Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Moving Abroad with Kids Part 1: What to Know Before You Go


A girlfriend from my high school is getting ready to move her family of 5 to New Zealand for a year.  As her husband works 100 hour weeks doing part of his surgical residency there, she will be gallivanting around Auckland with her 3 boys the eldest of which is currently 3.  She must be one of the bravest women I have ever encountered, and I’m soo excited for their upcoming adventure.  You can read about Amy’s family’s voyage on their new blog HERE

Their family travels naturally got me thinking about what advice I would give myself if I could go back in a time machine to the chaos that was our exit from the USA for a year.  Aside from the very specific to me stuff, like don’t schedule your prospectus defense 2 days before you move, I feel like I have some general advice that could help her.  When I started writing myself some notes, I realized that one post was not going to cut it.  So now I bring you a multi-installment Mama Melch guide to moving abroad with Kids.  My only expertise comes from having gone through it once, and I do not claim absolute authority on any of this stuff.  This is what I learned from my experience, and hopefully it will be helpful for you Amy and anyone else who wants to read it. 

Going abroad for one year, is not at all like moving abroad.  The biggest reason they are different, is of course the element of packing.  We came to Berlin with 1 suitcase for each of us, a couple carry-ons, 2 carseats, and an awesome double stroller.  That is how much we were allotted on the plane, so that is what we brought with us.  Yes, we could have brought more, but we were both trying to limit what we brought for mobility purposes and too cheap to pay for extra baggage on the way there.  (Note: We will probably bring back at least one extra bag with us because of stuff accumulated here.)  Packing one suitcase per child was surprisingly easy.  Our daughters were 1 & 3 when we came, and each of their suitcases not only held every single thing from their wardrobes but also a few books and toys too.  Little clothes pack easily, and we made sure to move them up to the next size a little earlier than we would have, so that we’d have less to purchase here as they grew.  Packing for the grown-ups was a much different story.  I really liked THIS article about how to pack for myself.  I pretty much stuck with solid colors that I could easily mix & match with some scarves for spicing it up.  I brought far fewer shoes than the academic-chic in that article, but supplementing them has not been an issue.  The good news for you dear Amy, is that you are moving to a place where the temperature never dips below freezing and hovers in the mid-70s F in the summer.  The bad news, you are moving there in the winter, so you’re basically getting 2 winters in one year.    

In addition to the clothing and shoes we brought with us, there are a few items I’ve been extremely happy about bringing with us.  We brought a few of the girls’ favorite toys and books with us.  They have really liked having a few familiar things with them, in addition to the myriad of new German toys they have gotten while here.  Naturally, we brought their favorite snuggle buddies, but letting them pick a few books to bring was especially awesome before we got our library cards here.  We were also very happy we brought a mini-medicine cabinet with us.  I know it sounds ridiculous since we moved to Germany, not rural Kenya, but it was such a great thing to not have to figure out how to procure liquefied ibuprofen and how to figure out the proper dosage the first time one of our girls had a fever here.  Not knowing where to find the things you need is the most annoying thing about being abroad, so bring some of these essential things you might need asap. 
A small list for you:
Kid OTC meds—ibuprofen & acetaminophen for sure
Basic first aid stuff—that you know you’d have to stock at your house anyway
Grown-Up Ibuprofen (or your preferred pill) for the inevitable kid-induced headaches
Allergy meds—if you need them
These are the things we have used most often and that I’ve been most happy about bringing with us.  I know it will take up precious weight in a bag, but you will not be sorry about taking it with you. 

The number one thing I’m most happy about bringing with me abroad has been my SMART PHONE.  I cannot tell you how many times this phone has saved me.  Between Google Maps’ little blue dot guiding me around the streets of Berlin to the BVG app that tells me which bus/subway/metro to take to get anywhere in the city, I’m frankly not sure how I got on in Berlin without it before.  I LOVE IT!  BTW: Blogger even has an app so you can blog from your phone while your boys play at a playground or upload pictures too. 

Specific things you might want to consider taking care of before you leave:
1. Having a Google Voice # has been awesome for me while being here.  Using the app, I can actually text my friends at home and they can call and leave me a voicemail.  It has also helped when I’m trying to coordinate skype chats with people who might be having internet issues etc.  You can only set one up from the US, so take the 5 minutes and set it up before you go. 

2. Since you’ll have a car in Auckland, make sure to get your International Driver’s License before you go.  It took us about 10 minutes each to get it set up at a AAA office, and I think it only cost $25.  You’ll of course have to figure out your exact situation, but this SHOULD help you get started. 

3. Set up a Power of Attorney for your bank account and other affairs while you are abroad!  I cannot tell you how many times we have needed to lean on our POA for help with bank account and other details that we just can’t manage from abroad.  All our mail is forwarded to her house, and she has made sure that our stuff stays in order while we’ve been gone.  THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! 

4. Make sure to tell your bank that you are traveling abroad, and find out what your maximums are for withdrawals and purchases.  You’ll want to keep tabs on the exchange rates so that you don’t go over the maxes and send up flags at your bank forcing you to call them to take the hold off your account.  (I had to do this at least 4 times since coming.  It’s annoying with only a 6 hour time difference, so I can’t even fathom the ridiculousness of trying to do it from NZ!) 

5. Register at the US Embassy in Auckland before you go.  You should be able to do it online, and it is a nice extra safety precaution and insurance should something happen while abroad.  For you the worry will of course be less about civil war and more about reporting the possible birth of an American citizen abroad.  This is a really simple thing to check off your list too. 

Next time: Moving Abroad with Kids Part 2: Getting There!  

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