurich, Geneva and Basel have long been touted as havens for expats from around the world. But raising children in this German and French-speaking finance hub can be just as rewarding for expat parents.
The country tops the list for the best overall lifestyle for expats on HSBC’s Expat Explorer survey as the best overall place to live and consistently gets high marks for safety, education and the ability to lead a healthy lifestyle. The Swiss education system gets high marks on a global scale, but only about 25% of children go on to receive a bachelor’s degree, while others study at technical schools, vocational programs or apprentice before fully joining the profession. So children who attend the Switzerland public school system may be not be encouraged to attend a four-year-university.
The country regularly touted as the safest for children was the fourth best place to raise children, according to HSBC’s 2014 survey results. Nine of 10 expats in Japan who responded to the survey said their children’s safety improved after moving to the country.
For many expats adjusting to the homogenous culture with relatively few outsiders can be more difficult than in nearby Hong Kong or Singapore with large expat communities. Most expats need to learn some Japanese in order to integrate. Private day cares cost about 119,244 yen ($1,000) per month, still less than, say, in New York City or Chicago.