Options for Raising Your Kids Overseas

2 Posted by - July 8, 2013 - Kids
International_Gilberts-1

This is my husband’s artistic interpretation of our children in France. Subtle.

Last week I was talking about our on-going conversation about the pros/cons of homeschooling and a couple people mentioned that Cole’s only 3.5 years old so we have plenty of time. Well, maybe. It actually depends on what we do — which has prompted me to write about some of the options available to you if you want to raise your kids overseas.

1. The Homeschooling Nomad. If we homeschool, keep traveling at a 1-3 month per country rate — then we don’t have to change anything. Most countries allow US passport holders to enter on a tourist visa for between 1-3 months, some countries do 6 months (Mexico, UK, Australia are good examples) and a lot of places can be extended by doing visa runs (Central/South America, parts of Asia, Middle East — basically most places except Europe). If we homeschool there’s really little to be done except perhaps make sure our state of residence in the US doesn’t have some draconian homeschooling regulation, which can be solved by simply doing the paperwork to set up residency in a different state.

However if we want to put Cole in school, we have to set up a permanent homebase. This is trickier if we want to live overseas:

2. Permanent non-working residency visas. If you have a business based in the US (that wouldn’t require you to work locally, like say, um, a blog) then you can prove you have enough income to live on without taking a local job, in many countries you can qualify for a long term residency visa. It’s really intended for retirees or the independently wealthy but plenty of people who have online businesses have been able to qualify. In Europe it varies but somewhere between having 1,000 euros/person each month in income or a million euros in assets (big range I know) can get you in. It’s a ton of work to do it, you have to have everything set up:

  • FBI report on your criminal record
  • Original Bank Statements
  • Original Statements about any assets you may own
  • A signed lease for a place in the country where you’ll be living
  • Confirmed plane tickets to that country
  • Proof of health insurance with specific policy amounts and a certified letter from the insurer

So in order to realistically do this, you have to hope you’ll qualify (the ranges are often estimates, the expat forums will give you clues but people get denied and approved for similar amounts so it’s not set in stone) then go to that country, find a place, rent it and sign a lease for a year. Then fly back to the US, purchase full plane tickets for your entire family, pay for health insurance for that country (which locks you in for a year), get all your paperwork together and wait for about 6-12 weeks near the US consulate you’re using to get approval. Some people report it takes 6 months – a year to get all of this done. It’s expensive and difficult, but you only have to do it once. You renew in-country each year. However you should really be committed to that country long term because otherwise the investment of time/money is not worth it. Plan on it costing about $10,000 to get set up.

3. Get a work visa. This is tough. One way to do it is to find a country that hires TEFL English teachers, take the course and exam, then try to place yourself as an English teacher in that country. Overall this can take about a year between taking the course, doing some work to get experience (even if it’s unpaid internship, because most jobs require at least 1 year experience — especially if they are applying for your work permit) and then moving to the country, applying for jobs and hoping you get something before your tourist visa expires, at which time you have to leave. The good news is that only one spouse has to get it and the rest of the family can follow.

4. Go back to school. One of us (the parents) could enroll in a language school (or other educational program — cooking school perhaps?) for a year or two, get a student visa, bring my family over on that, then figure out the rest later. Of course you still have to prove you have the income to support yourself in country and sometimes they want specific amounts per person in your savings account. For a family of four, this could add up quick. So if we did do it, we’d likely have to get very serious about saving a majority of our income in the preceding year(s) to make sure we qualified. I looked at doing some cooking schools in France and it’s easily $10,000 per semester.

5. Send our child to a private school abroad and get family visas that way. Not every country allows this or allows both parents to come, but some do… you can enroll your child in an international school, then qualify for their student visas and bring your family over on that. See #4 on qualifying income. They basically don’t want you to work in the country, under the table, so they want proof that you’ll never need additional funds during your stay.

