Helping your expat family adjust to a new life in Singapore

Relocating abroad for your career can feel like a grand adventure, but it can also be a stressful and intimidating experience. This goes double for expats moving overseas with spouses and children in tow, as every family member is sure to have their own concerns and strong feelings about the move. You’ll also have to deal with a veritable mountain of preparations together, such as managing the requisite paperwork, finding a good family home, looking for schools, and reading up on the local culture.

Luckily for expatriates moving to Singapore, this vibrant island city-state is a highly favoured destination for foreign nationals and their families. The city’s infrastructure, socio-civic institutions, transportation systems, and other amenities are highly developed, making the quality of life for residents outstanding. Furthermore, Singapore is a true melting pot that individuals from a wide variety of cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds call home, and the local population is well-accustomed to embracing individuals from all over the world.

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While expats relocating to Singapore can be assured of a welcoming and inclusive community upon arrival, there are also many concrete steps you can take to further ease the transition for your family. Try the following tips for a happy and minimally stress-free adjustment:

Do extensive research pre-departure

Moving abroad is a major life change that will require a great deal of physical, mental, and emotional preparation from every member of your family. Learning as much as you can about your destination before you depart can help make this process easier in many ways, particularly for your kids. Not knowing what to expect is often a central source of anxiety for children and teens preparing for a major move, so talking to them about Singapore and involving them in your research can help.

Once you decide to move, try to include the whole family in important decisions, such as choosing neighbourhoods to live in or identifying international secondary schools in Singapore your children might be interested in attending. Looking up the cost of living in Singapore may help you draw up a workable household budget that can support your needs month to month. Lastly, reading about the experiences of other expats and their families can help paint a picture of what life in your new home will be like.

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Take time to say your goodbyes

Parents moving their families abroad often make the mistake of not allowing their children to grieve the lives they’re leaving behind. The older your children get, the easier it can become to assume that they don’t experience this grief or that they’re mature enough to navigate the transition with ease. However, acknowledging the challenges of relocating and making adequate time and space for the difficult emotions it comes with is essential for children at any stage of development.

Saying a proper farewell to your old home can give your kids a sense of closure and help them settle more comfortably into their new one when the time comes. Sit down with your family members and identify concrete things you’d like to do to say goodbye, both individually and together. These can include visiting beloved places for the last time, discussing ways to stay in touch with loved ones back home, or holding goodbye parties.

Discuss cultural differences

Navigating culture shock is especially important for expat families, particularly those that have never lived abroad before. Parents should be proactive about making their kids aware of cultural differences and teaching them to regard those differences with respect. Nurturing an attitude of cultural sensitivity and awareness in your children is especially important for families moving to Singapore, as they can expect to regularly interact with people from many different backgrounds.

One important cultural aspect that is important for your family to be aware of is that, because Singapore has four national languages, the population is naturally multilingual. While English functions as a kind of lingua franca for everyday life, especially in educational and professional settings, you’ll also frequently hear people speaking Malay, Tamil, and Chinese – and customarily, even Singlish, a creole language that is based on English.

Although English will probably be more than enough to get you by in Singapore, you and your family might consider studying one or more of its other languages to integrate better into local communities. Younger children especially have exceptional language education skills and may benefit from being enrolled in schools that offer bilingual or multilingual programs.

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Connect with other people and groups

Expats make up a large fraction of Singapore’s total population, so it’s no surprise that many expat groups and clubs are active in the country. Joining some of these groups is an easy way to network, make new friends, and start building a support system in your new home. Getting to know fellow expats will give you helpful insight into life in Singapore that no amount of internet research will be able to replace because it comes from their lived experience.

Extracurricular activities are also a great way for your kids to connect with their peers over shared interests. Whether they eventually join a sports team at their school or take up art classes at a local museum or gallery, they’ll find Singapore brimming with opportunities to explore all sorts of passions.

There’s no denying that moving abroad is likely to be challenging for the entire family, but there can be plenty to look forward to about the experience as well. With the right perspective and plenty of preparation, your family will surely be able to manage a happy and easeful transition into life in Singapore.

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