It’s easy to write off family time abroad as prohibitively expensive on two fronts: time and money. The ability to relocate temporarily to another country as a matter of choice is undeniably frivolous, but given the enormous benefits of a family adventure abroad, the viability of such an experience is worth considering flexibly.
We Can’t Afford That
Let’s start with finances. Weigh the costs of other luxuries you might be considering or currently afford yourself–an additional family car, a family camp or vacation home, frequent meals out at restaurants, or even remodeling your bathroom. Maybe two weeks volunteering on a farm in Ecuador or studying Spanish in Mexico would actually be more valuable to your family than one of those other expenses.
A second important consideration is the cost of living wherever you’re headed. Yes, airline tickets are expensive, but rent and food may be a whole lot cheaper in your new home. The online cost-of-living calculator, Numbeo, is a great, free tool to figure out how much you would pay in different countries for everything ranging from an egg, to a taxi ride, to rent for a two-bedroom apartment.
I’ll give you a few examples from my family’s own experience. When we lived in India for the first two years of my oldest son’s life, we were graduate students earning a very limited income–one that actually qualified us for government subsidies in the U.S. On that same income in India, we were able to afford a nanny and frequent meals out (dinner at our favorite South Indian restaurant cost about $5 for the family), while still saving money.
Life in Costa Rica is more expensive than in India, but still more affordable than the U.S. Our monthly rent, for example, is $650. Internet from the state provider runs us less than $20 a month, and our favorite staple, black beans–we can cook up two kilos for under $2. Instead of paying for and maintaining a car, we do a lot of walking and use public transport (about $10 week). And, even though we are the furthest thing from shoppers in the U.S., we find ourselves buying a lot less here, simply because there’s little option to buy. If the kids need a particular item of clothing, we go to the Ropa Americana, or used-clothing store. When they ask for origami paper, we make our own, because origami paper and most children’s art supplies and toys we could find at home aren’t available in our mountaintop town.
Finally, this summer when we studied Spanish in Guatemala, our host family charged us $300 a week for room and board for the four of us. This turns out to be less than what we pay for our monthly house payments and groceries back in the U.S..
Beware the Cost of Schools
The one counter-intuitive piece in this equation can be schools. Just keep in mind that in more developed countries, you’ll more likely find yourself sending your children to public schools, while in countries with a lower cost of living, you may find yourself only comfortable with private (and sometimes costly) schools.
But We Don’t Have the Time
Americans are famous the world over for having limited vacation time, and in many cases not even availing themselves of paid leave. So, for a moment, put your American work-first frame of mind aside and get creative to consider whether you could afford a week, or two, or even a month away. Could you afford to work remotely for a year, like my husband and I and many of the expats we have met abroad? In our case, we are earning half of our usual annual income this year, but we’re reaping the many benefits of living abroad with our kids. We feel really fortunate to be able to make this year happen.