6. Have a baby! One thing that having Stella in Mexico bought us was the ability to get permanent residency here on her passport. Because North and South America has the automatic citizenship if you’re born there, Stella has dual citizenship in the US and Mexico. Of course this limits you to just places in the Americas, but that’s one option.

7. Live in a country that let’s you do visa runs. Thailand is a great example of this. However if you’re truly planning on staying in a place long term, then after a few years it can become a problem. One expat I met in Laos was flagged by the consulate as having crossed the border too many times, so he was no longer eligible for 2 month Thai visas. He could only get 1 month visas if he flew into the airport or two weeks if he did a land crossing. He had lived in Thailand for years and suddenly and without warning, he had to seriously consider leaving. So while visa runs are an option, it’s also a grey area where you’re getting repeat tourist visas but aren’t actually legally allowed to live in the country long term. This also means that you can’t get citizenship or more permanent residency based on living in the country 5-10+ years.

8. Other country-specific ways. Some places let you in if you start a business, the rules and investment levels vary wildly. Sometimes it’s just forming a corporation (I’ve heard this about the Czech Republic), other times it’s a investment threshold (like 1 million dollars in Thailand). So if we fall in love with a place we could look into alternatives, maybe there will be other ways.

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Then what? Well the good news is that some places let you become a naturalized citizen after X amount of years living in the country. So if we live in France, Spain or Italy for 10 years, we would become dual citizens. My kids could go to EU universities. We’d be paying taxes to the US and Europe (US citizens pay taxes no matter where they live, forever and ever, unless you renounce your citizenship) but on the other hand, the cost of university in Europe is so drastically less expensive than the US, we’d be saving $50,000-$80,000 per kid (and that’s not adjusted for inflation). And there’s universal healthcare. And our kids would have EU and US passports. Tempting.

Of course the easiest path is to just wait, see how our son does, then decide, but if we do want to settle down overseas, then I have about a year and a half to work out how to do it. Increasingly, I’m thinking that homeschooling is great but maybe constant travel + homeschooling is too much — for us anyway. You know? I know there are families who do it, but really there are very few people having their babies overseas and traveling constantly for 20+ years while raising and educating their kids the entire time (military families are probably the closest thing, but it’s a little different, you don’t choose where and when to go and the father is often away etc — but there’s lots of negative stories about that lifestyle). What does that do to the kids? There’s just not that many good examples. Anyway, I don’t have answers! I am just sharing my process, because I research like a mad woman, and I suspect there might be other travel-loving parents out there working through the same dilemmas.

So much to consider! Anyone have experience with this? I would love to hear your stories.

Here are my posts on homeschooling: Reasons to do it, Reasons not to do it.

 

  • chasing the donkey

    Wow, I have to say I never knew that there were so many way to do it. Great blog and an even greater life you lead. Hats off to you all.

  • http://www.makingsenseofcents.com/ Michelle

    Wow I didn’t know about all of this. We definitely want to travel and are afraid to do it once kids are in the mix. However, there are so many options it seems like!

  • Heather Reisig

    Very. Stupid. Question.

    Why do you keep your US citizenship?

    • almostfearless

      It’s hypothetical to us right now, we don’t have a second citizenship but I don’t know, it makes me feel really strange to even consider dropping it, I am grateful to the US for making my life possible. If we ever needed to come back — say a sick parent or something — we would be on tourist visas in our own country. Weird. Would you do it?

      • Heather Reisig

        I don’t know. I’ve never lived outside the country. And please understand, I didn’t ask to be snotty or mean, and I’m sorry if it sounded that way, but it seems you’re *never* in the US anymore. And it doesn’t seem like you ever A) want to live here again and B) don’t want to send your kids to school to here. Why, then, do you continue to pay for it?

        At this point, it seems more of a PITA than to renounce it and find the country you really want to live in…(France..maybe?)

        • Heather Reisig

          I guess…I can understand the “weird” feeling you’d get if you needed a tourist visa to visit your folks. However, I’m a money person. I can get over a feeling real quick if it pays to do so.

