In 2016, when my husband and I told our family and friends that we were selling our house and cars and moving our family to Mexico, they immediately told us that we would regret it.
They even touched on statistics on the dangers of living abroad, ranging from cartel violence to health problems. But that didn’t stop us from doing something we knew was necessary for our growth as a family.
We’ve been living abroad for almost five years now, in two very different places: Mazatlán, Mexico, a beautiful colonial city on the Pacific Ocean, and currently Antigua, a colorful island in the Caribbean.
When my husband and I tell people that we don’t regret leaving the United States, they ask what advice we would give to others, especially families with children, who want to move abroad.
Here are our top tips:
1. Help your children adjust before moving
Before moving, we introduced our three children – then aged three, four and five – to Spanish via TV (with Netflix you can change languages) and the Duolingo app.
Even though we were in the process of moving from a 3,200 square foot house in Chicago to something much smaller, we told them they could each bring a few of their favorite toys and a blanket, so that ‘they have items of comfort.
Having constants can help children adjust to big changes. In Chicago, we enjoyed pizza night every Friday, so we carried on that tradition.
2. Make arrangements for health insurance
Basic health care in Mexico and Antigua is considerably cheaper than in the United States, and in some cases it is cheaper to pay directly.
When our son needed a CT scan in Mexico, we booked it directly with the diagnostic center (no referrals needed) and paid $ 65 out of pocket.
But it’s always a good idea to have international health insurance. Some carriers include an emergency air ambulance, which is a must. When my mother was in the hospital in Mexico City, we had to bring an air ambulance back to the United States. Without health insurance, it would have cost around $ 25,000.
Keep in mind that international health insurance is not the same as travel health insurance. International insurance offers a full level of health care to those who move from their home country for an extended period, while travel insurance provides emergency treatment while you are in another country for a period. shorter.
3. Establish a financial safety net
Before we moved, we set aside at least three months of living expenses in our emergency savings account, plus the return plane ticket.
It’s important to be financially prepared for unforeseen events, such as needing to book a flight due to a bad storm or hurricane, losing a job, or if an urgent medical issue arises.
Research where you plan to move and calculate the costs for housing, food, education, transportation, utilities, and other essential expenses. If you have children, don’t forget to take into account the number of people in your family.
4. Find accommodation on your own (it’s much cheaper)
Four months before moving to Mexico, we spent two weeks in Mazatlán. We scoured the areas we wanted to live in looking for ‘For Rent’ signs, then called the numbers and made an appointment (in the best Spanish we can muster).
After visiting five different places, we finally found one we liked and signed a lease. It was a two story, four bedroom, three bathroom house with a small casita – or a maid’s quarters – just 10 minutes from the beach in a safe and friendly neighborhood.
Our monthly rent was $ 475. By researching us and contacting the owner directly (their information is usually listed in the “For Rent” signs), we avoided paying the exorbitant fees that often accompany using a rental agent, which can sometimes cost two. or three times more.
Connecting online with expats who live in the area is another great way to explore the rental options available.
5. Have a steady income stream and stay on top of your finances
Most of the non-retired expats we know of are either employed in the country they live in, work remotely for a US-based company, or are entrepreneurs.
Currently my husband teaches at the American University of Antigua and I run my own writing business. We follow a monthly budget plan based on our projected income and expenses.
We also researched banks in advance and created an account ASAP. You may not be able to open an account until you arrive, but you can always make sure that all the required documents are ready when you arrive.
Finally, if you are a US citizen living abroad, your worldwide income is still subject to US income tax. But you may be eligible for certain foreign earned income exclusions or foreign income tax credits. (See the IRS Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Foreign Residents Abroad for more information.)
6. Register your children early for school
In Mexico and Antigua, we have chosen reputable local private schools for our children. Tuition per child was around $ 100 per month in Mexico, where they spent six to seven hours a day learning Spanish. Here in Antigua, we pay $ 200 per month for each child.
Enrollment is often limited for international private schools, so plan early by researching online, completing applications, and making deposits.
The quality of education was excellent – small classes, traditional subjects like math, science, reading and lots of history. Our kids love it too and they have made many wonderful friends.
7. If you or your partner are reluctant, give them time
If your partner isn’t on board yet, give them time and space to explore. Offer to take a trip to the area that interests you and spend a few weeks there.
Discuss plans that both of you are comfortable with. Speak and listen to each other with kindness, love, respect, understanding and patience.
It can take a lot of compromises, maybe even splitting your time between a family home in the United States and a rental home overseas.
The same advice goes for those who plan to move abroad solo. Visit the place and live like a local – stay at an Airbnb, shop, use public transportation, and attend events like an outdoor concert or festival. Make new friends and talk to other expats in the area.
You don’t have to live abroad for years to experience a new culture. You can take an extended vacation or get a digital nomad visa and work remotely for a few months.
The past few years have been a rewarding experience for our family. Our children are so much more cultured, open-minded and well-balanced. Whether you live abroad for a month or a lifetime, the adventure is worth it.
Gabriella M. Lindsay, originally from Chicago, is a writer, author and educator. She lives on the island of Antigua in the Caribbean Antilles with her husband and three young children. “Living in FIT: a 40-day guide to living faithfully, intentionally and tenaciouslyis his first book. Follow Gabriella on Instagram.