How to Move Abroad with a Family: Step by Step

You may think moving abroad is for the young, the single, and the child-free but you too, the not-so-young, the attached, and the family can move abroad too!  A little extra leg work before you leave can make your life so much easier. Assuming you have employment lined up and a visa (student or work) settled, here are some things you need to know or be aware of if moving with a family!


Step One: Paperwork

Before you leave make sure you have copies of everyone’s birth certificate, marriage certificate, and divorce decree (if you have one) all with the apostille of the Hague and a translation. If you are coming from the US, some counties offer a long form birth certificate which tends to be bilingual which can save you some money since official translations can be as high as $.60/word.


The Basics: Language Help

If your employer is not providing moving assistance and you do not speak the language, consider hiring a moving consultant or a translator for your first few weeks abroad. Spain, especially, tends to be a little less than formal when it comes to lease agreements (most are just typed on a computer).  To avoid being pinned down by an agreement you don’t fully understand, think about hiring your own translator. This can prevent you from being in some potentially awkward situations.


Logistics: Moving Companies

Unless you plan to do a suitcase-only move (which I have done with a child, I don’t recommend it) you will need a moving company.  Get quotes from multiple shipping company who specialize in international moves that will come to your home to estimate the cubic meterage of your things.   Remember most of your electronics are not making the trip due to voltage or plug shape. When comparing quotes make sure the duty is included in the price, otherwise your valuables will be stuck in a shipping container at the closest port or airline company until it’s paid. Most companies will unpack and do your box removal but keep in mind the move could take from a week to 60 days, so don’t put things you know you will need in the boxes.  Also consider companies that will store your things until you have found a place to live (highly recommended).


House & Home: Living arrangements

Since you are part of a family, living in a piso compartido (shared flat) is not really an option. Larger flats and houses (casa adosada, casa pareada, casa independiente) are a bit harder to come by especially in the larger cities. Consider living away from the city center, maybe in the suburbs or country. Be prepared to be in your aparthotel for a little longer (more than a week) than you expect.  My family was in a hotel for a month but we know others who have stayed up to six months looking for the right place for them. Don’t be discouraged when you think you’ve found the perfect place and the pictures were 10 years old or it disappears from the real estate website the day before you planned to see it. This is a real possibility.


Registration at the Ayuntamiento

If you have children who need to be in school you will need to register with your ayuntamiento (town hall). This empadronamiento (the official register of inhabitants) is needed for most municipal services, like school registration, back account and health insurance setup.


Stay Covered: Insurance

If you're moving on a student visa, check with your school or program if your partner and child(ren) will be covered by your insurance. There may be additional deductions from your stipend to cover your family. If you are moving abroad on a work visa you will likely be covered by the national insurance. Your company should provide assistance with the ministry of the interior and social security to get you and your family's NIEs (I.D.s) and public health insurance cards.


In Session: Schools

School is compulsory from age 6-16 and pre-school is free for children 3 and up.  To get your children registered for school you must have proof of health insurance, immunization records, NIE, school records, and proof of your padrón (registration of your address in Spain). If you are putting your kid(s) in a private, concertado (state-funded private), or international school, the process is simple: just go to the school, fill out the forms and they can start whenever the school allows.

The public system is a little more complicated in Spain. You will need all of the above plus if your child is over 12 years old their academic record reviewed by the MECD (Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte) to receive a homologación or convalidación (validation of school record). Though public schools are free, parents are often asked to pay for books, extra materials and extra-curricular activities. The school day varies widely in Spain. Most primary schools are from 9:00-12:00 and 15:00-17:00. The break is for lunch and siesta. Many children are picked up for this period and some schools have comedores (lunch rooms) for children who stay in school during the break. In large cities the break is shortened or the day is from 9:00-14:00 without a break for lunch. Check your Autónoma and local Consejería de Educación (Department of Education).

Though moving with a family can be difficult, it’s not impossible. The process may seem overwhelming, but take it step-by-step. In the end, you're giving your family an experience of a lifetime! 


Are you ready to move abroad with your family?


Diane, a Philadelphia native, entrepreneur and busy mother of 2 currently living on the outskirts of Madrid.  Between baking cookies and doing business consultations she loves spending time with her family intentionally getting lost and table-top gaming.