          I don’t mean to come off as cold. And I completely understand if you want to tell me to f* off.

          • almostfearless

            Lol! Not at all! I’m a long way away from being able to make any decisions like that anyway, it takes years and years to get naturalized, and I’d have to stay put that whole time — which I haven’t done in five years!

  • kallisue

    I’d love to hear more about how you got permanent residency in Mexico. I had a baby there to give him citizenship, but I didn’t realize it would provide permanent residency for his parents?

    • almostfearless

      Yes! You can request residency based on your baby AND after two years (I think) you can apply for citizenship. I googled around, I think this is a pretty good article about it, http://www.oaxacaadvisor.com/immigration/residency-mexico/ but you might want to talk to an immigration lawyer or the local Mexican consulate for all the details. We’re not going that route at the moment, so I haven’t done the leg work for it, but hopefully that helps!

      • kallisue

        It definitely does, it never crossed my mind we could be citizens after only two years. Not that route for us either at the moment, but now I know it’s a possibility!

  • http://www.withalittlemoxie.com/ Meriah Nichols

    A lot of countries will also give you visas if you are an “expert” in something that locals are not doing or have a need for. So say, social media/website development, etc might be a new avenue for a lot of traveling parents.
    I’d also recommend the expat/company route over the TEFL route for someone who doesn’t already have TEFL skills/certification. But TEFL certification? It’s often a joke. I taught English for 10 years and also was a recruiter for TEFL teachers and trained them – and wrote textbooks. In the end, the BA is important because of the government regulations, but it’s only for more developed countries that you really, really need to show your certification and have proof that you can do what you can say you can.
    Last thought is the university route. I’ve often thought of going back to Fiji – I’d love to have my kids go to school there – so I pretty regularly check the University of the South Pacific bulletins. There are a lot of jobs for foreign professionals.

  • Heather Carreiro

    If you want to go with the teaching option, and enroll your kids in international schools, I’d suggest looking into becoming licensed teachers rather than becoming TEFL teachers. Many TEFL options that pay well are at the university level and require a Master’s degree, and those positions won’t include the benefit of free private schooling for your young kids.

    For our family, we’ve found being a teaching couple (me for English Language Arts and my husband for Math and Physics) is the best way for us to live abroad, provide our kids a great education (for free, as part of the contracts), and still have the flexibility to travel and live in different countries. Our son started going to an international pre-school in Vietnam at 18 months. It’s also nice for us to be able to afford having a nanny/cook and a maid so we can spend less time on household chores and more time together. On a TEFL teacher salary, we wouldn’t be able to have this quality of life.

    For the international teaching route, you’ll need a Bachelor’s degree and a teaching license. As far as I know, Massachusetts offers the easiest option with a test-only preliminary license. You go to Massachusetts, pass two tests (one basic one and one in your subject area), and then pay for the license. The license is good for 5 years’ employment in Massachusetts, but if you never work in Massachusetts, it won’t expire. However, to get hired at a school with a good benefits package you generally need at least 2 years full-time experience working in international schools.

  • http://www.teachingwithtlc.com Tamara L. Chilver

    Definitely homeschool! I have homeschooled for 15 years and it has been such a blessing to our family. Before then, I was a public school teacher. I can help answer any questions you may have. Just stop by to visit me at http://www.TeachingwithTLC.com

  • vijay

    thanks for giving your idaes tomus

  • Megan DaGata

    I am so glad that I found your blog. I am planning what I am calling “Globe School” to take my kids out into the world to experience and learn as much as possible. To me homeschooling is the best option because you set your own curriculum and it can change based on location. I will now be following you as I am taking my oldest second grade year as a planning year and we leave next June.

  • http://planethomeschool.net/ Homeschool Planet

    Great blog! We had one of our children overseas while traveling, too.
    Although we did enroll our son in school in Mexico, we decided that
    with constant moving, homeschooling became the constant. So for now, we
    are stateside and homeschooling but who knows what we’ll do next. We’re getting that itch… ;)

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