The very idea of uprooting and relocating a family can be extremely daunting even when moving home within the UK. So considering relocating halfway around the world to a different country all together can seem an overwhelming prospect. But it can be a great adventure too, with the right support and planning. Fortunately, Hong Kong is one of the most expat-friendly cities to find yourself and your family in, with the added benefits that English is one of the official languages and that many public services are similar to the UK services they developed from.
When it comes to an overseas relocation, there are many aspects that need to be considered, and almost as many elements of ‘life admin’ that need to be addressed. This is where having the guidance of someone already in-market and who has personal experience of the local systems can be invaluable, especially for a family with school age children, and/ or two parents working full time.
An assignment unfolds. And with it, many challenges
All this I know from recent personal experience: in late 2016, my husband was offered a fantastic opportunity in Hong Kong. We were thrilled, excited and nervous. We managed the move in a similar manner to many others – my husband moved to Hong Kong, started work and we joined him several months later … once the renovations were finished, the house rented and the school year finished. It was a stressful time – and while we did have some support in having our visas processed and the physical logistics of our move arranged, there was a very steep learning curve made all the more ‘interesting’ by my complete lack of firsthand knowledge of our soon-to-be home city. School holidays were spent on planes, ‘school shopping’ and trying – in 10 days (!) – to get some sense of Hong Kong as a place to live, rather than visit.
Preparing for the move
Typically, the family relocation ‘To Do’ list will be a triplicate list that is essentially independent from any employment relocation processes:
- ‘closing down’ life (or putting things on hold) where you currently are;
- organising the logistics of the physical move; and
- establishing the nuts and bolts of everyday life in the new location.
The first two items tend to be reasonably straightforward, although perhaps more emotionally complex than they appear. For example, knowing what furniture and items to have shipped, and what to leave either in storage or dispose of prior to departure can be challenging as most of the time when you are packing to move, you have visited your new home and had the opportunity to measure up. Not so this time! When faced with the knowledge that you will likely be living in an apartment instead of a house, together with the fact that HK apartments tend to be on the smaller side … it can make packing for a HK relocation more emotionally cathartic than you would expect.
However the third item in the list is the one most parents struggle with. This is a challenge that can be both fluid and frustrating, especially given that you will be trying to learn about and navigate through unfamiliar systems in an unfamiliar country from a different timezone and at a distance. This list will include big ticket items, as well as the seeming minutiae that will keep your family running smoothly:
- Where/ How do you even start in the search for the right school?
- Which areas do you want to consider living in? Are these areas well-linked to the preferred school(s)?
- What would the working commute be like?
- How can you find the right accommodation for your family? What should your expectations be on budget, size and location?
- What forms of local ID do you need?
- How does the health system work?
- What is the process for opening a local bank account?
- What about childcare and in-home help – what do you need, what is the cost and how do you find someone?
- How can you find clubs or classes so the children can continue with their hobbies & interests?
- If you have a family member with special needs or a severe allergy, how can you access the support and services you (may) need?
- Etc. etc.
My personal experiences
The challenges for the relocating family are many. It can feel overwhelming at times – with so much focus and time required to ‘close down’ life where you are, it can leave precious little energy to think proactively about where you are going.
To ensure the success of a family’s relocation, it is important to have the right team supporting your family’s relocation, being available to ask you the right questions and ensure that you have considered everything. This will help you frame the experience as what it should be: an exciting adventure in your family’s life.
Marion Wotton (Family Mobility Consultant- Hong Kong)
If you have any questions about how Parental Choice could help you or your company with an international relocation, please contact Mira Pathak, Global Family Mobility Manager on 020 8979 6453