Relocating With Children

There are many things to consider when expatriating with children...

Enriching your child's life by living abroad is one of the best things you can do for them but it's not all blue skies and beaches, believe me. The following are some things to think about:



School

Will you put your children in school? Is there a cost associated with school in your country of interest? If so, does it fit your budget? What about the country's standards in terms of policies? Are they more strict than that of your home country? How will that affect your child? If you choose to homeschool/unschool how will that affect your child socially? (A couple of bored kids can quickly grind down the nerves of even the most tolerant parents!)

Specific to San Pedro: There are several schools on the island with varying tuition. To my knowledge they are a bit more strict than the standard back home in Canada. (Shortly after our arrival I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of interest in my 10 yr old son's earring. I finally managed to get out of one of the local boys that something like that would never be allowed in school here. If you check out any of the websites for the elementary schools here you will also find policies re: attendance, dress, lunchtime etc. which to us seem quite strict.) Depending on what you want for your child, this may or may not be a good thing.


Extracurricular Activities

Again, bored children will be the death of you! What is available in your community of interest to keep them occupied and provide an opportunity to make new friends? Is there a gym? It's a good idea to Google things like "art classes", "youth sports" or "dance instruction" along with the name of the community you are considering to see what comes up. Keep in mind that often in smaller communities, especially in less developed countries this information won't be posted on the internet. A good place to look in this case might be on a community Facebook page. You can also check with any contacts you have made who are already living in the area you are considering or your relocation service if you are using one.

Specific to San Pedro: We were fortunate enough to find hip hop dance classes for the kids at the Train Station gym in the Boca del Rio area.

Local Cuisine

Do you have picky eaters? Even if you don't you might be surprised to find that your children turn their noses up at the local fare. If you have time, research a few local dishes and try making them at home prior to your departure to see how they go over. If it doesn't fare well, then perhaps research ahead of time where to get the foods that they do enjoy before you get there. (Hungry children who can't find anything that they like to eat are even more deadly than bored children!)

Specific to San Pedro: Fortunately San Pedro has an abundance of restaurants which serve traditional North American favorites. The local grocery stores also stock familiar items, no worries about that here... thank goodness! (However... the snack items like chips are a lot more costly than they are back home. You've been warned.)

Child Care

If you have little ones in tow you will need to consider child care. This was one of the biggest concerns for me as I don't just leave my children with anyone, let alone a stranger in a third world country!

Unless you have visited your new home already or have a nanny referred to you by someone you trust with your life, you really can't know ahead of time how you will feel until you arrive, get a feel for the community and get to know your child care provider personally. A parent's gut is the best indicator!

On a more practical note, you should definitely get references from other expats who have used your potential candidate and ask questions about any cultural or language barriers. Visit their home if possible and see how they live. If they have their own children, do they seem happy and well cared for? Meet the candidate(s) as soon as you can. All that traveling & getting settled can drive you to crave an evening out... sans children!

Specific to San Pedro: Again, we lucked out! A trusted friend who has been here for some time recommended a local woman who has cared for his own grandson. We have also had alternates referred to us by several fellow expats. There seems to be no shortage of trusted caregivers in San Pedro. (*I have to say that the Belizean people are the nicest of any country I've visited, including my own and in my experience so far they are generally very genuine and trustworthy.)

Homesickness

This one isn't a matter if IF, but a matter of WHEN. Your children will get homesick; they will miss their old friends. (And so will you by the way.) It's better to be prepared for this and address it in a straightforward manner, no matter the child's age. If you skirt the issue they will only become frustrated and more upset. It's best to tackle it head-on with real solutions. If their friends are able to visit try to establish solid dates so that the kids have something to look forward to as they adjust to their new surroundings. If that isn't an option, try to schedule a visit to go back home within the first 6 months. Alternatively, try to schedule visits from friends and family in your new country once you are settled. These visits will become less necessary once the children realize that home is still there and as they grow and expand their horizons abroad they will sort of "outgrow" their old life. All the expat kids I've  met so far couldn't imagine life anywhere else. (Even the adult ones who came to live here as children; they can't resist the island lifestyle and won't leave for anything!) It's inevitable... but it takes time. Be patient with them and try to understand how they feel. It can be heartbreaking at times; be prepared for this or you may find yourself packing it in before you're unpacked. Make use of technology as well; encourage them to (safely, with age-appropriate supervision) connect with friends and family via Skype and Facebook or by blogging. The most user friendly platform we've found is Blogger and both my kids have blogs that they have started so they can share their experience with friends and family back home.

Tristan has created "Jungle Love" and little Miss Evan has just started working on "Belize Wildkidz". Feel free to check them out and support the work of these little unschoolers!

Safety

Of course we can't forget about safety. Please see the "Safety" page. :)
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